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Give Me a Å! Give Me a Ø!


Picking up the Danish language can be hard, especially with all these linguistic curveballs.

It’s embarrassing, but I’ll admit it: After six months of living in Denmark, I can’t pronounce the name of my street.

Whenever I need to call a cab, I try my best to say “Rødkløvervej” but they either send a taxi to “Hørhavevej” or ask me to spell it out. In the latter case, I probably come across as an ignorant North American when I say, “R – O with the slash in it – D. . .”

Within my first week in Denmark, a kind Dane tried explaining to me the difference between ø, å and æ. The three sounded more or less the same to me even then. That was probably the day I officially decided not to take up free Danish lessons offered at the University.

I really like languages. I speak three really well, and I am intermediate at a fourth. I am not scared of learning new vocabulary and grammatical structures. But what intimidates me about the Danish language are the sounds. It’s the same situation where after being surrounded by French-speaking friends for many years, I have picked up the basic vocabulary and slang, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t get the “R” right. When I need to make those throaty sounds, I am at a loss.

When I visited my cousin, his wife and their little daughters in Oslo, I picked up a lot Norwegian (mostly because the two and five-year-olds only spoke Norwegian, and a little bit of Punjabi). I learned how to count, say hello and started understanding when my nieces wanted my hjelpe (help) and when they wanted me to leave them alone.

I mentioned it to my cousin how interesting it was that I picked up Norwegian so fast and struggled with Danish for months. In the typical Scandinavian-style rivalry he replied, “It’s because we don’t vomit out our words.”

Personally, I wouldn’t be so harsh towards my Danish friends, but that doesn’t mean I am still hoping to eventually grasp this language. I have now reached the point where I can read most menus and notices, but if someone speaks to me, I’m a deer in headlights.

Before I leave Denmark next month, my goal is to be able to call a cab and say, “Rødkløvervej” and have a taxi show up at the right location. That isn’t too much to ask, is it?

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Roop Gill

After finishing her undergrad in Toronto, Roop Gill worked as journalist for a year. Giving into her wanderlust, she packed up her life in Canada and is currently doing a cross-continental MA through the Erasmus Programme that will take her from Denmark to Australia to England. She can’t understand how this happened, but she has managed to pick three of the most expensive places in the world to live as a student, but she is determined not to let that stand in her way of travelling.

Website: roopgill.com/

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