Hvað heitir Þu? (What is your name?)

I’m making a half-hearted attempt to learn Icelandic.I haven’t thrown myself into it fully because although I think it would be fun to know some Icelandic, I have no real useful reason or need to do so. It’s a language that less than 1% of the world’s population speaks and I have no one at all to speak it with here. So, I’m just trying to learn some basics.

My humble goals are:

  1. Have a wider reading/listening vocabulary so I can understand more of what people say on the radio, in song lyrics, and on TV/films. I love listening to RAS 2 on my internet radio. Confession time: I didn’t realise that all those times they say something that sounds like “rawstvuh” they were saying the name of the radio station! See how far I’ve come already?
  2. Be able to speak a little bit so that I look like I’ve made an effort when I go visit.

Even funnier in Icelandic?

Why is it that when you learn a new language you turn into a child again? Maybe it’s because of the silly phrases that are always the first you learn. So far I can say:

  • Hello and goodbye in many different ways.
  • I can welcome other people to Iceland. (Maybe I’ll just hang around the airport doing that?)
  • I can ask what languages someone speaks and where they’re from.
  • Family words. Imagine askng a  stranger their grandmother’s name and how many cousins they have…
  • There have been some useful things too like “Excuse me, do you speak English?” and ” That’s impressive! You speak Icelandic very well.” (Can’t wait for someone to say that to me – I may be waiting a while! :))

    How do you say “enough vowels for you?”

So in case any of you Icelanders are looking to write your own language book, here are some things that this foreigner would find more useful to say:

  • “Do you have a sale section?” (to anyone working in a shop)
  • “One more hot dog, please. Still no onions.” (to anyone selling hot dogs)
  • “Yes, I am going to try on ALL the lopapeysas in this shop.” (to anyone working in the Handknitting Association of Iceland shop)
  • “Wow, I’ve never heard wind make that howling noise before. Can we get back on the bus now?” (to Northern Lights tour guide – as heard in several different ways on my last trip)
  • “Why, yes, I WOULD like a job promoting Iceland to the great British public.”(well, you never know)
  • “Have you read my blog yet?” (to everyone)

Are you currently trying to learn a foreign language as an adult? How much can you learn about a culture by its language?

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31 thoughts on “Hvað heitir Þu? (What is your name?)

  1. 🙂 again, a great input.. And RESPECT for whomever takes the challange on, trying to learn Icelandic..
    Your points! i csn help out with them, if you like.. I’ll put them down, just in case
    Do you have a sale selection! Erud tid med útsolu? ( i dont have all the icelandic letters on this computer :-/)
    One more hotdog please, still no onions!.. 😉 a good one.. Eina pulsu ‘i vidbót, takk og engan lauk.
    Yes i sm going to try on ALL the lopapeysas in the store. Já takk ég ætla ad prufa ALLAR lopapeysurnar í búdinni.
    Wow, I’ve never heard wind make that howling noise before. Can we get back on the bus now. Vá, ég hef aldrei heyrt vindinn gnauda svona ádur, getum vid farid aftur í rútuna núna takk.
    “Why, yes, I WOULD like a job promoting Iceland to the great British public.” 🙂 good one, and hope you will do get one 😉
    Já takk, ég vil gjarnan starfa vid ad kynna Íslandfyrir Bretum 😉
    Have you read my blog yet!
    Ertu búin ad lesa bloggid mitt enn!…
    Great input, look forward to see what you write about next time.

  2. Cool 🙂 I’ve studied Old Norse, which is very similar. Icelandic has so much grammar that a renowned scholar once told me at an academic dinner, in all seriousness, but with a twinkle in his eye, that it was so much easier to order six cakes than two cakes in Iceland!

    I’ve been learning Norwegian too, which I love. There is so much similarity between the Scandinavian languages both medieval and modern that I can make some sense out of most of them, except the difficult words, as long as they are written or spoken slow and clear 🙂

    I loved watching Naeturvaktin, just to hear the language! Do you ever get excited to find a DVD with Icelandic subtitles? Or is that just me… 😉

    I think language and culture have many subtle links, an interesting question which would be hard to do justice to in a comment. I might add it to my list of blog posts to write one day…

    • Wow, Old Norse, that is possibly even less useful than Icelandic. 🙂 Obviously a real labour of love for you.

      I have two Norwegian Forest Cats. They are very calm gentle giants- how is it that in Scandinavia even the cats are highly evolved?? I also love what I know of Norway, which isn’t very much. I love that the Scandinavian languages are still quite true to their old form.

      I loved hearing the language too…”I have FIMM degrees…” It all sounds so grand and rolling. Did you watch the whole BBC “Iceland” series of programmes last year?

      It’s funny how little words can show you things about a culture. Things we would never notice in our own native language. I’m sure there’s at least a blog post in there!

      • Well, to be fair, Old Norse is quite useful if your ambition is to be a runologist… 🙂 I love being able to make sense of those random looking scratches and impress friends and strangers alike! It can also be useful to a Viking re-enactor in need of a good authentic swear word or two 😀

        I saw the whole lot, was just disappointed it was only a week long series, I’m sure there is a lot more Icelandic TV they could have shown. When I’m in Norway I even like watching the ads, just because of the language… Did you see Jar City? I so don’t want to eat sheep’s head, eww!

      • That is so interesting. You really must feel passionate about this time and culture. At least you can say you have some unique qualifications!

        I loved Jar City. I’m such a geek that I made a point of having a look at the place where he ate the sheep’s head as I happened to be at the bus station. Because it was so deserted, I felt too embarrassed to really go and study the menu! It was fun to do anyway. I love the short films that Iceland Air shown, I saw some real gems last time. You might also be interested in http://www.icelandiccinema.com if you haven’t come across it yet.

      • It is good, but I’ve found that I can only watch things on “small” size so the quality isn’t great. I also wish you could download something and then watch it, as watching live it can be a bit stuttery. I think they will improve things as the site continues to develop. I love that Iceland has so many short films, an underappreciated art form.

      • Oh, that’s disappointing, but thanks for the warning. We don’t have the fastest connection so I’ll take your advice and try the shorts.

  3. I’m trying to learn Hebrew now. Fascinating language, as there is no punctuation and vowels are symbolized as dots above the consonants. I minored in Russian in college–I love languages! All the best in your Icelandic pursuits 🙂

  4. So true! You never learn anything useful when first learning a language! You should check out the video “My first semester if Spanish love song” SO FUNNY. All phrases like “my name is mike” and “what is the date?”

  5. I never really have the opportunity to practice languages and i’m the kind of person that needs to speak them regularly to learn them. I find it very difficult to learn from a book. Kinesthetic I think its known as. Learning by doing work for me better than any book. However, I do own a book on colloquial icelandic.

    its cheating I suppose and not in the spirit of things, but most websites I go to written in Icelandic are translated into English by my browser automatically. Which usually results in an understandable translation. but I do love the sound of the language being spoken.

    • I think the immersion technique of just having to learn it because that’s all anyone else is speaking must be the best way by far. For me it’s just a bit of fun for now. I can see I will get frustrated after a while once I can’t progress.

      I never use the Google Translate thing on websites. I might start doing that. There is always something lost there, sometimes quite amusing!

    • Me too, loved it, loved it, loved it! I haven’t blogged much about it because I’m not sure I can do it justice. I got the rest of the series and film as I wasn’t hopeful about the BBC ever showing it…here we are nearly a year later. I did lobby at the time. I would really recommend getting the others just so you can see what happens to all of them. Who was your favourite character?

      • Næturvaktin is the first series, then we have dagvaktin.. It comes after Næturvaktin. you should check that out 😉 Bjork plays along in that one, kinda funny

  6. Languages are to humans what fruit are to trees. I speak a few Romance languages, I’m making progress in American Sign Language, and I’m chipping away at Japanese and Korean.
    It’s not “how hard” you study; it’s how many hours you put in. The toughest language is easy enough that any child can master it.
    Icelandic is said to be a challenge, but take heart from ‘Brainman’ Daniel Tammet, the savant who learned to converse in Icelandic in one week. ¡Buena suerte!

    • Thanks for that, I haven’t seen that before. Wow. OK, no excuses…

      Yes, I see your point, like anything the more time and practice you put in, the more you will improve. Unfortunately at the moment my marathon training has to take quite a lot of time. If I can at least understand more Icelandic in the next few months I will be happy! Speaking it yourself and then writing are another step further.

      • Can you get Viking sagas in the original Icelandic on iTunes? Surely that would be the ideal thing to listen to while running a marathon! (I suppose the marathon mind doesn’t work that way, but my iPod is full of foreign-language classics to listen to as I get around town.)

  7. Amazing clip of Daniel Tammet and a good comment of “It’s not “how hard” you study; it’s how many hours you put in”.

    Languages are hard. Another one is Hungarian. I learned to speak that before I spoke English. But can I speak it now? with difficulty. On Hungarian television the speakers talk so fast that I struggle to understand. When my sister writes to me, I have to ask her to write in capitals so I can understand better. It’s tough.

    I wish you all the best on learning Icelandic,it sounds a tough language. I should be brushing up on my Hungarian because I’m flying out there in September. Maybe you have given me the nudge I need to do it!!

    Immie 🙂

    • Wow, I’m surprised that you can forget the first language that you learn to speak. I didn’t know that could happen. One thing that helps me a lot with Icelandic is just hearing it on the radio. Maybe if you try listening to some Hungarian stations it will come back a little bit? How exciting that you’re going in September.

  8. Funny post. I really enjoyed your questions they could offer in a language book. 😉 And yes. I learned a foreign language as I was an adult. It’s Norwegian. It’s relatively easy to learn for Germans like me. And it replaces my English in many ways. Often the Norwegian vocabulary comes in mind when the English one is needed! That’s funny that one foreign language can replace another foreign language which I have learned much earlier.
    I always thought Norwegian and the other Scandinavian languages were more similar to Icelandic. But I saw Swedes and Norwegians only speak English with Icelanders. I guess they don’t really understand each other and the pronunciation is very different and difficult.

    • Thank you. : ) I haven’t got much further with Icelandic either! But I love listening to it and picking out words. What made you learn Norwegian? I have heard that Norwegian/Swedish/Danish are all intelligible to each other but Icelandic is different enough not to be.

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