Danes are known for, and often pride themselves on, their knowledge of English. English is studied for around 7 years at school, and films often only get subtitles in Danish, rather than being dubbed. Therefore, newcomers to Denmark, including me, often think that they can easily get by with English, at least at the beginning. But is this the experience in practice? Can you get to the information you want if your Danish is limited to non-existent?
In today’s interconnected society the internet is often the source most people would resort to for information. And that, of course, was my plan of action before moving here. As can be expected, there is quite a lot of information out there. However, I was surprised to realise that quite a significant number of resources directed towards foreigners are written only in Danish. This included websites, such as the state administration website containing information on getting registered in Denmark, which were incompletely translated, making the use of googletranslate essential for finding out all the information you need!
Of course, lack of English-language information online might be an oversight, or a symptom of too much to be done. However, things did not necessarily get easier when trying to sort things out offline. When trying to get a bank account I was told that I would need to make an appointment, while when Michael started speaking Danish we got one there and then. Tax card? I was told I need to post a form and it would take around 2 weeks while Michael called a few minutes after me and managed to get it done for me over the phone.
By now I was starting to realise that I really needed to learn Danish sooner rather than later. So I emailed the kommune, asking for information about how I could get this done (Denmark offers free Danish lessons for immigrants).
Dear Sonderborg kommune,
I am Ann Fenech. I moved to Denmark around 1 month ago. I was informed that the commune offers Danish classes for newcomers. May I please ask how I may avail myself of these lessons?
Kind regards, med venlig hilsen,
This is the reply I got from the kommune’s job centre’s immigration team:
Tak for din mail.
Du har ret til 3 års danskundervisning gældende fra den 8. dec. 2011 – 8. dec. 2014. Jeg vil lave en henvisning til Lærdansk, Augustenborg Landevej 7, 6400 Sønderborg.
Du vil senere få et brev eller en opringning fra dem, hvor de vil invitere dig til en visitationssamtale.
Jobcenter – Integrationsteam
I kid you not!
In these circumstances I wonder how someone with no Danish skills (and even more so with no English skills, which is something I haven’t really thought about?) would deal with moving to Denmark.
Find a Danish ‘boyfriend’ for the first few months at least? 😛
Not exactly a perfect solution…
I didn’t have a Dane when I moved here and I can tell you it was bloody hard. There were colleagues to help out with bits and bobs but when the letter came about smear tests or the stuff about tax, I had no idea who I could ask.
I showed my letter (same level of Danish as yours), about my very first Danish lesson to a Dane I was staying with and she laughed and said “Welcome to Denmark.”
My solution was to put everything written to me in Danish in a cardboard box and ignore it.
Oh, and I had to wait 18 months for a VisaDankort and they made me have an interview (“Do you have a job?” Yes. “Okay, you can have the card then”), when they could have just looked at someone’s account if they were Danish.
I could speak Danish by then, the preferential treatment you get because you have a Dane to vouch for you does not transfer when YOU can speak Danish (unless you speak it perfectly and they do not realise you are foreign)
My boyfriend (who I met years after moving here), thinks I am LYING when I tell him about what happened. “No no, it only takes a week. No one has to have an interview!”
My best friend is Greek and her English is good but it’s not fluent and she has suffered worse than me in many ways.
I did have to go thru an “interview” when I got my first Dankort.
I am not surprised TackiestOnes. Being here I realise how lucky I am that Michael can translate everything for me, as I am not sure I would manage half as well if I had to muddle through everything on my own – googletranslate is not perfect after all!
As for the Dankort – but only because my work place has bank advisors for their employees and I asked for a meeting with her did I manage to get one – as you say, I had to have a sort of interview. Again, luckily for me, Michael had previously helped a friend move here for a while, so he knew something about the hoops I would have to jump through and their order.
I don’t have much hope of speaking Danish with no accent, but looking forward to being able to understand the people around me.
I can tell you that in my nearly 4 years here, I have seen a DRASTIC INCREASE in the amount of official websites/docs that are translated into English. (but there is NO excuse for that reply that you received!!!)
When I first arrived, those types of things were nearly non-existent…. so I do think that DK is trying…
but it is a SLOW going process.
However spoken English is almost ALWAYS a possibility.
The only places that I have found that folks struggled with speaking English with me in the beginning were places like the bakery or grocery store, where the employees may not have had any type of education past the compulsory grades.. so their Eng was not as developed as others.
However, I have NEVER EVER had any treat me rudely … not in 4 years… we just struggled through the communication process together.
I must admit that I have not found any problems as yet in shops and supermarkets – with people there I have generally muddled through with a smile on both sides, even when we didn’t speak the same language.
However, I have found the situation to be different for ‘official stuff’, such as at the bank, registering for a CPR-number, tax services, housing authority. I think DK may be trying, but the people on the front line are not always au fait with that so although they can nearly always speak English, a good number will try their best not to. I think that is what frustrates me the most at the moment, as I thought that people in such positions would be the most forthcoming as trying to communicate with everyone who comes in was part of the service they are offering.
Depends on the shop. I find that I get the same level of customer service as Danes in supermarkets (either friendly or grumpy without favour!)
Occasionally, I have been terribly mistreated in shops when they get the idea I’m the wrong sort of immigrant. I have dark hair and had no Dane to hide behind in the first few years (I am making up for lost time now though). Most people think I am adorable but every now and then… *shudder*
It hasn’t happened for ages and I’m starting to forget how stressful speaking to Danes was at the start. I hope I don’t ever forget. I don’t want to be the guy who makes newbies feel inadequate for having a hard time.
It’s like an episode taken from Ripley’s Believe it or not. Your inquiry about Danish course replied with Danish. Amazing.
In all fairness I know some professional institutes: banks, schools / universities, worker’s union replied to me English when I wrote to them in English but this is a very rare coincidence.
When I was still studying at DTU and volunteered to be guide for new students, you don’t know how much a job that was, because obviously all the important stuff are in Danish only (like tax, CPR registration and all).
Good luck and keep fighting, this country needs a change, at least change toward what they claimed themselves in the first place (you know being Danes are so good in English, you don’t need Danish to survive bla bla bla)
I think you hit the nail on its head there this indonesian. If Danes/Denmark didn’t advertise themselves so strongly as being so good in English and that everyone can speak it well, people wouldn’t expect it, and then it would be fine. I think it is the fact that the high expectations foreigners get actually do more harm than good to the image.
There is a huge difference between being able to conduct a conversation face to face in spoken english, and being fluent enough to write it! When danes say they speak english, that’s usually exactly what they mean. they SPEAK english. That does not mean they’re able to write it fluently. So… why should the danes be the ones that have to struggle with google translate and risk giving out the wrong info? I mean… I don’t expect to have an answer in danish if I go abroad. I don’t even expect to have one in english. If I were in, say, Germany, I’d expect them to speak german. I’m a bit baffled by the entitlement in this post, to be honest.
If Danes say they speak English then yes, you are correct: they are expected to speak English and not necessarily write it. However, if a country advertises itself as English-speaking friendly and is trying to attract well-educated foreigners to come to work there then you would expect that any services meant for such foreigners are also available in English. This is the basics of being a service-minded society. But maybe you think that is not important? And I don’t expect Danes to answer me in my own language either ;).
I know the feeling all too well. I still get letters in Danish, even though the kommune know I’m British and a newcomer. I even had a Laer Dansk letter in Danish! I have my boyfriend to translate for me, thankfully, but I pity those who don’t have that luxury.
Yes! LærDansk letter in Danish here too :). I also pity the ones who don’t have the luxury. Luckily I had that luxury as well.