Languages in Denmark

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Languages in Denmark

Denmark's national language is Danish, a member of the Germanic branch of the group of Indo-European languages, and within that family, part of the North Germanic, East Norse group. It is, in theory, very similar to Norwegian Bokmål and also to Swedish, and is to some extent intelligible to speakers of those languages, especially in written form. However its sound is more influenced by the guttural German language, rather than the lilting languages found to the north and understanding spoken Danish may be a trace more difficult to those who only speak Swedish or Norwegian. It is also more distantly related to Icelandic and Faroese, though spoken Danish is not mutually intelligible with these languages.

English is widely spoken in Denmark (close to 90% of the population speaks it, making Denmark one of the most English proficient countries on the planet where English is not an official language), and many Danes have near native fluency. Danish school children start their English lessons in third grade, and regular English lessons continue until students finish high school, and many Danish university courses are fully or partially taught in English. In this regard, it is worth noting that Denmark is probably one of very few countries in the world, where you get no extra points for trying to speak the language, and Danes in general have very little patience with non-fluent speakers. So except for a few words like Tak (thank you) or Undskyld (excuse me), English-speakers are much better off just speaking English than fighting their way through a phrasebook. If you do try, and the person you are talking to immediately switches to English, don't feel bad as it is not meant to condescend or belittle. Also of note, the Danish language has no equivalent to the English word "please" so at times it may seem as though Danes are rude when speaking English. This is not their intention, but it is just from their directly translating from Danish to English.

Many Danes also speak German. Denmark is one of the top countries in Europe when it comes to knowledge of the German language, since more than 58% of the population has a good knowledge of the language. It is widely spoken in areas that attract many tourists from Germany, i.e. mainly the Jutland West Coast, the southern part of Funen and nearby islands (e.g. Langeland and Ærø), and also especially in Southern Jutland (Sønderjylland / Northern Schleswig), where it has status of a minority language. Elsewhere in the country, many people prefer to avoid speaking it, even when they do have some command of the language, and you will have a hard time convincing anyone to (outside the tourist industry) otherwise: this has nothing to do with history but is merely a result of the high fluency in English, making the locals less inclined to struggle through a language they are not entirely comfortable with. In a pinch or emergency though, people will probably step up, and do their best to help. There is a native or indigenous German speaking minority along the southern border to Germany (Sønderjylland / Northern Schleswig) and vice verse across the frontier there is a small community of Danish speakers to be found in Germany.

French is also spoken to some degree, as all Danish students have received at least three years of lessons in either German or French, but given the Danes' limited contact with the French language, fluency tends to be lagging.

Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Danish.

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