A Journey of Learning Icelandic

Lately I have been devoting time and energy to learning Icelandic, as I have mentioned before. I have always been fascinated by language and how it shapes different ways of seeing the world. I love playing with new sounds, feeling their shape on my tongue, even the sounds I have never fully mastered. For example, I have studied German on and off for 10 years, and yet I have never consistently produced that deep guttural “ich” sound so pervasive in the German language. I am constantly correcting myself while being amazed at how formative the first few years of our lives are to the sounds we are able to easily produce.

Icelandic is a whole new ballgame. Frankly, it’s kicking my butt. New sounds to master, new ways of forming sentences and thought. Completely unique letters in the alphabet. For example, the Þ symbol, that my English brain assumed was a P, but is actually pronounced like “th”. Or the ð, which again I translated by my own inherited alphabet to a d, but is pronounced more like “eth”. The vowels all have another version with a little symbol over it, like í, which is pronounced “ee”. I spent an entire week just on mastering the Icelandic alphabet and it still trips me up.

The real fun happens when I start learning words. I absolutely love the sounds of Icelandic words. They are so fun to say! Like the word for we, “við”, pronounced “vith”. I have no idea why I love the ð and Þ letters so much – but they seem to tickle the tongue. Even something as simple as hello is a puzzle. “Sæll” because of the double L is pronounced something like “sitl” with a long i, though without a heavy emphasis on the t. It should be light as air. I am finding it immensely difficult. And just for kicks, the Icelandic R is pronounced like a Spanish one, rolled amidst all the “th”. Icelandic is a complicated tongue twister!

I’m still learning week one basics of Icelandic – sentences like “Hello my name is…” and “I am learning Icelandic.” My brain does not work as quickly as it used to, thanks to the dense fibrofog I seem to be under half the time. But I am learning it, and that’s what matters. I run through words and sentences out loud as I walk home from work. The people I encounter give me a nod of acknowledgement and then scurry past quickly, as if I might suddenly reach out and do something crazy while spouting off such profound sentiments as “Ég er að læra íslensku” (I am learning Icelandic) or “Ekkert mál” (No problem!).

Besides, despite my slow and slogging retention rate, learning another language is exciting. So I am enjoying the process. Even if I do find myself mixing Icelandic and German unconsciously into my everyday conversation. I can handle looking eccentric, as long as I know I’m still learning.


About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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