Learning a new language is a process that is different for everyone. For some it’s a piece of cake, for others it can be a real challenge. How big a challenge it is depends on your age, personality, background and your language learning aptitude.
Knowing several foreign languages helps when you’re trying to master a new one. Ten years ago we lived in Sweden for a short period of time and my knowledge of Swedish helped me through the first difficult months in Denmark. Although I quickly realized that Jutlanders have more trouble understanding Swedish than people in Copenhagen do! To make sure I could make myself understood, I became an expert in making Swedish sound like Danish: I learned the art of mumbling and swallowing words 🙂
Our children did not have the advantage of speaking other foreign languages, but anyway learned Danish in a heartbeat. Young brains are flexible.
Our youngest one was only 15 months old when we first arrived in Denmark. She basically learned Dutch and Danish simultaneously: Dutch at home and Danish in the vuggestue. Today she speaks both well, but from all our four children she is the one having most difficulties separating the two languages. I overheard a conversation she had with her older sister the other day: “…and you had to wear a sikkerhedsbælte on your hest, because you were gravid”. Ouch! My ears hurt when I hear her speak like that!
Her older sister definitely has more flair for languages, or, as the Danes say, she has sprogøre. At the børnehave she picked up Danish – Århusiansk even – in no time. She’s a very outgoing child and she loves to talk, so she gets a lot of practice. For her, switching between languages is not a problem at all, as I earlier described in my post “Dogs and Barbie dolls speak Danish”.
The oldest two, at the time of our move 7 and 11, went to a modtageklasse, a receiving class, a service offered to newcomers in Denmark. For several months they received special tuition in Danish as a second language. They have definitely benefited from the language support they got during these first months. It made them feel more secure and more self-confident, when they eventually enrolled in a regular Danish school.
Learning a new language is not only a challenging but also an exciting process. It is interesting to see how different the process has been – and still is – for all of us. I am well aware of the fact that the pace at which you acquire a new language to a great extent depends on how you organize your everyday life. In that aspect there is a big difference between me and the other family members. Obviously, our children are exposed to Danish language all day long. They must be thinking and dreaming in Danish by now. My husband spends many hours a day at work, surrounded by colleagues that are willing to let him practice his Danish on them, whereas I spend many hours a day at home, surrounded by children that exclusively speak Dutch to me. If I want to improve my Danish, I need to search for situations where I can do this. That’s why I joined the parent council and frequently volunteer at school trips.
I realize that I need to keep on practicing, because I feel more at home in a country where I speak the language fluently. The only way I can achieve this is to actively get involved in my own language learning process.