A unique way to learn Danish


by Anna Dittrich

A slight mispronunciation in a foreign language and suddenly you’re talking about the beautiful butt you saw during your walk in the forest instead of the beautiful fox. That’s one reason for Zoran Leković to once again practice the difference between the Danish words ‘røv’ and ‘ræv’ with his class.

Tricky pronunciations
“Røv,” he says, while opening his mouth slightly to show the correct position of his tongue. “Not ræv.”

The word that the class is repeating, however, is not the word for fox. For this class the word ‘røv’, a Danish slang word for butt, fits much better. Because instead of learning how to ask for directions or phrases for small-talk, Zoran Leković and his class are practising Danish rap, which, just like hip-hop everywhere else, is more about body parts than forest animals.

At first glance the class seems to be nothing more than an amusing way to pass the time. However, the rap has an educational purpose. “You can train your pronunciation with rap,” explains Zoran. “Unlike with other music, rappers are actually saying words the way they are supposed to sound.”

Rapping as a technique for beginners
Since Danish pronunciation tends to be something of an issue for most beginners, many of the people taking part in the class are here for exactly this reason.

“I like rap,” says Stanley, who is an international student from Singapore, “and I’d also like to improve my pronunciation with Danish rap.”

Together with the rest of the class he goes through different verses of Danish rap songs. Listening, repeating, correcting, rapping along until they are finally able to do the entire song. “It’s an easy process, but it does help with the pronunciation,” explains Zoran.

Zoran explaining the technique (photo Anna Dittrich)

Zoran explains the technique (photo: Anna Dittrich)

A dedicated foreign teacher
Bosnian by birth, Zoran came to Denmark when he was only 10 years old, escaping the the Bosnian War. “When I was young I used to cry at night when I had to read out loud in Danish class the next day,” he remembers. “But then one day a guy from my class lent me a CD with Danish rap songs.”

The CD brought a new passion into his life. “I liked the music and I started rapping myself,” says Zoran. “And then a few years later some people were suddenly saying that I was losing my Bosnian accent.”

At first Zoran thought he was just good with languages, but after some time he realised that it was because he was listening to so much Danish rap, that it had trained his pronunciation. However, the idea of helping other people learn languages with rapping didn’t occur to him until a few years ago when he got inspired by a Canadian rapper who had produced a rap song about evolution.

“If people can learn biology through rap, they can certainly learn languages,” enthused Zoran.

A German project in Denmark
His first project, however, wasn’t with Danish rap, but instead with German. Together with a youth group he studied a German rap song. Zoran speaks four languages: Bosnian, Danish, English and also German, although his German is more limited. “I can rap in German but I can barely string together three German sentences outside of rapping.”

Just like his passion for Danish rap, it all started when he got a CD with German rap songs. The CD by Samy Deluxe, a German rapper, was given to him by his cousin who lived in Munich at the time. “I gave a presentation in my German class about “Weck Mich Auf”, a Samy Deluxe song, and I got an A,” he remembers. “Afterwards I tried to ask my teacher to include some German rap during class because I could tell that nobody really paid much attention. But I was just a student and I couldn’t convince her.”

After his first project with the youth group, Zoran started working at a school where he met a German teacher. They started talking about Zoran’s idea to make German lessons more interesting through German rap and the teacher was willing to try the project. Zoran’s idea proved successful. Through the German teacher, Zoran got in contact with the chairman of the German Teachers In Denmark association. Since then Zoran has travelled through Denmark teaching German rap songs to students.

“Normally the kids are just sitting there, but with rap they really start going wild and start loudly rapping along. The teachers are happy about that; German does have a reputation as a boring and unsexy language,” explains Zoran.

Zoran is also happy that he is able to change people’s opinions about rap through the project. “Many people believe that rap is just a collection of swear words, but if you choose the right song you can hear so much poetry and beautiful lyrics,” he says.

Rapping for the sake of language (photo by Anna Dittrich)

Rapping for the sake of language (photo: Anna Dittrich)

Rapping for the future
Continuing the German rap project is a dream of Zoran’s. He is currently in contact with the Danish Ministry of Education to present his idea.

Until then he continues with his first big love, Danish rap. At Lærdansk Aarhus Zoran offers free rap classes, hoping that he will be able to make people less afraid of talking Danish this way. “I noticed that people who are in Denmark for three years are able to talk Danish but are afraid to talk in front of bigger groups of people because they are afraid of pronouncing something wrong,” he says. Through his class he wants to help dismantle this fear.

“The German rap is with young pupils, but students and older people also enjoy learning languages through rhymes and beats,” says Zoran.

Just like Stanley from Singapore, who after some trial-and-error finally managed to correctly pronounce ‘røv’, and now isn’t rapping about the world’s biggest fox anymore.

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