Jan Mejding
Katja Neubert
Randi Larsen
Danish School of Education (DPU), National Centre for School Research, Aarhus University

Language and Literacy

The official language in Denmark is Danish. Like all Nordic languages, Danish belongs to the Germanic family of languages. Danish is the language of instruction in public schools and in most private schools. Very few private schools offer instruction in another language (e.g., English, German, or French).1

Since the 1960s, immigration from Western and non-Western countries has resulted in an increasing number of people who speak Danish as a second language. In December 2016, immigrants and their descendants constituted 12.8 percent of the Danish population, and immigrants from non-Western countries alone constituted 8.2 percent of the population.2 If necessary, second language students can receive instruction in Danish as a second language, which includes both linguistic and cultural dimensions.3 Students study English as a Foreign Language beginning in Grade 1 and German or French beginning in Grade 5. A third foreign language can be studied as an optional subject.

Literacy has been a major focus in Denmark since 1994, when the Danish results of IEA’s Reading Literacy Study (IEA-RL) caused a shock throughout the Danish educational system.4,5 The subsequent debate gave rise to a number of national and local initiatives, and there is an ongoing focus on literacy development, particularly in the field of reading comprehension.

Over the past two decades, the Danish Ministry of Educationa has funded many initiatives, research programs, and reading campaigns to strengthen student literacy. Recent amendments to the 2005 national plan of action to promote reading literacy include the implementation of language screenings by municipalities of 3-year-old children with a presumed need for them (2010) and mandatory language screenings of all 6-year-old children when they begin the compulsory Grade 0, or kindergarten (2009); mandatory national reading tests in Grades 2, 4, 6, and 8 (2006); mandatory school leaving examinations in reading (2007), and a national dyslexia test at Grades 3 to 9 (2015).6,7,8,9,10 In 2006 and again in 2014, the number of Danish language lessons in Grades 1 to 6 has increased, and the curriculum has placed a greater emphasis on subjects including reading with Danish instruction.11 Many municipalities also have listed reading as a priority, and many schools have implemented literacy improvement initiatives (particularly involving the reading of expository texts in all subject areas). Furthermore, the curriculum has been updated to include familiarity with information technology, the use of online resources, and computer-based writing.12

  • a The Danish Ministry of Education has changed its name several times during the last 10 years.