So, here we are, almost February. The year is well underway and I am happy to say that at least from our vantage point here, it seems to be getting off to a good start. Classes are several weeks in and I’m splitting my time between one rather challenging Translation Studies course (MA level, in Icelandic), an ÍSL (Íslenska sem annað mál, or Icelandic as a Second Language) course which focuses on learning how to write like an adult (thank the lord), and a couple literature classes (including one MA class on Scottish Women’s lit—great so far) which are really just for my own edification and allow me to enjoy the opportunity of like, being in college again and just studying for fun (whoo!). And full disclosure to this academic adventuring: the side benefit of the literature classes is that they are taught in English, thereby removing some of the second-language pressure and allowing me to focus the majority of my attention on the translation class.
Don’t worry too much about making mistakes when you’re writing or speaking.
It’s your second language—grammar mistakes are your right.
-Gauti Kristmannsson, professor of Translation Studies-
So, it’s been a really long time, hasn’t it? My saying this is getting to be a habit, I know, but as I’ve mentioned, it has somehow seemed more complicated to write about life here in Iceland now that I don’t always want to follow the phrase “my life” with the phrase “here in Iceland.” Most of the time it’s just “my life” full stop, and while that is frequently full of amusing and/or culturally-observant anecdotes, I feel a bit strange just telling The Internet about my ho-hum, everyday comings and goings. But I do miss you, Internet! Suffice to say, I’m not gone, I’m just working a little harder to come up with super good content.
Quick update/addition to the last post, as I have just received two photos from the lovely intern who was accompanying and assisting us yesterday. She maintains an online anonymity, so we’ll just credit her as Flash, per her wont.
By way of explanation, however, here you see me wearing upphlutur, which would have been a sort of non-working Sunday outfit. The top jacket is woven together with a little chain and was the bra of the time, but much less uncomfortable (I assume) than a corset. Still, as messy as I got with the butter-making, I understand why this wasn’t the everyday outfit.
After the relative success of our first “Uncommon Adventure” video, we set out on round two yesterday, this time on an adventure of a much different, much more old-timey tenor. We had been brainstorming a variety of ideas (some of which, like surfing, I opted out of) and spinning off of my desire to learn how to milk an animal, my filmmaker colleague Hallur decided that perhaps we should visit Árbæjarsafn, Reykjavík’s Open Air Museum, and get them to teach me some traditional húsfreyja, or housewife, skills.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither am I going to become a really bang-up domestic worker in an hour, so we kept it simple and decided we’d stick to two tasks: spinning yarn and churning butter. I’ll be writing about this in more detail later—and there will be a video, too, of course—so I won’t go into too much hilarious detail about this except to say, spoiler-alert: this stuff ain’t easy. Spinning yarn is like the original multi-tasking nightmare: you have to pulse your foot on a peddle at a steady and somewhat unnatural rhythm, while gently twisting the carded wool into a thread which you feed into the spindle with your hands. It was very quickly determined that as a potential housewife, I had better have other skills on offer, because my yarn technique wasn’t going to nab me any husbands any time soon.
So, áfram með smjörið! (“Onwards with the butter!” LITERALLY, guys.)
Tomorrow, I have the first of my final exams: a short oral presentation on cats. It’s a group project and can be no longer than five minutes (it’s a big class), so it shouldn’t be too stressful, but nevertheless, preparing my minute and 10 seconds or so of narration has been a touch nervous-making. We can have notes for the presentation, but can’t just read directly from them, so I need to have a goodly amount of it memorized, or at least mostly-memorized. Which means focusing on pronunciation and grammar on the fly…like in a real conversation, except with note cards.
I thought it would be useful to make a recording of myself speaking my part of the presentation so that I could listen to my accent and see where I slipped up, etc. After a few trial runs, I’m not actually unhappy with the result and feel pretty good about tomorrow’s presentation.
In the event that you are interested in learning a minute’s worth of information about cats and their origins as pets—or perhaps would just get a kick from listening to me talk about cats in Icelandic—I have embedded the video I made of myself reading along with our slide presentation. Below the video, you’ll see the Icelandic text and the English translation. I ran this text by one of my groupmate’s Icelandic husband (very thankful for his corrections), but in the event that I get something wrong and you notice, tell me quick! And cross your fingers for me tomorrow!
Fyrirlestur: fyrri hluti
Lecture: First Part
Í dag, erum við ad tala um ketti—ketti sem eru gæludýr í dag og líka ketti til forna áður en þeir urðu gæludýr.
Today, we are talking about cats—cats which are pets in the present and also cats in days of old before they became pets.
Kettir hafa verið vinsæl gæludýr um mörg þúsand ár. En fræðimenn vita ekki beint hvenær ketti urðu gæludýr.
Cats have been popular pets for many thousand years. But scholars don’t know exactly when cats became pets.
Fræðimenn hafa fundið beinagrindur katta á eyjunni Kýpur sem voru jarðsett með fólki fyrir tólf þúsan árum.
Scholars have found cat skeletons on the island of Cyprus which were buried with people twelve thousand years ago.
Það er mögulegt að fólk byrjaði að temja ketti þegar það tók sér fasta búsetu og hóf að rækta jörðina.
It is possible that people started to tame cats when they established permanent residences and began to cultivate the land.
Fólk þurfti þá ad hafa ketti vegna þess voru svo margar mýs í húsum þeirra.
Then people needed to have cats because there were so many mice in their houses.
Kettirnir voru ánægðir að éta mýsnar og fólkið var ánægt að meindýr spilltu ekki uppskeru þess.
The cats were happy to eat the mice and the people were happy that vermin did not spoil their crops.
I’ve been reading a lot of Icelandic picture books lately. It’s an interesting experience for many reasons. For one, it is always fascinating to see what kind of material/language is “appropriate” for kids in other countries, and for two, because this is the first time in a very long time that reading is such a struggle for me. It’s hard to go from being a three-novels-at-a-time quasi speed-reader to being a look-up-every-second-word kind of reader. It’s humbling. It is also a valuable tool for self assessment.
For awhile, I was trying to read adult novels in Icelandic–simple ones (vocab and style-wise), like Arnaldur Indriðason’s Mýrin (which you probably know as Jar City). Basically, I sat with the Icelandic version in one hand and read one paragraph. Then I tried to make sense of that paragraph. Then I read the English translation of the same passage in my other hand. Compared my original “translation” with the published English translation. And so on. This wasn’t a bad system, but it was extremely slow. And honestly, when you are just getting started in a language, you want to feel some success, and pretty quickly at that. You want (or, okay, I want) a little immediate gratification. And oh, it’s also nice to understand what the heck is going on in a book, too.
So after it took me over an hour to read half a chapter of Jar City in the manner above, I decided that perhaps I should set more manageable goals. Like short stories, maybe? Length, I thought, was maybe the problem. So I picked up a very slim volume of short stories by Halldór Laxness. I had no idea that he wrote short stories, so double bonus. But there is a reason that Halldór Laxness won a Nobel Prize, and it isn’t just because his work has important themes. His writing style, although very clean and straightforward, deals in a lot of irony and subtle humor. This is fine if you understand the language nuances that you’re reading. But super difficult if you don’t.
Finally, I have come to realize that I need to go even further back. Back before short stories, back before teen novels. I need to read picture books. Because that is–with the exception of the well-chosen kids’ chapter books assigned in my self-study class–where I am right now. And I still have to check the dictionary pretty frequently to understand all the nuances (there is often a lot of slang or colloquial expressions in kids’ books), but I don’t have to struggle with every single sentence. And that’s refreshing and encouraging. That’s why you don’t hand a six year old Anna Karenina and tell them to have a good time, after all. Because not only does every book have its reader, but every book has its right time. And as far as reading in Icelandic goes, right now, I am somewhere between a six year old and a ten year old’s reading level–if the ten year old has a really slim vocabulary.
Right now, I’m reading Ertu svona, Einar Áskell? (a translation from a Swedish kids’ series by Gunilla Bergström) which has fantastic illustrations (really sweet facial expressions on the vaguely Peanuts-like characters’ faces, some collage, too) and a title I don’t quite understand. (‘Are you [really] like that, Einar Áskell?’ is what I’m approximating right now.) And to make the vocab stick a little bit better, I am going to list the new words I have looked up below so that maybe they stick a little better in my mind.
Today, picture books! Tomorrow (figuratively), novels!
Ertu svona, Einar Áskell? Vocab!
- asni: fool, idiot (also, donkey/ass)
- bílastæði: car park, parking lot
- blíðlega: gently, tenderly
- bjáni: fool, halfwit
- datt í hug(ur): occur to (someone), come to mind
- dynja: boom, resound, roll
- fáni: flag
- fela: (to) hide, conceal
- (ganga) úr skorðum: go haywire
- geyma: save, store, keep
- gljáandi: shiny, bright
- góðgæti: tidbit, delicacy
- hengilás: padlock
- hreyta út úr sér: to burst out (with a comment)
- hverfa: disappear
- hvæsa: to hiss, spit
- indæll: delightful, lovely
- kaðall: rope, cable
- keðja: chain
- kenna: to teach OR (in this context) to blame
- klifra: climb
- ókunnugur: unfamiliar, unacquainted, strange
- ólán: misfortune, accident
- ósköp: very
- óþarfur: unnecessary
- óþokki: scoundrel, villian
- reiður: angry
- sárnar: (to be) offended
- skammur: short, brief
- snuðra: (to) snoop
- stakasta: exceptional
- svaladrykkur: soft drink
- svikari: traitor
- sykurmoli: sugar cube
- tún: hayfield
- tvíbækur: rusk (had to look this up in English, too: a ‘twice-baked’ cracker or biscuit, like a zwieback)
- týndur: lost
- undir eins: immediately
- verkfæri: tool, instrument
- vindlakassa: cigar box (vindill = cigar)
- voða: very
- þjófur: thief
Just a small detour from the rambling trip recaps to say “Whoot!” Why a “Whoot!” you ask? Well, I’ll tell you, obliging reader: I have had a run of communication successes. I have been able to say things! obtain things! do things!–in Icelandic! (Crowd noises!) Not anything extensive, of course, and not without some missteps along the way–the people at the post office still have no idea what I’m saying when I ask to pick up mail for my address because I can’t say my own street name correctly–but still! Big steps for me. In the last couple of weeks I have been able to ask for and obtain/say the following things in Icelandic:
- “Do you have a knife?” At the 10-11 in Vesturbær. (We needed a plastic knife for butter-spreading for our driving trip.)
- “I will get a mint tea, to go–please.” At the Eymundsson downtown.
- “Can I use a card?” (Meaning, to pay–but that was implied, I didn’t manage to say that bit. And if I’m honest what I said was actually “Use card?” But the nice lady at the counter said “Já” and helped me, so that counts as a success. Communication is not always grammatical, guys.) At a roadside gas station in the country.
- “I will have one coffee and one kleina, thank you.” At the Björnsbakarí in Vesturbær. (Funny little slip-up here: the cashier asked if I wanted the receipt and I made one of those “umm-uh” noises that we make in English to mean “no,” then caught myself, said “No–uh! Nei! Nei!” until the lady laughed and asked me (in Icelandic) if I was a student at the University. Caught! I wonder what the Icelandic equivalent of “umm-uh” is?)
- “Two coffees, please.” At a coffee counter in the Kringlan mall. (This might look like basically the same phrase as above and therefore not worth counting, but remember: declensions! So I managed to decline both the number one and the number two correctly, for neuter and feminine nouns. Isn’t that just absolutely The Most?! I think so, too, thank you. I will also note here that there is sort of a Pavlovian quality to some of these practice conversations: I say something correctly, I get a doughnut. Pretty soon, every time I’m in class and I get a question right, I’m going to expect a kleina to magically appear on my desk…)
So there you have it–thank you for reveling in my own brief moment self-satisfaction, everyone. (Baby Steps!)
And, according to Icelandic Online, it’ll be staying, for awhile.
A recent exercise within the program asked me to correctly organize the months of year by season. I kept failing at this rather simple task because it took me three or four gos to figure out that in Iceland, November and March are both considered winter months:
This is particularly funny to me because it actually took me a long time to adjust to the idea of there being four seasons at all. In my “homeland” (Arizona), spring and fall didn’t really exist. There was summer and winter (colder-summer, maybe–gasp!–with frost in the early mornings.) I didn’t own a coat–a real winter coat–until I moved to New York for college. (I didn’t own a good winter coat until last year–it took me ten years to figure out that one layer of down is both warmer and simpler than three underlayers, an over-layered sweater, and two scarves.) When I first moved to New York I remember being vastly surprised that my early May birthday was not a summer birthday anymore–I used to have swim parties as a kid–but was rather a very early spring birthday on which I’d still be wearing a blazer.
Fall was a little clearer to me, what with the leaves changing colors and Halloween and the like, but it was, and is now, really closely associated in my mind with November, too–Thanksgiving is a fall holiday, right? And by March, aren’t we all kind of moving into spring? (Setting arguments of global warming and the last few scarily warm New York winters and springs aside, mind you.)
Wrong, Iceland tells me now. November will be winter. And so will December, January, and February. And March. That’s nearly half the year, guys. I’m going to have to take up more winter activities, I think. Double down on crocheting and also pick up something outdoorsy–Mark and I have been talking about cross-country skiing (less opportunities for me to break my leg, maybe?). Because it’s gonna be a long winter, and I want to enjoy it.
Test results out today and for reals, I have official confirmation that I did not pass that test. Somehow, that was still disappointing, even though I knew it as soon as I left the testing room. I’m starting the Practical Certificate Program on Monday, which will hopefully help to put things all in perspective and strengthen my resolve on successfully coming from behind (i.e. No Icelandic) to ultimate and glorious triumph in the space of nine months (lots and lots of Icelandic). I won´t actually have many classes a week in the certificate program, though, so I’ll need to find some supplementary activities, I think, which can up my odds a bit. But I´ll figure that out as I go, I suppose.
And good news! We´re moved in! And the apartment is outfitted with all sorts of goodies that we weren´t expecting (an immersion blender!). There are still a few things we need to acquire (hangers, for one), so we´ll have an excuse to go to the IKEA this weekend. No internet in the apartment until next week, so it´s probable that my posts will be a little further between until we’re up and running at home.
In the meantime, have a great weekend, everyone! We’re going to an Iceland vs. Norway football (as in soccer) game tonight, and I have every belief that learning a few Icelandic football anthems will be a step in the right direction for me.