Tag Archives: Danish language

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.

Review: The Worktrotter’s Guide to Denmark

The Worktrotter’s guide to Denmark is an ‘instruction manual’ for people moving to Denmark, mainly for work reasons. It is written by Dagmar Fink, a software engineer who moved to Denmark in 2006 and now works for the integration of expats in her spare time.

The book covers a wide variety of topics, from Danes you should know about and Danish norms, to practical information such as getting registered in Denmark and learning Danish. The book is quite brief in most sections, but the list of links it provides allow you to delve deeper into the areas you are interested in.

In my case I only got it once I arrived in Denmark, which meant I had already gone through a lot of time and effort trying to figure things out myself. Furthermore, I had visited Denmark so many times in the last years and read quite a bit about the country as I tried to understand the characteristics of my ‘in-laws’. Therefore, I had already spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure things out on my own.

Nevertheless, there were still a number of surprises in the books and explanations to things that I had never quite understood. I hope to highlight some of these below to show the wide variety of useful tips and hints in the book

Surprising facts: The time you are invited to someone’s house has a big bearing on what you will be offered there in terms of food and drink, such that they would not necessarily specify it in the invite. Very important to know rather than offend your host by turning up full for a dinner, or starving for snacks!

Good ideas: The author mentions a group she set up in Copenhagen, called ‘Vi taler dansk‘ (We speak Danish), where expats are encouraged to practice their spoken Danish in a ‘safe’ environment. It would be quite difficult for me to travel to Copenhagen for this, but nothing keeps others, including me, from setting up similar groups. If anyone else in Sonderborg thinks this is a good idea I think it will be something I will go for.

Practical issues: Danish households receive heaps and heaps of advertising leaflets and booklets with discounts and offers from a wide variety of stores. Apparently there are always some good offers (and who doesn’t like the idea of that?) but I baulk at the notion of leafing through them all every single week. However, there seems to be a saviour in all this in the form of a website that pulls them all together.

Danish traditions: A lot is said in Denmark about Jante’s Law, both by those who agree that this is a reality and by those who think that it no longer holds in Danish society. I think the book tackles this issue sensitively by highlighting aspects of Danish attitudes that may be due to this sociological concept without prescribing them to it.

As you can see the guide tackles a wide-ranging set of issues that would definitely help anyone moving to Denmark (and possibly even Danes themselves!). For this reason I would say that the guide is indispensable to the total newcomer to the country, and useful for everyone else.

UPDATE: Got this comment to the book from Grace:


Photo by Naomi Luxford