Communicating at a multilingual university: guidelines for AU Administration

Danish is the primary language at Aarhus University (AU), while English is the secondary language.

That Danish is the primary language and English the secondary language entails that while AU is managed and administered in Danish (both internally and in relation to the Danish authorities), the university also

  • Communicates both in Danish and English in such a way as to ensure that staff and students are in a position to perform their functions in the organisation regardless of linguistic background.
  • Ensures that students and researchers who are not proficient in Danish are able to communicate with relevant administrative staff in English.
  • Ensures that communication regarding the rights and duties of staff and students is available both in Danish and in English.
  • Ensures that direct, written communication in letters/mails is available both in Danish and in English.
  • Ensures that communication on AU websites with relevance for non-Danish speaking students, staff members and/or their internal or external audiences is available in English.


The quality of the administration’s communication in English may be evaluated in relation to the following criteria:

  • That necessary information is made available at the appropriate time in relation to the needs of the audience
  • That necessary information is easily accessible for the audience
  • That the level of English employed is appropriate to the individual medium

Timely and accessible translations

The principle of easy, timely access to information in a given language must be observed in all communication regarding strategy and daily operations. For example, when information is to be published both in Danish and in English, every effort should be made to publish both versions simultaneously. If simultaneous publication is not possible, the sender should

  • Provide clear information in English about when the English version will be available.
  • Provide clear information on who English-speakers should contact if they need assistance.

Appropriate linguistic standards and language skills

To aid in the prioritisation of resources and daily work routines, it is recommended that the various administrative divisions develop clear local guidelines specifying when texts should be handled by professional language consultants and when it is assumed that staff members’ own language skills are sufficient. 

To assist staff members in their communication in English, AU Communication is responsible for providing a range of online translation tools, style guides and references and for developing and maintaining AU’s Danish-English term base.


English versions of official university texts, including web texts, must be written in standard British English with regard to spelling and punctuation. This is also the case for translations of AU organisational units and job titles as well as academic and administrative terminology.

Official university texts in Danish should conform to the recommendations of the Danish Language Council and the authoritative Danish orthographic dictionary, Retskrivningsordbogen.

Competence development

The improvement of the language skills of AU Administration staff members will be integrated in the university’s staff competence development scheme.

Applying the principles in practice

As a rule, administrative staff members must be able to communicate with all students and staff members in both Danish and English whenever necessary or appropriate in the course of their work. As a rule, administrative staff members must be able to communicate with all students and staff members in both Danish and English whenever necessary or appropriate in the course of their work.

In some cases it may be most appropriate to compose documents in English. Such documents should not be translated to Danish automatically.

Information from management or the administration

As a rule, information from management or the administration that is either sent directly or forwarded to students or staff members should be made available both in Danish and in English. It is the responsibility of the sender (or the office or division) to determine whether a particular message will be received by non-Danish speakers, and if so, to ensure that that the information is sent in English (if necessary adapted to the target audience).

Web communication

As a rule, information campaigns, launches of new services, announcements of deadlines, new policies and similar types of communication must be made both in Danish and in English. Web editors are responsible for determining whether their web pages should be translated/adapted for an English-speaking audience in accordance with the quality standards.

Rights and duties

Documents about the rights and duties of students or staff members must be available both in Danish and English. This includes forms to be filled out by staff members or students. More specifically, this requirement applies to documents that describe the rights (for example, information on salary and pay, holidays, admissions) and duties (for example, exam registration, instructions on administrative procedures, etc.) of staff members and students.

Summaries in English

Long texts such as brochures, descriptions of processes and ministerial orders and circulars should not be automatically translated to English. Instead, the option of providing a short summary in English should be considered. At a minimum, the short English summary should refer non-Danish speakers to an administrative staff member or unit that can provide more detailed information about the content of the Danish document.

In connection with translations of legal documents, the Danish version is legally binding. This must be indicated in connection with all legal translations. (In the event of any inconsistency between the Danish and English language versions of the document, the Danish version prevails.)

Meetings and events

When arranging managerial and administrative meetings in which non-Danish speakers are to participate, staff should consider whether these events should take place in English or whether other measures should be taken to accommodate non-Danish speakers.

Tools and systems

Tools and systems (for example, travel expense reporting, financial reporting, self-service, invoicing, etc.) that are used by researchers and students should be available in English wherever possible.

Signs and templates

A language policy for signage and templates for email signatures, job titles and letterhead should be developed as a supplement to these guidelines.


Aarhus University’s goal is to be a leading international university in an age of globalisation. As a consequence, researchers, instructors and students have become much more mobile, and AU hosts many more foreign researchers, instructors and students than ever before.

Research and development take place in the context of networks that cross national boundaries, and close collaboration with international partners has thus become a condition for recruiting talent and for achieving a high level of quality and competitiveness in all of the university’s activities.

The multicultural campus is one consequence of this internationalisation. Aarhus University currently has 4,000 international Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students. Thirty per cent of all PhD students have an international background, and 79 nationalities are represented among the university’s staff members.

This diversity demands that the university address the strategically central issue of multilingual communication. These guidelines for multilingual communication in and with the administration have been developed in this context.