In my first week here in Denmark I have learned that while I may not be able to read the street signs or understand whats being said on the news, I am 100% able to walk up to any Dane and have a conversation with them in near perfect English.
Danes have been named the best non-native English speakers in the world. Out of 63 counties included in a study by the Education First English Proficiency Index, Denmark was one of seven given a ‘very high proficiency’ rating. The other countries are the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Poland, and Austria. But why are the Danes so good at speaking English?
My basic understanding of why Danes are so good is because of three basic things; School, practicality, and TV.
The first reason is school. In Denmark students start learning English as early as first grade. As they advance some of their classes are even taught entirely in English. For example they have an option to take their history class in English rather than Danish. My 12 year old host sister and I are able to talk with minimal assistance from parents or google translate. Looking at her homework, my host sister is able to write stories and give presentations in English, something I never was able to even consider doing when I took French.
The second reason Danes are so good at speaking English is practicality. Denmark is a small country and as some say what good is speaking Danish outside of Denmark? Denmark has a population of over 5,700,000 people, that is roughly the population of the state of Wisconsin. The same study that rated Denmark as the best non-native English speakers has noted that the world’s population is getting better at English.
The final and simplest reason that Danes are so good is TV. In Denmark, all foreign films and interviews are shown in the original language with Danish subtitles. By constantly doing this they are able to pick up the language easier than other counties. According to my host dad, Denmark is one of the only countries in Scandinavia to do this. It can be tough for younger kids, but their parents will help translate for them. I can see first hand how simple it would be to pick up the language by doing this. I am doing it in reverse, I can listen in English while reading the Danish subtitles and guess at some of the words.
Danes also have better opportunities to practice their English. It seems that most of the surrounding countries are also near fluent in English, thus it acts as a common language when traveling. Every time I meet a new person one of the first things they say to me is that their English may be a little rusty, but within a few minutes its clear they are near fluent.
As the days fly by I find myself feeling more at home in this new country. I am starting to recognize street signs and understand announcements on the trains. My host family helps me translate the news and Danish television shows while I help them learn words like tater tots and perpendicular when referencing street locations. I am also starting to pick up some Danish, I’m becoming more comfortable saying tak instead of thank you and hej hej instead of goodbye. So for now, till next time, tak and hej hej!