Danes are great at English. By the time most Danes reach end of Scottish primary school age, they can understand a thousand times more than their Scottish peers have learned in French (or whatever other foreign language their primary concentrates on). They can discuss most topics and understand most accents. By the second last year of high school they are reading Shakespeare in the original! Most Scottish kids in their second last year at high school struggle with Shakespeare even though it is technically in their native language! If anyone considered introducing Shakespeare translated into French or Spanish in a Scottish Higher class, it would be a non-starter! In addition to this all Danes do a minimum of two foreign languages over and above Danish, which would probably not go down too well back home either. So, in principle, I take my hat off to Danes and the level of English they tend to acquire.
The other week Anna (who is in the equivalent of s4 in Scottish terms, (Year 9 in Denmark); she's 15) came home chuckling. 'Guess what my homework is?' she laughed. 'I've to speak to my parents only in English for the whole of the next week!' Can you imagine a teacher back home having the confidence to assume firstly that a child of 15 had enough French to use only that for a week, and secondly that their parents also knew enough to keep it up!? Here it is taken as a given.
Despite speaking only Danish at school, my kids are in standard state schools, not international schools, they still speak English at home and to each other. They moved here nearly four years ago when they were aged between 9 and 13 but claim 'at home Danish just doesn't feel right,' and yet they all pass as Danish natives outside the house. What is more Thomas always spoke to them only in Danish, even when we lived in Glasgow! I doubt now that it will ever change but only time will tell. So, Anna found her homework far from taxing!
Their above-average level of English comes with a downside however... They are so proficient, they believe their English has reached native in standard, and that's the problem, it invariably hasn't. Somehow the Danish education system instils a huge amount of confidence in its citizens, and they rarely stop to question their own ability. The English textbooks used in Danish schools for the under 16s are as far as I can see written exclusively by Danes and they sure as hell don't think they need a native English speaker to copy-edit them.
Danes learn British English at school but sit glued to Netflix and watch American media content 24/7, the young (males in particular) game online in English-dominant group chats from their early teens upwards. Léon always says you can tell if a Dane is a gamer or not without discussing computer games; if they speak English with a Danish accent, they don't game, if they speak with an American accent, they almost always turn out to be gamers. This also means that unlike in Scottish schools where 90% of a given Modern Languages class is likely to be female (once they pass the point of compulsory French/Spanish/German), in Denmark young men are often better, at least at the spoken part of English, than their female classmates, who, on the whole game less.
The result of this mix of English input from a young age is textbooks spelled in British English but which use US terminology, for the most part. Amaia actually had an (approved) English textbook a couple of years ago where one of the exercises stated 'Turn to the person sitting beside you and ask them what colour of pants they are wearing'! I fully get that you can easily ask your neighbor what color their pants are, but you most definitely should not ask your neighbour what colour their pants are, not in a school setting anyway! Danish speakers of English often happily mix different variants of English and jump about in register, using both formal and spoken English within a sentence, and don't even get me started on their use of English swearwords, that's a post in itself, if not a thesis!
They don't seem to learn about English style either so in a business setting often write long-winded technical texts repeating the same words again and again in what would be considered bad style by a native. When copy-editing English written by a Dane, although there are sometimes no concrete mistakes I often have to break one of their sentences into three or even four before it begins to sound English. When inventing stories for school textbooks, they make cultural errors such as naming the characters badly. I know this sounds a strange, and maybe pedantic point, but they often set a story in a contemporary classroom, the kids all on their iPads, working away, but the kids in this 2023 setting are described as being 12 years old but named Deborah, Helen, Jacqueline, Carol, Gary, and Steven. I had five kids and they had shit tons of classmates, but those names were much more likely to belong to their parents than the kids themselves. I'm half expecting one day to come across a baby Phyllis in one of the kids' text books 😂
As an English expert with over 30 years experience in language publishing, I find it depressing that I can find mistakes or awkward turns of phrase in almost every web page, ad, textbook or talk given in English here, but at the same time really struggle to get anyone to understand the need for a native speaker to proofread anything. I have rarely had as little luck freelancing as I do here. I do get work but not nearly enough! And after a couple of years, I am now seriously considering throwing in the towel altogether and looking for something completely different, despite seeing on a daily basis how useful I could actually be to my adopted country. I once applied for a job writing tourist brochures in English for the island I live on and was rejected with a lovely letter (which sounded rather strange and stilted!) explaining that although I could probably do it faster, I had less local knowledge of Funen, so they had gone for a native Dane instead! This was far from being a one-off!
My kids, all English native speakers who speak English at home and have been educated in the UK are corrected at school by teachers who are somehow confident they know better, (they don't!) I remember Amaia using the word 'Santa hat' in a story she wrote for her English class here: The kids all wore Santa hats on their last day at school in December... Her essay was returned to her with Santa hat underlined and she was told to change it to gnome cap, (she didn't!) Every English 'mistake' they have ever had corrected in Danish school was not a mistake and they have stuck to their guns! But I do find it fascinating. If I was teaching French in Scotland, or Danish for that matter and a native pupil of that language handed in a dialogue they had written, I would ask them to explain their writing to me, I would not assume I am right and the native is wrong!
This whole rant was inspired by Amaia's current homework. Amaia is the equivalent of s1 in Scotland, (Year 6 in Denmark; she's 13). The class is working on short sketches to perform in English for the school. The book the sketches are taken from is entirely in English, written exclusively by Danes and is quite frankly horrendous! In the six pages we're working on, I have counted at least six mistakes. I'm so inspired I am considering writing a book of dialogues for schools and sending it to publishers here, though I know before I even open my laptop to start on it, that it would be viewed with suspicion as it would use turns of phrase the Danes themselves were not familiar with, and the contemporary kids would be called weird and wonderful names such as Olivia, Katie, Adam and Aaron, so it would inevitably be rejected in favour of a reprint of Amaia's appalling little textbook! Strangely, Danes trust Danes much more than they would trust the likes of me to write a school textbook! The errors in this sketch book range from mild:
We will never see our son any more instead of: We will never see our son again
Darling, our son is playing with that devilish device again! Said by a father whose son is playing computer games
to downright Danish:
I'm leaving to go to school now mum, hi! instead of: I'm off to school now, bye!
(The Danish word for Hi is Hej, the Danish word for Bye is also Hej (think Ciao in Italian)).
I have lived many places abroad: France, Germany, Italy and Denmark, and nowhere else do they confidently use foreign speakers of English to write all their English content. Everywhere else I have lived, I could easily find school pupils, students, or even business people to tutor in English. My daughter is always tutoring a minimum of three or four Spanish kids at any given time, they are positively clamouring for native input to improve themselves, but not in Denmark. Back when I lived in Newton Mearns, although my kids were all at one of the top 5 Scottish state schools where the standard of teaching was excellent and the facilities top notch, they were almost the exception in their class as they were the only ones who didn't have a private tutor after school! I have never met a Danish parent who uses tutors in ANY subject, such is their faith, at least here on Funen, in their state education.
I guess if things continue in this direction, Danglish risks becoming a separate variant of English as they are developing their own way of speaking it, in a bubble and passing it down from generation to generation. It'll be fascinating to watch, though I am already prepared for a great deal of eyeball rolling!
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