I didn’t realise this, but for some Danes they are the crown jewels in their language: the bløde konsonanter. Or, as I call them, the consonants that should not be heard.
One of the hardest parts of speaking and understanding Danish is all those letters that you have to write but do not pronounce. I compare those to beautiful lingerie: you can’t see them, but they do have an effect – at least on the person wearing them. The same goes for those letters: you are not supposed to pronounce them, but you have to think of them while not saying them, otherwise the words come out wrong. Consider gud, gulv, gul and guld (god, floor, yellow and gold). To the beginners’ ear they sound the same, but they are not!
Then there are the letters that are pronounced in a totally different way. The first time I heard the word ‘bjerg’, I was about to give up on Danish. Imagine seeing a G and having to pronounce it as a W: ‘bjerw’.
And, while we’re at it: a v is pronounced as a w: wiking (viking), wenstre (left), Westas (Vestas).
My biggest opponent used to be the soft D. The one in ‘rødgrød med fløde’. Or ‘rødbeder’. I was not alone in that. A friend of my husband’s used to live in Beder, a village to the south of Aarhus. Imagine living in a place that you cannot pronounce! His was a steep learning curve…
I could do the rødgrød med fløde, but in other words I could not NOT say the d. I wanted to know what I did right when I said ‘rødgrød med fløde’, because I didn’t know. I just aped what the others said. Which isn’t a bad strategy when learning a language, but sometimes you need to know what you’re doing – not just go through the motions.
Finally, my Lærdansk teacher pointed me towards a site where all the Danish sounds are explained, complete with diagrams that show what your tongue, lips and cheeks are supposed to do, and the possibility to practice.
It’s for Lærdansk pupils only, but you could try out this one, too – watch the drawing on the whiteboard!