The importance of language

I know it is the summer time and the city is full of tourists but recently I have been noticing a lot more languages around me, probably as the streets and cafes are busier in the summer. I don’t live in a particularly touristy area and as I cycle around I regularly catch snatches of other languages – English, French, Spanish, German and Slavic languages. These people are the community of Copenhagen, regardless of how long or short their stay is.


Because most Danes over the age of 10 and under the age of 50 speak perfect English, it does make the city welcoming to other Europeans. There is a lot of talk about Denmark being closed to outsiders and the pressure to speak Danish but as time goes on I notice the latter becoming less important.  I put some of this down to the realisation that Denmark is a tiny country with a complicated language. It seems the larger the country the tighter the population hold onto their own language. Also the desire to be part of wider world and the opportunities that it presents, particularly for the next generation.

I know people who’s children are studying in the UK or America and they welcome the experience this offers. There are a number of Danish children at my son’s international preschool, presumably to give them a head start in English and make them more international for future family moves. Perhaps people are looking to become more ambitious and less governed by Jante Law as time goes on?


I can speak Danish but often I am with my son or husband speaking English so people around me automatically address me in my mother tongue and seem almost confused if I reply in Danish.

Films and TV are shown in their original language here so people are exposed to English every day (and some dreadful TV too!). But again Danish crime programmes are taking the world by storm and are in their original language.

I recently read that by the time my son’s generation are adults that English will be the main academic and professional language of Denmark. To me this presents a mixed feeling. I am glad that my son will be able to communicate in his mother tongue and I welcome the opportunities this offers to him and his peers. But at the same time a native language is very precious and is an integral part of identity.






  1. Very interesting points you make – I love languages and I do think they are integral to culture. I made a point to learn Danish as soon as I could when I moved here, because it’s simply the best way to get integrated and understand the new culture. Some words you just can’t translate (see “hygge”). That being said, it does help immensely that everybody here is so good at English, plus, being from Germany, I know how horrible dubbed movies are! 🙂

  2. As a Dane, I worry about this a great deal. I get by in English, but I’ll never be able to express as many nuances and play with the lanuguage the way I can in Danish. If English replaces Danish as the main academic language, then my children will have a disadvantage compared to people whose native language is English, even if they choose to have their future here in Denmark. They’ll be homeless – lanugage wise – in their professional life. As it is, people from larger countries already have the advantage of being part of a majority culture globally, and I don’t really know what it’ll do to us, if we try so hard to emulate them, that we end up stuck with two half languages – one that we use professionally, and one that we use in private. Also, having to learn English well enough to use it professionally is taking time away from other school subjects, and that means that our children will probably recieve less instructions in things like math or social science, than a child in a country where the school system doesn’t teach multible languages. I have no idea what the solution is, and I don’t even know if this is going to be that much oof a problem. i mean, I’m not exactly fluent in English myself, as you can probably tell from the spelling in this comment, but I get by on the job market. I just think the subject is very interesting. At the same time, it’s something that annoys me, when english speaking expats are complaining that it’s hard to learn Danish. Really?!? What makes them think that it’s more edifficult for them to speak Danish, than it is for Danish people to speak English? .

    • Thanks, Astrid for taking the time to comment. It is an interesting subject but whether it will actually happen, who knows. I think that languages are so important to identity. I learnt to speak Danish when I arrived here 6 years ago and do use the skill I have but more often than not I find Danes replying in English. I must say that whilst many Danes speak excellent English the written word is often not at the same level. I can understand the argument that many expats have about learning a language if they are only here short term, I suppose you can’t learn the language of every country you are stationed in but if you are here for a longer period, I personally feel that as the lessons are essentially free, at least taking the first couple of levels really helps with integration and long term enjoyment of living here. And surely all languages are hard to learn at the start?

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