The last few years, men in neon workwear have abounded in the city of Copenhagen. They are metro workers building the extension of the Copenhagen metro. Most are from abroad, mainly Italy, Portugal, Romania and Poland. Many of the metro workers are organized in the trade union 3F. IA Sprog and 3F have partnered up to provide Danish courses for the subway workers.
3F’s Labour Union and unemployment fund for Construction, Land and Environmental workers – the division of 3F that the metro workers belong to – is situated in Valby. The division handles building projects in the Copenhagen area and files claims in cases of underpayment or other problems at the construction sites.
Veronika Kirsa is a professional consultant and Portuguese interpreter at 3F.
Veronika is originally from Latvia and has spent the last 16 years in Denmark with both Danish Language Course 3 and the Higher Danish Education Exam (Studieprøven) under her belt.
She is in charge of organising the metro workers, and she is responsible for all contact with the Portuguese-speaking workers. Veronika says that being a member at 3F means a great deal to the foreign workers:
“Many of them have experienced corruption in their home countries, and they appreciate how the Danish system works. But it is difficult for them to communicate with the system, because they don’t speak any Danish.
So we not only help solve problems in the workplace, we also help when they have problems understanding the system – like when they are in contact with their municipality.”
Looking at the future
When asked why 3F wanted to collaborate with IA Sprog, Veronika answers:
“The biggest problem for the metro workers is that they can’t get work elsewhere in Denmark, because they don’t speak Danish. There is an increased need for labour the next five years, and they would be able to contribute. We want them to stay once the Metro is finished, and many workers would very much like to.”
So the metro workers’ motivation for learning Danish is the future prospect of getting into a Danish workplace, where everything is conducted in Danish. Learning Danish will also provide them with the foundation for further education or training, such as the programme ‘building constructor’.
Colleagues and classmates
Danish lessons for foreign workers require, among other things, to be organised around what jobs the students have. That calls for a feel for the students’ everyday work life and needs. IA Sprog and 3F have taken all this into account in the planning of the metro workers’ training.
First of all, the classes take place on 3F’s premises in Valby. They are organised around the metro workers’ working hours that vary from week to week. This means they can choose whether they want to attend classes in the morning or in the evening. It is essential for the metro workers that the training is planned this way:
“It is easier for them than having to get themselves to a language school at a specific time each week. In addition, taking the classes with their colleagues provides them with a sense of unity, and the fact that they are of the same nationality means they can help each other,” Veronika explains.
The elusive Danish with the Danes
The educational backgrounds of the metro workers are very different: Some are illiterate, while others are university graduates. So it varies greatly how familiar they are with learning a language.
Getting to meet Danes is an entirely different matter. Some have told Veronika that Danes smile a lot, but making Danish friends is difficult, as is getting to use your Danish skills outside of class.
They only work with other foreigners, so contact with Danes is scarce.
One of the metro workers, though, has jumped right in, and after just a few months of Danish lessons, he now speaks Danish with the unemployment insurance fund. It is a major step, given that Danish is the first foreign language he has learned.
So to all Copenhageners: If you pass a guy in neon work clothes – smile and say: ‘Hej, hvordan går det’.
It will mean more than you think.