When it comes to language, my first language is English, my second language is Afrikaans (African Dutch) and my third language is Swedish. This means I can understand spoken Dutch, Flemish, and Norwegian – if spoken slowly. But Danish is a mystery to me, despite the fact that I can read it as well as I can read Norwegian, Dutch and Flemish. I think it is because many of the sounds are swallowed in the throat.
Danish, Norwegian and Swedish people speak ‘Scandinavian’ to each other, but as a non-native speaker I cannot do that. I just speak Swedish and hope people understand me.
The languages spoken in Scandinavia are called North Germanic languages and include Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese. They are subdivided into East- (Danish, Swedish) and West-Scandinavian (Norwegian, Icelandic) languages. Finnish, being completely different, belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family.
Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are all very similar, and it is common for people from all three countries to be able to read the two other without too much difficulty. Understanding the spoken languages, however, can present more difficulties, especially for Swedes and Norwegians who have had little exposure to spoken Danish.
Icelandic and Faroese do have some words in common with the three other Scandinavian languages, but it is not common for Scandinavians to be able to understand Icelandic and Faroese, except for certain Norwegians who have a similar dialect (Norwegian nynorsk). (source)
When I came to Sweden I could not speak Swedish, and I had to look after my 6 year old stepdaughter who could not speak English. We got around that by me speaking Afrikaans to her and her replying in Swedish. We managed fine. I picked up Swedish from her pretty quickly because it was so similar to Afrikaans and the vocabulary is pretty much the same, just pronounced differently. All the languages I speak and understand apart from Xhosa, are Germanic, which has made things easier. Having studied Latin for six years though, I have always had a yearning to learn a Romance language. Though it would take far more time and effort.