“On Thin Ice”: Discomfort Using Sie Among Danish Students and Teachers of German, and Implications for Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

93 Downloads (Pure)


The article discusses discomfort with using the polite/formal form of address Sie among students and teachers in German CLIL courses at university level in Denmark. Based on focus group interviews with students and teachers, we show that Danish students and teachers find it awkward to adopt the German Sie when German is the language of instruction in Denmark, typically resulting in pragmatic transfer of the Danish informal norm instead. Adopting a critical pedagogy perspective, we discuss how Sie seems to violate Danish cultural values of egalitarianism, causing cultural cognitive dissonance (CCD) in CLIL learning environments. We show that Danes cope with CCD by rejecting Sie or employing (sometimes quite complex) strategies to avoid direct address altogether. However, our investigation also reveals that CCD is partly locational/situational, and that Danes are less reluctant to use Sie in Germany or towards a native German teacher, suggesting a need to raise awareness about this issue in CLIL-courses and foreign language courses where language and intercultural training is taking place ‘at home’ and possibly with a teacher who is not a native speaker of the language. Finally, we offer some suggestions for attenuating this discomfort by rethinking the way that German polite forms of address are taught, and we make the critical point that a major premise of CLIL teaching - the idea of learning a foreign language ‘on one’s own territory – may give rise to cultural resistance, to which teachers should be alert.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFleks - Scandinavian Journal of Intercultural Theory and Practice
Issue number2
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • CLIL
  • Pragmatic transfer
  • Cultural cognitive dissonance
  • Address forms
  • German
  • Denmark

Cite this