It can’t have escaped your notice that the days are getting shorter and the mornings are getting colder. Fall (or autumn, as I know it best) is here, and it’s at this time of year that I start to look back at what I’ve achieved since the last gloomy January. But today I’m looking further back, back to when I first arrived at the end of a crisp and chilly November in 2014.
In just a month, I will have been living in Denmark for two whole years. That’s a big deal for me, having only lived and worked outside the UK for a few months in the past. Two years is more than enough time to notice how much more at home I feel here, compared to when I first arrived and was almost too shy to whisper ‘tak’ to the supermarket cashier.
It really hit home for me the other day, when I headed out on a trip to the local branch of Kiwi to pick up some milk. As I walked along, I remembered just how scary such an expedition was for me two years ago. Back then, going out for some milk took courage, as well as planning ahead to make sure I had the vocabulary I needed. I had the Danish language basics when I moved here, sure, but I was still afraid of being asked a question that I wouldn’t understand, or worse, a question I did understand but couldn’t answer.
Can you recognise that feeling? Is it something you still feel now, when you’re about to enter a situation that requires you to use Danish? Or can you remember that feeling with the warm glow of satisfaction that comes with knowing that you’ll never need to feel that way again?
Well don’t feel too satisfied just yet.
If I’ve learned anything since I stopped going to Danish classes, it’s that I need that fear in order to keep getting better. I don’t improve my Danish when I go to the supermarket and have the same simple interactions that I always have. My language skills only improve when I’m afraid, which usually comes from using Danish in a new situation. I need that level of discomfort to learn and develop my skills.
So where can you find that discomfort when you’ve already learned so much? You need to be creative and you need to be brave.
For me, finding an opportunity to briefly step out of Danish comfort zone is easy, because I work with lots of Danes. Whenever I get the chance, even if it scares me, I try and hold meetings about complex subjects in Danish. Of course, it helps that my colleagues are very patient and make an extra effort to accommodate my less-than-perfect Danish, but it really challenges me and I can come out of every meeting feeling that I’ve learned something.
Plus it helps keep meetings short, because I’m not as good at rambling on in Danish as I am in English…
Are you still in the first flushes of Danish fear, or do you need to work hard to get uncomfortable with the language? Either way, embrace the fear and trust that every time you make an effort to use Danish in a new situation, you will get closer and closer to mastering it.