Pronouncing the unpronounceable

Ouch, your Danish really sucks, mom. With four kids hanging around, this is a phrase often heard in our house. For them, learning Danish seems to be a smooth and uncomplicated process. For me, the past three years have been a persistent struggle trying to master the many unpronounceable sounds the Danish language possesses.

There are minor differences in vowels that cannot be heard (at least not by me!) and there’s of course the famous and extremely frustrating glottal stop, the stød. But to me, the king of the unpronounceable sounds is the soft “d”, the blødt “d”. It is everywhere and it occurs in almost every sentence you try to speak. It is impossible to avoid – believe me, I have tried!

Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating a little. Of course it is possible to learn to pronounce all these unpronounceable sounds. I know some non-Danes that have – eventually – managed to sound like a Dane. But the road to perfection is long and winding and all the more challenging once you are above 40 (or 30? or even 20?).

It takes courage to immerse yourself in a new culture and to express your thoughts and feelings in a language different than your own. It affects your identity. It makes the most confident person insecure and the most articulate person silent. Sometimes, when I hear my little Danish-look-alike kids speak perfect Danish sentences, a desperate feeling comes over me. Will I ever learn???


But then I think back to my first days in Denmark, where I could hardly understand a word people said to me, and I know: I will learn! I just need more time than children do. And because there’s no progress without practice, I have developed a new strategy. I am not going to let the soft “d” impress me anymore.

From now on, I will use it all the time. If a sentence does not contain a “d”-word yet, I will include one. Or two! Or three, if you like! The blødt “d” is no longer a problem for me, but a challenge I am willing to take!


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