Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Ég er að læra íslensku

It is no secret that I love words. Talk to me for 10 minutes and somehow that will come up in our conversation. I am constantly reading, writing, and trying to expand my vernacular. I love finding new and better ways to communicate my thoughts. Words are fun to me.

In high school I took Latin for three years. Latin isn’t a spoken language, but from it come all the romance languages, and many others take from Latin as well. I think studying such an ancient language that has managed to stay relevant through its rebirth in other languages inspired my love of words and languages. It’s like adding chocolate to an already awesome cake. The cake is going to taste good by itself, but chocolate makes it even better. (Chocolate makes everything better.) Words can just be simple, or they can make sentences and thoughts come to life in a magical way. Words are fun!

After I travelled halfway across the globe to Tanzania as a sophomore in high school, and to Italy and Greece as a junior, I told myself that I wanted to spend some significant time in my life living in another country, not just travelling. As soon as I decided to pursue a professional soccer career overseas, I told myself that I wanted to learn the language of whichever country I ended up in. Half the fun of living in another country is learning their language!

With that being said, and given the title of this blog, I have been learning to speak, read, and write Icelandic over the past two months I’ve lived here.

Icelandic doesn’t have the friendliest letters for native English-speakers. A few pronunciations were at once impossible for my mouth to create. Like, my mouth has never made those sounds before. (Icelandic words with 'll') Learning those letters took me back to my ‘Hooked on Phonics’ days in elementary school, learning how to pronounce the ‘th’ and ‘ck’ sounds. (Ya, looks easy now, but at one time those were a struggle!)

That was the first step for me, to learn the Icelandic alphabet and to learn the phonetics. Most of their letters are the same as in the English alphabet or make similar sounds as some English letter combinations. I started teaching myself Icelandic phonetics after I signed my contract before I even moved here. That helped me a lot.

People in Iceland grow up learning and speaking Icelandic, then at some point in school they learn Danish and English (they were a Danish colony for a long time). So every person here knows English to some degree. Most are fluent, with varying degrees of an accent, and the rest know enough to communicate effectively. The younger people who watch a lot of American movies and shows pick up more and have less of an accent, and some of the older generations who haven’t had to do business with English-speakers or who haven’t travelled a lot know less and have stronger accents. Basically, I don’t have to learn Icelandic to get along just fine living here, but it definitely helps.

Since living here, my vernacular is proving to be a product of my environment. I live in a house with two parents and two little girls, ages 4 and 6, and I spend a significant amount of time around my soccer teammates and coaches. Wanna guess the types of words and phrases I know??

On the field I’ve made it a point to learn common words and soccer phrases that we use in every practice and every game. For example, I know numbers up to 100 (to tell players who to mark), and the words for common commands and instructions for my teammates. It’s been cool to notice how many words and phrases I can understand my coach saying during practices or pre-game speeches. I can definitely understand more things and understand them quicker than I can think of then speak them to others.

Soccer-related words and phrases I use all the time:

Já – Yes  
Herna – Here
Skjóta – Shoot
Vinstri – Left
Hægri – Right
Skipta – Switch
Tilbaka – Back
Aftur – Again
Mark – Goal
Vel gert – Well done
Gott – Good
Klobbi – Nutmeg (when the ball goes through your legs)
Bolti – Ball

Living with a host family has made a huge difference in my Icelandic learning, especially living with the young girls. They haven’t started learning English in school yet, so if I want to communicate with them I have to use Icelandic. My strategy for learning is by asking, looking up the spelling (seeing the word helps), and then trying to use it as much as I can to practice it. My host parents have been so helpful and patient teaching me useful things.

I can tell my host mom ‘thank you for dinner’ (I use that one every night), ask what time something is (a game or tv show or practice), and ask where or who or what something is. (Those are the most common subjects of my speaking.) Some words and phrases I find myself wanting to say a lot, so I’ll ask specifically how to say something. Other words and phrases I hear other people say a lot, so I’ll ask what they mean.

Then with the girls, my go-to phrase is ‘what is that?’ and ‘flott’ (cool) when they show me something. I can understand them when they ask me to play, and can ask them what they’re doing or where they’re going. I don’t always know what they answer me (haha) but I can at least ask and see how they respond.

Some words I hear (and use) every single day at home:

Hætta - Stop
Ekki svona - Not like that
Nei - No
Pissa - Pee
ís - Ice cream
Nuna - Now
Sitja - Sit
Svona - Like this
Tilbúin – Ready
Hvað er þetta? – What is that?
Flott – Cool
Góða nótt – Good night
Mjög gott – Very good
Leika – Play 

Some words and phrases I hear (and use) every day in general:

Góðan daginn – Good day
Bara – Just
Ensku – English
Takk fyrir – Thank you
Sjáumst á morgun – See you tomorrow
í kvöld – Tonight
Leikur – Game
– Hi
Ekkert mál – No problem
Ekki ég – Not I
Sama – Same
ég veit ekki – I don’t know
Takk fyrir matinn – Thanks for the food
Nei takk – No thanks
Vatn – Water
Kaffi – Coffee
Súkkulaði – Chocolate
Komdu - Come
Frábært - Great
Hvar – Where
Hvað er klukkan? – What time is it?
Gaman – Fun

I tried to remember and write down all the words and phrases I have learned so far, but there are so many and some are so random that I can’t think of them all to write down. Plus, who wants to read a blog post of just a list of words they can’t pronounce? ;) I’ve included the most common Icelandic that pertains to my life in this post (for you, Mom) and for those who are curious about what the Icelandic language looks like. My goal is to be semi-fluent in Icelandic by the time I leave here. It’s been a good start! Two months down, four more to go. :) 

Fun activity for all my English readers: If you get bored today, look up the word ‘fjall’ (mountain) and try to pronounce that double L! It’s so hard!!

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