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.