How to improve your Danish the fastest (Input, Input, Input)

Simple Danish Newsletter #8

Hi friends,

Today we’re continuing our line of topics with more evidence based study tips for you to learn Danish fast, while enjoying the process as well.

When learning a language, your efforts can be categorised into what inputs you are consuming (listening and reading) and what outputs you are producing (speaking and writing). Clearly, both are important, but how should you spend your time as a learner? Should you spend your time equally on both input and output, or should you spend more time on one than the other?

In this newsletter we’re going to try to convince you that input, or more importantly, comprehensible input, is where you should focus the bulk of your efforts, especially in the early stages. Let us explain why:

Inputs are a prerequisite for outputs

One idea that supports focusing on inputs, is the fact that you simply can’t create outputs that you haven’t heard before. By focusing on input, you are expanding your vocabulary, and perhaps subconsciously, your knowledge of grammar and syntax.

However, it is important that what you read or listen to is comprehensible to you. That does not mean you should be able to understand 100% of what you consume. There can easily be gaps and words you don’t understand because our brains are surprisingly good at filling in the blanks.

In fact, for the fastest progress, just like with progressive overload in fitness, you should always be striving for inputs that are just beyond your comfort zone. This is why Stephen Krashen, the American linguist who formulated the “Input Hypothesis”, called the level of input you should strive for “i+1” where i is your current level, and +1 is the next stage in your journey.

To further increase your learning rate, you should focus on consuming inputs that you care about as well (don’t go reading a Danish encyclopedia or Danish books meant for litterature proffessors to enjoy – unless that’s what you want to learn about). Krashen put it very nicely in the following quote:

The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear.

(This is in large part why we created the Simple Danish Podcast. Because we felt that no such thing existed for Danish Learners).

Focusing on outputs too early means you might cement some bad habits.

Starting to focus on the final results too soon can lead you to develop poor habits. Imagine trying to learn an instrument like the piano or a sport such as golf, where having the right technique is crucial. If you go about it without proper guidance, you’re likely to pick up several incorrect ways of doing things. These bad habits then become deeply ingrained, making it difficult for you to improve until you take the time to unlearn them.

The same goes for learning languages. You might pick up some incorrect grammar or pronunciation that will stick with you until you unlearn it in the future.

This can be mitigated with proper instructions from a good teacher, or by delaying the focus on outputs and instead focusing on inputs.

Comprehensible input can be like learning on autopilot*

We have talked in the past about active recall or why just consuming content passively is not the best way to learn Danish. This is especially true for your dedicated practice and revision, and it is also why the “i+1” approach makes sense – it should not be a passive task, but you should be putting in some effort to keep up and understand your input.

However, if you substitute an already passive activity like watching a movie, with watching a movie in Danish, then we are big fans, and there is some evidence that they help you improve your outputs. So by all means, consume as much Danish as possible, watch movies, listen to podcasts, just don’t neglect the active practice.

Don’t neglect outputs.

You can’t spend 0 time on outputs. But how much you spend, needs to be balanced with your goals. Are you planning a trip to Denmark and you just want to be able to order a Danish Hotdog? Focus on output. Do you want to achieve a native-like pronunciation and grammar? Focus on inputs. If your goals are somewhere in between, then so does your efforts. We recommend consuming as much danish as possible

❤️ Our Favourite things

A Danish series you can watch (for intermediate learners)

Rita is a captivating Danish TV series that combines humor and drama to explore the life of a fiercely independent and unconventional teacher who challenges the status quo inside and outside the classroom. The show offers Danish learners a glimpse into Danish culture, societal norms, and the education system.

Another Danish series you can watch (for advanced learners)

Borgen is a Danish political drama that offers a deep dive into the political landscape of Denmark through the eyes of its first female Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg. This show is not only a political drama filled with twists and turns but also an excellent resource for Danish learners, presenting the language in various contexts, from formal debates to casual conversations. There’s several seasons to keep you entertained AND learning.

Idiom of the week: Den der kommer først til mølle, får først malet.

Litterally; The one who arrives first at the mill will get milled first. This is pretty much the the Danish equivalent of first come, first serve, mixed with a bit of the early bird gets the worm. However in everyday life, you pretty much only hear the first part; først til mølle or you might see something like; “efter først til mølle princip” which was recently added to the Danish dictionary. You might see the phrase if you are looking at items being given away for free or being sold online. I can definitely see how the isolated phrase can confuse new learners though: “Selling sneakers. First to the mill.”

So now you know 😊

That’s all from us for this week. We hope you have enjoyed this week’s newsletter. As always, you can let us know what you think by replying to this mail.

Have a great week 😊

Best regards,

Antonina & Rasmus