Is Danish hard to learn? You may have heard that Danish is a difficult language. But who is actually to decide that?
It has never been easier, more fun or more rewarding to learn Danish than now! And it's not as hard to learn as it first looks.
In fact, despite a few tricky areas such as word gender, pronunciation and word order, Danish is actually one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
By the end of this post, you'll have an idea of some of the harder aspects of Danish as well as what's easy. So let's get into it: is Danish hard to learn?
Is Danish Hard To Learn? 3 Exciting Challenges In The Danish Language
Danish offers its own unique use of words, letters, pronunciation and compositions.
Let's take a look at three of the most fun challenges when learning Danish:
1. Gender: The Danish language uses two genders. However, neither of them are masculine, nor feminine.
2. Vocabulary and pronunciation. Danish has a large vocabulary, a slightly expanded alphabet. So many of the words have different meanings compared to English. This is also what makes Danish fun to learn.
3. Comprehension: Listening and reading comprehension can be difficult at first, as the word order in Danish is much different than English. You'll discover these differences too.
You'll see that while each of these aspects of Danish seem hard, you can master them.
Danish Word Gender
Danish differs from most other languages by partly using two different genders, but especially by not dividing those two genders into masculine and feminine.
When gender in Danish isn't used to tell whether we are talking about, for example, a male or female person, it may well create some confusion.
However, there's no need to panic, because you can learn it. The good news is that after all there aren't three genders as in German. And if you like to engage in problem and puzzle solving, the process can even be fun and entertaining.
So let's take a look at the two genders in Danish grammar, which are common gender (joint-gender) and the neuter (non-gendered).
Common gender sets en (a) in front of the nouns. Common gender words are living beings.
- En dreng (a boy)
- En pige (a girl)
- En mand (a man)
- En dame (a woman)
- En hund (a dog)
As you probably notice, the gender of the person (or animal) doesn't depend on whether the person himself is of male or female sex. In Danish grammar, almost all living beings are common gendered.
Common gender makes up approximately 75% of all Danish nouns. When in doubt, the common gender is your safest choice.
Other words of common gender, are often words;
- from nature: en blomst: (a flower), en å (a stream), en banan (a banana), en gren (a branch)
- that end in –else: en overraskelse (a surprise), en forfremmelse (a promotion)
- that end in –ence or –ance; en konference (a conference), en ambulance (an ambulance)
The challenge is that the rules around the genders actually function more as guidelines than actual rules. Often, obvious common gender words choose to designate themselves as neuter. Even if there is no logical explanation.
This is one of the quirks of the Danish language.
So let's take a look at some examples of the common gender partner in crime in the Danish language gender system, namely neuter.
We use neuter gender when we put et (a) in front of the nouns.
Neuter words are often words that denote physical, inanimate things, e.g.:
- Et hus (a house)
- Et brød (a bread)
- Et glas (a glass)
But again – this is more of a guideline than an actual rule.
Other typical neuter words are places where you can stay, e.g.:
- Et distrikt (a district)
- Et land (a country)
- Et kongedømme (a kingdom)
- Et bageri (a bakery)
- Et universitet (a university)
Don't despair if you find it difficult. Try using these guidelines:
1) Common gender (en) makes up about 75% of all Danish nouns. When in doubt, choose en in front of your noun. That way you hit right 3 times out of 4. That's a pretty good statistic!
2) If you like structure, learn the guidelines so that you are able to make logical choices.
3) Watch Danish movies, listen to conversations, etc. Leaving aside the guidelines, choosing the right gender is very much about immersion in Danish. If you learn best by listening, this could be the way for you.
Still in doubt? Take your best guess! If you get it wrong, don't worry.
It might sound a little goofy if you choose the wrong gender, but no one will raise an eyebrow over it (so don't let the grammar villain tell you otherwise!). On the contrary, the Danes are often impressed by other people who make an attempt to learn their language.
The Danish language has an enormously exciting and wide vocabulary that can sometimes seem strange. The same words can mean completely different things in Danish and English.
And then there are three special letters that are quite unique to the Danish language. Let's take a look here.
Words With Multiple Meanings
Danish has many of its own words that make it unique. The vocabulary is very rich and varied, allowing you to express a whole bunch of different emotions and ideas in just one word.
For example, the word Hygge has a very special shade of well-being and closeness that does not exist in the same way in English.
Snakke means to talk, but it also has a more informal nuance, so it's often used to express having a conversation.
Another little quirk you will also often run into is that the same Danish word can often mean two very different things.
Take for instance the word Bønner which can mean both “beans” and “prayers”. Two words that have nothing to do with each other, but are nevertheless written and pronounced in exactly the same way.
The Danish language is rich in words that have double meanings, and for non-native speakers of the Danish language it can create some funny experiences.
Take a look here:
- Okse (an ox / to work hard)
- Bakke (to back up / a tray / a small hill)
- Banker (banks / to pound on)
- Skovl (a fool / a shovel)
- Hænder (hands / happens)
- Stole (chairs / trust)
The Danish language is full of these words of different meanings. And of course fart in Danish, means “speed”. That has the potential to create some confusion!
The Three Special Letters, Æ, Ø And Å
Danish has 3 super cool – and probably some of the funniest-letters there are, namely: Æ, Ø and Å!
Æ (pronounced ‘eyh’) is a combination of A and E that you find in words like æble (apple), æsel (donkey) and ægteskab (marriage).
Ø (pronounced almost as ‘er’ in the word “better”) is an O with a dash through it and a combination of O and E. The probably most popular word starting with Ø in Danish is the word øl (beer).
Also the letter ø it is a word in itself. It actually means “Island”.
And finally, A and O, joined in holy matrimony gives us the letter Å (pronounced a bit like ’O’ in “open”).
These three letters may sound a little different in English, but they can easily be learned. And they help make Danish even more fun and interesting to learn!
The Danish R
Mastering the Danish ‘R’ may seem like a daunting challenge for English speakers, but with a little practice and determination, you can make this letter part of your linguistic repertoire.
The sound of the Danish ‘R’ is softer than the rolling ‘R' in Spanish or the throaty ‘R' in French. More like kind of a soft hum.
With regular practice, you will be able to say Danish ‘R’s in no time!
Danish Word Order
If you're learning Danish, you've probably come across its unique sentence structure and word order? If not, let's take a look at it.
In Danish, the subject (e.g. a person or a thing) usually comes before the verb (i.e. the act itself). This is in many areas the same in English when you need to ascertain something or make a statement or observation.
An example could be:
- Hun går indenfor (she goes inside) which is the same in both Danish and English.
The funny thing now is that the structure of Danish sentences often changes depending on the situation.
Questions, But In Reverse
When the Danes, ask a question, they'll swap the subject and the verb. In English you could ask, “is she going inside?”. In Danish, it will look like this:
- Goes she inside?
You may also notice that Danish does not use “to do” to form questions in either the present or the past tense. In Danish, the verb is conjugated directly, briefly and precisely:
- Does she go? = Går hun? (literally: goes she?)
- Did she go? = Gik hun? (literally: went she?)
Here's how you can learn Danish word order:
The key to mastering Danish word order is to be aware of the context. Ask yourself if your sentence is a statement or a question, then choose whether you should have the action (verb) before or after the person, animal, or thing (subject).
If you're looking for a fun and easy way to learn Danish sentence structure, why not start by writing what you want to say (or ask about) in English and then use your new found knowledge to translate it into Danish?
This can be a both fun and an effective way to practise and learn word order!
And of course, if you apply the StoryLearning method and read in Danish, word order will become second nature in no time, as you'll absorb it through immersion in stories.
So, Is Danish Hard To Learn?
Is Danish hard to learn? Quite the contrary, particularly for native speakers of English.
In spite of the odd gender system, the multiple meanings of words, and the funny letters, according to the Foreign Service Institute, Danish is actually one of the easiest languages to learn.
Along with languages like Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, learning Danish is estimated to take 24 weeks. This is far less compared to other languages, with an estimation of 36, 44, and even up to 88 weeks of practice and training.
So, if you're eager to start learning Danish, what’s keeping you? Start today! If you need some more motivation, check out these 11 incredible reasons to learn Danish.
And to make your Danish learning journey as easy, fun and effective as possible, follow the rules of StoryLearning and read short stories in Danish.