I cannot count the amount of times since I have been here that someone has told me Danish is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. There are extra letters all over the show and the pronunciation is absolutely nothing like how you would expect it to be. Despite everyone here being fluent in Englihs, I have really been looking forward to starting lessons. Not only are a lot of words sinking after just a few weeks, but I really don’t like not understanding what is going on around me, or being able to read menus and signs in shops.
It is also really awkward when someone approaches you speaking in Danish. I always feel bad when I have to say ‘Sorry I don’t speak Danish’. And yet they usually apologise when they switch to English! The exception of course,is people who are trying to sell you something or sign you up for a charity. In that case, I have found that the key to success is to start talking in a third language. A very fast ‘Ah non je suis desolee, je ne comprend pas!’ usually gets them out of the way pretty quickly. I will no doubt regret that the day I get stopped by a French speaking Oxfam salesperson, but until then it seems to be the fastest way to get rid of them!
What I didn’t realise about learning Danish is what they actually must have meant – it is the hardest language to begin to take lessons in.
Here I was thinking it was all going to be handed to me one a silver platter, or more accurately, a straight forward transaction where I sign up for the class, get the confirmation email with time, date and location and I’m good to go. The first few parts worked out, but when I arrived at the school and checked in at reception things didn’t quite work out that way.
It was pretty much exactly like this:
*I think the introduction was meant to say the Danes, rather than the British
Apparently my registration hadn’t been entered into the system correctly, and the receptionist couldn’t work out what classroom I ought to be in. So her answer to everything was simply ‘No’:
Harriet: Can you tell me what room I am meant to be in?
Dopey Receptionist: No. You are not in the system.
Harriet: Well I signed up a week ago and the confirmation email said I start in the class at 6:30 tonight. Do you know what room the beginner class at 6:30pm is?
Dopey Receptionist: No.
Harriet: Is there someone you can ask?
Dopey Receptionist: No.
Harriet: Can I sign up now then? If I’m not in my allocated class there should be a spare seat…
Dopey Receptionist: No. Someone will email you with a room number.
Harriet: Are you telling me I have to just turn around and go home and wait for an email?
Dopey Receptionist: Yes.
Harriet: Are you serious? There is nothing you can do to find out what room I am meant to be in?
Dopey Receptionist: No. Someone will email.
It was beyond ridiculous. There I was, nice and early, ready for my class and the ridiculous barrier to entry was the receptionist not knowing what room I was meant to be in because there was no page in the handbook telling her how to deal with that situation. I know the place is government funded, but at least take the initiative to go ask your supervisor a question. Maybe it wasn’t so much her fault and the place was entirely reliant on that computer system, or the poor woman wasn’t empowered to make decisions in her job, but it was bewildering to think that bureaucracy overruled logic and they couldn’t just squeeze me in to the class I was meant to be in because of their error. Even if it was the wrong one, its not like the bloody place was going to be a mosh pit, I could have sat in the back of the room!
I made it home, rather annoyed that I had gone all the way in to town just to turn around and go back home, especially knowing that the classes start once a month so I may have to wait a month to join the next one.
After a week I still hadn’t received an email about my class. I was about to ring up and enquire, when I checked my emails and there was one from the coordinator at Laer Dansk. However, to my great surprise, it was a group email to all of the exchange students promoting a gig from some local band. From his work email. This isn’t the first time I have encountered someone who is too busy promoting his buddy’s shitty garage band and thinking he is the next Simon Cowell to actually do his job, so it annoyed me even more. Suffice to say he received a rather tersely worded reply with just the right amount of guilt tripping.
With that the issue was resolved and I was put in to a class the next Monday. When I got there the teacher knew exactly who I was, so I guess there had finally been some internal communication in the place. Unfortunately everyone else was two 3hour lessons ahead, so I had to work twice as hard to catch up. Which the teacher conveniently kept forgetting.
Luckily I wasn’t too shy to stick my hand up and say ‘Sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about.’ If it had been my fault that I missed class I would feel bad about holding everyone up, but I was so frustrated about being behind and it being their fault, that the least they could do was make a bit of an effort to help me out!
Halfway through the lesson I was feeling like I had caught up somewhat, but it certainly wasn’t a fine display of Scandinavian efficiency. With one book full of conversations/sentences, a second book with the translations and a third book with pronunciation, it was enough of a puzzle flicking through the pages and trying to match them up before she sped on to the next module, but by the end of the lesson I felt like I was catching on. We covered a huge amount of material and then there was homework to do, so the name of the program – ‘Intensivst Dansk’ – certainly was no lie!
It definitely makes it a whole lot easier being surrounded by Danish speakers, reading Danish shop signs etc. Immersion theory and all that. I have already found myself getting a lot more used to Danish words and their pronunciation in particular. Hearing the place names being called out on the buses has been incredibly useful for that too. In fact, before my first class I was already having full conversations in Danish! For example:
Harriet: Hej (Hi, pronounced ‘hi’ also)
[Shopkeeper scans items]
Shopkeeper: [says something Danish]
[Screen says price]
[Harriet hands over cash]
Harriet: Tak! [Thanks in Danish, pronounced as you’d expect, for once]
Success! I bet she didn’t even know I wasn’t Danish!