Tomato, tomat, tómatar

Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.

Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons
You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.

Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly

This column isn’t going to be an update about NAW’s status and future. Sorry! I know that’s what you want, but for now we are carrying on as usual, and that means that this is the Education Special Issue.

It’s a reduced special issue, because due to the recent turmoil we scrapped plans for the issue, then hastily resurrected them without enough time for our heroic writers to produce many in-depth articles (ideas for which have been archived for next year’s Education Issue—and isn’t it nice to be thinking long-term again?) or our fearless Ad Man to sell many ads. So to make room for education we’ve had to elbow out some of our regular content. But fear not! It will return.

Where was I? Education. Right.

It’s been a while since I worked in education (teaching composition to mostly indifferent first-year college students), and even longer since I was a student in the full-time sense, so today when I think about education I think about language. As some of you may know, when I took this job just over a year ago, the first thing I did was enroll in Norwegian language classes (taught by Ed Egerdahl’s SLI—hei, Ed!).

I never picked up much beyond “tusen takk” and “klem” from my Norwegian family, and when I’d tried as a kid to take Norwegian classes I quit as soon as my parents let me, because it was boring and irrelevant.

Or so I thought, right? I couldn’t have known then how relevant it would later become to me.

At various points I have flirted with languages—French, Bahasa Indonesia, American Sign Language—with very limited success. Weirdly, none of those felt very relevant to me either. Today I feel confident in exactly three hand signs: “thank you,” “awkward,” and “bullshit.” I don’t suppose this will be very helpful in conversation with a deaf person.

Even on the brief trips that I took to Indonesia and France, I got little use out of my very limited language skills.

Fast-forward to about four weeks ago. I was in Iceland, hooray! On one of our first lunches we went to Hamborgarafabrikkan, and as I was staring at that long word something clicked, and I exclaimed to my friends (probably much too excitedly), “It’s the hamburger factory!” On the matseðill, many words looked familiar. And not just words like tómatar, that any rube could puzzle out, but also things like rauðlaukur, which seemed similar enough to a norsk rødløk to mean red onion.

Of course the English version was printed on the other side of their menu (which deserves a whole story in itself), but I was amazed how much even my limited Norwegian allowed me to read (simple) things in Icelandic.

It’s these kinds of connections that make learning relevant, of course, but also fun. If only my English students could have found my lessons on proper apostrophe use as exciting! But perhaps they found it more challenging to find examples of this in their daily lives to relate to.

So anyway, my point… got lost a little bit along the way. But I think it was that education can be pretty amazing, when it works. In this issue we’ve got stories about higher education and lifelong learning, learning to bake, and of course a list of scholarships to help you or the student in your life reach your goals. Lykke til!

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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