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Story pick: Do you speak Icelandic?

A front page story in The Wall Street Journal today offers a bit of hope for those struggling with unemployment: Get fluent in Icelandic.

Charles Forelle, the story's author, has a great top to his story. Even the headline -- and the sub-headline -- are fantastic: "Icelandic Translators Enjoy Their Moment in the Sun; Masters of the Unpronounceable Shine; No word for CDO? Make it Up"

Here's how the story begins:

"Vantar þýðendur úr íslensku á ensku—næg vinna!

If you know what that means, then Iceland has a job for you.

Iceland's banking system has collapsed, its economy is in turmoil and its volcano has blotted the sky with ash.

As a result, things have never looked better for the small cadre of Icelandic translators who render the North Germanic tongue of 320,000 island-dwellers into something the rest of the world can understand.

The remnants of Iceland's three major banks conduct creditors' meetings in Icelandic. Many of the creditors are foreign. Interpreters are needed.

Forelle makes it clear that learning the North Germanic language is not an easy task. There are three genders, for instance. Yes, three.

One thing missing from this otherwise glorious story: A list of U.S. schools that actually teach Icelandic. A very quick Google search revealed that the University of Minnesota has a summer study abroad program that sends undergraduate and graduate students to the nation's capital, Reykjavic. (For a rock-bottom price of $3,975.)

Of course, learning Icelandic might not be as helpful to your career as learning, say, Arabic, Spanish, or Chinese. The Journal's story offers more proof that, especially for the younger generation, one way to avoid being stuck in unemployment here in the U.S. is to board an international flight. My friend Hannah Seligson, an author and freelance journalist who writes about the Millennial generation, wrote a New York Times story in August about recent U.S. graduates heading off to China for jobs with high pay and more responsibility.

Learning Chinese seems a bit more reasonable than Icelandic. But then again, think of the impression you'd make with a job interviewer if you threw out some skilanefnd or greiðsluaðlögun in your conversation. (Their definitions: "resolution committee" and "payment mitigation.") And you know Wall Street types just love calling a CDO (collaterallized debt obligation) a skuldabréfavafningur.

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By Ian Shapira  | April 30, 2010; 8:16 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  | Tags:  Iceland, Icelandic, University of Minnesota, Wall Street Journal, foreign language study, languages, unemployment  
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Three genders? Oh the horror ... you mean masculine, feminine and neuter ... he, she and it? (I realize gender is more complicated in Icelandic than English, but only about as complicated as German ...)

Now if you want to talk about adjectives, which can change based on case, gender and number ... well ...

Posted by: tcr25 | April 30, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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