On a forum that I frequent quite often but rarely post on brought up the topic of choosing on whether to learn Norwegian or Swedish as their next language to learn. They obviously knew that Danish also fits into the puzzle too but like many others faced with this choice (even Danes themselves) will say that it is not as pleasant sounding as Norwegian or Swedish. Fair enough but which language is going to tailor to your needs and where exactly you plan on using the language.
Scandinavian languages are much closer to each other than Spanish is to Portuguese and if you know one you can communication and read the others without too many difficulties along the way. You just need to train your ears to get used to the different sounds of each language.
Compared to languages like German, Spanish, French, and Japanese: Scandinavian languages tend to have much fewer speakers and on top of the vast majority speak English quite fluently. So it would not be a good idea to be an absolute beginner of the language and arriving in Scandinavia with limited or no knowledge in the language. If a native Dane, Norwegian or Swede find out that your a native speaker of English, they will switch to English with you and it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to get them to switch back to their native language for you. At this point you either have to tell them that you would like to practise your Danish, Norwegian or Swedish or simply continue the conversation in Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. (Even if they repeatedly discourage you from doing so or keep using English with you regardless).
So which one is the most useful? If we went with the number of native speakers and resources available the winner would be Swedish with 9 million native speakers followed by Danish with 6 million speakers and Norwegian with 4.5 million speakers being the one with least amount of native speakers. Why is this you might ask? There was so much emigration from Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the past that there are literally more people of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish decent in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The United Kingdom, and even Germany than in their own countries. In fact Norwegians are the minority in their own country.
Obviously it is going to be weird if you use Swedish in Norway, Danish in Sweden and Norwegian in Denmark. Not to say you wouldn’t be understood but it would seem pointless to do so when you are catering to one country and speaking the language of another.
Let me ask you a set of questions which should (hopefully) narrow the process down for you in choosing a Scandinavian language to learn:
Are you of Danish, Swedish or Norwegian decent? Is your significant other/spouse/person you are dating a Dane, Norwegian or Swede? Do you have business (or the potential do business) in Denmark, Norway or Sweden? Which one sounds more pleasant on your ears? (In other words which language do you like the sound of the most)? Do you plan on studying, working or living abroad in any or all of the Scandinavian countries?
Once you have answered at least one of those questions you can begin learning the Scandinavian language(s) that appeals to you. Be sure to check out my resources for Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish as a way to help supplement your language learning.
Online learning tools:
LingQ: Offers a lot of authentic content that you can read and listen to in Swedish as well as reinforcing what you learn with their flash cards, cloze test, dictation (listen to the sound of the word and transcribe what you hear) and multiple choice. If you choose one of their premium options you will be able to join in a conversation with native speakers (and sometimes even with fellow learners) and get your writing corrected in detail. The cheapest plan is $10 USD (Convert currency) per month. The owner of the site even has his own YouTube channel. Note: Norwegian is still in BETA and Danish is not available. However you can use one of the BETA languages slots (for languages you are not learning obviously) and add Danish content there (just be sure that you make the lessons private to avoid mixing them with content that is supposed to be there).
Lang 8: Get your writing corrected for free and correct others learning your native language in return. You also have the potential of adding Skype contacts for conversations. Just be sure to make it clear to make it clear that you want to practise their native language as much as they want to practise their English (or whatever you native language is that the person is learning).
iTalki: While I have not used this site personally it does look promising for what they do offer. Like being able to have lessons with teacher and informal tutoring via Skype as well as having your writing corrected, and getting answers to your questions about the language(s) you are learning. I will be testing this site out and will be provide an appropriate review after I get used to it.
Swedish Pod 101 and Norwegian Class 101: I have personally used this with Japanese before and found it to be quite useful. However you do have to pay for a lot of the content and they tend to use deceptive advertising in their emails to get you to purchase their products. But nonetheless it is actually not too bad. Especially since you get listen to the podcast and have the full transcript of that lesson in PDF form. They use way too much English in the beginner lessons though, so keep that in mind when you are going through the lessons. I am not sure if they have a lot of content for these languages yet so don’t be surprised if there is not as much content as the Japanese, Russian, Italian, and Spanish versions.
Memrise: The use of mnemonics to reinforce vocabulary in a flash card format (SRS) while giving you a figurative initiative to plant a garden filled with words and phrases you are learning in the language.
Do you have any recommended resources for learning either Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish that I have not listed in the Danish, Norwegian or Swedish sections that you would like to share? Feel free to share your resources and experiences learning Scandinavian languages in the comments below! 🙂
“Koko, why didn’t you add Icelandic to this post?”
Because Icelandic is not mutually intelligible with Danish, Norwegian or Swedish and there are still a hand full of Icelanders that still do speak Danish as well. Feel free to check my Icelandic section as well for hard-to-find resources to improve your Icelandic for those of you interested.