Danish is a harder language to learn than one might think. It’s not that hard to read or even write, but it’s quite hard to speak. However, like English, Danish has a non-phonetic orthography, so this can be problematic. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform, so there are many silent letters and sounds, both vowels and consonants, that make no sense.
In addition, there are d words where the d is silent and other d words where it is pronounced, and though the rules are straightforward, it’s often hard for foreigners to get the hang of this. The d in hund is silent, for instance. In addition, the b, d, and g sounds are somehow voiceless in many environments, which must be a hard sound to make. There are also the strange labiodental glide and alveopalatal fricative sounds. In certain environments, d, g, v, and r turn into vowels.
There are three strange vowels that are not in English, represented by the letters æ, ø and å. They are all present in other Scandinavian languages – æ is present in Icelandic and Norwegian, ø is part of Norwegian, and å is part of Norwegian and Swedish, but English speakers will have problems with them. Danish language learners often report having a hard time pronouncing Danish vowels or even telling one apart from the other.
One advantage of all of the Scandinavian languages is that their basic vocabulary (the vocabulary needed to converse at a basic level and be understood) is fairly limited. In other words, without learning a huge number of words, it is possible to have a basic conversation in these languages. This is in contrast to Chinese, where you have to learn a lot of vocabulary just to converse at a basic level.
As with Maltese and Gaelic, there is little correlation between how a Danish word is written and how it is pronounced.
Pronunciation of Danish is difficult. Speech is very fast and comes out in a continuous stream that elides entire words. Vowels in the middle and at the end of words are seldom expressed. There are nine vowel characters, and each one can be pronounced in five or six different ways. There is nearly a full diphthong set, and somehow pharyngealization as accent is used as an accent. Danish has a huge set of vowels, one of the largest sets on Earth. The sheer number of vowels is one reason that Danish is so hard to pronounce. Danish has 32 vowels, 15 short, 13 long and four unstressed: ɑ, ɑː, a, æ, æː, ɛ, ɛː, e, e̝ː, i, iː, o, oː, ɔ, ɔː, u, uː, ø, øː, œ, œː, ɶ, ɶː, y, yː, ʌ, ɒ, ɒː, ə, ɐ, ɪ, and ʊ.
There is also a strange phonetic element called a stød, which is a very short pause slightly before the vowel(s) in a word. This element is very hard for foreigners to get right.
Just about any word has at least four meanings, and can serve as noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Danish has two genders (feminine and masculine have merged into neuter), and whether a noun is common or neuter is almost impossible to predict and simply must be memorized.
This is a look at the Danish language from the viewpoint of how hard it is for an English speaker trying to learn the language.
Suggesting that Danish may be harder to learn than Swedish or Norwegian, it’s said that Danish children speak later than Swedish or Norwegian children. One study comparing Danish children to Croatian tots found that the Croat children had learned over twice as many words by 15 months as the Danes. According to the study:
The University of Southern Denmark study shows that at 15 months, the average Danish toddler has mastered just 80 words, whereas a Croatian tot of the same age has a vocabulary of up to 200 terms.
[…] According to the study, the primary reason Danish children lag behind in language comprehension is because single words are difficult to extract from Danish’s slurring together of words in sentences. Danish is also one of the languages with the most vowel sounds, which leads to a ‘mushier’ pronunciation of words in everyday conversation.
Danish gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.