Can you learn Danish by osmosis?

Interesting little piece from the BBC website.

Nice one, thanks! This “being comfortable” is exactly how I feel when I am in Holland. I understand enough for my needs.

P.S. Don’t know, though, whether I’d be comfortable in Denmark, since my understanding of Dutch is naturally much better than that of Danish.


I’m pretty sure that someone who knows English and German could very quickly learn to read Danish. But of course the real problem with Danish is the Monster-Aussprache(!) :-0

Norwegian would probably be a much easier spoken form to learn - that way one would still be able to read Danish (and most likely Swedish) as well.

@force de frappe, I can’t agree so easily to your statement, because my experience is different! For a speaker of German / Dutch / English it may be easy to understand simple Danish / Norwegian written sentences. But to be able to read native level Danish texts, I needed a very intensive reading and looking up the vocabulary practise for three years and I still want to improve this ability. So I had to put the hard work into this and I still continue this kind of practise. On the higher levels Danish and Norwegian are not that easy! I can’t speak for Swedish, because I have never studied that language.


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I think it is all a question of age and immersion.

I remember I had a 24 year old technician working under me who had moved to Sweden the year before. I always thought she was Swedish and was amazed to establish she was in fact, German. Her accent was undetectable and her Swedish as good as any Swede.

A young Dutch guy moved to Sweden and was speaking Swedish, albeit not perfectly, within 3 weeks.

I feel that the cut-off point is around 30 or so. People over 30 tend to have non-native accents whereas people under 30 can often acquire native-like accents. Young people can acquire a working knowledge of the language when living in the country either studying or working within 6 months, and reach fluency within a year.

Younger people tend to move to the country in question and integrate themselves better in the culture. They are either at school studying or in a new job working and they get constant, and I mean constant, exposure.

Going back to the similarities of Scandinavian languages and German, I would like to mention that I have met many a German who stated that Scandinavian languages are like simple German.

German grammar is a killer in comparison. Many German teachers feel for example, that Dutch students overestimate their ability to speak German because of the similarities between the two languages. They get the German grammar all wrong.

Younger people get there faster and tend to immerse themselves more, reaching a level older people never, ever will. Anyone under 30 mark my words, go for it while you can!!!

You don’t need language immersion and you don’t need to reside in the target country to learn a language well, but it doesn’t hurt!

I am not saying that anyone over 30 doesn’t have a chance, of course not. It’s just that the going gets tough and that polished finish is harder to acquire.

@Maria So that’s your experience horizon! I should point out that I don’t have any kind of language immersion! Only for my Dutch I telephone in the language every day and I also use written Dutch a lot. But for all my other languages there isn’t any immersion available for me! So let me live for one year in a foreign country at my age of 52 and see what I can achieve in a foreign language. But nobody will finance my stay in such a country - that’s the point - and I wouldn’t want to lose the social integration I have now here in my city. At my age you cannot move to another place so easily.


Emma Thomas sounds like a prime candidate for LingQ. And this is a juicy morsel, too: “Something all foreign correspondents know about is trying to pick up the local language. Though they may sometimes specialise in one region, generally the job involves moving to a new country every three or four years.” What a coup for LingQ to get a high-profile correspondent to use LingQ to learn a language and then write about it and spread the word among other correspondents and their readers.

Dansk kan jo være rigtig svært at udtale fordi, sproget er ikke udtales som skrevet. Så skulle man lægge mærke til udtalen.

It’s always refreshing to know there are people who still want to learn Scandinavian languages (like Danish).

Donhamilitontx: She does, doesn’t she? But we need more votes for Danish before that can happen.

I agree with Maria on it being an issue of age and immersion. I’ve met a German woman who spoke English with an Irish accent with slight Australian undertones to it. So I do think it is definitely possible to get a native-like accent when you’re younger. However, having an convincing Danish accent may take longer than say a convincing Norwegian or Swedish accent.

I don’t know… not that I’ve heard that many foreigners speak convincing Danish, but to my ears, there’s a lot more “melody” in any Norwegian/Swedish accent (and for some reason, that seems to be the major thing that learners worry about).

I’ve heard people code-switch Danish and Swedish (at such a level I couldn’t tell which was the native language).

I note that the ‘speak like a native’ debate is discussed elsewhere in the forums, but since sounding like a native is mentioned here, here’s my two cents’ worth:

I don’t really see the point in aiming for ‘native-like’ pronunciation at any age. If you’re under 30 and do so, good for you. But, I think it’s more important to aim to successfully communicate (understand and be understood) and to notice one’s bad habits and work on them. I work at my pronunciation all the time, but never want to pass myself off as a native speaker orally.

Some of the most interesting, eloquent L2 English speakers I’ve heard have foreign accents. Some accents are cute, some are distinguished, and some are downright sexy, such as a couple of my male Japanese lecturers’ voices:~) I couldn’t care less if foreigners here don’t sound like my native Australian English.

This is a different subject, but another mistake I believe people make is thinking that a large part of attaining ‘native’ level or ‘fluency’ is being able to understand every idiom, slang, joke, swear word et cetera in the target language. I know some foreigners here who feel embarrassed if they don’t understand something that only someone alive during the 60s here or lived in a certain locality here in Australia would know. Big mistake. Heck, I’m a native English speaker, yet I don’t understand a lot of American humour and culture, for example. Is there something wrong with my English? Of course not. Is American English superior? Of course not. (Only for Amerocentrics). Can I pronounce the name of every town in Australia? Of course not. And neither can the rest of Australia. I hear Sydney-siders pronounce “Gumeracha” (in Adelaide) as “Goo-mer-rar-cha”, instead of good 'ol “Gumma-rackka”!

Judging from some members’ comments from time to time in the forums, I get the impression they’re wrongly beating themselves up because they don’t understand every inside joke, idiom and vernacular in Spanish or French, say - when they appear otherwise to have a high level of language.

I wouldn’t say “it’s a mistake” to aim, or for that matter not to aim, for a “native-like pronunciation”, and for that matter, “native-like command of the language”, in terms of grammar, idioms, slang, jokes, etc.

It’s just how it is, particularly in Europe, where depending on where you live, there is a lot of exposure to other languages and an ever-growing, minute percentage of the population reaches native levels in other languages.

There are quite a number of young people who are or have been members of LingQ who speak several languages unbelievably well. So well, in fact that one almost wonders how it is possible to have excellent command, and all that it entails, of another language.

Another non-LingQer who comes to mind, is a Swede who is married to a South African and lived there for some years. She sounds like and writes like a native in both languages and one is left wondering whether she is primarily a native English South African speaker with native Swedish or whether it is the other way around.

As Jeff mentions above, there simply are people who exist where you just can’t tell which is their native language.

I think that Julz is simpy offering us a “chill pill”^^

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“…I get the impression they’re wrongly beating themselves up because they don’t understand every inside joke, idiom…”

(Disclaimer: I´ve reread my post and I admit that it´s not exactly straight to the point, but it hope you´ll understand what I mean anyway^^)

My parents, my oncles and aunts and most of my siblings only speak German. They´ve learned some Russian 20-30 years ago but they forgot most of it. My youngest sister (she´s 29) speaks English quite well and I´m the first “trilingual guy” in our family (I´m 24).
When my parents were teenagers, they would´ve assumed that somebody who speaks French and English is a diplomat…

I´ve grown up in a “globalized” world and I know a lot of people, who speak English at a near-native level (some of them speak a third language) and these guys are unemployed, work at a café or whatever…

Speaking “good English” is nothing special, if you wanna stand out, you have to speak native-like English and learn a third language. This might be even more common in Skandinavia and the Netherlands.