6 Danish Words You’ll Struggle To Pronounce (If You’re Not Danish)

Mastering more than 20 vowel sounds might amount to landing a linguistic triple axel, but we believe in you.
August 7, 2020

You’re an intelligent person, and you deserve to know the truth. And the truth is that for most foreigners, learning how to pronounce Danish is not the most intuitive skill they’ve ever mastered. But there is a method to the madness. With enough practice and the right sort of instruction, you’ll be rolling rødgrød med fløde off your tongue like a natural in no time.

Some of your trickiest challenges will include the more than 20 vowel sounds in the spoken Danish language, the silent “D,” and the tangle of silent consonants staring you in the face more often than not. If you’ve ever tried to learn French and wondered why half the letters aren’t even pronounced, then you already know this dilemma well.

In any case, let’s learn by example. And by choosing the most difficult tongue-twisters for our examples, we can learn how to pronounce Danish in crash course mode.

Follow along with the explanations, then practice by clicking the play button or clicking the link to hear how each word is pronounced by a native speaker.

How To Pronounce The Danish Words That Trip Foreigners Up The Most

1. syvogtredive (thirty-seven)

Looks complicated, right? As a matter of fact, most of these letters aren’t pronounced at all. The “syv” drops the v sound because it’s part of a compound word with a vowel next to it, and the “og” that follows is pronounced more or less like the “o” in “gong.” “Tredive,” which means “thirty,” is pronounced without the “i,” but that’s probably not the hardest part, because there’s a soft “d.” To pronounce the soft “d,” you’ll probably need practice, but it’s somewhere between the English “th” and “l” sound.

There are four hundred and thirty-seven passengers on board the airplane. — Der er fire hundrede og syvogtredive passagerer om bord på flyet.

2.  æggehvide (egg white)

First thing’s first: how to tackle the “æ” vowel? You’ll have to listen to get an ear for it, but it sounds roughly like the “e” in “women.” The double-g consonant that follows is part of a family of double consonants in Danish, which are often pronounced softer than you’d think. And of course, there’s the “hv” sound, which looks harder than it is. Hint: the “h” is silent.

Wreath cake is made of marzipan, icing sugar and egg white. — Kransekage er lavet af marcipan, flormelis og æggehvide.

3. smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches)

You’ll encounter this delicacy all over Denmark if you ever visit, so it’s worth learning how to pronounce it correctly. Smørrebrød has two instances of the ø vowel, which has no exact equivalent in the English language. The “rre” is pronounced like the “a” in “war.” And once again, we’ve got the soft d to contend with at the end.

et smørrebrød

4. angstskrig (a scream of fear)

Thankfully, you probably won’t encounter this word frequently, but it’s pretty instructive because it contains the longest string of consonants in the Danish language. Scream of fear? Rightfully so. It helps to think of it as a compound word made up of “angst” and “skrig.”

angstskrig

5. Aabenraa (a town in Denmark)

Babbel’s Danish Didactics expert, Peter Aagaard Sorensen, is from this town. And for what it’s worth, he’s never heard anyone pronounce it right. The double a is actually an archaic way to write the letter å. But where a lot of people get tripped up is the “e” in the middle, which isn’t pronounced at all. This makes for a very guttural-sounding word in general.

Aabenraa

6. Øresund (a body of water between Denmark and Sweden)

Pronounced Øåsun, the “-re” ending strikes again (like we saw in smørrebrød), which makes for a vaguely o-like sound. Thankfully, the “-nd” at the end is pronounced as a simple “n.” As a rule, when “d” appears after “n” or “l,” it’s silent.

Øresund

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Author Headshot
Steph Koyfman
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.

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