So That Happened.

So, yeah. I took that entrance exam yesterday. And guys?

Photo from the University of the Westfjords website

Ég tala ekki íslensku.

I do not speak Icelandic. Which I knew. Because that’s why I’m here, right? To learn Icelandic. It would be a big heaping waste of two governments’ money if I already knew how to do this. And yet. I thought I knew enough Icelandic to be taught Icelandic at the B.A. level. Turns out, this is probably not true.

When I arrived at the test room yesterday, there were a variety of fidgety foreign-looking types like myself milling around and sadly trying to read the sign that was on the door of the test room. (Moment of triumph! I knew what the sign said! “Test in progress–don’t open the door please.” Or, “Test in progress–mind your own business.” Something involving a test being taken and staying outside.) Finally, someone comes over, opens the door, and tells us all to come in. In Icelandic, but with gestures, you know? So we followed.

We come into a room that has test sheets spread out along a bunch of long tables and are directed–in Icelandic–to put all of our stuff along the wall, hang our coasts up, and sit down at a test with an ID in hand. No, I didn’t understand this set of directions. I followed the rest of the people and the gestures and sort of worked it out. At this point, the woman closest to me asked me–in Icelandic–if this was the room for the year one Icelandic exam. I was pretty sure I understood that right, so I nodded, all the while thinking that this is an awful lot of Icelandic being spoken in a room where people are testing into an entry-level Icelandic program. (Cue sweating.)

We are all given a test number and have to show the proctor our IDs to prove that we are who we say we are and not some undercover Icelander looking to score amazing marks on this multiple choice test. We’re told (gestured at) that we can look at our test booklets.

The written instructions are in Icelandic. The rest of the spoken instructions are in Icelandic. The two women behind me ask a few questions of the proctor. In Icelandic.


The proctor throws a few of us a bone and repeats one or two things in English, and then tells us to start. And it is hard. Super duper hard. Like, I know what some of the questions want you to show that you understand (how to decline a noun in a sentence according to the dative tense), but that doesn’t mean that I know the correct answer off the top of my head, and there aren’t any partial points for knowing what you don’t know here. I recognize about 40% 35% of the vocab, if I’m being generous. I do awesome on the question where you are asked to determine if a group of nouns (all fruit) are all examples of fruit (win!), vegetables, meat, or animals. There’s a long paragraph that you have to read which I understand a not inconsiderable amount of: Annette and Snorri moved to Reykjavik with their two young children; Snorri’s parents have lived in Reykjavik for ten years. Annette got a job at the hospital. But then I can’t make heads or tails of the following questions about the passage.

And then: The Written Section. This is the part I had practiced for. A lot. I had practically memorized a not unimpressive paragraph about myself, which I was fully prepared to write out and knock the socks off of all of my future professors. Good thing the question had nothing to do with that, eh? Instead, we were asked to write 10 lines about…um…what we want to do this winter? And maybe what we like to do during the day and at night? And if we traveled? Maybe? I’m really not sure. I was able to write about seven sentences. About how I like to read and look for an apartment in Reykjavik during the day and write in my blog (holla!) and cook with my boyfriend at night and how I came to Iceland to learn Icelandic and I like to needlepoint (really–I learned that word: ‘handvinna’) and oops grammar-is-wrong and oops don’t-remember-any-words and oops have-no-more-sentences. And abort.

There was no point in sitting there for another twenty-five minutes not knowing how to say anything in Icelandic. So I waited until an appropriate number of Icelandic-speaking achiever-types turned in their test and then submitted my own. Went to the cafe, bought a coffee and a Twix bar, spilled some coffee by the register which I lamely tried to clean up with a tissue, misunderstood the question I was asked about whether or not I have a ‘coffee card,’ sat down, and reassessed.

In all honesty, if I can’t pass that test, I should start in the Practical Certificate Program. And had I not been told that the program was kinda weak (by one of the people who designed it, no less), I wouldn’t have thought twice about starting there in the first place (the students who knew they were taking the practical course didn’t have to take any test!). It’s just rather humbling to think that I’ve been preparing all this time, in the manner in which I was told to prepare, and there was basically no way I was going to be up to snuff for that test. I’m left wondering who the target demographic for that BA program is if everyone trying to test into it can already converse in Icelandic. Perhaps it’s a shining endorsement of the Practical Certificate Program, or perhaps it’s meant for people who have immigrated to Iceland and live here already and have already learned to speak some. Or maybe it’s for people who have miraculously been able to take Icelandic at their home universities.

Whatever the case, I just want to get started. I want someone–in whatever program–to teach me to say something (many somethings) in Icelandic. I want to be able to read that sign in the bus about Speed and Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock (really–it bugs me every time). I want to be able to get through an exchange at a cash register. I want to read those adorable picture books I bought the last time I was here, and the translation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches that I found at the flea market.

Whatever the test results, I start on Monday. And that’s a good thing. Áfram með smjörið!

2 thoughts on “So That Happened.

  1. I think you should get points for knowing (kinda) what the sign on the door meant. If you end up in the-how-to-order-a-beer class, you’ll be empowered to hang out at bars, which (along with watching cartoons) is how you’ll learn 98% of the language. The other 2% is niche/tech terms no one actually needs to know.

    Do you have access to Icelandic toons? If so watch all you can, it’ll help!

    • I am deeply indebted to your optimism. I got the results back (big ‘ol fail for This Guy) and somehow it was still a disappointment. But you´re right–cartoons and beer and I’ll be picking up things faster than expected, with any luck…

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