Six months into studying Danish 🇩🇰

So, why the hell did I choose it?

Smørrebrød. Hot summers. Freaking cold nights (in our tent) and Lego(land) of course (I was a tween at the time). That’s what immediately comes to mind when I think back to our Danish holidays in the early nighties.

But it’s probably a strong desire to be able to understand the incredibly attractive and talented Sidse Babett Knudsen in the well-made 📺 series Borgen that explains why during 😷 lockdown I chose her native tongue as my new language challenge.

 Some West Germanic help

Depending on what your mother tongue is and/or which other languages you already master, pronunciation is the big hurdle. My native Dutch 🇧🇪, proficient English 🇬🇧 and especially my intermediate German 🇩🇪 gave me a head start with sentence structure and vocabulary.

But don’t get me started on my struggles (definitely more than one and yes I am going to start now) with their numerals: 10, 20, 30 and 40 are still doable; though 30 was one of my struggles:

ti (10), tyve (20), tredive (30), fyrre (40)

But when I got to 50, I started scratching my head. Multiple times. 🤯

Well, that’s exactly what the Danes do when counting from 50 up until the same 99, but with the added particularity (aka difficulty) that somewhere down the road they decided to leave out a part of the original pronunciation. Confusing? Yes! Me struggling? Yes!

The big hurdle: pronouncing 🇩🇰 letters (or keeping them silent)

But let me get back to their udtale (pronunciation) and to the first word of this blog entry as it immediately shows a particularity: the letter ø. Add æ and å and you have the three extra letters of the Danish (and Norwegian) alphabet. 

  • ø as in bjørn (bear), øl (beer), øje (eye)
  • æ as in mælk (milk), gæst (guest), æble (apple)
  • å as in år (year), hånd (hand), også (also) 

What’s more, the language is known, just as English, for its strange relation between pronunciation and spelling: kage (cake), hjem (home), at begynde (to begin), sølv (silver). The red letters are stumme bogstaver and these silent letters are omnipresent, or so it seems for a beginner when you more often than not have to ignore the d, h, v or g when you encounter them.

To make things worse (or more interesting), some words are pronounced with a stød, a phenomenon specific to this language and reminiscent of the English glottal stop (think of the way 🧈 butter and 🌊 water are pronounced in Cockney English: bu’er and wa’er, where the ‘ indicates a sudden short break). There are words where the absence or presence of it determines the meaning. In the following words the d is silent, but the words end with the stød.

Let’s end with something soft: the blødt (soft) d, whose pronunciation resembles an English dark l (the l you find in circle and tall). It sounds like an l, but when saying it you need to touch your bottom teeth with the tip of your tongue. Mad (food), brød (bread) and udtale (pronunciation) are some examples.

What material did I hang on to?


Applandia offers a great start and there are some gems out there (but pretty please ignore the “you can learn a language in 15 minutes a day”). The past few months I have tried many of them, and a few have stuck:

Duolingo is the app I use the most because it’s fun: very much a game environment and very colourful which always does the trick for me. As it’s my fav, I’ll dive a bit deeper (but not to deep) into its perks and drawbacks.

Advantages ✔️ Problems ❌
🆓 Free version let you use it almost unlimitedly for hours on end Pronunciation is through the famous mechanic computer voices
Good as a starter for vocabulary (which gets repeated a lot) and sentence structure You give a correct answer according to the app 🥳, but a Danish teacher might disagree 🙁: too many mistakes slip through the net
Simple concept and interface and as said before very much gamy Some strange sentences/translations and sometimes even plain mistakes
Every sentence offers the possibility to ask questions AND check which questions other users have

Drops: here it’s all about vocabulary brought to you with computer drawings and pronunciation. They offer a free 5 minutes/day and some extra if you keep your track going.

Mondly: a mix between vocabulary and sentences: Free version limited to about 1 minute/day (a quicky for when you’re waiting for your bus or spending some precious time on the toilet).

Memrise: vocabulary and sentences with some pronunciation by native speakers (its advantage over Duolingo). Here too you can spend all the time you want, though their lack in structure (and colours 🌈) retains me from doing so.

Applandia alone won’t get you too fluency. You need…


Same story here: tried a few and kept the ones that felt good. I am using 3 books, but two of them have la langue de Molière 🇫🇷 as source language. There are books in other source languages available, but they just weren’t my cup of tea (though they might be yours; I prefer ☕ btw):

🇬🇧 If you master English, you might try the two books the Teach Yourself series have on offer: Get started in Danish and Complete Danish.

🇩🇪 Eins, zwei, drei… In German you have Dansk for dig neu and Vi snakkes ved!

🇫🇷 I chose 🥖, 🧀 et 🍷. I have been a big fan of the Assimil method as they helped me to reach a decent level of 🇧🇷, 🇩🇪 and 🇪🇸. I’ve always thought them to be a bit on the pricey side, but they have joined the internet/app language learning (r)evolution and most of their courses are now indeed as app available and at a more affordable price. In short, their courses offer a daily lesson with audio, translation, some exercises and a limited amount of grammar. Assimilation through repetition is their key to success. They must have known I started with this language as shortly after I started my Danish marathon (language learning is never a sprint (un)fortunately) they launched a new product for beginners: Apprendre le danois.

I am a grammar addict, so after some research I decided to buy the Danish Tutor (published by Teach Yourself). Though at the moment it’s lying idle on the shelf as it requires a higher level (A2+) than where I am at now.

The in-betweeners

They do have an app but in my experience it’s better to use it on a laptop or desktop to enjoy all the benefits of the Lingq method: it allows you to import your own material: books, articles, subtitles of your fav series/film, songs, … As you read you mark words as known or to study.

I started with Pimsleur, an audio only method, and will continue with it, but as there’s a profound (well, that’s me maybe exaggerating) difference between what you hear and what you read/write I thought it wise to first focus on other material where hearing and seeing/reading go together.

Exposure, exposure, exposure

This is what you need and preferably daily. I get my dose through my google assistant/home, which allows me to listen to the latest news from different Danish news outlets. The first time I could hardly discern the words, though slowly but surely, I started to recognise words and understood what they were talking about. Next step is to add other material: (news) articles, books, music, series, film but that will happen during an intensive Danish week I’m planning.