Thursday, November 11, 2010

Icelandic Language Acquisition

I’ve taken about 3 out of five weeks of an intensive Icelandic course at the Mimir language school. I highly recommend. I have class for two hours a day, four days a week, and all the other students in the class are working professionals (I don’t know how they have the time, as I’m the exception to the rule with a lax schedule, but they make it work even with jobs and babies and normal-people lives.)

I had taken about 15 or 16 private hour-long lessons with a teacher in Pittsburgh, which has turned out to be totally invaluable advance-planning on my part. When I came into the class, I entered at Level 3 (of 5 total levels) and wasn’t sure if the class would be too advanced for me. Turns out it’s pretty much just the right place, with some of the ten or so students having more practical speaking skills, but I have more patience and am willing to speak and make mistakes when a lot of people are more hesitant. Also, the lessons are completely in Icelandic! Questions are asked in Icelandic and answered without English.

I’m also willing to play children’s games in the name of language-learning. We’ve also had about four different teachers, which you’d think would be disruptive, but in a way it helps because they all have different ways of speaking and teaching, and it’s good for my comprehension. The funniest/funnest teacher was actually a substitute for one day, but that's mostly because he was my age, gay, made jokes about cocaine, talked about phonetics, and he was very cute. But he was also married. Þvi miður. (sorry/too bad/bummer/we’re sold out). The regular teacher is Hofi, and she gets bonus points because she gives good praise when you get something right. I always appreciate some positive reinforcement.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly how to quantify what I’ve learned. Every day we work on verbs, learn more words, practice speaking and reading. Even in the first week I found myself being able to understand ever-so-slightly more of everyday Icelandic. My Icelandic colleagues noticed the difference in my comprehension of what they say. I feel like I know more words in choir rehearsals; I can speak a bit more conversationally with other singers and they don’t always automatically revert to English. Though of course, if I want to say anything beyond things such as ‘I went to the concert! It was fun. I bought an eraser at the mall. This soprano is a little crazy.’, I’m still lost.

I was particularly proud of myself yesterday when I went to the library to ask for help finding the original Icelandic versions of some translated poems. Using only Icelandic, I spoke with one librarian who referred me to a certain Einar on the fifth floor, who sent me back down to the second floor, where he met me and we worked on finding the books together. And then he said I was speaking very well! (Which I’m sure means ‘totally butchering everything but good effort!’) I was happy nonetheless.

Here is an amazingly random sample list of words the teachers have pointed out. You know I love lists.

most fun: skemmtilegast
in addition/quite: frekar
decision: ákveðin
possibility: möguleiki
grassy picnic: lautférð
I’m used to it: Ég er vön þvi
balcony: svalir/svölum
shelter/peace & quiet: næði
lesson learned: boðskapur
midwife: ljósmóðir (a beautiful word, translates to ‘light mother’. Helps those babies see the light!)
wrinkles: hrukkur
contacts: lensur
obvious, clearly: grenilega
packaged (meats): pakkning
pencil: blýantur
timber: í viðarlit
half-price discount: helminginn
driver’s license: bilpróf
early: snemma
probably: huganlega
polka-dotted: doppótar
mystery/riddle: ráðgáta
(to be on a) crack high: krakkaður
to scratch myself: að klóra mér
genius: snilluður

There you go. Gjörið svo vel.


Shannon said...

lindsay and i were just saying how much we miss you.

Sally said...

I love this list! Light mother is really beautiful and I want to walk around saying "boðskapur" whenever something "wah wah" happens or when I learn something! That is a good 'un! Though krakkaður is just great and I love the sounds of snemma and snilluður!

I'm so impressed with how much Icelandic you have been able to pick up in such a short amount of time! Also I *love love love* the new header on the blog! Gorgeous!

OMG, back to packing! I'll see you in like, 5 seconds!

AvesMaria said...

I just love this list, and reading all these posts.. I had to giggle at a few words, though - doppótar? lensur? snilluður? they sound a little like domestic items at a certain blue-and-yellow big box store. For good reason, I suppose - those languages are all close cousins! :)