Do you know which language they speak in the Faroe Islands? The little island group between Norway, Scotland and Iceland is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been – beautiful and bizarre at the same time. And you know, what? So is their language! It is hard to learn Faroese, because there are not many resources out there – but the new platform Faroe Island Translate is putting an end to that!
This post is sponsored by Visit Faroe Islands.
What is the number one rule when you travel to a country where people speak a different language than yourself? Exactly, learn some useful phrases in the local language. There are tons of language tools out there, but I find that Google Translate is one of the best places to get started on basics.
Unfortunately, it is not that easy when you plan to visit the Faroe Islands, because Faroese is actually not part of the Google Translate language database!
When I traveled to the Faroe Islands last year, I tried to prepare a little bit by brushing up on my Danish skills which I had not really used for several years. I went with my Swedish friend Frida and spent some time in Iceland a few years ago – I was convinced, that while I might not be able to understand the locals, I would at least be able to read a little bit of Faroese.
Of course, I was wrong. Faroese is a unique language with complex grammar and even harder pronunciation. Consonants and vowels are tumbling about, forming words that I can’t even begin to make out in the quick pace locals speak with. I was lost.
Luckily, the Faroese are pure language geniuses. Most of the people we encountered could quickly switch from the Faroese language to Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Icelandic. In fact, I think that learning Faroese is the quickest way to unlocking all the other Scandinavian languages as well. It is as complex as Icelandic, but also combines the basics that Danish, Swedish and Norwegian have in common. When you speak Faroese, your ears will quickly become used to the other languages.
Of course, the Faroese also speak great English, which for us was the most important language to communicate in. And yet, they take incredible pride in their own language, even though there are less than 80,000 people who speak Faroese inside and outside the Faroe Islands. Like in any other country, I wanted to make at least some effort and learn a few bits of Faroese to immerse more in the local culture.
While I had to do this by actually asking locals to repeat the same phrases over and over again until I had memorised them, there is now a new platform that makes it easier to learn Faroese: Faroe Islands Translate.
What is Faroe Island Translate?
Fed up by the fact that Faroese is not included in Google Translate, and still flying high from last year’s Sheep View (like Google Street View but with sheep), the Faroe Islands have gone and done it again. They’ve taken the great concept of instant translations and given it a Faroese polish.
Faroe Islands Translate is a free service growing out of pride for the Faroese language and the openness to share it will the world. When you visit the website you can type in individual words or entire phrases that you would like to learn in Faroese. Only, instead of just writing down the translations like Google does, Faroe Islands Translate give you the opportunity to meet different local volunteers who actually spell the Faroese phrase out for you. And with a language that looks so different than what it sounds, that actually makes even more sense!
How does it work to learn Faroese?
There is already a variety of words and expressions saved to the database, so common phrases like ‘I love you’, ‘What time is it’ or ‘When does it finally stop raining’ are already available. But what happens when you want to learn a phrase in Faroese that has not been translated yet?
I gave it a try and asked for a translation of ‘I don’t eat fish’. As a vegan that’s quite a handy one to have at hand, but it had not been asked yet. Once I typed in the phrase and clicked ‘Translate’, my phrase was sent to a random Faroese local. While waiting for the translation I got to watch a little video from the Kallur lighthouse – not just beautiful, but also nostalgic about my own visit there. In less than a minute a Faroese women popped up on the screen. With purple hair and big smile, she said ‘eg eta ikki fisk’ – just for me!
You can even have the translations sent to your email, so that you always have them handy without having to try and figure out the correct spelling. It works for English, but also a number of other languages, such as Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian.
And so it goes with any other phrase that might be useful for your trip to the Faroe Islands. Within seconds you could be face to face with a Faroese local who signed up to volunteer for the project. You could meet a fisherman, or a university student, a sheep farmer or a social worker. As a hobby linguist myself, I like the idea that the Faroese people are helping you to learn Faroese at the same time as creating a database of their unusual language and different accents for the future.
Here is a video that explains a little more about the campaign:
I know that when I finally return to the Faroe Islands, it will be a lot easier to immerse myself in the local culture with the help of this little tool. I can’t wait to learn Faroese from the locals before I go, and then try it out once I have arrived. And who knows, maybe I’ll even bump into one of my virtual teachers while I’m there!