The Linguascope Conference 2023 : Inclusivity in Language Teaching

The Duty of Inclusivity : Matching Language to Social Reality

This Saturday saw the Linguascope conference, fast becoming a trusty fixture in the language learning calendar. This year’s edition took place at the fabulous Mama Shelter in London, and as always, the event is a nice opportunity for us resource bods to learn from classroom teachers’ experience.

The overarching theme of the 2023 edition was diversity and inclusion. The precept is simple: no student should feel left out by the curriculum, unable to identify themselves in its content. It’s high time. After all, language use in the wild is already changing to reflect that updated social reality, not least in terms of pronoun usage. It follows logically that the teaching of language should mirror how it is being used.

Framing Inclusivity

Sadly, it’s still a topic that is politically charged. The reasons are many, but fundamentally, it seems that societal change triggers defensiveness, and defensive viewpoints are, in turn, prone to becoming entrenched. The fact that the change implicates identity, the hues that define our very existence, doubtlessly plays its part in how emotive it is.

And there were discouraging stories of friction and pushback amongst the conference delegates. Not amongst students, but from parents, guardians, boards, and other staff. It’s easy for us to judge them, but harder – and undoubtedly more compassionate – to understand that fear prevents some from welcoming difference.

But the flip side is the overwhelming positivity in stories of otherwise marginalised students feeling welcome and valid in the shared learning space. Their reactions show that inclusivity is less a political agenda than simply a truer reflection of social realities. What’s more, that heart-opening positivity is double-sided. Unless you live in a box, you will encounter diversity in the real world. Inclusive learning materials prepare us better to meet that with acceptance, tolerance and love, no matter how homogenous our own environments are.

As one wise voice proffered at the conference, inclusivity is not a question of promoting, but simply of representing. That’s the key: being inclusive doesn’t make change, but simply reflects it.

Individual Duty

It’s a topic that raises questions for our own, individual learning too. How welcoming and validating are our target language skills? Is the language we learn representative of diverse ways of being? What social reality is reflected in the resources we used to learn French, German, Spanish? There’s a duty for us to audit our sources, and stay in the loop, to ensure we’re not hanging onto any linguistic fossils.

It’s an issue that came up in a recent Greek lesson of mine. The conversation turned to race, and I came completely unstuck. I realised that I lacked all tools in my target language to talk about race in anything but the most unnuanced, bald terms. In this case, honesty, humility and a good teacher bridged the divide and filled the gap. But it’s even better to preempt the need and do that work in advance.

Linguascope’s inclusivity conference is a reminder to us all to build that into our language learning. 

On that note, I’ll end with a link to the excellent inclusivity resources at Twinkl, signposted by the brilliant Sharon Barnes in a very on-point and thoughtful talk. Proof of the heaps of support out there for anyone hoping to make all feel welcome on their learning journey.

ChatGPT screenshot

ChatGPT for Language Learners

The buzz around AI imaging seems only five minutes ago, yet there’s another brand new tool creating ripples. And this time, it speaks.

ChatGTP is an AI model that processes natural language, making sense of instructions and carrying them out. You could think of it as a kind of ask me anything bot, and it went truly viral at the end of last year thanks to its uncannily human-like language abilities

Of course, it didn’t take long for the language community to see the potential. The algorithm has already captured the imaginations of teachers, who are using it to great time-saving effect in generating quick and simple lesson plans. No surprise, then, that the polyglot community has followed suit in exploring the new tech’s potential for supporting language learning.

As with all tech, the best way to assess it for yourself is to get your hands dirty. In that spirit, I headed to OpenAI.com’s ChatGPT portal to see for myself what it could do. Note that this might be easier said than done right now; lately, you’re more likely to see the message ChatGPT is at capacity right now as the fellow curious inundate the platform with requests.

ChatGPT for (Language) Beginners

I started off at the place that seemed most fitting: at the beginning. What about some learning tips for a newcomer to a specific language, for a specific purpose? ChatGPT turned out solid phrase lists, and – impressively – not always the most obvious cut-and-paste choices. Accompanying advice was on the whole quite generic, but very sensible and practical:

ChatGPT screenshot

What I love is the variability; ask the same question twice, and you’re unlikely to get the same answer. There’s always some overlap, but it’s interesting to see how suggestions vary from answer to answer:

ChatGPT screenshot

Occasionally, you get a bit of extra advice for free, too:

A screenshot of a conversation where the user asks the AI engine ChatGPT for French tips for a trip to France.

ChatGPT seems really good at making what we might call potted lessons like these, which explains its popularity as a quick lesson plan generator.

Off the Beaten Path

Where it struggles, I found, was when you stray from the mainstream path – presumably, fields where the algorithm finds much scarcer material to work with. For example, Explain how tense works with Modern Hebrew verbs produced a very convincing piece of text that sounded like it came straight from a Routledge Comprehensive Grammar. Unfortunately, the Hebrew itself was an absolute hash, omitting any mention of vowel patterns, and focusing on suffixes, as if Hebrew were a typical Romance language or similar.

The problem, I’m guessing, is a paucity of sources. I’m not sure where it cobbled the points together from, but they seemed like a very bad, rookie guess at how to express tense in Hebrew, based on a very limited set of observations. Perhaps I’m being harsh; experimenting with different question phrasing might have improved things, and I’m impressed enough that it dealt so well with Greek.

It’s early days, though. Development is entering a new stage, backed by some big money, and refinements will come thick and fast. Crucially, the spark is already lit; ChatGPT has captured imaginations, and it already looks like a truly helpful and practical tool is emerging. 

Have you taken your first steps with ChatGPT as a language learner? Let us know how you got on in the comments!

A Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar (Gardner 1892). Dense, but thorough descriptions!

Feeling Dense When It Don’t Make Sense

When I first started learning Greek many years ago, as a very inexperienced polyglot-in-the-making, I remember trying to get to grips with an interesting quirk of pronunciation – and feeling a little dense when it didn’t make sense at first.

It was all about stress placement. Specifically, something a bit funny can happen in Greek when a little word like μου (mou – my) follows a polysyllabic word. The longer word gets an extra stress accent – very strange considering the fact that Greek words usually only have a single stressed syllable.

το διαμέρισμα (to diamérisma – the flat)
το διαμέρισμά μου (to diamérismá mou – my flat)

I remember reading this in some dusty old grammar I got from the library, and not quite getting it. I made a mental note that the stress can sometimes change under certain circumstances, and left it at that, feeling ever so slightly befuddled (but undeterred!).

With time, of course, I came across lots of examples of this happening in Greek texts and speech. And with that exposure, my hit-and-miss attempts at reproducing it, and my eventual improvement, came a kind of instinct for where it takes place.

Getting Technical

Wind forward a good twenty years, and I’m leafing through a Modern Greek grammar primer from 1892 (as you do). A Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar was an introductory text originally penned by German Karl Wied, and released in a translation by Mary Gardner in 1892. As it’s such an old, copyright-expired book, it’s quite easy to get a PDF scan of it, such as this 1910 edition at the Internet Archive.

I love these texts for the insight they give into how the target language itself has changed in recent years. But they also offer a fascinating glimpse into the history of foreign language education. How things have changed in a hundred-and-twenty years! But then again, how they stay the same. The technical descriptions aren’t vastly different from the thorough explanations you’ll find in a Routledge Comprehensive Grammar. Well, maybe a little extra Victorian bombast, but the format has remained surprisingly static over a century.

Page from a Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar (Gardner 1892). Dense, but thorough descriptions!

A Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar (Gardner, after Wied, 1892)

Right there, on page eight, is that accent phenomenon I struggled with as a youth. The description is given in quite traditionalist, grammatical language. It explains that the stress-jumping occurs with enclitics, snippets of words so short that they lack an accent of their own and almost merge into the preceding word.

It’s a technically accurate and comprehensive explanation. But I probably wouldn’t have had a clue if I’d read it there first!

A Time and a Place

There are two points to make here. First, don’t be fazed if you struggle to get difficult grammatical points in traditional texts. With enough exposure to real language, you’ll develop your own instinct for these intricacies. There’s a time and a place for comprehensive, formal grammars, and it’s probably not at the very start of your journey (as much as I love to geek out with hundred-year-old tomes).

Secondly, it’s not that such resources are not useful at all. It’s just that they’re perhaps better used when you have a bit of a handle on the language already, and you are ready for the why as well as the how. It’s also a nice reminder that a little time and experience can make a huge difference with language learning.

What first seemed dense and inaccessible can make complete sense when you revisit it with some street-learned smarts.

Books, glorious books. And you can pick most of them up for a bargain price at Wob, too.

Wob, Two, Three, It’s Second-Hand Books for Me

Loads of language books? Check. Great prices and free postage? Check. Social conscience? Check. All reasons why Wob (formerly World of Books) is my latest second-hand bookseller of choice.

As you might know, I’ve become a bit of a second-hand book fiend of late. I’m positively gobbling them up. It’s a combination of the great value and the nostalgia for me. For a couple of pounds, I can get great resources that take me right back to those analogue days when I first got hooked on languages. And sometimes, the oldies really are the goodies!

Wob You Lookin’ At?

The thing is, when you’re looking through pages and pages of second-hand book listings with stock photos, it’s hard to gauge their quality. To help with this, most market sites, like eBay, AbeBooks and Amazon Marketplace, use a set of fairly standard quality descriptors: like new, very good, good, acceptable / well-read and such like. As you can’t look at the book before you buy it, you’re relying on the honesty of the seller here.

This is the main reason I like Wob so much. Out of all the sellers I’ve bought from, their descriptions have tended to be the most honest and reliable of all. Unsurprisingly, great quality control is a point they drive home in their marketing, and it certainly seems to differentiate them from other sellers. As a result, it’s a pleasure to wait for books in the post that won’t require too much aggressive DIY book restoration!

Daylight Wobbery? Far From It!

It goes without saying that price is always a big plus point when buying second-hand. Like most used book outlets these days, Wob appears to use dynamic pricing software to set those price tags. This gauges all sorts of things, like supply, demand, click interest and so on, adjusting prices accordingly in real time. For that reason, if you have your eye on a book, it’s a good idea to favourite it, then check back regularly to see if you can grab it at a more bargainous price.

There’s another trick to leap on a best price, too. Wob, like many other eCommerce sites, also sells via other channels, notably eBay and AbeBooks. It’s always worth looking up the same book on those alternative storefronts before buying, as the prices can be quite different. Whether that’s due to completely different dynamic pricing algorithms or whatever, I’m not sure. But it does mean that site-hopping for a bargain pays dividends.

A wee, timely tip: they do quite a nice 5% off two books offer on their eBay store at the moment.

We Only Have Wob Planet

Last, but certainly not least, Wob also makes environmental concerns a central thrust of its business ethos. The company is a certified member of the B Corp movement, a benchmark for sustainability in commerce. Arguably all second-hand booksellers are environmentally responsible in similar ways, at least in terms of encouraging reuse, and minimising over-consumption and waste, but it’s nice to see it celebrated!

So there you have it. So many reasons to say three cheers for Wob. And so many excuses to buy lots more books (as if I needed them).

 

A rose in black and white, in memory of Queen Elizabeth II. Image from freeimages.com

Queen Elizabeth II and the Power of Language

The UK entered a period of national mourning this week, after the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II. As the world reflects on her qualities, it’s worth noting one very close to our own hearts: she understood the bridge-building power of language.

It’s a little-celebrated fact that the Queen was a talented linguist herself, fluent in French. Her language abilities are a side the British public heard precious little of; perhaps the spectacle of a monarch speaking anything other than Queen’s English never chimed well with the patriotic symbolism the figurehead is supposed to espouse.

But perhaps this kind of patriotism is one that travels better than home-bound nationalism. It’s the patriotism of faithfully representing your own community, while giving respect to others. Queen Elizabeth II employed this to great effect while supporting British diplomacy abroad.

In fact, she understood something even more fundamental about the power of language. She understood that it only takes a few words to build a bridge. Fluency isn’t essential.

One particular story that came to light this week spotlights that beautifully. In 2011, the Queen made an unprecedented state visit to Ireland, the first since the Republic gained its hard-fought independence. Surprising officials who had advised against it, she opened her speech to gathered dignitaries with an address as Gaeilge:

A Uachtaráin, agus a chairde
(to the president and friends)

Just five words, but the significance was huge. Former President Mary McAleese, at her side, summed it up with a simple wow.

Languages are powerful, and that power can be used for good.

A few words can’t erase history. But they can begin to clear a path to the future. To understand this is the hallmark of a true diplomat.

The French flag flying in front of a town hall

Great French Resources for False Beginners

French and I had a pretty good start. It was the first language I learnt at school, and I wasn’t bad at it at all. It was my first taste of language learning proper, and it gave me a taste for it. By the end of school I was taking my school-leaving exams in it, along with German and Spanish. 

Yet it fell by the wayside shortly after. For whatever reason, I just left it behind, only taking German and Spanish onwards to sixth-form college. It wouldn’t be long before I’d say, quite seriously, oh no, I don’t speak French, despite getting an A in that exam.

It wasn’t for lack of opportunities. With France and Belgium on the doorstep, I’ve enjoyed and felt welcomed in francophone countries all of my life. I just got by on what I had, without bothering to make it more serviceable.

My missed chances get even more glaring that that. I’ve had a French boss and colleague for nearly 20 years, which you might think would be a green light for a language lover to go wild. But we’ve always simply used English in the office, and I’ve shied from inflicting my French on him. After all, I thought, who wants to speak with their colleague in a terrible, broken version of their native language? (Fear of mistakes – workplace edition.)

Imperfectly Perfect

I’ve got a reason to brush it up now. I have a couple of trips booked to French-speaking countries later this year. Nothing new, you might ask, we’ve been here before! If you didn’t brush up to visit then, why now?

Well, it’s partly a matter of a more mature attitude towards learning. I’m now less likely to dismiss partial knowledge; I’m less of a perfectionist. Any level of foreign language skill, no matter how scrappy, is absolutely precious. I have some French, so I’d better start looking after it!

There’s a word for this level, of course: the false beginner. That covers anything from a little knowledge, learned long ago, to a handful of holiday phrases learned here and there over the years. So where do you start as a French false beginner? Here are the most helpful ‘brush up your French books’ I’ve been using lately.

50 French Coffee Breaks

Coffee Break French was amongst the very first language podcasts when the genre started to take off. The team behind it have recently come up with a whole series of books in French, German, Italian and Spanish, all of which are perfect for those who want to brush up.

Each one features a set of short, to-the-point chapters revising both basic and intermediate grammar and vocabulary. Activities come in 5-, 10- and 15-minute flavours, making it ideal to leaf through in your spare moments. French reactivation with little time outlay.

French In Three Months

I was a big fan of Hugo’s In Three Months series back in the day. They were very clear and concise, almost doing double time as quick reference books. Nonetheless, they introduce the whole gamut of grammar, and a good deal of vocabulary too.

Now it’s DK who is flying the flag for them with a brand new look and a slightly reduced language selection. But they’re still just as snappy, and ideal for getting back into a language you might feel a bit wobbly on.

Mot à mot

Three books will be very well known to anyone who has taken A-Level French, German or Spanish in the past twenty years or so: Mot à mot, Palabra por palabra and Wort für Wort. They thematic vocabulary guides that cover a bunch of really useful conversation topics. 

But beyond that, they contain plenty of very general, useful structures as well, for expressing agreement, disagreement and other opinion ‘glue’ for speaking. Well worth a revisit.

Collins Easy Learning French Idioms

Who doesn’t like a good idiom? There have been lots of fun collections of these over the years, not least the sadly now out-of-print 101 French Idioms.

But in the absence of that, I’ve found Collins Easy Learning French Idioms a great substitute. It’s easy to dip in and out of, and features plenty of cartoon-style illustrations as aides-memoire. And it’s laid out thematically, so it’s simple to find a saying for a given occasion. Perfect to remettre les pendules à l’heure (set straight) my French.

And the Rest…

Of course, any reading you can do is going to help reinvigorate old knowledge. I’ve went hunting in Foyles last week, and availed myself of an Arsène Lupin pocket detective story, L’aiguille creuse, which I’m working my way through. It helps, of course, that Netflix has a brilliant French series, Lupin, inspired by those stories.

And that’s the dressing on this salad of false beginner’s resources – the fun stuff that you personalise to your own tastes, like films, magazines and podcasts. It’s helping get my old French back on its feet, and I hope you can do the same, too.

Who knows – I might even dare to use some in the office one of these days.

Bonne chance!

Greek microblog content from Instagram (screenshot).

The Way of the Microblog : Kitchen Sink Inspiration and Language Learning

It’s all about the foreign language microblog for me lately. Short, snappy snippets of target language piped directly to your social media streams: what’s not to love?

In fact, I’m practically drowning in them at the moment. That’s thanks to the notorious and mysterious algorithm (TM), of course, which is a fact of life these days; like one thing, and you get a ton more of the same thrown at you, for better or for worse.

Happily, in the case of us language learners, it’s generally for the better. Take my Instagram feed; its AI wisdom has decided to channel reams of Greek pop psych, heartwarming quotes and concise self help my way. It’s twee and a wee bit naff, granted. But every one of those posts is a 30-second language lesson.

This latest bite-sized adventure all started with a single Greek account, gnwmika.gr. It exclusively posts what you might call ‘fridge magnet’ content: folk wisdom and kitchen sink inspiration.

The great lesson imparted here, in true, lofty microblog style, is:

“Beautiful things will make you love life. Difficult ones will teach you to appreciate and respect the beautiful ones.”

I know – deep, eh.

Anyway, I hit follow and thought little else of it… Until things escalated. Next thing, I’m being shepherded to not only more of the same, but anything and everything Greek. Poetry, history, celebs, TV… the lot. It’s become a rabbit hole leading to some well obscure (but fascinating) places. And, crucially:

…my Greek is so much better for it!

Fill Your Little (Microblog) World Right Up

It all plays in marvellously to the fill your world with target language strategy. Since our worlds are ever more digital, one of the easiest ways to do that is to follow the monkeys out of accounts we find fun and engaging. Add one or two, and let the system start popping more and more into your suggested follows.

Now, the only catch is that the algorithm (TM) is smothering me in Greek. I’d love a bit of Gaelic, Icelandic, Norwegian or Polish (and the rest). So, if you’re reading this and have some good microblog recommendations to kick the cycle off again…

…please let me know!

A group of toy gorillas - possibly singing cartoon themes? Image from freeimages.com.

Animated Language Learning with Cartoon Themes

There’s an underexploited, rich seam of fun, bite-sized authentic materials out there. Especially if you find yourself reminiscing wistfully on your childhood television memories. Bring on the cartoon themes – in translation!

Now, I’m not talking about the big, blockbusting Disney feature animations. Those are, of course, a different subtype of this genre (and no less handy for language learning).

Instead, this is about pure nostalgia of the small-time kids’ shows of yesteryear as an engine for language learning. It’s about reliving those half-forgotten, often very modest-budget productions with some of the catchiest tunes composed for TV. Many a bored moment I’ve spent idly browsing YouTube, wondering along the lines of “what did ‘Dogtanian and the Muskahounds’ sound like in Polish?”. And yes, YouTube really does have almost everything in its cartoon themes annals. As obscure as you care you conjure up, it’s probably there.

And go on then… While we’re at it, let’s throw Disney back into the mix. Just not the big cinema headliners, but the cartoon series of decades past with some of the biggest earworms of all.

Ah, the soundtracks to our childhoods.

It’s not just a trip down memory lane, of course. It’s the geekiest (and most satisfying) of language learning party tricks to memorise the lyrics to these wee jingles, ready to reel off and impress friends and family at the slightest cue. And, like all automatic, rote memorisation tasks (like the mass sentence technique), it’s a brilliant exercise for phonetic finessing of pronunciation, accent and prosody. That’s not to mention the extra vocab you’ll pick up along the way.

Cartuneful Lyrics

Remarkably for non-pop songs, some lyrics sites even include entries for these childhood gems, like this entry for Spanish Duck Tales (or Patolandia!). Failing that, some helpful native speakers have occasionally added them in the video comments themselves, as with this upload of Gummi Bears in Greek.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to transcribe them as you hear them first, of course. They just help with some of the more magical vocabulary. No way was I going to get that “περιπέτεια συγκλονιστική” meant “astounding adventure” without help!

Remember, too, that these shows touched the hearts of so many around the world. As such, they make a lovely way to make a native speaker smile. And probably think you quite odd, too, but there’s no shame in that!

Which cartoon theme tunes are you particularly fond of? And do they exist in your target languages? Let us know in the comments!

Headphones - great for listening to a podcast or ten!

Honest Podcast Pruning

Foreign language podcast episodes are fantastic language learning tools. But if you’re anything like me, you end up following far too many programmes to manage.

It’s great, of course, to have lots of choice. But what’s not so great is to get resource overwhelm when you have too many to count. Where to start?

It became pretty much do or die with my podcast list lately. I felt bogged down when I checked my podcast app. It seemed like there were just too many to catch up on. The crux of it: I just wasn’t listening to them any more.

Some pruning was in order.

Podcast Pruning

There’s a little self-honesty strategy you can try to prune your podcasts. Most podcast programmes have a ‘latest podcast’ list, which lists all episodes in order of recency. In iOS it looks like this:

A screenshot of podcasts listed by decency in iOS

The latest podcasts view on iOS

Now, go to play them from the top. No cheating. For each one, if your reaction is a reluctant, groaning must I? or can I just skip this one?, then your heart is probably not really in it. Of course, this isn’t a hard-and-fast acid test. There may be times when we are just not in the mood. But in my experience, that reeeeeally? wince is generally a sign that your interest isn’t fully committed.

So if our hearts aren’t really in it, what are these podcasts doing on our lists in the first place?

Well, it comes down to what we think we should be doing and what we want to be doing. There’s quite normative – even moralistic – sense of what ‘worthwhile’ language learning content is. That’s skewed by lots of outside influences that discount our personal interests. And, with learning, an invested, personal interest is key. There’s little point bashing your head against a brick wall with unmotivating content. Always ask will this content spark my interest beyond language learning?

So, the next time you find yourself avoiding your podcast app, or staring, uninspired, at a list of countless foreign language podcasts you have no desire to plough through, consider an honest podcast pruning!

Icelandic horses. Image from freeimages.com.

Learning Icelandic and Norwegian Together : Close Buddies and False Friends

There are advantages and disadvantages to learning very closely related languages together. And despite the benefits generally outweighing the snags, false friends are probably the most irksome spot of that downside. Icelandic and Norwegian are one such pairing that seems really popular in polyglot circles lately.

Because of the conservatism of Icelandic, tackling the two often feels like studying contemporary and ‘historical’ Norse side by side (although we need to be careful not to fall into that trap – Icelandic is a modern language that has been developing from Old Norse as long as Norwegian has).

That closeness gives us plenty of hooks to transfer knowledge. For example, Iceland þ (th) will show up as Norwegian t where the latter has inherited the same word:

🇮🇸 þreyttur – 🇳🇴 trøtt (tired)

But elsewhere, even when there is a really transparent cognate pair, meaning and use have drifted in the sands of time.

Traps to Trip You Up

One subtle cognate slip-up occurs with semsom, the relativiser in clauses such as the book that I read. Icelandic and Norwegian agree as far as that is concerned:

🇮🇸 bókin sem ég las – 🇳🇴 boka som jeg leste

But that’s all they can agree on. Firstly, sem is not optional in Icelandic, whereas Norwegian can do as English does and simply say boka jeg leste.

What’s more, they also fall out when it comes to the other, more prepositional use, as in like a cat:

🇮🇸 eins og köttur – 🇳🇴 som en katt

That’s, like, a bit tricky.

Taking a Liking

Likewise, líkur / lik (alike) don’t always map onto each other like for like. While ‘they are alike‘ can be:

🇮🇸 þeir eru líkar – 🇳🇴 de er like

…in Icelandic, you’re more often than not going to come up against that eins again to mean ‘alike’:

🇮🇸 þeir eru eins

As eins clearly derives from the number one, it’s not hard to connect this to phrases like one and the same in English, or en og samme in Norwegian. Still, Icelandic uses eins pretty much everywhere that Norwegian uses like, so it’s another distinction to mark on the map.

Add to the fact that Icelandic uses cognate líka for also (også in Norwegian), and it has even more potential to be a confuser.

Do You Really Like It?

And like it or not, we’re not finished with like yet. It actually turns out that it really likes to mess with us. The Old Norse verb líka has ended up in both languages (just as English ended up with like from a more distant common ancestor). However, in Icelandic, líka is used in purely impersonal expressions:

🇮🇸 mér líkar það (lit. to me likes/pleases it)

…whereas in Norwegian, it works just the way like does in English, with the liker as the subject, and a direct object as the liked thing:

🇳🇴 jeg liker det (I like it)

Not only that: while expressions with líka in Icelandic do translate as like, they’re not the most colloquial way to express liking any more, and may come across as rather archaic. These days, you’re better off with a phrase using skemmtilegur (amusing, entertaining) like:

🇮🇸 mér finnst það skemmtilegt (to me finds-itself it amusing)

Admittedly, these quirks can seem less than amusing as a beginner learner, to be sure.

Crazy House

Funnily enough, it’s the realm of house and home where a little cluster of words diverges quite radically in meaning. Perhaps it’s not surprising for words relating to everyday living arrangements; as customs and practices change, old terms get repurposed and attached to ever more differing concepts. But stand by: this set seems like it went through a tumble dryer.

Norwegian rom will be familiar to English speakers as the cognate room. It meant largely the same in Old Norse – any room or internal space. But in Icelandic, it can now have the meaning bed. There’s quite an interesting theory for how that shift happened here.

Meanwhile, Norwegian seng, which means bed, is cognate with Icelandic sæng – which means duvet. And Norwegian dyne, which is duvet, materialises as Icelandic dýna – which means mattress. Utter bedroom confusion (as if deciding which side to sleep on wasn’t hard enough already).

Honorable Mentions

There are, predictably, plenty of these pitfalls between the languages – far too many for a short article. But amongst the hotchpotch of favourite falseish friends between Icelandic and Norwegian are two more favourites of mine.

Firstly, the word lag can mean layer in both languages. In Icelandic, however, it can also mean song. It’s notably a word in the title of one of Iceland’s most successful Eurovision entries, the boppy Eitt lag enn (one more song) of 1990. In Norwegian, on the other hand, it can mean teamOne more team just doesn’t sound as fun, does it?

Along similar lines, we have grein (spelt gren in some varieties of Norwegian), which means branch to both Icelanders and Norwegians. But in Icelandic, the very same word is used for an article in a newspaper. A case of a word branching out, perhaps?

Variety Show

It’s all fun and games, of course, and one of the reasons it can be so fascinating to learn languages within the same grein of a family tree. For one thing, you end up collecting juicy etymological trivia in droves (the kind of stuff you can spin out for an upbeat language blog, for instance).

But a final point for fellow dual learners concerns the variety of Norwegian you learn. If, instead of vanilla Bokmål, you study Nynorsk, or any of the traditional dialects of Norway under that umbrella, you might well come across a few more cognates and similarities to Icelandic. Bokmål, as the heir to Riksmål and the imported Dano-Norwegian of centuries past, has levelled out some of the more Norsey features of traditional norsk. Dialects often preserve these beautifully. If you’re up for exploring this further, then a good place to start is NRK’s language programme Språksnakk, which regularly answers questions on local vocab features that bear more than a passing resemblance to islenska.

Do you have similar experiences with this or any other pair of languages? Let us know your favourite drifting cognates in the comments!