Icelandic Teacher: Don't Speak English To Those Trying To Learn Icelandic - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Icelandic Teacher: Don’t Speak English To Those Trying To Learn Icelandic

Published August 31, 2018

Andie Fontaine
Photos by
Jessica Peng

One of the biggest complaints of those learning and teaching Icelandic is the tendency for Icelanders to switch over to English when a foreigner attempts to speak to them in Icelandic.

RÚV paid a recent visit to the University Centre of the Westfjörds in Ísafjörður, to talk with some of the foreign students there learning Icelandic. Most of these students had visited Iceland before, and named things such as the country’s music scene and landscapes as amongst the elements that attracted them to learning the language.

One student, Amy Whitfield of England, was asked what she found most difficult about learning Icelandic, and gave an answer that many of Iceland’s immigrants can probably relate to: “When people switch over to English.” Ólafur Guðsteinn Kristjánsson, an Icelandic teacher at the centre, could not agree more.

“This is precisely the Achille’s heel of those learning Icelandic; that people are too eager to switch over to English,” he said. “No one is doing anyone any favours this way. You’re actually keeping people outside of our linguistic society, outside of Icelandic culture, by not letting them in and helping them learn Icelandic.”

Icelandic is notoriously difficult to learn for many people, and numerous linguists agree this has a lot to do with how Icelanders respond to less-than-perfect Icelandic, in addition to the lack of resources allocated to those who want to learn the language while still working full time and raising a family.

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