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Just Enough Danish

Maybe you're waiting for your CPR number to take Danish courses. Maybe you're just not here long enough to have the desire to learn one of the world's notoriously difficult languages. Nevertheless, you might not want to look like a tourist, especially if you aren't one.

Warning: Before attempting Danish, even what little is given here, you have to accept one fact: Danish is weird. It's hard. If it ever starts to make sense to you, it won't be today. You really have to accept that if you're going to get anywhere. If you're going to look at all this and spend ten minutes going "HUH?" then you won't actually learn it. Internalize it. Repeat the mantra: Danish is weird.

So here's just enough Danish to get you by until you learn it, or leave it. (I'm hoping to add links to audio files soon!)

So, you need to know just enough Danish to…

Understand the Pronunciation Guides on This Page
A lot of Danish letters have multiple sounds associated with them. The d, for example, has a hard sound (like in dog), and a soft sound (like the th in the). I'll represent the soft sound with a . A g never ever takes the English j sound, as in general, and sometimes it doesn't really make a sound. An r sounds more like you might imagine an English person would say it in a word like car. I represent it as "ah," but that's not 100% accurate. I use an apostrophe to indicate a glottal stop. If you don't know about glottal stops, either pretend I didn't say anything (you'll still be understood, typically) or google it. There's a lot to be said about it, especially regarding Danish.

If you really want to appear like you know Danish, say it with confidence. Even if you aren't confident. If you're lucky, they'll just think you're from Bornholm or some remote area of Jutland when you say it wrong.

Be a Grammar Nazi
Possessives in Danish do not use apostrophes. In fact, there is never a reason to have an 's in Danish. (Now you'll see them everywhere.)

Fumble Your Way Through Meeting Someone
Hej (rhymes with rye, but short and quick) means both "hello" and "good bye," as does hej hej. With hej hej, your intonation should go up when it means "hello," and down when it means "good bye."
Ja means "yes," and it sounds like a short, quick yeh. No matter how much you might want to say a thick, German yaaaah, that's not Danish.
Nej means "no". It's exactly like hej but with an n instead of an h.

Get Out of Speaking More Danish
Sure, you could just start speaking English, in most cases. But in case you want to show that you're trying, or you're speaking to your 70-year-old nextdoor neighbor who really doesn't know any English, it's good to know a phrase or two.

Taler du engelsk? - TAY-lah doo ENG-elsk? - Do you speak English?
Mit dansk er ikke så godt. - mit DANSK er IG-geh suh GOT. - My Danish isn't that good.
Jeg kan ikke forstå dig. - YAI kan IG-geh for-STO dye. - I can't understand you.

Notes: When asking a question, make the intonation go up at the end, just like a question in English. Dansk sounds like "dance" with a k; resist the temptation to say daaaahhhhnsk. Jeg rhymes with "rye."

Get Left Alone in a Shop
No matter what the salesperson says when they approach you, jeg kigger bare (yai KEE-gah BAH) gets them to go away. But don't worry; you aren't being rude. It means "I'm just looking." If you end up buying something, you can always always get away with only saying tak and hej hej. (See "Fumble Your Way…" for more about those.)

Go to a Party
People may approach you, shake your hand, and mutter something to you. It's probably their name. Say yours back.
Every few minutes at a typical Danish party, someone will raise their glass and say, skål! You'll be expected to say it back. It sounds kinda like "coal" with an s in front, but it's quicker. (Staccato, if you will, for you musical types.)

If there's food, when you're done, show your appreciation to the cook with tak for mad! which sounds like "tack for muh∂." If you wait, you'll probably hear someone else say it first and you can try to imitate them. The cook will answer back, velbekommen, acting as a "you're welcome." (Note this does not mean you should go around saying velbekommen whenever you would say "you're welcome" in English.)

Also always remember to say tak for sidst (thanks for last time) to the host(ess) within a few days of any party.

Grab a Quick Bite to Eat

En fransk hot dog, tak - EE'n fransk HOT dog, tack - A French hot dog, please
og en stor/lille pommes frites - oh EE'n STO-ah/LEE-leh POM frits - and a big/little french fries

Note: Tak actually means "thank you," but there's no word for "please," and Danes use it this way often.
(A French hot dog is a hot dog stuffed down one end of a baguette that has been filled with some kind of dressing, helpfully called "fransk hot dog dressing.")
You might want a pita kebab (PEE-ta keh-BAB, and that's BAB, not BOB) instead, but most things on the menu, like pizza have predictable pronunciations. It's also important to know that menu (said the same way) means both "menu," and "combo meal." A pita menu, for example, is typically a pita kebab, order of fries, and a drink. Cola is universally accepted by Danes to mean Coca-Cola.

Read a Map
Danmark = Denmark
Norge = Norway
Sverige = Sweden
Tyskland = Germany
Helsingør = Elsinore
København = Copenhagen
bro = bridge
lufthavn = airport
have = garden
hovedbanegård = central station
slot = castle
torv = square
Almost every street ends in vej, gade, or allé.
Many cities have a major street named {name of city} Hovedgade (main (lit. "head") street).
kilde = spring
sund = sound
sø = sea/lake

Recognize Words You Know
In Danish, a/an is en or et, e.g. en station is "a station." Those same words also mean "the" when at the end of a word, e.g. stationen is "the station." So if you see a word you know with an en or et at the end, it is probably still the word you know! Plurals are usually done by adding er, e.g. stationer. Adjectives may have a t added to the end.

Spot a Bargain
billig(t)/billigere/billigste = cheap/cheaper/cheapest
frit valg = lit. "free choice," used like "your pick" or "anything in this box/on this rack/etc."
slutspurt = lit. "finishing sprint," used like "clearance" or "final big blowout sale"
spar = save
tilbud = offer
udsalg = sale

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
How do I... August 17, 2009 11:37 PM former member
Where do I buy... August 16, 2009 4:40 PM Suchi
Information About the Mailing List from Meetup.Com February 22, 2009 11:40 PM Suchi
Pre-arrival: What Should I Bring? November 19, 2009 11:41 AM Suchi
Who Are We? September 4, 2009 2:42 PM Suchi
Ground Rules September 11, 2010 12:59 PM Suchi
Just Enough Danish August 17, 2009 9:17 PM Suchi
Riding Public Transit September 4, 2009 2:39 PM Suchi
The Little Things September 4, 2009 2:41 PM Suchi
The Frugal Expat July 13, 2009 11:57 PM former member
About American Expats in Copenhagen November 22, 2009 8:01 PM Suchi

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