Denmark is a Scandinavian country. As a peninsula called Jutland, Denmark is situated on Germany’s northern border, and the rest of the country is a series of islands located between Jutland and Sweden.
Denmark’s population is about 5.43 million people. Out of the total population about 86% or 4.77 million Danish people speak English. English is taught in Danish schools beginning in first grade, and many Danes can also speak a third language. Knowing Danish isn’t necessary to enjoy your travels in the country.
To learn more about Denmark’s high levels of English fluency, read on.
How Common Is English in Denmark?
English is commonly spoken in each of the Scandinavian countries, with over 90% of Norwegians and 86% of Swedes being semi-fluent or better. Denmark is a close 3rd with 85% of the population being at least semi-fluent. According to EF Education First’s global English proficiency index, Denmark ranks second behind the Netherlands with its overall English proficiency levels. The ratings are based on an English online test that adults voluntarily take.
Because of the high fluency rate, you’ll have little trouble being understood or understanding when Danes speak English. This is true not just in larger cities, like Copenhagen, but also in smaller towns and villages. Thus, Denmark is one country where you can visit non-tourist areas and still get around easily.
This makes visiting Denmark ideal because the country has far more to offer than what you can find in its major cities. Denmark isn’t one large island but a collection of over 400. Of those, 72 are inhabited. Bornholm is known for its round churches and Knights Templar connections, Møn has spectacular scenery, and if you want beaches—Denmark has over 4,500 miles (7,242.08 km) of coastline.
Why Are Danes Fluent in English?
There are a variety of factors that contribute to the Danes’ English fluency:
- Education. Most Danish children start learning English when they begin school. It’s a mandatory subject, and many Danish kids also take classes in a third language, mainly German or French. Most textbooks at the university level are also in English. There are less than 6 million Danish speakers, so translating books into Danish isn’t worth the cost to publishers.
- Business. Due to its location, Denmark is a hub for international business, especially in larger cities. English is almost always spoken in business meetings with foreigners since it’s more efficient. However, an expat is expected to know how to speak Danish to work in the country. Danes take pride in their language, so once the English speakers leave, they will usually switch back to Danish.
- Entertainment. In America, foreign movies are often dubbed into English, but that’s not usually done in Denmark. Watching movies in English helps Danes learn how to read and speak the language beter. Danish musicians also get in on the act, with names like Carpark North, Substereo, and Artillery, performing in English as well.
Most Danes Prefer Speaking English to Foreigners
It’s always considered polite to learn at least some essential words of the country one visits. The Danish language uses the same Roman alphabet as English, so learning common phrases should be easy, right? Especially since the words look similar.
But Danish isn’t as easy to pronounce as it looks. Even though the language has only a few additional letters, it has twice as many vowel sounds as English, leading to twice as much confusion. Danish spelling also hasn’t kept up with the language’s pronunciation. What this means is that many Danish words won’t be pronounced like they’re spelled.
For example, the l in held (luck) is silent but not in heldig (lucky). One pronounces bage (to bake) ba-ay but says the g in bagt (baked).
Therefore, Danes often struggle to understand foreigners who attempt to speak Danish and usually switch to English rather than trying to decipher the mispronunciations. That doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate the gesture of learning basic greetings, but if you ask, “hvor er toilettet?” they’ll probably respond with, “the bathroom is in the back.”
However, you can still learn a few simple phrases to be polite.
- Hello is spelled Goddag but pronounced Gooday.
- Goodbye is spelled Farvel but pronounced Favel.
- Luckily, thanks is pronounced like it is spelled: Tak.
English Use in Major Cities in Denmark
Copenhagen – Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, lies on the Zealand and Amager coastal islands. The Öresund Bridge connects it to Malmo in southern Sweden. The city’s historic center contains Frederiksstaden, an 18th century Roccoco district, which is home to the Amalienborg Palace. Visitors to the palace can easily visit Christiansborg Palace and the Renaissance Castle of Rosenberg surrounded by gardens and home to the crown jewels.
Aalborg – Aalborg is a town on the northern end of the Jutland peninsula. It is known for Limfjord, a body of water that slices across Jutland. Notable tourist destinations are the outdoor pool in Aalborg Havnebad, exhibits at the Utzon Center and concerts at the futuristic House of Music. Nearby is the half-timbered Aalborghus Castle that dates back to the 16th century.
Aarhus – A Viking settlement established in the 8th century, Aarhus is a natural harbor built on the northern shores of a fjord, and for centuries seaborne trade in agricultural products was the primary economic product. German forces captured Aarhus twice in the Schleswig Wars in the 19th century, but the city escaped devastation. When the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Europe, the town became one of the most prosperous in the country.
Odense – Humans have lived in Odense for over 4,000 years, although the name was not mentioned in writing until 988, and by 1070, the city developed into a flourishing city. Canute IV of Denmark, widely considered the last Viking king, was murdered on July 10, 1086. Odense remains a commercial hub, and has a spectacular commercial district today with a range of shops. The area has a thriving industrial and cultural district with places like Albani Brewery and GASA, Denmark’s biggest dealer of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. Odense is home to Odense Castle, designed by King Frederik IV who died there in 1730, the Odense Theatre, the Odense Symphony Orchestra, and Hans Christian Andersen’s birthplace.
Frederiksberg – Frederiksberg’s history dates to June 2, 1651 when King Frederik III granted twenty Danish-Dutch peasants the right to settle in Allegade. Agriculture was not very bountiful, and most of the town burned down n 1697. It meant that peasants could not pay taxes, and Frederik III’s son Christian V returned the land to the crown. The town gradually shifted from a farming community to a commercial town with artisans and merchants. During the summer months, the town is a vacation town with many people from Copenhagen renting vacation homes. Today Frederiksberg consists almost entirely of residential homes and large parks.
What Languages are Spoken in Denmark?
Danish – Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by approximately six million people, primarily in Denmark, Greenland, and the Southern Schleswig region on northern Germany, where it has minority language status. Danish is a descendent of Old Norse, the traditional language of the Germanic peoples who lived during the Viking Age in Scandinavia.
English – About 86% of the populations speaks English, making Denmark one of the most English-speaking countries in the world where English is not the official language. Danish school children begin learning English in third grade, and daily lessons continue until they leave high school. Additionally many Danish university courses are taught in English
German – Many Danes speak German. German is the official minorit language for a portion of southern Denmark. Until the Treaty of Versailles was signed the territory was part of Germany. Of the 15,000 to 20,000 ethnic Germans living in the region, about 8,000 speak the Schleswigsch variety of standard German. This German minority population of Denmark also runs their own primary schools where German is the primary language of instruction.
Swedish – Denmark and Sweden have extensive cultural links, which are often referred to as the “brother peoples.” The southern region of Sweden was a region of Denmark until 1658, and there are still many references to the Danish rule in the Swedish landscape such as in the naming of towns and cities including Kristianstad. The Oresund Bridge building has rekindled those relations, establishing the Oresund zone as a transnational metropolitan area comprising Copenhagen and Malmo. However, many Swedes and Danes see themselves as culturally and historically related, largely because languages are mutually intelligible, especially in border regions.
Faroese – The primary language of the Faroe Islands; Fareoese is a North Germanic language very similar to Danish, and spoken in the Faroe Islands which are a autonomous region of Denmark. Faroese is spoken on the mainland by Faroese immigrants. Faroese is very closely related to Icelandic, and the Old Norse language too.
Is English necessary in Denmark?
As a tourist, it is probably not necessary to learn Danish. About 86% of residents speak English. When not in school, Danish children are exposed to English from an early age. British and English television and movies are not dubbed, so younger children have exposure to English media. For travelers or students studying abroad, you should have no problem speaking English or not speaking Danish.
As a local, most locals as we mentioned grow up exposed to the English language. Whether it is through education, media, or traveling abroad, English is a daily part of life. Some blogs state that “Danes love English,” so that many Danes interested in opening a business, starting a creative project, or forming youth programs might name the project with an English name. One blog states that Danes find English very cool. For some Danes the language is seen as provincial, old-fashioned, and kind of like those porcelain knick-knacks that your grandparents or parents keep in their houses.
English Teaching in Denmark
Denmark’s public education system is highly regulated. Teachers with non-Danish teaching credentials who are applying for positions in primary and secondary education must first apply to the Danish Higher Education Department, and ask for formal approval of their foreign qualifications. In some cases, applicants must receive further training.
Denmark has many opportunities at private schools. Most schools in the private education system are bilingual foreign schools or private language training centers. For the most part these schools are located in Denmark’s main urban cities such as Copenhagen, Frederica, Glostrup, and Hellerup.
At those private language schools, teachers can teach courses like Business English and Advanced English. Business English jobs are in tremendous demand and prior business experience is seen as a benefit for these positions, along with applicable credentials and previous teaching experience.
Denmark has more than 24 international schools across the country that regularly hire native English teaching staff. Teaching positions in Danish international schools are also in high demand, so requirements are more competitive for teachers applying at these schools.
Living in the One of the World’s Happiest Countries
Denmark is one of the world’s happiest countries. Let’s look at some reasons why Denmark would be a good country to live in, and a couple reasons for not moving to Denmark.
Danes are hard workers, and they like to do their job well, but only in the mandated 37.5 hour workweek. If you work in Denmark, and stay past 5pm, then you will most likely have the office to yourself. Parents usually leave to pick up their children at child-care around 3:30 or 5pm, which means that you will have more time to focus on yourself, your life, and your hobbies.
Healthcare is not necessarily free, but workers pay for healthcare out of each paycheck. When you arrive in Denmark, you will be issued a plastic yellow card that looks similar to a credit card. This card can be used for everything from checking out library books to checking into the hospital.
Denmark also has subsidized child care. Most children enter childcare when they are a year old or younger. Most childcare workers are trained professionals, and children learn the Danish language, social rules, ways to work and cooperate with others.
With an excellent healthcare system, superb social programs, and a somewhat progressive work lifestyle, Denmark seems like a great place to live. Yet as all places have upsides, they also have downsides. Here are a few downsides albeit they are a little more subjective.
With any foreign country, life improves when you learn the local language. If you are contemplating learning Danish, then it will improve your life’s quality, especially if you plan to live in Denmark for more than a few years.
Danes start studying English when they are only six years old, so by the time they are a teenager, they most likely possess a high English competency. When socializing, Danes might prefer to speak Danish, so at social parties or events, you might be the odd person out who does not speak Danish.
Speaking Danish will open many job opportunities to you. As about most Danish jobs require some language competency, then it will be helpful to learn. Surprisingly, Danish might be a hard language to learn for German and English speakers. Give yourself some patience and buckle down for a longer learning process.
Danes love to complain about the weather which is typically grey and rainy from October to March. The longer winter hours might be difficult for newcomers, when sunlight only shines for a few hours a day. When planning on moving to Denmark, plan a hobby or other activity that can occupy your time during the longer winter months.
Danes are trustworthy, gentle, and wonderful friends. A problem that I have read about is they are not particularly easy to make friends with, especially when already settled into adulthood. The fact is that most Danes make lifelong friends in childhood, and are not particularly looking for friends later in life. In professional circumstances, Danes might be polite, but do not make the mistake that I did, and expect anything other than a courteous work relationship.
If you are interested in making Danish friends, the best way is to join some kind of group, or a club. There are choral groups, or running clubs, religious organizations usually have social gatherings, and there are other volunteer activities that you can do.
When you try out these new activities, you might need to go outside your comfort zone, and start a discussion with a Danish person. They may not want to bother you by initiating a conversation with you, so take the initiative and have a try.
Denmark can be a wonderful place to live and work.
So that is everything we have to say about English speakers in Denmark. You can rest assured that if you are travelling in the country and only speak English then you should be fine.
Thanks for taking the time to read this summary. Feel free to comment with anything you have to say below.