Ísafjörður, Westfjords, Iceland.
Monday August thirteenth 2018.
I walked into the University Centre with an Icelandic vocabulary of exactly 4 words. Hæ, kaffi, takk and bless! In spoken sentences, I couldn’t even hear the separate words. Little did I know that my whole world was about to change.
After a short welcome, we headed into a classroom with our freshly received course notes. A very spontaneous woman, the local choir leader, guided us in waking up some never-used-before mouth muscles, to wrap sound around particular Icelandic letters. Luckily for me, in Dutch we also use the soft G and rolling R. A little crumb I could take of the mountain that is the Icelandic language.
After a morning of mouth exercises and some general pronunciation rules, we walked towards the music school, where we would get some actual singing lessons. Now it happened that singing songs is a very enjoyable and effective method for getting used to the Icelandic ‘mouth-work’! To end the afternoon, we got an introduction into the Icelandic saga-world from the director of the University Centre. Day 1 ended and I already felt completely submerged.
Tuesday August fourteenth 2018.
The second morning starts with an introduction from our Óli, our teacher for the coming 4 days. We started of with repeating some pronunciation rules for Monday and by going over the Icelandic alphabet, just to warm up our muscles. The remaining of the morning, we practise hello and goodbye phrases and courtesy. We learned how to say who we are and where we are from. Basic necessities. Also, ordering coffee.
In the afternoon, a bus brings us to the historical site of Gisli Saga in Haukadalur. A complicated, dramatic and bloody family drama with a mosaic of interrelated characters... and we were about to see a one-man-play. But the actor succeeded in simplifying the story without losing any of the epicness.
Wednesday August fifteenth 2018.
The day started of with practising our conversational skills, taking in consideration yesterdays lessons. After that we had a look at the days of the week and how to talk about yesterday and tomorrow. Óli taught us some very practical ways without the need to conjugate all verbs in the past and present tense. Which what was where I was looking for, really.
In the afternoon, we learned about question-words, counting, telling our age and asking and telling what things are called. That is why we spend the break putting stickers on everything we could find. What is this? This is...! Very elegant. But as Óli told us: “Now is not the time to worry about how smart and elegant you want to express yourself. We are in the ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane’ fase of learning Icelandic.”
We ended the day with some first glimpses of masculine and feminine words and how it affects the grammar. Oh, the grammar... we didn’t know anything yet...
Thursday August fifteenth 2018.
Thursday morning, already day 4! We started with taking turns in telling each other (in Icelandic of course), what we did yesterday, what we will do today and what we want to do tonight. Next to some more repetition of what we learned the previous days, saying hello and goodby and introducing ourselves. We also learned how we can not only say stuff about ourself but also tell someone the age of another person, or what the name of someones father is. Then we dived into some more numbers, how to say in which year we are born and some ordinals. We learned the months of the year and how the clock works.
Then, we started scrapping the surface of the Icelandic grammar. We learned about masculine, feminine, neuter, defined, undefined, singular and plural. And not only for nouns, no! They do it to numbers as well! I could only guess what lies beneath the surface of this very deep dark ocean of grammar.
The afternoon had a lighter tone to it. On the schedule: A whole course on how to swear. Again, not your everyday language course. We quickly catch that most of their swearwords can be translate with hell or devil. Well, even if I would never touch Icelandic from this point forwards, I would still remember one word in 20 years: Helvítis!
We ended the afternoon, trying to read some Icelandic newspapers. More specifically, the necrologies. The Icelandic system of naming children is very unique! Thus, we tried to put together some family trees.
When I head back home with the bus that evening, I suddenly realise I could actually recognise some of the words there were using on the radio.
Friday August seventeenth 2018.
The final morning. Lots of repetition and conversation today. We were asked to write a little text about ourself and read it. Do you realise we were able to do that after knowing completely nothing just 4 days ago??
Then we proceeded with some last new material. We talked a bit about the weather and how we can express how we feel or how we find something to be. To end we put on our diving gear for some more grammar. Introducing: Cases! ‘Luckily’, Icelandic has ‘only’ 4. But as I was already a bit lost with singular and plural, I didn’t quite catch this last lesson. I’m glad it was explained to me though. Now it will be easier to learn it on my own pace. Thank you Óli!
I left this course with even more enthusiasm as when I started it! The material is so well brought, that you will be amazed by your own progression after only 5 days. I mean, going from nothing to small conversation and writing skills in 5 days is impressive. Although I could not wrap my head around the crazy amount of word endings yet, I learnt how to make myself understandable. Or as Óli would say it: “The whole point of languages is communication, doesn’t matter how simple your sentences.”
I loved how the course was focused on the practical use of the language. Using past en present tenses without having to learn lots of verb conjugations and making short sentences. Oh, and I loved to choir session on day one! I most likely did not cover all that we learned in this diary, because it was a lot! But I guess you should go and try it yourself! It definitely gave me the jumpstart I needed in learning Icelandic.
All information about the Icelandic courses in the Westfjords if Iceland can be found here: https://www.uw.is/icelandic_courses/