Scandinavian challenge: how did it go?

In June and July, I set myself a challenge of working through introductory language courses on Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. I planned to work each day on one of the languages. I finished the challenge in late July.

I worked on these similar languages in parallel and more systematically than in earlier intermittent and brief looks at them. My aims were to

  • gain a deeper, more lasting and more active knowledge of these languages.
  • reinforce my knowledge by repetition in the areas of similarity and concentration on identifying the interesting differences between these languages.

Course books used

To make the work as parallel as possible, I used the same course book for each language, from the … in Three Months series, published by Dorling Kindersley (DK) under the Hugo imprint. The Danish and Swedish versions were both published in 1998. Their structures are fairly parallel, especially in the first few chapters. They have the same number of chapters (12) as the Norwegian book, which was published earlier (1989). The Norwegian book seems to have formed a starting point for the other two. DK no longer publish the in 3 Months series for these languages. Indeed, they now do so only for French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Dutch.

The Norwegian book is shorter (177 pages) than the Danish (237) and Swedish equivalents (254). It is drier in style and provides a little less white space, but also contains noticeably less material. All 3 books are laid out clearly and attractively, but use only text with no diagrams or pictures. Accompanying cassettes used to be available, though I don’t have them.

In addition to the 12 chapters, each book includes an introduction or preface, a guide to pronunciation and spelling, regular exercises (with a key at the back). Also:

  • the Danish book includes a list of irregular verbs.
  • the Swedish book includes brief reading practice at the end (4 pages)
  • The Swedish book offers at the end of each chapter a consolidated list of all the new words introduced in the chapter. I found this feature much more helpful than the separate short lists of new words in each section of each chapter of the Danish and Norwegian books.
  • the Norwegian book contains only English-Norwegian a vocabulary list but the other two books provide a two-way list.

The books use a heavily grammar-based approach which went out of favour in the 70s and 80s. This might not work well for people who have no experience of learning languages. Overall, though, I found the three books a good way for me to learn the basics.

I stuck mainly to the courses themselves, to give them a thorough test. A couple of explanations were so poor that I consulted other sources.

Did I do what I intended?

I managed to produce a post for each day and sticking to this discipline certainly helped. I didn’t exactly work on each day, though: I produced some posts in advance when I knew I’d have trouble finding time when were away or had visitors.

I spent more time than I’d intended writing up the posts for each day. I also put too much material (particularly vocabulary) in the posts. This left me less time than I intended to work on the exercises, to work systematically through the dialogues and the reading passages and to consolidate the vocabulary I acquired. I intend to go back and do some of that over the next few months, but at a more leisurely pace.

I was doing the 3 languages in parallel, so I looked reasonably systematically at similarities and differences in the first few days. But this then dropped off rapidly after that. I wish I had allocated more time to that.


I did virtually no work on pronunciation after looking at the introductory notes for each book on my first day for that language. I need to go back to pronunciation, focusing particularly on:


I’m reasonably happy with the outcome. I need, though, to do some more consolidation fairly soon, particularly if I am to make my knowledge active enough to speak and write, and not just read.

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