Why are Danes so good at English?

I recently stumbled upon an article that showcased the Danes as the second best English-speakers in the world, for non-native speaking countries. But the article never mentions why. So i thought i would give my point of view, since i have lived half my life in France, and the other half in Denmark.


On the English Proficiency Index, France is classed as #29 with a moderate level (which to my surprise was higher than i thought), and Denmark is nr.2 this year with a very good score. Actually Denmark has been on the top of the list since the EPI started keeping track of the 72 countries participating.


But why is that?

France has as many qualified teacher as Denmark, and the number of weekly hours are the same. The classic french stereotype would suggest they are too arrogant to learn it, which is a bias view, but might contain some truth. I think it does have a lot to do with how a country’s culture accepts the English language as a whole.

In Denmark, we have accepted English to the extent that we incorporated many of the words into our language. Computer, is one example where we kept the word, while the french came up with “ordinateur”. Expressions like “getting a rain check” or “being game” or “being down for something” are commonly used, all tough we slip in danish words here and there.

But the the most important factor for our success in mastering the English language, is our “translation policy”. We simply do not translate the sound of most English media, whether its movies, commercials, or video games. I recently saw the new Star Wars in the theater, and it was in English, with danish subtitles. If you go to France, you quickly realize that they translate everything!

I have even seen the French translate “cheese” in cheeseburger at McDonald’s!


A French McDonald menu, with translations.

A French McDonald menu, with translations.


No wonder even kids here master the English language . Imagine how much time they spend watching movies, playing games, and streaming videos. They practice English everyday after school, and i can confidently say that video games and movies has thought me many English words and common expressions.

We even have commercials in English here! Bolia og Lurpak are danish companies, who willingly broadcasts commercials in English, probably to gain some international credibility in the eyes of danish consumers.


What can countries like France do to keep up?

There is no easy answer to this question, because telling the French to stop translating all sound in foreign media, would probably result in a manifestation. And if there is a market for it, there will be people to satisfy that need.

I think that changing how they learn English in school, could propel them towards a better English proficiency. I have seen many French high school students with top English grades, who could recite the whole list of irregular verbs, without being able to place them in a sentence.


I understand this sentence, all tough it's grammatically wrong

It kind of explains itself 🙂


I am not saying they should quit grammar completely, but simply switch their focus towards constructing phrases and using expressions. When i translate Danish to French, i know how to set up a good sentence in French, but my grammar is a bit rusty. But after running my text through an online grammar checker, i end up with a satisfying result, that is seen as fluent French.

It’s like the French know how to use all the tools to build a house, but have never actually built one.



But luckily, many countries like France are steering the right way thanks to a known catalyst called the internet. The culture is has spawned is forcing people to learn English, if they want to follow american you-tubers, or understand Trumps crazy tweets. Even a kid in a Brazilian slum would only need an old laptop, an internet connection, and time, to learn most known languages.


Internet is feeding cultural globalisation, while creating it’s own independent culture, and by reading this you are part of that seemingly random and incoherent movement of individuals, connecting and learning from each other.

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