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My Story – Learning the Language from a Little Icelandic Boy

Readers Corner

My Story – Learning the Language from a Little Icelandic Boy

I just had to laugh when I saw the question about where to get the Icelandic/English dictionary in preparation for a trip to Iceland.

Before I went I bought such a dictionary and read it extensively. After getting up there they said just forget it! Nothing I said was recognizable due to the difference in pronunciation. The little boy in the family I stayed with was actually the one who taught me the language.

Many years ago, in 1968, I took a trip to Iceland on board the M.S. Brúarfoss of the Iceland Steamship Company. While there I got a job living and working with a family in Reykjavík, teaching their children English.

On the first day, after being introduced, little Birgir, who was four years old, grabbed my hand and said “Let’s play cards!” He was absolutely adorable. In order to be able to play cards I first had to learn how to count in Icelandic. Of course my pronunciation was off, and it was such a sight to see little “Biggi” laughing his head off and trying to teach me the right way to speak the language!

I'm not sure how much English they learned, but I did learn how to count from one to ten and many phrases, and had such a great time with the children. There were many happy experiences...such as the night I snuck out of the house to walk to a nearby kiosk to buy chocolate. All of a sudden there was a sharp pinch on my rear end...as I turned around, there was Biggi – eyes bright and waiting patiently for a piece of súkkuladi.

When I had to leave Iceland to go back home to the US he laid on the floor and cried and cried – it was heartbreaking! I loved those adorable little Icelandic children whose bright smiles and ways could chase away the gloomiest dark winter days.

Carolyn Risen, Portland, Oregon, USA

P.S. I would LOVE to track down Birgir and his family. His mother’s name was Halldóra. His brother was Gunnar and sister Ingiborg and they lived at Nökkvavogur 31 in Reykjavík. If you recognize them, please email: [email protected].