Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Language progress and a bit of punctuality

So, yesterday and today were all about my Danish 3.2 exam which I, me being me, absolutely cacked myself over (not literally) due to nerves, even though I know my Danish is good. If you haven't already, read my previous post on me and the Danish language.

Anyway, I passed. Woohoo! The ladies examining us complimented me on having just a slight accent which I am very pleased with - the soft d and letter ø drive me nuts. Not sounds one has in English. I don't care about having an accent, though. It's the only time I, as an English speaker from Essex, can have an exotic accent.

After my verbal exam this morning, I realised I was late for a hairdresser appointment. My friends and family know that I HATE being late. I am never late. Never. Whenever my friend Amanda throws a house party she always bets with her husband that I will be the first guest, even if I am 15 minutes fashionably late. She's right - I always am. It's one thing I like about Denmark too and I guess you could say that I have always had one Danish characteristic within. But yes, in Denmark you throw a house party and say 7pm, your doorbell goes at 7pm. Anyone coming later will text or call. I like that. You know where you are. Though it did throw me the first time I threw a party here. I naively assumed British fashionable lateness of one hour and then found myself greeting friends with my hands covered in minced pork as the food wasn't ready (I was making Filipino lumpia - they are brilliant) and so had to entertain my guests by talking to them from my corner station of the kitchen by the deep fat fryer when I wanted to be preparing a cocktail for them. Brilliant hostess skills. That taught me a valuable lesson.

Anyway, back to today and back to the Danish language. After realising I was leaving school at the time when my appointment was booked for I panicked, called the hairdresser and when the phone was answered I blabbered an apology, said I had been delayed, said I was on my way and apologised again ... in Danish. Why am I telling you this? Because it was the natural language my mind chose, if I can put it like that. I didn't consciously think: Right. 'Forsinkset' means 'late' and bestilt en tid is the equivalent of have an appointment. Let's hash something together, oh brain of mine. It was subsconscious. Almost inevitably, there came a time where I had to switch to English as I just didn't have the Danish vocabulary (or indeed the time) to root around in my memory for the word ... well, I can't remember what it was. Whatever word it was has since crept back into my memory but I hope you get the point in that the fact that I subconsciously chose Danish as the go-to language whilst my brain was in panic mode.

I have a Danish fiancé with whom I practice speaking and, to a lesser extent, reading (I always feel like a child when I read aloud to him ... just feels a bit wrong). I know that I am lucky in that respect. However, I also do other thing on my own. Ladies and gentlemen, please find below Another Blogger's Guide To Learning Danish.

  • Treat language school as a language tool and not your golden ticket to fluency. I do flourish in a classroom environment but due to the fact that it's very much A Lesson, you may not speak that naturally there and perhaps place more focus on getting everything correct instead of relaxing into a conversation. I use my lessons for learning the grammar and, of course, practising my speech but I simply see it as a necessary learning tool. Not a sure fire way to get fluent.
  • Label everything in your flat/house with the Danish word for whatever it is. I took Scotch tape and wrote on that in permanent marker. Pictures in this post here. It goes without saying to make sure it's not the sort of tape that pulls paint from walls.
  • Actively think in Danish. This is more for those who take lessons at language school or are following an at home program which teaches you common sentences. It won't come naturally (hence "actively think") so  start with little sentences like jeg kan godt lide pasta (I like pasta) when eating pasta or jeg skal i sprogskole nu (I'm going to language school now) when you leave for language class. Admittedly this takes a little more knowledge of the language. But when you do learn these phrases from school/CD-ROM/internet, just try to insert them into your brain in everyday life. It does work.
  • Speak, speak, speak, speak, speak. Yep, it's very easy to get by in Denmark without speaking a single word of the language. Most Danes, particularly here in Copenhagen, speak great English, if not fluently. But it's like a you-don't-ask-you-don't-get sort of thing. If you don't speak Danish, you don't hear Danish. If a shopkeeper/hairdresser/waiter/svigermor/friends reply to your Danish in English, be stubborn and reply in Danish. If they persist, simply tell them that you would like to practice. Speaking from my own experience, when Danes switch to English to you this is not a sign of frustration, it is actually a sign of politeness. I have asked Danes about why they switch and they always answer: because it would be easier for that person to understand me than if I speak Danish. However, they would be happy to help in Danish. Just ask!
  • Get a tandem partner. My friend from language school got herself two tandem partners by putting a notice up in a local café. This is easier for people who have a language other than English. I think what she does is great - she tells them not to teach her grammar, as she learns this from school, but to just speak. Her conversational level is great, I think. Ask on Couchsurfing, Internations, etc. (By the way, if anyone wants to learn Danish in exchange for Italian, let me know - I have one very interested Dane who would be very interested in swapping languages this way!)
  • Language exchange. My Language Exchange was posted by my language school on Facebook. There's also the Meetup group for Danish speakers.
  • Immerse yourself in the Danish language. Watch TV. Listen to the radio. Rent Danish films from your local library. Listen to people in cafés. Read children's books. Make sure you're taking it in all the time. It needs to constantly be going through your head.

Wow. This was only meant to be a quick post but that is some length (snigger). I hope you can see that, despite rumours, the Danish language is not impossible to learn. Any further tips on learning Danish would be very much appreciated. Just leave below and we'll continue the discussion.


Over to you ....