Lektion et – Gør det ordentligt

Jan 16, 2013 | Denmark

“Learn five phrases before I get back.” Those seven words were without-a-doubt the catalyst that introduced me to the Danish language. It was a ridiculously warm April day in Nottingham, England, and my partner (still relatively new on the scene) was heading to New York City on a university trip. Later that afternoon I headed to the local library and went straight over to the language section.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I enquired about some Danish language books and CDs. Far from being a popular language to learn in the UK (or anywhere else in the world for that matter), I half expected to be told that nothing was available. Instead I was handed a black box containing a now-discontinued Linguaphone Danish language course, which was made up of two books and six cassettes. That’s right… cassettes.

I sat down and opened the first page. “God dag,” I read out loud, pronouncing each G and D as hard as possible. “Jeg hedder Henrik…,” I continued, this time throwing a few hard Js and Es in to the mix. I was getting the hang of this, I thought.

Over the next week I developed a system during my 30-minute walk to work. It was mainly a read-and-repeat exercise with hardly any listening (the cassettes were starting to test my patience), and by the time I had returned home each evening, I had learned another paragraph parrot fashion. I even skipped ahead a few pages to learn how to greet my partner when she returned home. She was impressed.

That was almost six years ago and since then I have battled with several methods of trying to learn the language. And even though my original method worked for me at the time, if I could go back and start again I would do it completely differently.

It dawned on me that there may be many of you out there who are just starting out on the road to mastering the gobbledygook that is the Danish language. I’m far from perfect, but I’d very much like to share some tips and tricks that have worked for me (or haven’t in some cases), to help you on your way.

1) Don’t learn text parrot fashion or by heart. You won’t know when to use it in another context.

2) Do buy a very good dictionary and use it.

3) Put aside 30 minutes every day, even if it means waking up half-an-hour earlier, to study the language.

4) Make the most of the internet. I used Dansk Her og Nu because you can read, listen and interact throughout a series of different chapters surrounding everyday life. The chapter on numbers is particularly useful. However, Google Translate should only be used as a quick fix. It’s like looking at the answer sheet.

5) Get hold of a child’s picture book. I use Politikens Billedordbog whenever I’m short for time or don’t want to learn whole sentences and grammar.

6) Use flash cards. The best tip I can offer. Simply cut out small pieces of card and keep them in your pocket. Each time you see a new word, write it down on one side. When you find out what it means, write the translation on the other. Flash cards can be used whilst waiting in a queue; at the traffic lights; whilst boiling the kettle; eating your breakfast; in the lift; just before going to sleep, etc. Wasted minutes suddenly become fruitful hours, and you learn how to use the words outside of sentences that are handed to you in language books etc. Trust me – do this!

7) I found that watching kids’ TV shows doesn’t work. They work for children who still like to talk in a funny voice about pancakes and dinosaurs.

8 ) Do listen to online radio, such as Radio 24/7. They talk clearly and about topical subjects. They play very little music.

9) Purchase a Berlitz Danish phrase book and keep it on you at all times. Handy for emergencies, like at the Turkish / Danish bicycle repair shop.

10) Reading a newspaper never really worked for me. Mainly because it takes such a long time just to decipher the smallest of paragraphs. Going through reams of text with a pen and a dictionary is soul-destroying. If you want to do this, buy a magazine that deals with a subject or hobby you enjoy. It makes more sense to want to talk about your hobbies in your new language.

11) Use word association. For example, I imagine every noun that starts with et (instead of en) to be associated with something cold. Et skur = a shed, so I imagine being inside a shed, freezing my ass off. Et bord = a table, so I imagine a frozen table shattering in to a million pieces. Make it dramatic.

12) Read out loud and as often as you can. I have discovered over the years that I always read inside my head, which means I never get to pronounce the words with my tongue and mouth. I wish I’d done this earlier.

13) Finally, don’t give up. Accept that you will have your down-days and your up-days. People still say ‘Hvad siger du?’ to me, even when I’m just ordering a Number 27 from the menu.

I understand how embarrassing it can be to fumble your way through a conversation, but there also comes a time when the people around you start to wish you would try and speak their language a bit more. The Danes speak amazing English: doesn’t mean they want to all the time.

To close on a scientific note, it’s worth remembering that each time you do something new your braincells make fresh connections with each other. Each time you repeat that action, those bonds strengthen and increase. So the next time you get angry or frustrated over a word or phrase, just remember what’s going on inside that amazingly small space you call your brain.

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