Learn Icelandic by listening to English

So along my very short (yet still occurring) journey through the Icelandic language, I’ve encountered recommendations on how I should go about training my ear to become used to the sounds in spoken Icelandic. I’ve been told to listen to Icelandic news, Icelandic television shows, Icelandic film, Icelandic home made videos. This is all very great and helpful, aside from the fact that most do not have subtitles. And even those that have captioning in English seem hard to follow because my ear is just not used to the speed at which Icelanders go about their daily conversations.

I then discovered one afternoon on the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, RÚV, that there was a much better way to use video and subtitling to my advantage. Playing that afternoon on the main station was the film Fantastic Four entirely in English. I thought with disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to listen to incomprehensible Icelandic that day, before I realized that the subtitles were in Icelandic. It occurred to me as I was reading them that I could follow along almost entirely and make sense of a lot of the sentence structure going on. I figured that perhaps I could use audio and film to more to enhance my writing and comprehension skills rather than train my ear to recognize Icelandic sound combinations.

A search for Icelandic subtitles on YouTube led me to a very strange video, created by Ricky Gervais. It was titled “Learn English with Ricky Gervais,” a video that a fellow Icelander wrote subtitles for.

It starts with, “hello, and welcome to “Learn English” with Ricky Gervais.”

And then a nice pause to soak in the subtitles.

“I’m Ricky Gervais”

Another decent pause.

“With me, Karl Pilkington.”

Ah, another pause and a nice smile from Gervais. An opportunity to see that, “með mér” means “with me.”

Upon first impression, I assumed that this video would play out in a serious manner, until lesson one started:

“This is my friend, Karl Pilkington. He is bald.”

Long pause. Okay, so sköllótur means bald.

“He. Is bald.”

Yes, bald, sköllótur, okay, moving on.

After much repetition and an interjection by Pilkington, Gervais goes on to say,

“Karl Pilkington er með haus eins og fokking appelsína,”

Or, “Karl Pilkington has a head like a f***ing orange.”

Well then.

I then realized that this video was an entire satire on language lessons (you’d think I would have known after seeing it was by Gervais), and thoroughly enjoyed learning how to say things that I may never have to use in the short or long term. All humor aside, I realized that I was able to grasp everything that was said and translate it directly to the Icelandic subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, finding films with Icelandic subtitles is a little more rare than finding Icelandic movies (which is already rare to begin with), but if anyone can find subtitles of an English movie in a language they’re learning, I wouldn’t think twice about watching that movie as many times as possible. Well, until you can recite subtitled lines of Icelandic in your sleep.

I will post the video below, and advise you to turn on the subtitles if you’re learning Icelandic, or just enjoy how ridiculous the video is on its own without them.

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