Some people call Danish “a nearly fatal throat disease”. I personally find this statement rather exaggerated, but it is definitely true that Danish is pronounced much different than it is written, which makes it a pretty difficult language to learn.
Pronouncing words correctly is also my biggest challenge when it comes to speaking Danish. Besides the soft d, which I extensively talked about in an earlier post, it is mainly the vowels I struggle with. The Danish language has nine vowel symbols, that all together stand for around forty-two vowel sounds. Even though researchers don’t agree on the exact figure, I think it is safe to say that there is an astonishing number of vowel sounds in Danish!
What makes it even more difficult is that some words consist of long monotonous sequences of near-identical vowel sounds. A good example is the word hårdere (which is derived from the word hård,or “hard,difficult” in English).The word hårdere is pronounced more or less like: “hååååååå”.
Luckily, my pronunciation problems are usually not an obstacle for others to understand what I am saying. I may have a foreign accent, but I can still make myself understood. Occasionally it can create confusion though. About a year after I moved to Denmark, I got a job as a sales assistant at IKEA. I worked in different sales departments and one of them was Home Office, where I sold office chairs, storage units and desks. One particular desk came with a choice of legs: there were T-legs (shaped like a T) and A-legs (which – obviously – were A-shaped). I cursed every customer that showed interest in this particular desk. My “a” didn’t sound much like a Danish “a” and the more conscious I became of it, the worse my pronunciation got. In my desperate quest for the right sound I tried repeating the name of the legs over and over again, using a different sound every time, hoping that one of them would be the right one: áááh, éééh, èèèh. This would usually leave the customer in complete confusion. That left me with no other choice then to simply take them by the hand and show them the legs, which then resulted in a relieved “Nåh, du mener A-ben!”. To be honest, I did not hear the difference between their “a” and my “a”, but I didn’t say that of course. As we all know, the customer is king.
I hope I am not discouraging people by saying this, but even after four years in Denmark I still have trouble with the Danish vowel sounds. I try to avoid spelling words and when someone asks me to spell my last name (which contains an “a”), I usually offer to write it down for them instead. I wouldn’t say Danish is a throat disease, but learning Danish has definitely been hard for me. In any case much håååååå than it ever was to learn any other language I know!