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...

Flash Guide to Aarhus for Ellen and Olga

Yesterday, the first meetup after the summer of the University International Club of Aarhus University took place in ARoS. Twelve expats in Aarhus (among which two Danes) were there and shared fun and information.

With two women, Olga and Ellen, I embarked on a conversation about finding work in Aarhus. I promised to send some links to them. Later, I thought 'Why not share it on my blog, so others can read it, too?'

So here goes. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments, and I'll add them to this list.

Organisations and groups that are helping newcomers in Aarhus

International Community
Sponsored by Aarhus Municipality and Erhverv Aarhus, of which the latter is the organisation of entrepreneurs in Aarhus, it goes out of its way to make your 'landing' in Aarhus as smooth and informative as possible. They know all about the practicalities of settling in, and if they don't, they have a network to help you along. They also organise events for socialising among expats.

UIC - University International Club
Is the social branch of the International Center of Aarhus University. It meets weekly and organises presentations and (informative) events about all things Danish. A big plus is that internationally minded Danes are joining, too, so you can tap their minds on the weirdest questions, like how to find a good Peugeot garage, where is a good jeweller, who is a good child-psychologist that works in English ...
Furthermore, it organises an International Playgroup, and Language Buddies for learning Danish - look here for more UIC-activities

Meetup Aarhus - Aarhus Internationals
Is an international concept for expats finding each other abroad - they also organise events.

Is a network I haven't explored.

Arriving in Denmark and being an expat
Is the digital, national version of International Community, so to speak :-) Good for a broader perspective. they also go 'on tour' and organise events in denmarks bigger cities, often in co-operation with, in Aarhus' case, International Community.

Your Danish Life
Is a magazine, both digital and on paper, about building up your Danish life in Denmark. Available at the 7-Eleven at the main train station, and at Kristian Møller Boghandel on Store Torv (this bookshop also has a good English section)

A blog I particularly like is Life in Aalborg

Learning the language

Is the place to start your Danish lessons. It's free for every newcomer who has a residence permit. Sadly, they have a waiting list of eight weeks! So much for hitting the ground running...
Lærdansk also teaches courses at the university campus, especially aimed at university employees. So without having to trek around the city, you can follow a Danish language course right after work. Hard, but worth the investment. See also UIC Language Buddies.

Once I gave a presentation about learning Danish - I have copied here the (shortened) blog version.

Finding work

WorkinDenmark organises workshops where you can rewrite your CV and cover letter the Danish way. These are very useful, not in the least because they also explain how the Danish labour market works.

Job Center is the first place you will be sent to when looking for work. More often than not, they'll tell you to start learning Danish first. their website is in Danish only, too. True, learning Danish is almost a job in itself, but in my opinion it is a bit sad that momentum goes out of your career by moving over here. Also, it's not true. There are foreigners who have found jobs in Denmark while speaking English mostly. This is not only because there are workplaces where the working laguage is English, but also because it is a matter of offer and demand. If you have special talents and competences, there is always a solution. Finally, the Danish authorities are very keen on people finding work, and there are special arrangements for foreigners, too. Ask for it. Even in English.

The way to find a job in Denmark is through your network. Anybody can be part of your network: your tennis partner, your neighbour, someone in your language class, the mother of your daughter's friend in school, people you meet at Aarhus Meetup socials... Be aware of that, and start thinking like a networker - seeing opportunities for others in your network.

Also, find professional networks in your field. You can also join The Bridge Project, a network group of foreigners in Aarhus trying to find work. See also The Bridge Project (TBP) on LinkedIn (you'll have to join the group first, though) and The Bridge Project on Facebook (public)

Also, consider joining service clubs like Lions or Rotary. There is a special International Rotary Aarhus Chapter, where the main language is English.

Another interesting network is AarhusToastmasters

Starting your business

For many newcomers, starting up a business can be a good plan. If you want to offer translation and editing services (an option for many native English-speaking expats), being a 'selvstændig' (independent = freelancer) makes sense.

But you can also explore this trail in order to find out for yourself, what you have on offer. Thinking of yourself as a 'shop' or business can unleash a creativity that is helpful for defining your Unique Selling Points :-)

Startvækst Aarhus  has an English website and offers support in English, too. Sometimes there are mentor schemes, where you get assigned a mentor who can be your sparring partner. Furthermore, they organise networking events, too.

The StartUp Digest has also a lot of networking events on offer. You can tailor it to your own needs and preferences.

Where to find Real Danish People to be friends with?
So far, most of the links are to expat-community activities. If you want to make friends with Danes, you have to venture out to where they are. But that's another story :-)

Again, if you think that there are links and activities lacking in this overview, feel free to comment and I'll add your suggestion!