Danish is a language of some 5,5 million speakers in Northern Europe.
Most of them (us) speak pretty decent English.
Still – you probably have your own reasons to learn the Danish language.
It might be a heritage language, you might have Danish friends with whom you want to speak in their language. Perhaps you want to watch Danish television or read Danish literature in its original language?
Or perhaps you’re just fascinated with the sound of Danish! (If you want to hear me speak it, check out the Danish mini-stories I recorded!)
Whatever your reason might be, you’ll want to know what kind of time frame to aim for. How long does it take to become fluent in Danish?
I’d say that you can learn to become conversational in Danish in 6 months, and that it would take around a year and a half of consistent daily self-study to become reasonably fluent. This, however, is highly dependent on a lot of factors. Keep reading!
Things about Danish that are easy. And some that are not so easy
Danish is a Germanic language like German, Dutch, other Scandinavian languages and – English.
Being from the same language family obviously makes for a lot of structural and lexical similarities between English and Danish.
You’ll quickly notice that the two languages have a lot in common in terms of vocabulary. House is hus, man is mand, fish is fisk. And so on.
Some theorize that the English people have their origin in Southern Jutland – in what is today the bordering area between Denmark and Germany. They were the people called the “Angels” (not to be confused with the inhabitants of heaven).
In terms of grammar, the two languages look alike as well.
But there are also some aspects of Danish that are slightly difficult.
One of the most blatant is pronunciation.
First of all, we Danes tend to mumble a lot.
The pronunciation is rarely very clear, words are only half-way pronounced and they are squashed together in such a way that you can’t hear where one word ends and the next one begins.
And the Danish spelling is almost 100% inconsistent with how the words are really pronounced.
According to research, Danish children actually start speaking a little later than children of Denmark’s European neighbors. The theory is that Danish pronunciation is the culprit!
The reason why Danes simply can’t speak clearly is not really certain. Norwegian and Swedish natives pronounce their (closely related) languages just fine, and the Danes used to be much more articulate.
Try looking up some Danish videos from the 50’s or 60’s and you’ll notice that people were a lot easier to understand back then. Or you might want to listen to the last Dane who still speaks her language properly: The queen. (link to YouTube)
How hard is Danish according to linguists?
The American Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is an institution who teaches US diplomats languages. They’ve got a lot of experience on the subject and have invested a lot in research over the years.
FSI has been known for grouping the languages that they teach into different categories. Category 1 languages (which include Danish) take around 5-600 classroom hours to learn for an average student.
Category 5 languages (which include languages like Arabic and Mandarin Chinese) take some 2200 hours.
These numbers obviously need to be taken with a grain of salt.
FSI has their own teaching methods and no language learners are alike. Classroom learning is also very different from self-studies. I might even say that it’s often less effective.
So do you really need to study Danish for 600 hours to learn it?
If you study an hour a day, that’s a little over a year and a half.
Well – it actually doesn’t sound that much off. But I think you can do it faster!
So how hard is Danish really and how long does it take to learn to speak it?
As you can probably gather from what I’ve written, the biggest difficulties with Danish is its pronunciation.
In connection to that, listening comprehension might also prove a challenge.
One way to get Danish pronunciation under control is with a course like Glossika. I’ve discussed Glossika as well as other approaches in my article about learning Danish.
Apart from the pronunciation, however, Danish is a an easy language to learn. You will notice that if you’re consistent with studying and revising daily, you’ll improve quickly.
Some people (who speak English as their native language) have experienced becoming conversational in Danish in as little as three months.
Three months is indeed possible, but you’ll need to be very strict and disciplined with yourself.
For most people who don’t have a specific deadline to meet, studying in a more relaxed pace might be more appealing.
I believe that you can rather easily reach a basic level of Danish in 6-9 months and speak it more or less fluently after 1 – 1,5 years.
And this is with a little over 1 hour of self-study time per day.
Check my article about learning languages on a busy schedule to get some tips on how you could fit that hour into your routine.
Becoming completely fluent and sounding like a native is another story, however.
Personally, when learning languages, it’s never my goal to pass for a native.
It can be done, of course, but it demands a huge amount of attention, and you will need to work on your pronunciation intensively for a long time.
And even if you do this – chances are that you will still have an accent.
So my advice is to enjoy being fluent in Danish, and not to worry about sounding exactly like a native!