Board game design to learn Icelandic | Fan Sissoko

Fan Sissoko is a game designer. She and Helen Cova, in collaboration with linguists and teachers are developing a new board game to help people improve their Icelandic language skills. The game is called Beygja and users are invited to test it at the library at a special event in the series Let's chat and play games in Icelandic!  We asked her a few questions on learning a language.
How would you describe your relationship to the Icelandic language?

I started learning Icelandic before fully moving here and at first, I mostly enjoyed learning new vocabulary - the way words are constructed feels really transparent and poetic. But the first time I was presented with the declensions table, I actually got quite angry. My mother tongue is French, and I learned German, so that kind of grammatical structure wasn’t totally new, but Icelandic is on another level! One of my teachers used to tell us, when he couldn’t answer a grammar question: “I’m sorry, it’s just the Icelandic language being obnoxious.” Now that I live here, I have more opportunities to practise, and my 3 year old daughter is showing me the way. She just absorbs new words like a sponge. But you definitely need the mind space for it. Some days, I manage a full conversation, and some days, my brain just says no.

Do you have words you love or can’t stand?

My favourite word is fíll (elephant). I laugh every time I hear it (which is surprisingly often). I simply can’t understand why the Icelandic language needs its own word for elephant. I’ve checked the other Nordic languages and they all use a version of ‘elephant’. If anyone can enlighten me about the etymology of it, I’d love to hear it.

You are a designing a language game, how important do you think playing is in learning a language?

Play is very serious! Playing is the way children learn about the world and about themselves. I think it makes sense for adults to keep learning through play too. Especially when it comes to languages. When you are a beginner, the fear of making mistakes and the inability to express yourself fully can affect your confidence - especially when you depend on that language to make a home in a new country. I heard that a lot in the interviews I conducted with other people learning Icelandic when I was doing research for this game. Games can’t solve everything, but they are a good way of getting over that initial fear - firstly because the rules mean that you have no choice but to practise, but also because it’s a safe and fun space, where making mistakes has no real consequence.

Users are invited to test the new board game Beygja on the 13th of November in Grófin. You can register here.

Tuesday October 12th 2021
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