Part 3: Meet The Foreigners Learning Icelandic - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Part 3: Meet The Foreigners Learning Icelandic

Published November 16, 2017

Interested in learning Icelandic? Well, today is the annual Day of the Icelandic Tongue, where we honour this unique and colourful language. The number of speakers grows each year, thanks in no small part to the people who move to Iceland and learn the language. Photographer Varvara Lozenko met some of the students who’ve devoted themselves to studying Icelandic and they shared their thoughts on what motivated them to delve into this daunting, but enchanting language.

Hannah Sanderson

How old are you?

20.

Where are you from?

Sussex, South England.

Why did you decide to start learning Icelandic?

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why I decided to start learning Icelandic but my interest in the language started when I was around 17 years old, whilst I was studying at college. It wasn’t until I began university that I began to learn the language seriously, however. I am very interested in modern Nordic languages in general, as well as their predecessors. I have always been drawn to the folklore (particularly the weird but addictive Icelandic ghost-stories), the sagas and purely the way the language sounds and has evolved to become the “modern” language it is today. I guess I also wanted to be able to read as much source material in the original language as possible, as so much is often lost in translation.

Poet Jónas Hallgrímsson is a national hero in Iceland because of his contribution to the formation of the Icelandic language. Can you name a poet from your home country who is similarly regarded as a national hero through a contribution to the country’s language/literature/poetry?

I think it is very difficult to pick one national hero in terms of contributions to language, literature and poetry in England—here are so many great and well-known authors and poets that it often comes down to one’s personal preferences. I think J.R.R Tolkien is widely considered to be somewhat of a triumph for language, literature and poetry. He is certainly a personal hero in many ways. He effectively created the genre of fantasy literature as we know it today and utilised folklore, mythology, national epics, linguistics etc. from across the Germanic and wider Nordic region in creating his works.

What is similar between Iceland and your home country? What is the biggest difference?

There is an interesting blend of similarities and differences between Iceland and the U.K. The similarities would definitely be the amount of rainfall come autumn as well as the many complaints about the inefficiency of public transport. The biggest difference would definitely be how much it costs to buy a pint and the variety of foods available. It is also a refreshing experience to live in such a beautiful capital city that feels safe and friendly, as a general rule, as well as Iceland’s beautiful, untouched nature being a tangible distance away.

What is your favourite place in Reykjavík and why?

I don’t think there is one place I would label particularly as my favourite, as I have not been here long enough to have developed an affection for any one particular spot. What I do really like is going out for a walk in Reykjavík at night—I always think cities look more enchanting then. It’s especially nice with the Christmas lights being hung up now.

Is learning Icelandic making your life different? In what way?

I suppose it has made my life different in some ways because I can read and enjoy a lot of literature that I wasn’t able to before. One also learns so much about a culture through language in ways one would never be able to through other means. I think it is also much easier to develop bonds and trust with people by speaking their native language, which I think I have achieved. English is an international language so it lacks this special bond, and I always find it quite embarrassing how few Brits see the value of learning other languages—especially beautiful, lesser-spoken languages like Icelandic.

Are you happy?

Happy to be here in Iceland to improve my language skills before heading back to the U.K to continue my studies. Not sure how I will feel after experiencing my first Icelandic winter, however!

Derya Kevioglu Özdilek

How old are you?

30.

Where are you from?

I was born and have grown up in Denmark, but originally I am from Turkey.

Why did you decide to start learning Icelandic?

Because we will live here in Iceland, and my kids will grow up in this society. I have to learn the culture and nation by the language.

Poet Jónas Hallgrímsson is a national hero in Iceland because of his contribution to the formation of the Icelandic language. Can you name a poet from your home country who is similarly regarded as a national hero through a contribution to the country’s language/literature/poetry?

I will say Hans Christian Andersen and his literature.

What is similar between Iceland and your home country? What is the biggest difference?

Iceland has been under the Danish system for a long time, and we can see it in the language and words. But when we look at the culture we can find a difference. The Christmas culture and days from the old Icelandic calendar are still going on.

What is your favourite place in Reykjavík and why?

My favorite place is Elliðaárdalur. I love it because I can feel the nature in the city.

Are you happy?

I love Iceland and love to learn the culture and language everyday.

Friederike Leiberg

How old are you?

26.

Where are you from?

I am from a tiny village called Bokel in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. I went to school in Rendsburg which is the next city, and for university I moved to Kiel.

Why did you decide to start learning Icelandic?

Because Iceland is a beautiful place and Icelandic sounds somehow magic. It fits well into my field of studies and it is interesting to learn an ancient language, especially after learning both other modern Scandinavian languages and Old Icelandic.

Poet Jónas Hallgrímsson is a national hero in Iceland because of his contribution to the formation of the Icelandic language. Can you name a poet from your home country who is similarly regarded as a national hero through a contribution to the country’s language/literature/poetry?

Hard question! There are a lot of famous German writers like Goethe, Schiller, … it would be a long list. But maybe I would name in this context especially the Grimm brothers, who are not only famous for their fairytales but also for their linguistic approaches.

What is similar between Iceland and your home country? What is the biggest difference?

People here are more laid back and just take things as they are (“þetta reddast”), while at home people tend to plan more precisely and are more worried and preoccupied about things going well. People here in general seem nicer, more open to new things and new people, but also more chaotic.

What is your favourite place in Reykjavík and why?

My favourite place connected to an activity is the bar downtown where we have swing dance nights. We gather and dance Lindy Hop there once a week. Everybody is welcome to participate, the people are just lovely and dancing is the best thing I can imagine. Otherwise I love the natural hot pot on Seltjarnarnes. It is very comfortable, has the perfect temperature and has a beautiful view on the Esja and Akrafjall.

Is learning Icelandic making your life different? In what way?

I like to understand people surrounding me. It pushes me to the limit of my comfort zone to be in a place with a language I don’t speak (or at least understand). So the more Icelandic I know, the more I like to be here and the more it feels like home. I would like to improve my Icelandic as much as possible, as I could imagine working as a translator, so this would have a huge impact on my future.

Are you happy?

Some days yes, some days no. That can change very quickly. But life has always been very good to me and I am conscious about that. And most days I am happy, and if not I know what to do to feel better.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!

Next:
Previous:


Go travel with Grapevine tried and recommended tours by Grapevine. Fund Grapevine journalism by booking with us.


Show Me More!