Thursday, May 02, 2013

It seems I've come full circle



When Thomas was first moved into my office back in 2002 my only experience of Scandinavian languages was a two-year Swedish course I'd taken at uni, primarily as way of escaping two further years of Middle High German. (Well, unless you count the 60s Abba records in Swedish that I'd bought myself as a ten year old, memorizing the lyrics, without understanding them until ten years later at uni). I was better at reading and writing it than listening to it, simply through lack of experience. Unlike my French, German and Italian, I had never lived in Sweden, and that makes a world of difference in language learning.

When Thomas occasionally spoke Danish on the phone, I followed none of it, but when he left the odd newspaper lying about I got the gist, given it is written fairly similarly, even if the pronunciation is a million miles away (to a non-Scandinavian). Obviously over the years I heard more and more Danish and I got better at following it. Three years ago Thomas and I were in Sweden. He bought the Larsson trilogy in Swedish. I picked it up and read the first chapter. I followed it well but found for the next few days it affected my Danish - I started pronouncing the Ks in Danish as SH like in Swedish in my head and I stopped reading it because I could tell returning to my first Scandinavian language was adversely affecting my Danish.

As an old Abba fan I heard last week that Agnetha had released a new album. I popped on to Youtube the other day for a look and my first search came up with this interview instead. I put it on. To my surprise, my Swedish wasn't as rusty as I thought and I followed most of what Mats and Dag were discussing in the first half. Suddenly Sidse from Borgen turned up and of course spoke in Danish instead. It was strange. From her very first word the effect was a bit like someone turned off the background noise, or cleared water from my ears. Every word of Danish was clear and crisp and so much easier to follow than the Swedish that it surprised me. That language that ten years ago was totally incomprehensible alongside its easier Scandinavian neighbour had become part of me. I didn't need to concentrate as I did with the Swedish, I could listen to the Danish while typing this, without thinking. When Sidse and Agnetha finally got to talking together, there was no contest as to who was the easier to understand. I have to admit I have finally come full circle. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would reach a day where Danish was easier than Swedish. But it definitely is - even with all those funny sounds!

Don't tell Thomas!

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