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Dansk Madness!

Oct 5, 2006 • Karen

Today was my Danish oral midterm. The first part, where you just introduce yourself, went fine. I'd practiced in advance and worked out what I knew how to say. (Mom: For the purposes of this exercise, you're a husmor, because I don't know how to say "tech writer" in Danish. Just like how Dad's an ingeniør without elaboration.)

When it came to the part where my prof asked me questions, though, I quickly found myself over my head. Example: "Hvad skal du laver i Schweis?" Guh? I don't know how to say "go on a Space Invaders tour" in Danish. Or "attempt to speak French and have the locals laugh at me." I guess I could have said "spiser gelato," but that didn't occur to me at the time.

I'm not sure how she could have expected me to respond coherently. Most of the words we've learned have to do with things at home--making food, doing homework, watching TV. Pretty much the only suitable response in our vocab arsenal to the question would be går i byen (literally "go to town"; meaning going out at night to bars/clubs/etc), but I don't actually do that.

When I realized that I was sitting there dumbly going "guhhh..." while trying to work out something I *could* say, I opened my mouth in desperation--and while most of what fell out was Danish, there was definitely more than a few French prepositions, transitionals, and random words thrown in there. Oops.

When we first started taking Danish, I quickly learned what languages my classmates had previously studied by the pattern of their errors. The German students did well--spit out a German word and the prof will often understand it as the right answer, if poorly pronounced. Except when the German is utterly different; then the jig is up. The Spanish students defaulted to "y" as a conjunction; the French students did the same with "et." I had hoped that these confusions would soon come to an end as we studied Danish further. I haven't taken French in years; surely its conventions would be soon overwritten!

Well... not so much. I've gotten to the point where I *almost* have stopped seeing "of" instead of "you" every time I see du on the page. Slowly I have acclimated to pronouncing the last letters of Danish words, instead of pronouncing them gently or not at all. But while my brain has expanded to accommodate the new Danish system--the French is still crammed right next door. For every runtime error in Danish--every time I run out of words to communicate what I mean--I spill over into French vocabulary.

One of these days I should write a blog post in the unholy linguistic Frankenstein that is my interior dialogue when trying to speak Danish: Quand j'étais barn jeg laeser about Schweis og j'ai tombée amoureuse. Donc, jeg kan godt lidt at voyager là. Jeg veux også go there parce que jeg taler fransk. Jeg le taler too much, in fact...

On the plus side, because I keep accidentally dredging up French vocabulary while trying to speak Danish, I think my French is now at the best it's been since high school. Silver linings in nuages danois.