Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Chronicles of Language Acquisition

The last 9 months of my journey learning (what is said to be) one of the hardest languages in the world...

February:  I can say my name, how old I am, and where I am from.  My Icelandic is as good as Darcy’s English (2 year old level). I feel completely overwhelmed by the complex grammar structure of this language.  There are 48 words for the number one.  FOURTY-EIGHT. Colby has studied 2 languages with similar grammar and gets it immediately.

Although the grammar is ridiculous, I am learning new words every day.  The city is coming alive…words on billboards, businesses, magazines now have meaning to me.  With each day I feel like I am adding a brushstroke of water to one of those “magic Color Wonder” pages.   

Colby and I watch t.v. with Icelandic subtitles while we work out at the gym together.  It´s a great way to reinforce what we´ve been learning in class, but unfortunately, the only thing on at that time is soap operas.  I never thought the day would come that we would have discussions about the latest plot in The Bold And The Beautiful.

March:  Not only are we taking a class every morning, but now we are going to language school at night twice a week.  Halfway through the month, I hit a wall and stay in bed for a week fighting off what I think is a virus.  After talking with our supervisor, I realize that it’s not a virus and I am experiencing physical ramifications of mental stress.  Realizing that I need to be mentally tough and fight through the exhaustion, I continue to go to class even though just hearing Icelandic makes my head spin and throb.  Can’t I just speak English the whole time we’re here?  Is this really worth it?

April: Colby’s Icelandic is flourishing and I feel like I’m losing the race.  I call Nancy in tears and she “talks me down off the ledge” reminding me that language learning is not a competition (What?!?  I thought everything was a competition!)  and it’s okay if Colby is ahead.  I’ll eventually catch up.

I can speak sentences now, but unfortunately, I start a sentence in Icelandic and at some point—without realizing it—finish the sentence in Spanish.  I don’t even know what words are Spanish and what words are Icelandic anymore.  I regret even learning Spanish.

May:  I meet Edna who is from Latin America.  Perfect.  I switch between Icelandic, Spanish, and English as I’m talking and she understands everything I’m trying to say.  We are now in an Icelandic Level 3 class.  We are reading short stories (a page long) every day.  I feel encouraged because I’m probably on a 2nd grade reading level.      

June:  I have developed a small language route—frequently visiting the same shops and practicing Icelandic.   I stop by a cozy Christian coffee shop a lot and talk with one particular generous employee.  The other day the conversation went longer than it ever had—back and forth, back and forth, just like a surprisingly good game of ping-pong.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was actually speaking Icelandic.  At a three year old level, anyway.

July:  From what I’ve heard, if you are to graph language acquisition, after a sharp spike there comes an inevitable plateau.  This month I can feel the plateau. 

August:  I am starting to wonder if we are even going to be able to stay here in Iceland.  We don’t have VISAs, and we will have to leave soon if we don’t get them.  Language learning comes to an abrupt halt.  We’re not sure if we will have to learn another language soon…sigh.

September:  We are in Finland all month.  I imagine what life would be like if we were to live there instead.  Colby found a word 29 letters long on the back of a cereal box.  We get our VISAs.   We return to Iceland on a Saturday and start another language school on Tuesday.  The new class is SO advanced and SO fast and I feel like I am comprehending very little.  I cry the entire way home from school on the 2nd day.  Here we go again…

October:  I have recruited more people to pray for me and the challenges of being here.  I am working harder than I ever have at studying Icelandic.  There are even note cards by the toilet…not a second wasted! 

I am forcing myself to use Icelandic out in public even though almost everyone speaks English.  The other day I was trying to get a library card and accidently asked the librarian if the card was pregnant (ofrisk) instead of if it was free (okeypis). 
Last week Thora told me that my Icelandic had improved since we had last talked.  It has put a skip in my step and every day I can feel things starting to click and stick.  I can feel that I’m on another spike on the graph and it feels so good.  Colby and I frequently talk to each other in Icelandic when we don’t want the kids to know what we’re saying (at least we don’t think they understand…). 

I just figured out last night what one of the “warning signs” in the gufubað is saying and realized that I have been breaking the rules for the past 9 months.  Oops.  They should have really put that in English if it was so important.

Today in class we were sharing a folktale from our country.  I chose the story of Johnny Appleseed and spent over an hour the night before preparing for my turn.  During my presentation I was trying to express that Johnny Appleseed always carried a bag full of seeds with him wherever he went.  Unfortunately, the word seed has many shades of meaning that the dictionary didn’t exactly distinguish for me… and I instead told the whole class that Johnny always carried with him a bag full of SPERM. 
Oh well.  I guess this is how you learn…


Veroníka said...

I often approach my computer with this thought, "I wonder if the Garman's have blogged today?" I get so excited when I see a new entry! Today's blog made me laugh out loud (most of them do-some make me cry).

So, what was the rule you broke while in the steam bath and do tell us the word you used for 'seed', lol.

Glad your Icelandic is coming along so nicely, jealous actually!

Veronika said...

When using the word seed, don´t use fræðum...

And I just learned the word aður (before)...
Now I know that after you use the gufubað, you must shower before reentering the pool. Who knew?!

Darcy loves her bug net and wanted to bring it to church on Sunday.