Denmark is a small country in Northern Europe with 5.5 million inhabitants. The people of Denmark speak Danish. But which other languages do they speak? In the following I’m going to go through a few of the most common languages spoken in Denmark.
Danish, more than just a pastry!
The Danish language belongs to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, or more precisely: The North Germanic branch.
It’s a language related to English, Dutch and German and there are a lot of similarities between these languages in terms of grammar and vocabulary. But Danish is even closer to Swedish and Norwegian, the languages of Denmark’s two neighbors.
Denmark, Sweden and Noway have a long, shared history, which might be part of the reason that these three languages are actually (almost) completely mutually intelligible.
To listen to an example of spoken Danish, go have a look at the mini-stories that I translated and recorded in Danish myself.
English speakers in Denmark
English is the one dominant foreign language that people speak in Denmark. Over 80% of Danes are said to speak English, and if you’re open for using hand gestured or less-than-perfect English with the remaining 20%, chances are that it’ll be possible.
English is taught in Danish public schools from a low age, and this might be part of the reason. Another reason is that Danes watch more and more American television and unlike many other European countries, the films and series are subtitled instead of being dubbed. This makes for a good level of English comprehension, but most Danes also have a reasonable level of spoken English.
How many Danes speak German?
Denmark shares its southern borders with Germany. That’s also why the two countries have historically had a very tight bond in terms of trade and culture.
Denmark and Germany have also fought quite a few wars throughout the ages. This meant that the borders between the two countries have moved quite a few times the last 200 years or so, and for each time, an important number of people of the “opposite” side have found themselves suddenly living in a foreign country.
Southern Denmark has a little under 20.000 inhabitants who characterize themselves as German today, whereas northern Germany has around 50.000 people who identify as Danes.
More important, however, is the number of Danes who speak German as a foreign language. Some figures say that as many as 47% of Danes are supposed to be at least conversational in German. While many Danes do get by in German, however, I doubt that half of the people you meet in Denmark will be able to converse with you in German.
Faroese, the language of the Faroese Islands
The Faroese Islands are to this day part of the Kingdom of Denmark. While you might find this odd, due to the fact that the Faroese speak their own language (Faroese) and that their country is far from Denmark and quite different, it does mean that there are around 23.000 people in Denmark who speak the Faroese language.
That’s less that 0.5% of the Danish population though. (Or 1.5% is you count the 50.000 Faroese speakers on the Faroese Islands as well).
Greenlandic, or the Inuit language
Like the Farorese Islands, Greenland is also officially part of the Danish territory. Despite Greenland being the biggest island in the world, it isn’t very densely populated. In fact, only around 57.000 people live in Greenland.
Add to that the around 16.000 Greenlanders (or Inuit people) who live in Denmark, and we have a little over 70.000 speakers in the Danish Kingdom. That’s something like 1.2% of the population, or 0.2% if you only count those who live in Denmark.
But what kind of language is Greenlandic?
Greenlandic is in fact completely unrelated to most other languages in the world. The Inuit language belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut language family. It’s a language with a quite beautiful sound and unique to it. For an example, watch this video.
Other languages spoken in Denmark
Besides the languages already mentioned, there are a number of foreign languages taught in Danish schools and colleges as well as languages spoken by various immigrant communities.
While most students focus primarily on English, and to a degree, German, some do study French, Spanish or more exotic languages like Chinese or Arabic. I wouldn’t say, however, that a significant amount of Danes end up fluent in any of these languages. So I wouldn’t count of speaking any of these languages with Danes in Denmark!
More important are the languages spoken by the different immigrant communities in Denmark.
Close to 1% of the Danish population are said to speak some form of Arabic. Another 1% speak Turkish and a little under 1% speak Polish.
Finally each of the following languages are spoken by around 0.5% of the Danish population: Romanian, Bosniac, Iranian, Somali, Pashto, Vietnamese, Hindi, Lithuanian and Chinese.
And that pretty much rounds up the primary languages spoken in Denmark.