The Horror. The Horror: My experience with the Danish language

I have a Danish girlfriend and I love her very much. Because of my girlfriend and her Danishness, over the past year I have spent quite some time in the country which I also love. There is a feeling in Denmark that is different to other countries that I have been to. It feels both old and new, ancient and modern. It is a nation of beautiful landscapes, interesting and friendly people and an engaging and vibrant culture with a vast history, traditions and culinary experience that are very unique. However there is an aspect of Danishness that makes me sweat and, I am not ashamed to admit, occasionally gives me sleepless nights. The terror that I speak of is the Danish language.

Now before I explain why Danish is a horror, I want to clarify that I do actually like the language and can’t wait to learn it and explore the language further. However the Danish language is kind of a nightmare to learn. The grammar is fine, many words share similarities with English, French and German so words generally don’t take long to learn. But Jesus Christ, trying to learn how to pronounce the bloody things is another matter entirely. As Harrison Ford is supposed to have said to George Lucas about his Star Wars script “You can write this shit but you can’t say it.”

I have a theory about how the Danish language was formed. One day an old dane decided that something had to be done about the communication problem that existed at the time. Hand gestures and grunting is fine, but they can lead to complications and misunderstandings and trying to flirt in this manner is often crude and not particularly seductive. So one day Uffe, for that was his name, decided that he needed to write down words with meaning and rhythm, that sounded pleasing to the ear and would finally convince Freja to go for a drink with him. He wrote for days, words like hylde and hyle, bønner and bønder writing until he was satisfied. With his work done, he looked at his scrolls with glee and a sense of self admiration. With these new words Uffe decided to announce them to the world and ensure that his words were heard across the numerous islands, grasslands and moors of the Danish nation. However Uffe suddenly discovered a slight snag. A lot of his words sound the fucking same.

You see while hylde and hyle look different they are pronounced almost identically. Not a problem to a native dane but when you are trying to learn the language, not being able to hear the difference between hylde (meaning shelf) and hyle (meaning howl) can be a slight problem. Today I discovered the words bønner, which means both beans and prayers (how fun) and sounds identical (brilliant) and bønder, which means farmers, and sounds almost exactly the same as bønner but with a slight variation on where emphasis is applied. So there will inevitably come a day that when I wish to “spise some bønner” I may accidentally ask to “spiser a bønder”. I’m not completely up to date on the Danish law on cannibalism, but I am pretty certain that it isn’t looked on favourably.

The similarity in words isn’t the only issue, the soft D’s that exist in this language will be the death of me! You see in Danish there exist words such as skildpadde, which means turtle. If you are an English speaker you may assume that you would pronounce the two letters between the A and E as D’s. If so then you would be very much mistaken my friend. Now my girlfriend tells me that they are supposed to sound like soft D’s (which I have no frigging clue what that is supposed to sound like) but when my girlfriend pronounces them I think that they sound like L’s. When I therefore try to pronounce these words it more often than not leads to my girlfriend crying with laughter. I have tried to pronounce skildpadde with its soft bastarding D’s that many times that if I was to describe how I sound, it is quite close to the trolololol man.

In conclusion Danish is a wonderful and intricate language and well worth learning. It will lead to tears, nose bleeds and possible hospitalization, but that is the price of accomplishment I suppose. When I have struggled through more of the language and triumphed over my arch enemy, the sodding soft D, I might write another one of these, to discuss what new discovery makes me want to run headfirst into a brick wall.

How an (1)

Be sure to leave your thoughts and comments down below.


12 thoughts on “The Horror. The Horror: My experience with the Danish language

  1. Richard, perhaps that dd is a th as in them and that. The Spanish do it all the time and it does my nut in trying to understand them. Besides if you slur the D sound slightly, it’s hard to distinguish from a Th anyways. (Dee, AKA Kelthor because you can never have too many names)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That may be the case, but the tongue is not positioned in the same way so I would argue that even though it sounds the same, it’s not pronounced the same in terms of tecnique which is what throws him off. To him a Danish soft D sounds like a L and not a TH sound. Probably because English doesn’t offer it and so that is the closest thing he can relate it to.
        It is very interesting. I would still like to hear you pronounce it.


  2. Pingback: Experiencing my country through foreign eyes: Language – NILY

  3. fluxingwell

    How sweet that you are learning the language because of your love for your girlfriend. Congrats on conquering the soft D! Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m not going to tackle Danish anytime soon!


    1. My sweet boyfriend is not in the country at the moment so I’m on reply duty (I hope you don’t mind). Thank you for your kinds words. For his sake I hope it’s not going to be too hard or starting a life in Denmark might become a struggle at times.


  4. I’ve been trying to learn and master Finnish for years, and its awful! So many ‘accents’ and flicks/ticks.

    But I think it’s lovely that you’re at least trying, for him if no one else.

    – Nyxie


    1. I’m on reply duty until my boyfriend is back in the country.
      Languages can be tricky, and learning the basics before moving here is definitely a good idea. He is picking up grammar etc. pretty quickly but the pronounciation is a bitch.


  5. Britt K

    When you consider how incredibly complex English actually is for those who are learning it, you’ve already demonstrated that you’re more than capable of rocking this! You’ve got it!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s