Have you ever thought of how cool it would be to know a few words in the language of each country you visit? I definitely resonate with that, and I always try to learn the minimum before each travel. Words like: thank you, please, hello, my name is…
It’s even more fun if I have someone from that country who can help with the pronunciation, even though it doesn’t happen very often. I have been thinking how nice it would be to be able to attend a language school for just a few hours in each country on arrival: to learn most important words and meet some locals. To make it even better, it would be best if it would be free of charge!
Well, I am glad to inform you that I have found one place in the world where this is possible, and works out fantastic. It’s Copenhagen, Denmark – a city where Danish is spoken. You know what they say about Danish, right? Take a hot potato in your mouth and you will speak Danish or even worse stuff… However, I like Danish, it is so weird and difficult that it comes out as cute and funny. If you know some words in this difficult Scandinavian language, you might even feel like a Viking. Let me reveal this secret: if you have learned a few words in Danish and have got some good portion of Danish beer according to Scandinavian measures, the miracle happens – effortlessly! This miracle doesn’t last overnight though. The next morning, you will only have a few words left! But enough for you to proudly go to the shop or cafe and still pretend you know Danish.
Where is this magic place for learning Danish? You’ll be shocked to find out that it is a church. But don’t get judgmental, I will explain everything.
When I first came to Denmark to study many years ago and wanted to find a side job, I realized that Danish is the key to succeed in that. In those times my country of origin was not a part of EU yet, so waiting for a visa and a personal number thereafter took about half a year. It meant also that I had to wait half a year to be be able to attend a real language school. That made the situation pretty hard but I was lucky – in one of my first nights out in Copenhagen I met some other foreigners, who told me about Bethesda church. This was apparently a place where Danish was taught with no strings attached, no subscription and free of charge! I was skeptical though about the fact that it took place in a church, cause often ,a church is not equivalent to a true belief in something higher above us, but a profitable way for some groups of people to make money.
However, my curiosity was bigger than my skepticism. I took my friend with me to attend the next class they had.
For sure we entered a church, which was full of people of different skin colors and spoke languages from all over the world. At the entrance, we were greeted by a very nice Danish lady who asked us to write down our names and asked if we know any Danish from before. As it turned out later, the questions would help her place us in an adequate group.
After the greetings, the first part of the class begun, where all the students, regardless of their level were together. We started with a song in Danish which lyrics were written on the blackboard. Next activity was the learning of Danish vowels which to me was the hardest nut of this language. It was incredible to see how many different ways the mouth could be moved and how many different sounds it could make depending on each movement (see the photo beneath of how to open the mouth to pronounce one of the Danish vowels). The Danish “mouth yoga” exercises were followed by new words and expression related to the topic of the day. Then dialogue practices came as the next and at the end, we played a game to strengthen our new glossary. All that took about one hour – an hour filled with fun, laughter and some pretty hardcore learning.
Taking A Break…
The intensive hour was rewarded with a break, coffee, tea and sweet buns – all free of charge. That was also a good chance to get to know each other better and exchange the tips of the foreigner life in Copenhagen. After a short break the person who registered all the students and wrote down our levels had “grouped” us according to our abilities and formed groups of around 8 people. Each group got assigned a personal teacher and the second part of the class could start. As I found out later all the group teachers were volunteers who did the teaching job with one single goal – to help the newcomers to integrate and feel better in Danish society.
The Second Part Of The Class
The second part of the class was very fruitful and intensive. As beginners, we learned all the necessary phrases to start our journey in Denmark as well as how to introduce ourselves and what was even more important – to pronounce them well. Since we were few, it was also easy to direct questions to the teacher and after the class. We were further encouraged to even ask the teacher for some specific help with a word or sentence that was giving us difficulty in communication, after the class.
When the class was over after 2 hours of intensive learning, I felt that Danish was not anymore the monster everyone had scared me with, but a normal language with easy grammar and a weird, yet funny pronunciation. The Danish had become my friends and I decided to contribute to this friendship and make it as strong as I could.
More About The Volunteers
I also realized that for the volunteer teachers at Bethesda church, there was only one God, regardless of how we serve him – be it Islamic, Buddhist, Christian or any other way. What’s important for them was to serve to humanity and help the ones in need, even if their own way of serving God was through Christianity. For sure, the students at Bethesda represented all religions and it was so beautiful to watch and feel how similar we all are despite of race and beliefs. Now that we all were new in Denmark, Copenhagen, we were a family where each member had their own story. Some were there to spend the whole life in this country, while others were there just for a trip, and for all of us, Danish was necessary to connect with this country and its people.
Practical Details On Your Way To Danish
Bethesda is a Christian church in Copenhagen, in Rømersgade 17, that is also a home for various volunteer organizations. International Christian Center is one of them and are responsible for teaching Danish to everybody free of charge. The goal of this language school is to offer language classes to those not in a position to learn Danish in a official language school or those who simply can’t afford it or can’t commit to attend the classes regulary. The name and level are written down at the beginning, just to be able to form the groups for the second part of the class for that same day.
Apart from Danish, it is also possible to receive classes in English that are structured the same way as the Danish classes. You can also be part of the Language Café, where you can get help with specific problems regarding Danish pronunciation, reading, writing and help with homework if you are already attending an official language school. Language Café is probably the only place in Copenhagen where you will get help with writing a letter in Danish, correcting your CV or dealing with any other Danish language related issue.
This Will Surprise You!
After so many years that have passed and I am fluent in Danish, I still visit Bethesda when I happen to be in Copenhagen. In those times I am not a student anymore, but a volunteer teacher, who appreciates the help received at the beginning of my life in Denmark. The need of returning something to this wonderful place takes me back to the classroom in an attempt to help the others as often as I can. So maybe one day, when you happen to cross Copenhagen in order to start your life there or just for a short trip, I hope to meet you and help with Danish!