Is it possible to learn enough of a foreign language in one week to be able to have a conversation? Well, my Polish friend Aldona challenged me to this so with fewer distractions than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic, I decided to accept the challenge. Watch the video here:

The set-up was that starting on the Monday, I would try to learn as much Icelandic from scratch as possible, because on the following Sunday, I would have a video call with a native Icelandic person, someone I did not know. This was through a connection of Aldona.

I started out with the Memrise language learning app, which includes repeating, writing and remembering sentences. I also started watching the 10 episodes of the Icelandic drama Ófærð (Trapped) to get a feel for the rhythm of the language. I watched Iceland with a view and Hrafna on Youtube. No books were used, only online resources.

Icelandic is a Nordic language, but unlike Swedish, Norwegian and Danish which are continental Nordic Language, Icelandic (together with Faroese) are insular Nordic languages. Some words are very similar to the continental ones, others are completely way off.

I tried to learn grammar and vocabulary tied to introducing myself, followed by common verbs in first person singular. I had no idea that Icelandic adapts not only masculine and feminine, but also plural when talking to more than one person.

The Icelandic letters þ and ð also added to the confusion, especially if you think of them as a P and a D.

After a few days, I started to get nervous. Could I have been more structured? Could I have used others apps? What is the actual formula for doing this? Needless to say, as the Sunday came closer, I got more and more nervous.

I called up Ari, who is married to Aldona’s friend Aga, and we started to talk. I tried to remember the different words for how to introduce myself and I found that when Ari replied, that due to the context of the conversation, I understood what he meant. I was especially proud when I understood that he was asking me how long I have studied Icelandic and I was able to reply “only this week, only seven days”. I did have some issues pronouncing the Icelandic word for Sweden, ha ha. I mean: Svíþjóð.

All in all I am quite proud of my performance. Could I have done better? Of course, but the main thing is that I got a tiny introduction to a language I knew pretty much no words in before.

Thank you, Aldona for the challenge.