How to get Danes to speak Danish

I’ve been told that Danes in general wield the English language quite proficiently. This is of course an easy feat when you are being compared to France, Germany and Spain, but it still feels quite nice being praised for being good at something. In fact, it feels so nice that many of us jump at every chance we get to flaunt our mastery of the modern world’s lingua franca. I have actually found myself conversing with people from Sweden in English because we found this easier than speaking Danish and Swedish to each other, even though the latter two are basically just different dialects.

Most Danes will switch to English as soon as they feel that this might make the conversation flow more freely, and while this is only done to be polite, I’m sure it can sometimes make it hard for people who want to hone their Danish skills to get a sufficient amount of exposure to the language. This would be an instance of a bjørnetjeneste in its original (and only correct!) sense, by the way: ending up doing someone a disservice while intending the opposite. For this reason, I have tried to think of some clever ways to make sure that the otherwise enabling Danes provide you with the needed exposure to their tongue twisting language.

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Be honest: Straight up ask your conversation partner to stick to Danish if you need him to. You might feel like you are inconveniencing him or her by declaring your common English language off limits, but don’t. If there is one thing Danes love more than flaunting their English skills, it’s when people are committed enough to Denmark to actually learn the language.

Be persistent: Insist on speaking Danish yourself. Even though this might make conversation harder and more tedious, this will prompt your interlocutor to stick to Danish as well, as you are clearly determined that the long term benefits of doing so are worth it, despite the fact that switching to English would be an easy fix.

Be a pickpocket: This is not at all recommended! I just couldn’t help but think of an anecdote from my study trip to Florence. One of my classmates had an Italian dad and was taking classes in Italian himself, but wasn’t really that motivated, which his grades reflected quite accurately. One night in Florence though, he was pickpocketed. After a short chase through the streets, we lost the culprits, and my classmate started swearing. In fluent Italian. The trick is that sufficient emotional excitement precipitates immediate verbal release in whatever language you are most comfortable using. You might not be treated to the most refined display of rhetorical mastery, but it’s a surefire way of provoking an immediate, colloquial response it seems. Feelings other than anger might work just as well, but I have no anecdotes to illustrate this.

Stefan

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