How Learning Danish Got 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 to learn Danish language basics. Is Danish hard to learn? Yes, and a lot of this is because of Danish pronunciation. Still, 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 but after completing the first module, we stopped taking lessons. It was a huge time commitment and we had other activities we wanted to pursue. We also realized that things could go off the rails when learning Danish got political. That political reason that caused us to stop taking Danish lessons is 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. Think of them as a 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. They also back 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. In fact, they 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
What could go wrong with the anti-immigrant party in control of funding social programs? The DF’s former 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)”?
The DF 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 costs over $1800. Official figures show enrollment in the first 6 months of 2018 was 22,328 students. Those numbers at the close of 2018 were only 12,145 students. After the DF’s regulations began, enrollment plummeted and learning Danish got political.
While there were some residents who were permitted to continue taking lessons for free, university students were not. As you may imagine, students left the program in droves. Denmark pays equivalent education costs for students from elsewhere in the EU. Because employers seek Danish-speaking applicants, the DF is now making things harder for these students to get hired in Denmark. As they finish their education and enter the Danish workforce, there is now less employment opportunity for foreign graduates. Why put in the money to educate a student and then send a message that they’re not welcome in Denmark? Graduating foreign students can use their education to contribute to the Danish economy. Unless your stated political objective is to work against a multi-cultural society in Denmark, you should want them to stay.
The DF Thinks Decreased Enrollment Proves Them Right
DF’s current party leader, Martin Henriksen has an upsetting view of the decrease. He says 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 do with Danish culture, but I can only speak for myself. The language is difficult, but I spent 6 classroom hours a week learning Danish for over 6 months. There were also hours of homework outside of the classroom. 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 and felt it was happening in Denmark. So often you see videos of Americans yelling at Spanish-speaking people in public places for not speaking English in America. I truly hope this isn’t the fate of Denmark and wish learning Danish didn’t get political.
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, 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. I may not use it anywhere else in the world, but people appreciate its use in Denmark.
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. The idea 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. Foreign-born talent will always be needed 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 backfired and the DF’s goal of having immigrants assimilate, especially through language, will stall. The irony of the whole thing is that we wanted to learn Danish, especially for “free”. It was actually paid through taxes that we also pay, but the message was clear. Over 10,000 of us immigrants chose to prioritize our money and time elsewhere, even if we began lessons seeking assimilation. It’s unfortunate when learning Danish gets political.
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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