Learning Danish – the Lærdansk Sonderborg Way

One of the blogposts that has had most interest in this blog mentioned the inauspicious start I had with applying for Danish lessons at the kommune. Inauspicious or not, I did manage to start learning Danish in January 2012. However, having been to Danish lessons for three years on and off, I must admit that it has only served for me to become more and more disillusioned with the whole process.

Let’s Start with the School

In Sønderborg the kommune pays for foreign students to learn Danish at Lærdansk Sonderborg. Essentially, this means that the school has a monopoly in the area. In practice, this means that the school will get money from the kommune regardless of the quality of the teaching, so there seems to be no benefit in investing in improvements. And when I talk about improvements, I am not referring to smart boards and the like, but improvements in the actual quality of teaching.

Quality of Teaching

Where do I start?

Probably one of the biggest downfalls is that there is no emphasis on the basics. People at very different levels are in the same class, all doing the exact same work. E.g. when I started Danish, there were people in my class who had started Danish 3 months earlier. This meant I never got the basics. And there were still people joining 3 months after I did. In fact, I never ever heard the alphabet in class! This lack of basics means that it is next to impossible to understand the more nuanced areas of the language.

This is combined with an education system where there is no progression between one lesson and the next. It is not a course programme that builds one lesson on the previous, such that you continuously build on previous knowledge. Instead, what you get is 10 minutes about nouns one day, and 10 minutes about nouns one month later. And you would have probably missed the first 10 minutes because you hadn’t yet been put in the class.

The Teachers

During my time at Lærdansk Sonderborg I have been with three different teachers. I can sum up these teachers in this way: One came to class completely unprepared (but made sure we had fun). One came slightly more prepared (but was palpably disinterested in most of the students). And the third printed a lot of papers to give out, but there was no obvious explanation as to what we were being given and why. Teachers playing on phones, leaving the room, or showing us films with very limited if any follow up discussions all happened on regular basis.

That said, I have heard of some very good teachers on the grapevine too. Unfortunately, these seem to be very much the exception rather than the rule and I have yet to come across one.

What did I Expect?

What I expected when I started classes is the following:

  • I expected to learn something new every time I went to class. I expected this to be following some input from the teacher over and above being given a worksheet and being told to get on with it.
  • I expected the teacher to come to class prepared with a clear plan to make sure that the students are slowly but surely building their knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and confidence in the language.
  • I also expected homework that helped us consolidate what we had learnt in class, if we so wished. When I asked for this I was told “You don’t have time for it as you work”.
  • I also expected students who were there primarily for the learning (although making friends is an added bonus). This was something that, overall, was true.

Of course, it could be that my learning style is completely unaligned with the Danish teaching style. However, by speaking to a lot of other foreigners, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Or you might say I am expecting too much. After all, the school is free so I should be thankful for whatever I am getting. However, it is not free. I am paying for it from my taxes. You are paying for it from your taxes.

My Danish teaching has not all been this uninspiring. The best (in an, admittedly, poor pool) was with a private teacher through work. It is, obviously, not completely comparable, but the things that really helped were that the teacher asked me where I felt that I needed help, and listened to me by setting clear goals, and an emphasis on ensuring that I had understood what I had done by setting consolidation work. This rarely (if ever) happened in Danish classes at Lærdansk Sonderborg. No questions (or apparent interest) in where we needed help, and a topic was only tackled in one individual task rather than in a more holistic way.

Where am I now?

After 3 years of being in the system, spending most of the time not actually attending lessons, I have now passed my Prøve i Dansk 3 exam in November/December. This is the exam taken at the end of the course that shows proficiency in Danish to a B2 level according to the Common European Language Framework. You might, therefore, say that I reached my aim. However, I would say most of what I learned I learnt from a private teacher, my work colleagues, and from the Netdansk online teaching system, rather than the teaching actually at the Sonderborg Laerdansk school.

A version of this blog post was sent to the school around the time I decided to stop attending classes, with clear information that I was happy and willing to discuss my issues with them in order to make things better. Unfortunately I never received a reply besides that it would be forwarded on within the school.

15 thoughts on “Learning Danish – the Lærdansk Sonderborg Way

  1. Ross O' Dwyer

    Very well written Ann! I must say! Interesting insight into a world I never thought about! Hope you guys are all doing well

  2. Larry Anderson

    Very well written, and I could not agree more. I was so disappointed in what I was able to learn from this school. I too attended Lærdansk for approximately a year and a half. From the very beginning, a couple of the teachers displayed, what I would call a high disinterest in the students. I did have a couple of good teachers there, however they left or were let go.

    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you for your comment. I am disappointed (if a bit glad!) that others have experienced the same things I have. I sincerely hope that the school tries to improve things, but I am not holding my breathe.
      I have heard much better things about Laerdansk schools in other towns (and my Netdansk experience, which had Laerdansk teachers teaching at other schools was significantly better than what was offered locally). Hopefully if the people at the local school do not care, maybe people higher up would?

  3. Lori

    I’m shocked. I live in Amsterdam and have been studying Danish for the past 3 1/2 years. I think I have a B1 level. We have a small group (3) and a very dedicated native-language Danish teacher. She does everything you describe. Shocking that the quality would be so bad in-country. I guess market dynamics works for a reason.

    1. Ann Post author

      Well, having a very dedicated teacher does help ;). The teacher was probably teaching because she had a passion for the language and for teaching. It was very disillusioning to hear one of the teachers clearly telling us that they were teaching there as that is the job they could get!

  4. Murielle

    Hello Ann 🙂
    We talked about that before and I think it’s a pity you had a bad experience in Sønderborg. But Lærdansk in Odense was very good, and I learnt a lot. In your article and in the comments , it looks like the whole Danish teaching language system is horrible , which is not true! I also had good feedbacks from friends in other cities (Copenhagen, Aalborg and Århus) so it will be a shame to have such general conclusions for one bad city. Also remember that Netdansk is a part of lær dansk 😉

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Murielle,
      I do think this is a Laerdansk Sonderborg situation rather than a Denmark-wide problem (as I wrote in a comment further up). I thought that was clear, but maybe not :). I mentioned Netdansk as something that helped me learn, but there the teachers I had were all non-Sonderborg teachers. I have amended the title to make it clear that it is specifically the Sonderborg Laerdansk that I have experience with.

  5. Jazmin

    Totally agree, except for one teacher that I had, he was great , prepare, interested on people, but unfortunately the school mixed people from level 0 or 1 with people from level 2 and 3, change the teacher to one girl that was not bother about teaching…. Now I hear the system is worst because they dont have teachers for class,….. lets see!….

    ps. this is regarding the people taking classes in the afternoons, for the morning I receive very feedbacks! 😉

    1. Ann Post author

      Ah yes! I was taking evening lessons (as I, of course, worked during the day as written elsewhere on the blog). Not sure how the new system works, but maybe different teachers you mean that sometimes you get a good one? SO maybe it works well! But then there needs to be someone who is coordinating…

  6. Jazmin

    PS….of course Im talking as well about the school in Sønderborg, in Aarhus was much better but I have friends that complain there too ! ……

    1. Ann Post author

      I am sure that people could have complaints everywhere for everything ;). However, for Sonderborg Laerdansk the problems I have experienced and the complaints I have heard from others seem to point to a much more systemic issue than just general every day issues.

  7. Moon

    Hello! I came across your blog from Googling Laer Dansk. I start next month and wondering what to expect. I hope that my experience of the language school in Vejen is a good one, though I’m nervous about some of the points you made from your experience. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I hope to share mine on my own blog once I enroll. 🙂

    1. Ann Post author

      Good luck with the Danish! From what I heard it very much depends on your local schools. Have spoken to others who studied Danish in LærDansk in other cities and they said it was really good. So keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  8. Andrew Camilleri

    Hey! Maltese here that just moved to Odense and have been attending Laerdansk lessons for a few months.
    I can say that the teachers seem a bit more dedicated in their roles however the system is still fundamentally flawed as you mentioned.

    The classes are mixed with people who have been in the class for months before and we are constantly juggling on trying to balance out the levels. Some people can barely speak English in the class which makes it hard to even socialize or communicate with most( there seems to be a majority of russian-speaking people in my class). The teacher will do her utmost to speak only Danish to us unless we talk to her in English which is incredibly hard to even get into what we’re supposed to be learning. The online system is also quite a mess and barely fit for function. We’ve been given a second handbook just now and told us that we are done with our first one, even though it is only half-complete from the looks of it. It feels like I’m only learning for an hour from my weekly 5 hours.

    I think I will be forced to get a private tutor at this rate which is a shame. Paying all these high taxes to get a service such as this is sad and frustrating.

    1. Ann Post author

      Welcome to Denmark! I am still quite disappointed about my Danish experience. No one from the school showed any interest in my comments at all. I have also heard that the system changed a few months after I left and it is now even worse with, as you say, everyone at different levels being put in together. At least in my time we were all working towards the same test in the same class!


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