Actually I may have exaggerated the problems with my new Danish Class

S Aufrecht

Okay, I went to class both times this week and it was fine. If I do more homework on the weekend I won’t fall out of student mode and have such bad Mondays. The teacher is really nice, and he’s done a much better job this week of keeping things moving. The only real killer is when he spends ten minutes helping a single student with a pronunciation problem. Sometimes I can hear the problems—like the Russians, who don’t aspirate their plosives—and sometimes I can’t. But most of us have different problems, so if he let us split into pairs, where the partner’s job is just to listen and indicate right/wrong/close …

My own bugaboo is that I’m completely incapable of distinguishing between the i pronounced as an [i], such as in spis (same vowel as in speak) and the i pronounced as an [e], such as in sikkert (same vowel as in pick). It sounds easy when it’s in English, peek/pick, but in Danish they are even closer, only a difference of a few millimeters gap between tongue and roof of mouth, and they can be short or long and I just can’t hear it. On the tests, I get nine out of ten wrong, so the next time I try to hear the same way and switch my answers, and I still get nine of ten wrong.

The thing that makes Danish especially tricky to learn is that fast spoken Danish and carefully spoken Danish are almost two different dialects, and when you ask a Dane to repeat something they do it slowly and carefully, adding in new sounds so that you can hear the difference. Thanks, but no thanks—if you don’t repeat the original sound, I’ll never learn it.

And while slow spoken Danish in informed by about 75% of the written letters, conversational Danish ignores fully half and skimps on the rest. Example: Jeg er, which means “I am,” is pronounced [Jai er] if each word is enunciated - that’s the Yi with dipthong from Yikes and then the English word err. But in a sentence, such as Jeg er hjemme nu, I am home now, Jeg er is one syllable: [Ja:], like the English word yaw.

The temperature has been bobbling around 0 °C, mostly under, since I got back from vacation. Between that and the throat stress from this language, my three-week old cough is likely to persist until summer. Which is quite lovely hereabouts.