Learning Danish is Hard, it’s Even More Difficult When It Gets Political

Before we moved to Denmark, Mike and I were excited to fully embrace the new culture including learning Danish. As we prepared to move our lives to Copenhagen, we downloaded language learning apps and took in the Danish language basics. Is Danish hard to learn? Yes, and a lot of this is because of Danish pronunciation, but when we arrived in Denmark, everyone pointed us towards enrolling in Copenhagen Danish courses. It was free to enroll and the best way to really start speaking Danish. We made a lot of friends in our class and after completing the first of 6 modules, we decided to stop taking lessons. It was a huge time commitment and we had other activities we wanted to pursue. Still, there also a political reason that caused us to stop taking Danish lessons – the Dansk Folkeparti.

Who are the Dansk Folkeparti?

Dansk Folkeparti (DF) translates to the Danish People’s Party, so they are sometimes called the DPP in English media. They are a right-wing populist party who thrive on nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment – the Scandinavian version of Trump’s base in American politics with a more outwardly racist rhetoric.

The party describes their goals as the protection of freedom and Danish cultural heritage including the family, the Monarchy, the Church and enforcing a strict rule of law to work against a multi-cultural society in Denmark by restricting immigration and promoting cultural assimilation of legally admitted immigrants. Unlike Republicans in America though, the DF promotes the maintenance of a strong social welfare system for those in need and investing in economic growth through entrepreneurship and strengthening education while protecting the environment and natural resources.

Sounds pretty awful, but they received a surge of support in the most recent Danish election of 2015 and saw the biggest gains of any party. This made them the second largest party in Denmark and part of the governing coalition.

Here’s What the DF did

So what could go wrong with the party whose leader responded to criticism from the Swedish government about immigration policy with this statement, “If they want to turn Stockholm […] into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honor killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge (between Denmark and Sweden)”?

Well, even though I’m a Western immigrant, the kind the DF says they like, they have gone wild cutting programs for foreign-born residents – including Danish lessons. As of July 2018, lessons were no longer free and completing all 6 modules would cost over $1800. Official figures show enrollment in first the 6 months of 2018 to be 22,328 students. Those numbers at the close of 2018 were only 12,145 students after the DF’s regulations began.

While there were some residents who were permitted to continue taking lessons for free, university students were not and they left the program in droves. Denmark pays equivalent education costs for students from elsewhere in the EU. Now it’s making things harder for these students to finish their education and enter the Danish workforce. Why put in the money to educate a student and then send a message that they’re not welcome in Denmark where they can use that education to contribute to the Danish economy… unless your stated political objective is to work against a multi-cultural society in Denmark.

The DF Thinks Decreased Enrollment Proves Them Right

DF’s current party leader, Martin Henriksen says that the drop-off in registered language students is proof that foreigners don’t want to become part of Danish society. He is quoted as saying “There are foreigners coming to Denmark who just don’t want to have anything to do with it because as soon as they have to dig into their own pockets, they can’t be bothered.”

What a swell guy!


The DF Got What They Asked For

I disagree that foreigners want nothing to with Danish culture, but I can only speak for myself. They language is difficult but I spent 6 classroom hours over 2 night a week plus hours of homework learning Danish for 6 months. While I enjoyed Danish class, I didn’t “$1800 enjoy” it, and I was happy to get my evenings back.

I left a country that treats immigrants poorly – there are always videos of Americans yelling at Spanish-speaking people in public places for not speaking English. I truly hope this isn’t the fate of Denmark.

Still, Denmark is a country of 5.7 million Danish speaking people and there are only 5.9 million Danish speakers worldwide. There are over 6 million people in the Philadelphia metro area, so I have a better chance of hearing a Philly accent in the world than hearing a Danish speaker. When 86% of Danes also speak English, it’s difficult to see why anyone was taking Danish lessons for reasons other than cultural immersion. Although Danish is a language I don’t need to survive in Denmark and won’t use elsewhere in the world, I like being able to attempt Danish with people that I meet. From a coffee house to my doctor’s office, people appreciate that I have tried to engage in their culture.

Why the DF Miscalculated

What happened by cutting funding for Danish lessons was nothing more than a slap in the face to immigrants. It was a message of not being welcome and an attempt to beat back globalization. To think that any society can turn back the clock and move inward, away from the rest of the world, is as stupid as putting an ashtray on your motorcycle.

The Danish economy needs foreign workers, and English is the language of business and the dominate language for 20% of the world. The foreign-born talent will always be needed by and won’t stop coming to Denmark. We just won’t be learning as much Danish and schools in Denmark will keep teaching English. For this reason, the funding cuts have backfired and the DF’s goal of having immigrants assimilate, especially through language, will stall. That’s the irony of the whole thing, we wanted to learn Danish, especially since it was being offered for free (paid through the taxes that we also pay), but the message was sent. Over 10,000 of us immigrants chose to prioritize our money and time elsewhere, even if we began lessons seeking assimilation into Danish culture.

Oh, and the DF is predicted to shrink in power during the upcoming election… so Dear, Martin Henriksen – tak for kaffe, dit røvhul!

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