donderdag 6 augustus 2015

Learning Danish without a school

Not all language learning happens in school. Actually, practising the language (the word points towards it) requires practice, and practical work. Still, paradoxically, my tips regarding learning Danish start with:

1. Go to school
Don't tell yourself that you dont't have time – make time. It's important. Especially women tend to push their needs aside for the practicalities of a household with children in a new country, but think of the warning you'll hear every time you are on board of an aeroplane: first put your own oxygen mask on, then help your children.

It's the same with learning Danish. If you are stranded in your house somewhere around Aarhus, no friends, grappling with daily life - which unfortunately contains more Danish than you can cope with -, how does that help your husband and children? See it as an investment, not only in your Danish life but also in the education of your children. They will learn from your example if you show resilience and a 'can do'-mentality.

2. Get a job
Another important one. It is good for your soul, because it is nice to be acknowledged for something you are good at. And people like to be useful – so do you. Also, you will be meeting people on a regular basis, so you can get used to their way of speaking Danish. Maybe some of them will become friends. You will learn to use a Danish vocabulary that is confined to your professional field, which is both surveyable and stimulating, because you can get things done without asking all the time 'Hvad siger du?' At the same time, you will learn some contemporay 'slang' Danish that will make you one of 'them'.

There's a big problem, though: it is really, really hard to find a job, let alone one in your field – whatever it is. Finding jobs in Denmark 'happens', mostly via informal ways. For this you need a network, and for a network you need Danish. Aaarrgh! To make things worse: almost all women work in Denmark, so a non-working woman stands out like a sore thumb. Your status is very, very low. Sometimes I feel like a parasite here, a lazy bitch spending her husbands money. Which is, of course, exactly what I am... for the moment, that is. Which is what I keep telling myself. Happiness is also self-delusion :-)

3. Get a voluntary job
If you can't get a real job, do voluntary work. It has all the advantages of a real job where selfrespect, acknowledgement, making friends and learning the language are concerned. And if you choose you voluntary job well, you will develop a network that may lead you to a paid job. Also, it will be appreciated by Danes around you that you make an effort to do your bit.

4. Pick up a hobby
Why not indulge yourself and pick up a hobby? Do something you really really love, something you are good at. Again, it is good for the soul, it is a great way to get to know people,(you have a hobby in common, that helps!), and to develop yourself.

You can also choose a hobby in a field that is totally alien but still attractive to you. I am a regular of OSAA, which is Aarhus hackspace, but I know very little about computers. But something tells me that OSAA is the place to be for me, and I trust that feeling, so every Tech Talk Tuesday (first Tuesday of the month) you can find me there, listening to presentations about computers and programming that leave me baffled. And the 'nørds' are extremely helpful and friendly – and maybe a bit baffled about my being there, too.

Or start out on a hobby that has been sleeping in your heart since you were a child. Since Aarhus lies on the sea, I started taking sailing lessons. Sailing is something I wanted to do since I was eleven, but somehow never got round to actually doing it – you know, life got in the way, as John Lennon said. But the opportunity to sail was created by Danish circumstances, and sailing has been more fun and satisfying than I ever expected it to be.

5. Make everything into a project
There are many, many ways of letting Danish into your life. Make your shopping list in Danish. If the plummer is coming around for repairs, look up the right words in a dictionary and make a 'shopping list' for him (or her), too. Listen to Danish radio programmes with your favourite music. That way you already have an idea of what they are going to say, so it will be easier for you to fill in the blanks. Watch the Danish television news. I liked watching DR Update (we called it 'Doctor' Update), because the transmission is repeated endlessly. Sadly, it is cancelled. But nothing keeps you from hitting the repeat button five times if you watch Danish television news on the internet . And after the fifth time, you will understand a little bit more.

6. Read, read, read
Read local newspapers, children's or girls' books. Use the public library. It's free if you have a residence permit, and especially the new public library in Aarhus, DOKK1,  is a sensation in and by itself. Watch childrens' DVDs, perhaps with your children. Watch Danish DVDs for grownups with Danish subtitles on, and see how much you can grasp. Watch English movies on Danish television with Danish subtitles.Use apps on your smartphone as pocket dictionaries. Start early with using Danish dictionaies, you'll outgrow the bilingual ones sooner than you might think. I recommend DDO - Den Danske Ordbog, a fantastic app and website. Be weary of Google Translate, it tends to give you English words if it cannot find the Danish ones.Also, find yourself an illustrated dictionary. It will hold all those specialised, jargon-like words that normal dictionaries don't have a place for, like smergellærred or udstødningsmanifold or kniglepind.

7. Sing
Learn Danish songs! It will endear you to Danes, and the combination of music and words has an uncanny way of finding its way into your brain. Singing will also help you with Danish pronunciation, or 'udtale'.

For the funny thing with Danish is that it doesn't sound like it is written. Basically, you leave out most of the consonants and just pronounce the vowels. But you have to 'think' the consonants while saying the vowels, otherwise you don't say the words right. In other words, consonants in Danish are like sexy lingerie under jeans and a jumper: you don't actually see it, but it's there and the effect is undeniable :-)

8. Make speaking and understanding into a game
See how long you can keep up your end of a Danish conversation without having to fall back on English. In the beginning you will get stuck in the first sentence, but very soon it will be two, three, four - you can probably measure your progress in weeks. And again, celebrate the moment you had a complete conversation in Danish, no matter how small. Or the first time you understood a joke. Or the first time you made a joke – in Danish. Or the first time you presented yourself in Danish, in public – at your children's school, at a small party with friends... the opportunities for this game are endless. There are many firsts because you are in a new environment. Make them work for you.

And once you have dreamt your first dream in Danish, celebrate! It is a sign that Danish has become a part of you, and it means that from then on learning will be easier.

9.  Cherish your own language
Let no one tell you that everything has to be Danish now. Your own language is the fundament on which your Danish is being built, and it needs love and care, too.Also, it will greatly contribute to your well-being if you can relax and enjoy the things and sounds and smells of home - including your language.

10. Finally: don't be afraid to say the magic words
These are: 'Kan du hjælpe mig?' If you appeal for help, nine out of ten people will react positively. It really works! Even in English! But do try it in Danish first, and see how far you get...

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