Young Icelanders’ outlook towards their mother tongue is crucial for its survival, says Icelandic language scholar and professor Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson. Eiríkur met with representatives of the Ministry of Education last week to discuss the standardised Icelandic language tests they administer in schools. The professor has publicly criticised the tests’ structure and content for working against the preservation of the language.
“If we want Icelandic to hold its own in this battle with English which it is facing now, then we have to ensure that children and youth have a positive outlook towards it,” Eiríkur said in a radio interview this morning. “There are all kinds of studies that show, especially in societies where two languages are in use[…] that the attitude toward the languages matters a lot. Whether people and especially children in the language acquisition phase and youth, what kind of attitude they have toward the language, whether it is positive or negative,” Eiríkur remarked.
The professor believes many young Icelanders find English “cooler” than Icelandic. Eiríkur says that the standardised Icelandic tests administered in schools place too much emphasis on rote learning, part of speech analysis, right and wrong use of language and more in the same vein. “These are not things designed to build up a positive outlook towards the language,” stated Eiríkur. “It’s sort of trying to lead the kids into a trap, and evaluating what they don’t know rather than what they do and that’s just not good.”
Eiríkur points to examples of young Icelanders who believe they speak English better than their mother tongue because they have received better grades in English than Icelandic. “That is of course a misunderstanding. Of course they are much, much better in Icelandic, but it’s not shown there,” Eiríkur says, referring to the standardised test results.
In a post about the meeting on Facebook, Eiríkur wrote that although he does not have a magical solution to the issue, he believes it is important to build on students’ existing knowledge and creativity, as well as building up their self-confidence when it comes to Icelandic rather than breaking it down. “I am convinced that we have no choice – we must find these solutions if we want to preserve Icelandic.”