On Saturday, 12 March, I hit 500 days straight of learning Danish through the language app Duolingo. But why am I learning another language? What inspired me? How am I learning? What’s the plan going forward? What have I learned beyond telling a zoo keeper that a tiger eats my future husband? (Tigeren spiser min mand!)
The Venn diagram of events that led me to me learning Danish
There’s a pretty simple explanation as to how I ended up leaning towards learning Danish over another language.
Step one: end up a Fannibal
Post GISH (the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt) 2020, I was gently nudged into a rewatch of Bryan Fuller’s version of Hannibal. Those who listen to my Nerds Assemble podcast will know how that went.
I dived deep into a fandom that is still going strong for a show that hasn’t had a new season since 2016 (and yes, I am one of those people who still hopes for a season 4). Through this dive and ongoing obsession, I well and truly became a Fannibal, who not only liked Hannibal but the filmography of the show’s two main stars.
Now, watching Hugh Dancy’s back catalogue (he’s a Brit who played Will Graham) is a lot easier for me as someone who has English as a first language. (He’s done a bit in French, but mostly sticks to English.) But for Mads Mikkelsen (who plays Hannibal) and his volume of work that goes far beyond the Hollywood titles that nearly always see him play some variation of a villain?
Some of it is in French, some German, but the majority of it is in his native dansk.
And while I don’t ever expect to be completely fluent in Danish, it’s nice not having to completely rely on subtitles (and pick on nuances that get lost in translation).
I can’t remember quite which scene, but there was one in Druk (a.k.a. the Oscar winning Another Round) where the English subtitles didn’t quite match what I was hearing in Danish and changed the emphasis a little. Anyway.
Mads has been in a lot of Danish productions, and through interactions with Fannibal Twitter I decided to get to know them alongside Hugh’s previous work.
(Did you know that Fannibals have a term for discussing the rest of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen’s back catalogue and having all sorts of fanworks where their various characters “encounter” each other? It’s called the Hannibal Extended Universe or HEU for short.)
Step two: be in the middle of the apocalypse
C’mon, you know what I mean. Begins with C, ends in D and has devastated the globe?
Followed up by other global events of a humanitarian disaster level that are shaking up everyone’s trust in institutions, friends, family and even neighbours?
Yeah, a lot has happened since 2020. (Though 2016 was probably the point where the darkest timeline really took hold, let’s face it.)
Step three: be aware of your need to stop doom scrolling
Boy, while I do tend to keep myself on top of world events there’s only so much I can take in and stay sane.
While March to the start of October 2020 saw me doing a lot of doom scrolling, there came a point where I was feeling like there was something else I’d rather do while on my smartphone. Something healthier for my sanity and meaningful to me (feck off doing it for future employability, and so on and so forth, because not every minute of my day needs to be “productive”).
Perfect opportunity to learn Danish
It helps that I had previously learned German for about seven years between secondary school and two years on the International Baccalaureate. Not that I am fluent in German, I can read it, listen a bit, but I am crap at speaking it.
With this background and all the above events coalescing in my life, it seemed like a good time to learn Danish.
There are many language apps out there
Depending on how you learn and why you’re learning, there are a lot of ways that you learn a language like Danish. It’s not supported on all language apps out there but it is on the following:
I haven’t looked further than these three and if you have any suggestions, please do share them.
And if you’re in Cornwall and have a Cornwall library card, the card gives you access to a free app where it’s possible to learn a level of Danish suitable for a holiday. (Based elsewhere? Your local library service likely has free-language learning resources you can use too.)
What I learned from 500 days of learning Danish
Here is a list of things I learned that aren’t just random Danish words.
There are bits I like about Danish as a language
There are similarities between Danish and German which helped me not be too scared by a third language. And there are things that Danish does that I prefer over how German handles things, including:
- “The” being part of words (it varies but I love it), while still having a separate word for “the” when you need it. So, tigeren is “the tiger” with en denoting “the”.
- The use of English swear words (makes cursing easier) and some intriguing ones of their own.
- How less formal than German, Danish is as a language. And it’s far more to the point in my opinion as a result.
However, I have grown more appreciative of just how much more slowly spoken German is as a language compared to Danish. And wow, can Danish get fast.
There are also some similarities between English and Danish, which I find helpful.
It’s worth learning about the culture a language comes from as well as learning it
Learning about culture as you study a language helps you understand why certain phrases exist, where the important elements of a sentence come into play. And it just makes it all far more memorable when you don’t have a native speaker to talk with and you’re not living in the country.
I went on two language exchanges when I was studying German in school and the internet hardly existed as it does now. So, opportunities to learn about German culture were limited and it definitely made it harder to learn.
Today, there are so many opportunities to learn about the culture for a language as you learn it, largely thanks to the internet. That opportunity is super important in a world where travel is not always easy.
What I’ve used to get a bit of Danish culture:
- Mads Mikkelsen’s back catalogue of Danish films
- Danish language TV shows like Rita, Borgen, The Chestnut Man on Netflix
- What The Denmark podcast, which is literally a show all about understanding Danish culture
- Books like The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (which was recommended to me)
And if you have any recommendations, lemme know.
I’ve even got a Danish version of the Stephen King novel Carrie to read once I’m feeling more confident about reading in Danish. (I also have some dictionaries and a grammar book on hand.)
You don’t have to learn something just because it’ll lead to a new career
Learning Danish has cost me money and it’ll likely cost me more in future because some day I’d love to visit Denmark for a spell (apparently it might be possible to get there entirely by train, an idea that excites me immensely).
I’ve been asked numerous times during my 500 days if I am learning just because I want to work in Denmark or with Danish companies. These have never been my goals.
My main goal has always been to give my brain something to do and occupy my time in a non-stressful way. That helps me alleviate boredom and connect more deeply with the film career of a guy who is an amazing actor.
And then the deeper I’ve gone, the more I’ve wanted to know about a different country and its culture beyond that one man.
I like knowing and learning stuff for the sole reason it fascinates me.
But I am well aware that I also have the privilege of time and modest financial means to learn something new.
Learning something new takes time
Okay, this is more of a reminder for me, rather than something I learned. But I do swear people forget that it takes time and practice to get okay and then good at something.
I’ve encountered a fair few people in my life who give up on something because they spent an hour learning something and still can’t do it as well as someone who’s had years to hone their abilities. People who won’t learn something because they won’t be instantly good at it.
Whether it’s learning a new language, learning how to knit or learning how to decently cook… and on, and on.
Slow down. Expect to fumble words, to make holes or burn food. And then try again. You’ll get better with practice, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t get something right away.
Here’s to 500 more days and beyond!
While I’ve been writing this blog post, Duolingo has popped up a reminder on my phone to remind me to take a lesson.
Later this year, for my birthday, I’m hoping to convince a few friends to have a Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen movie marathon with me. (Heads up if one of you is reading this.)
I’m slowly saving for that trip to Denmark.
So, here’s to 500 more days and beyond of learning dansk.