[lg policy] Denmark: WHY BOTHER LEARNING DANISH?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 6 16:21:08 UTC 2010

and why, internationals need to learn the language

It is the coffee break, and a friendly colleague chats with you in
English. Suddenly she turns to her other colleagues, subtly switching
into Danish and effectively leaving you out of the joke. A banal,
everyday situation in hundreds of lunch kitchens, coffee rooms and
canteens throughout the University of Copenhagen – and a situation
that is now to be the object of intense research.

Merike Jürna from Estonia is working on a PhD at the Centre for
Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use (CIP) that will show
why, when, how, and if international academics need Danish. She will
use focus groups, questionnaires, and will even audio and videotape
staff conversations in work and non-work situations.

It is early stages in her research, but she has already focus-grouped
international PhDs.

»For them, learning Danish was mostly for socialising, for
understanding the Danes better, for sifting through news headlines and
coping with daily chores. Not for direct work-related reasons,« she
explains. Don’t like asking for translation

Some of the PhDs said that they learn Danish to not feel isolated in
the lunch break, others wanted to learn Danish because they »had kids,
and would like to understand what the Danish kids say to them in the
playground«, she says.

»In the shops, it would be nice to understand ‘på beløbet?’, when you
use your credit card and not just stand there being confused,« she
says.(It means ‘right on the money?’, and is pronounced
‘Pop-uh-luh-put’… ed.)
Some people in her focus group felt uncomfortable asking people to
translate, »others felt tired from constantly concentrating on the
language,« she says.

Nobody knows exactly how many international staff and researchers in
Copenhagen actually want to learn Danish. But a busy PhD student
planning to be in the city for a maximum of three years, is probably
less motivated to learn Danish than a PostDoc with a family, who has
opted for a career in Copenhagen.
Official policy: Both languages

Merike wants to find out more.

Policy at the University of Copenhagen has Danish and English as
parallel languages. This is in opposition to universities that opt for
English as a lingua franca on top of a local language. Ultimately her
research can help inform and specify the details of an official
language policy.

»The language policy is that Danish and English are in parallel. But
all the interesting questions are about how you actually do this in
practice,« she says.

miy at adm.ku.dk

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