Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir believes not enough is being done to help foreigners in Iceland learn Icelandic, Vísir reports, and she is not alone in this opinion, which has been echoed by linguists, immigration rights advocates and others for many years now.
Immigrants in Iceland comprise a significant portion of the work force, but learning Icelandic–which undoubtedly brings with it not only economic but social benefits as well–can prove exceedingly difficult, and not just because of the grammar. Very few employers offer Icelandic classes during working hours. This means that someone working a full time job must often find the time the attend said classes, which is made all the more difficult if the person in question has a family. As such, even in instances when a labour union pays some or all of the financial cost, the lost time cannot be compensated for.
For this reason, the idea of offering free Icelandic classes during working hours as a tool to help these working class people has been raised many times.
While the Prime Minister believes some achievements have been made to help foreigners learn the language, “there has at the same time not at all enough been done to support Icelandic classes for immigrants,” she said. “This is something both the government and also the employment market can do better.”
Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, a professor emeritus of Icelandic and the University of Iceland, raised this very point with the Grapevine in 2017, saying, “Not all of the courses are suited to the learners, and we should be offering Icelandic classes during the day, as a part of their jobs. Many people will come to this country, get low-paying jobs, and they’re stuck there. We import people to come work in Iceland, and they don’t have the time to learn Icelandic [on top of working full time].”
“I believe we need to support people being able to get classes in Icelandic, so that they can take these classes during working hours,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the costs of these classes can also be reduced and make workplaces more accessible to Icelandic.
This being the case, whether the government, or any labour union, or more employers are going to rise to the challenge of making Icelandic classes during working hours a reality for working class immigrants remains to be seen.
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