Æ, þad mikið um að vera!

I’ve been learning Icelandic.  Rather, now that we’re going, I’m cramming with a vengeance, trying to make up for a year’s procrastination.  Less than three hours a day is nearly no progress, and I’ve spent upwards of six hours (up early/up late) trying to feel like I’m getting somewhere.  It is hard.  It is so hard (and I usually put an obscenity in that sentence), I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more difficult with my brain.  Nothing in school, nothing at work, not even writing websites in HTML in 1991.   It requires such a complete concentration that time just flies, while the subject matter and exercises do NOT.

Icelandic is so different and complex that it makes a passage of Spanish or French look positively relaxing to me now.  After hundreds of hours, no exaggeration, I am probably able to make a sentence as elaborate and clear as I was able to in Spanish on my first day “studying”.  There is a little improvement.  I’ve got a vocabulary learning system that shows me the words I knew last time I checked, and now, and every time I run through my list of words, there are more that have become naturally available to me.  I’m glad for that, at least, because my overall progress is positively slothish.

What’s cool and interesting about it is that since Icelandic is a “preserved” version of a very old Germanic, I can see words that clearly evolved into our current words, and the way the spelling has changed.  Like, clearly swarthy comes from svartur, for black.  Vs sound like Ws, which by the way don’t exist in Icelandic.  Some words have come through intact, like núll, zero, to null, upp to up, and some words sound similar to how they do now, but are spelled differently, like verst, worst;  hönd, hand.  Or I recognize the origin of the meaning of the word.  Kynnast, get to know, and kennari, teacher, are clearly rooted from “knowledge”, evolved to “ken”, out of use now but in Old English the proper word for “knowing”.  Or klædist, wearing, obviously created “clad”.   So, interesting.

I’m working with Daisy L Neijimann’s “complete course for beginners”, Colloquial Icelandic, a 370 page book and 120 minute CD set.

Clearly, the Icelandic nature of having high expectations of people in general’s common sense and intelligence extends to their language training.  All at the same time, one is expected to learn how to speak and hear, to learn to use the dictionary at the back of the book, to memorize the gender of all nouns and the case of all adjectives, on top of learning the new vocabulary and all the subject matter of any given chapter, like how words behave in certain ways, new parts of speech or a whole new whack of tenses, etc.  It’s like a frontal lobe bomb.

There is no list of the “new vocabulary” for each chapter, you have to keep track of that by following word by word from the translation and looking the words up (and memorizing their gender/cases, and possible irregularities), and once an Icelandic word occurs once anywhere, you’re expected to know it after that, because it will never be translated again, and the next thing you do will build on the knowledge you “already have”, ha!  And it builds very, very quickly.
I’m only on chapter 5!

Chapter 4 nearly killed me.  That was declensions.  It was just too confusing and I thought I could slide over it with some lucky guesswork and it would sink in later.  Guess what?  NO!  On my second attempt, which made my ears sweat, I barely managed to improve my previous 15% scores to approx. 50% bare passes, which hardly belies confidence with the topic.

Declensions!  Sounds like a sexual disorder to me. “Or at least a gastro-intestinal one,” H.W. put in.

p.s.  No sooner did I write this than I hit a point where I could start putting simple sentences together.  I could actually have a conversation in Icelandic in my head.  In my head, of course, no one uses words I don’t know, which is very encouraging.  On another note, this challenging book just threw another curve ball by suddenly leaving out the English translation of every dialogue!!!  I guess after Chapter 6 you’re on your own.   Sheesh.

Complete story of my Iceland adventures

3 thoughts on “Æ, þad mikið um að vera!”

  1. I’m guessing you have no one to practice with, which also makes it hard. I’ve tried learning it myself but you have to do it because you find the language interesting rather than because it’s particularly useful! At least you will have the chance to try it out on your trip. :)

  2. I can relate to this post so much! I am currently teaching myself Finnish and I´ve experienced many of the exact same problems as you have! The terrors of declension, pronunciation, and just generally being so frustrated by the amount of time and effort it takes to form the simplest of sentences.

    Before I started studying Finnish I actually attempted to learn Icelandic for two weeks before giving up. For me the pronunciation was impossible. Even a basic phrase like Hvernig hefur þú það? left me completely tongue tied and frustrated. : S

    I wish you the best of luck in your studies! And you should take comfort knowing that right now I am slowly turning my brain to soup trying to understand and learn the sixteen different Finnish cases. X )

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