The last nine months of learning (what is said to be) one of the hardest languages in the world:
Month 1: I can say my name, how old I am, and where I am from.My Icelandic is as good as Darcy’s English (2 year old level). I feel completely overwhelmed by the complex grammar structure of this language.There are 48 words for the number one. FOURTY-EIGHT. My husband, Colby, has studied 2 languages with similar grammar and gets it immediately.
Although the grammar is ridiculous, I am learning new words every day.The city is coming alive…words on billboards, businesses, magazines now have meaning to me.With each day I feel like I am adding a brushstroke of water to one of those kid’s water-color-changing-papers that we had in the 80’s (anyone with me?).
Colby and I watch t.v. with Icelandic subtitles while we work out at the gym together. It´s a great way to reinforce what we´ve been learning in class, but unfortunately, the only thing on at that time is soap operas. I never thought the day would come that I’d discuss the latest plot in The Bold And The Beautiful.
Month 2:Not only are we taking a class every morning, but now we are going to language school at night.Halfway through the month, I hit a wall and stay in bed for a week fighting off what I think is a virus.After talking with our language supervisor, I realize that it’s not a virus and I am experiencing physical ramifications of mental stress.Realizing that I need to be mentally tough and fight through the exhaustion, I continue to go to class even though just hearing Icelandic makes my head feel like it’s in a vice.Can’t I just speak English the whole time we’re here?Is this really worth it?
Month 3: Colby’s Icelandic is flourishing and I feel like I’m losing the race.I call my friend Nancy in tears and she “talks me down off the ledge” reminding me that language learning is not a competition (What?!? I thought everything was a competition!)and it’s okay if Colby is ahead.I’ll eventually catch up.
I can speak sentences now, but unfortunately, I start a sentence in Icelandic and at some point—without realizing it—finish the sentence in Spanish.I don’t even know what words are Spanish and what words are Icelandic anymore.I regret even learning Spanish in high school.
Month 4:I meet Edna who is from Latin America.Perfect.I switch between Icelandic, Spanish, and English as I’m talking and she understands everything I’m trying to say.We are now in an Icelandic Level 3 class.We are reading short stories (a page long) every day.I feel encouraged because I’m probably on a kindergarden reading level.
Month 5:I have developed a small language route—frequently visiting the same shops and practicing Icelandic.I stop by a cozy coffee shop a lot and talk with one particularly gracious employee.The other day the conversation went longer than it ever had—back and forth, back and forth, just like a surprisingly good game of ping-pong.I couldn’t believe it.I was actually speaking Icelandic. At a three year old level, anyway.
Month 6:From what I’ve heard, if you are to graph language acquisition, after a sharp spike of fast learning there comes an inevitable plateau.This month I can feel the plateau.
Month 7:I am starting to wonder if we are even going to be able to stay here in Iceland.We don’t have VISAs, and we will have to leave soon if we don’t get them.Language learning comes to an abrupt halt.We’re not sure if we will have to learn another language soon…sigh.
Month 8: We are in Finland all month. I start to imagine what life will be like if we live here instead. Colby found a word 29 letters long on the back of a cereal box. Eventually, we get our Icelandic residence permits. We return to Iceland on a Saturday and start another language school on Tuesday. The new class is SO advanced and SO fast and I feel like I am comprehending very little. I cry the entire way home from school on the 2nd day. Here we go again…
Month 9:I have recruited more people to pray for me and the challenges of being here in Iceland.I am working harder than ever at Icelandic and have even posted vocabulary note cards by the toilet…not a second wasted!
I’m forcing myself to use Icelandic out in public even though almost everyone speaks English.The other day I was trying to get a library card and accidently asked the librarian if the card was pregnant (ofrisk) instead of free (okeypis).
Last week my friend,Thora, told me that my Icelandic had improved since we had last talked.It has put a skip in my step and every day I can feel things starting to click and stick.I can feel that I’m on another spike on the graph and it feels so good.Colby and I frequently talk to each other in Icelandic when we don’t want the kids to know what we’re saying (at least we don’t think they understand…).
I just figured out last night what the WARNING sign outside the steam bath says. Oops. They really should have put that in English if it was so important.
Today in Icelandic class we were sharing a folktale from our country.I chose the story of Johnny Appleseed and spent over an hour preparing for my presentation.During my presentation, I was trying to say that Johnny Appleseed always carried a bag full of seeds with him wherever he went.Unfortunately, the word SEED has many shades of meaning that the dictionary didn’t exactly distinguish for me. I told the whole class that wherever he went, Johnny Appleseed always carried a bag full of SPERM.
Ahem. Sorry, Johnny.
Well, I guess this is how you learn…