Teaching English in Denmark

We receive a lot of questions from both current and prospective students about teaching English in Denmark. We thought what better way to answer these questions than by interviewing our very own TEFL Org UK course administrator Donna who has experience teaching English as a foreign language in Copenhagen.

So, how did you find your TEFL job in Denmark?

When I decided to move to Denmark I found a list of language schools in Denmark online and I contacted all the schools in Copenhagen on the list. I heard back from 3, and it was very easy to choose after my interviews. The school I worked for is owned by a lovely English & Danish couple and I instantly felt welcomed by them and found it very easy to settle into working there. There is not the same abundance of opportunities for EFL teachers in Denmark as there is in other countries, as most Danes know conversational English. The opportunities tend to be teaching business English, as the English the Danes do know is mostly from watching the endless re-runs of Friends and Midsomer Murders shown on TV there, as well as the fact that most TV shows, films and books are not dubbed / translated. However, when it comes to more technical English, there is a need for English lessons. The teaching opportunities that do exist are almost all in Copenhagen, with a few opportunities in some of the other cities like Aarhus. EFL teachers are well paid in Denmark, but tax is extremely high, and it is possible that teachers may have to work for several schools or take on extra work -within the tourism sector, for example, to afford the (very!) high cost of living.

And who were your students?

Almost all of my students in Denmark were learning English for work, and they mostly worked for big, international businesses, although I did also teach a number of Danish children who were going to be moving abroad with their families. My students were a mix of Danes and expats from various other countries. What is/was your typical work day like? There was no such thing as a typical day at work in Denmark, as my contract was on a freelance basis, so every day was different.  I usually taught around 4 x 90 minute lessons a day in various different businesses and I travelled to my students most of the time, although I did occasionally teach people in one of the classrooms in the language school I worked for.

Were there any cultural differences/students expectations?

Having come to Denmark from Jamaica, and having lived in South Europe and Asia for years before that, I expected Denmark to feel more like home, so I was surprised to find there were a great number of cultural differences, but as in every other country I have lived in, I got used to these with time. One thing that is difficult, especially for Brits, is that there is no word for ‘please’ in Danish, so you can quite often hear British people asking a question in Danish and then adding ‘please’ on the end in English. The Danes don’t tend to have unrealistic expectations in terms of their lessons, so I didn’t feel any great pressure at work. Although one unique aspect of teaching in Denmark, that I have never experienced in any other country, is that the Danes are very confident in their language abilities (and in most cases, rightly so) but when I corrected them, they would often argue and tell me that I was wrong. This is one of the funny things about teaching in Denmark, as everywhere else I have taught my students have always accepted that as a native speaker I know my own language! A good example of this is that it is very common for the Danes to say ‘What a lovely weather it is today’ and I cannot count how many students argued until they were blue in the face that this is absolutely correct. In the end, I made a fun worksheet about it and it became almost a joke in my classes -although my students had a good sense of humour about it and saw the funny side, I’m not convinced they ever accepted that the sentence is wrong.

What did you like most about living and working in Denmark? 

What I liked most about living in Denmark was the work – life balance. Nobody in Denmark works long hours and everyone accepts that people may need time off for family requirements, personal appointments…etc They take a very relaxed and healthy approach to work. Coming from Scotland and growing up seeing my family members go to work despite being really ill with the flu or absolutely choked with the cold, it was refreshing to be in a country where people fully accept that you just can’t work well if you are ill and you should take the time off to recover. Denmark has a very impressive welfare system and employees know their rights, people there do not live in fear that they will lose their jobs if they have had to take some time off work.

And least?

What I liked the least about living in Denmark was that it was not easy to make Danish friends. Denmark frequently tops lists for life satisfaction when asking the Danes themselves, but on the other hand tends to score very lowly in terms of expat happiness. The Danes say that it may take years of effort but when you have made friends with a Dane you have a friend for life. However, I have friends I met in other countries I have taught in that I know will be my friends for life, and developing those friendships was effortless, so it is hard to see why the years of effort would be worth it. I lived in Denmark for 4 years and it is the only country that I have lived in that when I left I wasn’t leaving behind a single local friend. That’s not to say life in Denmark needs to be lonely, I made some amazing friends from all over the world while living in Copenhagen. So, I did leave with lifelong friendships, just not with any Danes unfortunately.

And finally, how does Denmark compare to other countries you have taught in?

Taiwan is the first country I taught in as an EFL teacher, so it is my “first love” so to speak, and I can’t honestly say that any country I have lived in after Taiwan has been able to compare. It is perhaps unfair to compare two such different countries, but if I do, I’m afraid Denmark just can’t compete with Taiwan. The Taiwanese people are the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of living amongst. To provide a direct comparison; when people in Taiwan would ask me if I had been to a particular place in Taiwan, if my answer was no, it was guaranteed that within a week they would have arranged to take me there. I became friends with a lot of Taiwanese people during my time there and I saw so many amazing places in Taiwan thanks to my local friends. When people in Denmark asked me if I had been to particular places in Denmark if my answer was no, they would look at me disapprovingly and say ‘and how long have you lived in Denmark!?’ There is no competing with Taiwanese hospitality, it is the best I have ever experienced. However, that being said, if you are ready for all the many wonderful aspects of life that Scandinavia has to offer be sure to consider Denmark, and don’t miss a trip to Tivoli at night in October, when it is all decorated for Halloween – truly magical!

If you are interested in teaching English as a foreign language in Denmark, or in any other country, check out the latest EFL teaching vacancies here on our online TEFL Jobs Centre.