I am a complete moron.
No seriously, I am. Despite holding all sorts of degrees and wowing people with my rapier wit and all round brilliance, it looks like I’m dropping out of my current Icelandic course. Did I want to do this? Certainly not, but it seems I’ve hit the proverbial mental wall in my quest to talk like a native Icelander, all Já-ing and Jæ-ing all over the shop.
Surely other foreigners living in Iceland must be suffering the same problems learning Icelandic. Or is it just me? As part of our colonial hangover, we Brits are notoriously bad at learning a second language. But it wasn’t meant to be like this. I thought I would have Icelandic licked and learned in two years. It has been nearly 3 years now…. and counting.
I do realise my successful integration into mainstream society depends on me learning Icelandic. In fact, it’s necessary for me, as my mother-in-law doesn’t speak any English. But dear Icelanders, can you take a second to consider actually how bloody difficult your language is to learn? For example, I’ve lost count on the different ways to say the word “black” (I had it last at about 25). For a culturally ignorant drone like myself who’s just used to saying it the one way (err… black), this is just taking the piss! And that’s before I get to THE NEVERENDING RULES on how you say words in singular, plural, with the definite article etc, etc. I didn’t even know what the definite article was until I went on an Icelandic course. I assumed everyone was referring to Budweiser beer!
And trying to remember all of this AND Icelandic sentence structure means trying to talk Icelandic to a native ends up being a purely miserable and exhausting affair. What I want to say is in my head, but it’s like it’s surrounded by frosted Perspex at least several inches thick and it takes everything I have in my being to make a tiny crack to the core. Then the person I’m speaking to replies back in fast Icelandic and I’m screwed. Cue complete frustration throughout my daily life, which usually ends up manifesting itself in the form of impotent rage at things that are totally outside my control. Things like the price of chicken in Bónus, the state of the political body in this country and Sprengjuhöllin.
So how to get past this learning block? Well for me, there’s no other choice but to go back to the books and perhaps get my wife to talk dirty to me in Icelandic more often. After all it is the language of love!
And what of my fellow Icelanders when they talk Icelandic to foreigners? I would love for them to consider the following.
– If I’m talking to someone in English, please don’t come over and interrupt us by going “BARA TALA ÍSLENSKU!” (Speak only Icelandic). This is highly unlikely to activate that dormant part of my brain that will allow me to speak another language or move objects though telekinesis. Oh, and it’s fucking rude as well.
– If you are talking to a non-Icelander in Icelandic and they perhaps happen to use, say, the wrong case declination for a noun, try not to immediately interrupt them by going “actually you’re meant to say it like…” Afterwards is fine, but cutting them dead is, well, pretty dick-ish.
– Speaking slowly and clearly when you chat with me would help ooooh so much! The only Icelandic people I can truly understand are the newsreaders on TV. Everyone else just sounds like a malfunctioning lawnmower.
I’m sure that with a bit of time and understanding we’ll all manage to get along in sweetness and harmony sharing the same lyrical tongue before it all descends into fisticuffs over Icesave and Eurovision.