Denmark is a prosperous Scandinavian country with a population of around 6 million people and a booming tourist industry which saw it receive record numbers of tourists in 2018. But just how widely spoken is English there? Can tourists expect to get by there without needing to speak any Danish?
English is very widely spoken in Denmark, with around 86% of the entire population speaking it and fluency rates also very high. English is taught from a very early age and the population is constantly exposed to English language culture and literature which means competency and fluency is very high in Denmark.
You need not worry about speaking English in Denmark; you will be understood by almost everyone and you will be able to have fluent conversations as well.
A 2012 survey placed the percentage of the Danish population who can speak English at around 86%, exactly the same as Sweden and a very high competency rate. If anything this number will have grown even further in the intervening years and may now be closer to or past 90%.
Along with the other Scandinavian countries, Denmark consistently ranks in the top 4 countries in the world for English competency and fluency.
The small proportion of the population who cannot speak English is probably restricted to the very oldest part of the population, who perhaps may not have learnt so much in school. Virtually all young people will be proficient. German is also quite common, with around the half the population speaking it, along with Swedish, which around 13% of Danes can speak as a second language.
English in Denmark
Much like the neighboring Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Norway, English is firmly embedded into the society and very prevalent among the population. Children are taught English rigorously from the age of 6 onwards in the schools, so they are very fluent by the time they reach adulthood.
Similarly, if they progress to higher level education, all the higher end textbooks will be in English, so you can pretty much count on anyone who is educated to degree level being very fluent in English.
English is generally seen and recognized as a key core skill for youngsters to learn to improve prospects in a globalized economy where English is the main language of choice for business in the Western world at least. There is a strong correlation between English skills and income and quality of life, so Scandinavians in general tend to accept the importance of it and embrace it in their daily lives.
Similarly, English is prevalent in the wider culture and not just in schools. Films and TV shows are often broadcast undubbed in the original English language form with Danish subtitles, so youngsters get such regular exposure to English even outside of the classroom that they can’t help but pick up the language and become adept at speaking and understanding it.
They also regularly read English language books and novels, since they are so used to it, it almost feels like a first language to them.
In my experience I have also found that Danish people and Scandinavians in general are incredibly good at understanding English and picking up different accents, which people from other countries often struggle to do.
They can understand Brits for example even with very different dialects and accents from different parts of the country, in a way that always amazes me. They almost never need to ask you to repeat anything you say, even if you talk quickly, use slang or have a strong accent.
This is the crucial difference we found between the Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway, which have very high English fluency across the board, and some of the Asian countries which pour huge amounts of money into teaching English in schools, but still have very low spoken proficiency levels among the general population.
Teaching has to be regular, focused on verbal competency, and supplemented by undubbed English language cultural influences such as films and TV for young people to really pick it up to the point they can be confident and fluent speaking and understanding it by the time they are adults. This is a consistent factor which separates the countries which have high English proficiency from those that do not.
That said, despite the very widespread prevalence of English in Denmark, it is generally advised that people moving there longer term for work or retirement should still learn some Danish. As with most countries, it opens up more social and work opportunities and integrates you better into the culture to learn the local language.
You also cannot count on being able to get a job there only speaking English, despite it’s prevalence. Danish will generally be needed if you are staying there more permanently.
Some Basic Danish Phrases
Despite Danish not strictly being needed for tourists visiting, it is still nice to learn some basic everyday phrases to show your appreciation for the culture and the language. Locals will also appreciate it even if it isn’t necessary. For people moving there longer term it is also a good idea to learn some Danish to open up more social and work opportunities.
Here are some of the more common phrases you might need.
|Please||Vær venlig||Vaer venli|
|Thanks a lot||Mange tak||Manye tak|
|You're welcome||Selv tak||Sel tak|
|How are you?||Hvordan har du det?||Vordan har du deh?|
|How much is it?||Hvor koster den?||Ver koster den?|
|I don't speak Danish||Jeg taler ikke dansk||Yie taylor iger densk|
|Where is....?||Hvor er.....?||Vo err.....?|
|Where is the toilet?||Hvor er toilettet?||Vo err toilettel?|
As you can see, the pronunciation of Danish is not always straightforward or how it appears on screen, with lots of letters simply dropped or pronounced very differently to English. However, memorizing how to say a few basic phrases is usually not too hard. See also our Phrasebook page for a link to Nordic phrasebook which will cover you for all the Scandinavian countries.
If you’re looking for a language learning app, Mondly offers 41 languages (including Danish) for you to learn on any device, with plans starting from $4/month, and a free version also accessible with no signup required. It is used by over 100 million people worldwide and has excellent overall reviews with it’s easy user interface and emphasis on quick learning and progress. See our overview of the platform here.
- Essential stats on Denmark:
- Population: 5.9 million
- Time zone: EST +6 hours; GMT +1 hour
- Currency: Danish krone (DKK) ($1 = 7 DKK; £1= 8.5 DKK at time of writing)
- International calling code: +45 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in many different currencies (including Danish Krone) and spend for free on your card, plus withdraw a certain amount for free.