It is important to speak understandable Danish, but does your accent need to be perfect? It would be a pity if your less-than-perfect accent would hold you back from practising the language. I know that happens to me sometimes. I get very self-conscious about my pronunciation, which makes me stutter and stammer, and at the end fall completely silent.
Last week I came across this great quote of Amy Chua: Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Now that is a statement that wouldn’t look bad on a wisdom tile!
I have said it before: there is no progress without practice. Practice is important when you learn new things and it’s almost essential when you learn a new language. Not sure how to be brave? Here are four golden tips.
If you go to language school, one of the safest ways to practice is to talk to your classmates! In Danish, that is. Use the coffee breaks and use each other to practice. Sure, I still remember how slow a conversation in Danish can be and how tempted I was to switch to English. But I promise you, as you climb up the famous ladder of learning modules, it will get easier. Nowadays, when I meet my old Lærdansk friend for lunch, I still talk Danish with her, ignoring the surprised looks of the other cafe guests that sometimes clearly think it’s weird to hear two foreigners speak Danish together.
Elaborating on what my fellow blogger Stefan said: you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and dare to jump in! Taldansk Online offers a great training environment, where you can practice your Danish skills without feeling embarrassed when you make mistakes. But you can’t swim with water wings for the rest of your life. Even though the thought alone might scare you to death, at some point you simply need to close your eyes and jump in the public pool.
And when you do jump in, allow yourself to make mistakes! Don’t be too modest. Remember those new words you just learned in class and blurt them out. Don’t be too shy. Go ahead and practice your blød d. It doesn’t matter when you get it wrong. On the contrary: failure is good. It’s common knowledge that people who fail often, succeed sooner. Now that’s another great quote for a wisdom tile!
So once you are ready to swim in the public pool, you need to surround yourself with Danes! Not just random Danes: Danes that don’t immediately switch to English. It’s a good idea to hang out with people that keep their patience when they see you search for words or struggle with pronunciation. Right now my Danish is at the level where I basically survive any type of conversation, whether I am talking on the phone to Skat or chitchatting with a neighbour.
And still it happens to me. Last week I was in a pub talking to a random Dane, who complimented me on my Danish, even though we barely had exchanged two sentences. I glowed with pride, until he switched to English, which gave me the impression that my Danish wasn’t good enough for a pub conversation anyway. What a disappointment (although I must admit that I indeed find it very difficult to keep a Danish conversation going in a noisy pub, especially when there is karaoke in the background!).
Luckily for me this was just an isolated incident. Over the past three years many patient colleagues, lovely neighbours and friendly fellow parents have helped me practise and improve my Danish. They probably don’t even realize it, but their encouraging attitude has made a huge difference to me. Thanks to them I didn’t sink when I took off my water wings. Thanks to them I managed (and still manage) to be brave!