To reinforce their language learning, the Danes travel to practice. In April, her class went to Scotland to practice English for one week

Denmark is repeatedly recognized as one of the top countries in the world that speak the best English as a second language. As a matter of fact, according to a European Commission study, if you were to walk up to a stranger in Denmark, there is an 86% chance they will be able to hold a conversation with you in English.

The language of Danish is spoken by only 5.5 million people and even then the dialect is different depending on which of the five regions of the country you are in. For example, I live in Nordjylland which has a more “potato in the mouth” accent as the locals like to call it. When I travel to Copenhagen in Sjælland, I can almost not understand the Danish that is spoken because the accent is so different from what I am used to hearing. This is a huge contributor to the widespread learning of English in Denmark. The Danes understand that the neighboring Nordic countries, Germany, and any other countries where business is conducted will not learn Danish. This is mostly because Danish is one of the top ten most difficult languages to learn in the world. In order to ensure their success in world affairs, the Danes begin learning English at an average age of six. My 8-year-old host sister can easily count to 100 and hold an introductory conversation about herself in English. The English class I was in at Danish school was even reading and analyzing the classic novel The Color Purple, probably something my class back home in the US was also doing.

The difference in language education between the United States and a country like Denmark is truly shocking. I was able to witness this first hand in a first-year Spanish class I was placed in at Danish school. As I had already taken two years of Spanish classes in high school, I figured I’d be the star student among my Danish peers. I found myself surprisingly wrong. The Danish fully embrace learning new languages and make it their challenge to succeed. For example, in the first week of classes, a number of my friends changed their computer and phones to Spanish text only. I was baffled by this. Others practiced Spanish with each other during lunch. Most of them would watch Spanish television and download one of the many smartphone language apps such as Duolingo.

In my experience with language education in the US, learning began long after my formative years. In high school, I had one hour of learning how to say basic words in Spanish and then I left the information in the classroom when the bell rang. It’s what most of my American classmates did at home.

The Danes approach studying a new language very seriously with the goal of achieving fluency even if they are just learning it for school. My peers could already speak more Spanish in 6 months than I could after two years of study. There is also the choice to begin studying German at the age of 12 with the class. By the time Danes graduate from school, on average, they speak 2-3 languages besides their native tongue.

Language learning is then reinforced with travel. For instance, in April my English class in Denmark went on a 7 day trip to Scotland to practice our language knowledge. Next year, the Spanish class is going to Spain for a week to practice what they’ve learned this year.

The Danish systematic method of learning has opened my eyes. It is impressive to me having witnessed this learning style firsthand.


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