Ég er nemandi.

So I’m in my second week of classes and can officially say (and am quite literally now able to say) that ‘Ég er nemandi,’ or that I am a student (again). Along with my first class in pronunciation and speech last week (which going forward, I’ll abbreviate to ‘F&T,’ for the Icelandic ‘framburður og tal’), I also had the first sessions of my other courses as well. F&T is divided into two sections with two different teachers–on Monday, B– helps us with our general pronunciation, and on Wednesday, in a much smaller section, I– helps us actually speak. Tuesdays and Thursdays are Orðaforði (vocabulary), with J–. To round everything out, I have an Icelandic Culture class which is on Thursdays and Fridays, and is taught by a well-established scholar of Icelandic. (I also have a self-study course, but there are no regular meetings with the tutor for this–I just work through it at a consistent pace and check in with the tutor occasionally.)

Orðaforði is a bit of a misnomer: we aren’t going over a lot of new vocab in class, rather we review dialogs and workbook exercises and the professor, J– throws in a lot of asides about pronunciation, sentence structure, declension patterns and the occasional tidbit about Icelandic culture. It seems to be a sort of catch-all class, and so far, the coursework and the professor may actually be my favorite.  When explaining anything–the fact that f’s are pronounced like v’s, or that definite articles are often attached to objects when describing possession (like ‘penninn minn’ — literally ‘the pen mine’ — to say ‘my pen’), or that almost all words for careers are masculine words, even if the person doing the job is a woman–he shrugs and squinches up his face, looking wistful but resigned about this strange fact of (Icelandic) life and language. It is delightful. On a practical level, he is also very good at demonstrating pronunciation: he really emphasizes words and exaggerates letter sounds when he speaks so that students can hear all the rolling r’s and aspirated h’s and ‘voiceless’ l’s a lot better than they might normally, and then he also repeats longer phrases more quickly, demonstrating the way in which words and sounds are dropped or smushed together in “normal fast speech.” His recommendation for study at the end of last week’s class was that we memorize all the declensions of personal pronouns (and there are a lot of these in Icelandic) so that we’ll recognize them even before we really know how to use them. “Just learn these all by heart,” he shrugged, regretfully. “Like a poem.”

My speech section is, like I said, my smallest class, and affords a much better perspective on who the students in the ISL program actually are. Among my classmates–some exchange students in other programs, some recent immigrants who have married Icelanders or come to the country for work, some direct enrollees–are two Iranians, three Poles, a German, a Swede, a Finn, a Czech, two Danes, a Frenchman, a Canadian, a Lithuanian, an Englishwoman, a South Korean, and three Americans, including myself. It is a remarkably global class. The instructor I– is a doctoral student from somewhere in Central Europe, I believe. She teaches in English, but during the break, answered some of the French student’s questions in what sounded to me like pretty great French. We did a lot of short introductions and verbal repetition in her class, wrote dialogs with partners, and for the next session, were told to prepare a longer introduction about ourselves and to find an Icelandic word to describes ourselves. (I’m still deciding on the adjective–it’s a lot of pressure to describe yourself in one word!–but two contenders are ‘bókhneigður’ (bookish) and ‘eftirtektar’ (observant). I think I am going to go with the latter because I was able to figure out the correct feminine form…)

The Icelandic Culture class is gigantic and is definitely a survey course, which is good and bad. Good because you get the general overview of history and culture, bad because it all is pretty cursory (and oh, there’s group work, which I despise). But the book list is good and there will be a lot of interesting guest speakers.

So that’s the full academic recap for now. Back to the books.


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