Everyone in Iceland speaks English

How hard is it to speak Icelandic?


Is the Icelandic language difficult? How do you pronounce Eyjafjallajökull? How do you read the Icelandic alphabet? Are there similarities between German and Icelandic?



As a big fan of languages ​​and especially the Icelandic language, I would like to try to answer these and a few other questions.

Foreigners often complain or admire the Icelandic language, and most agree that it is a difficult language to learn. For first-time travelers to the island, certain Icelandic place names - as well as names of people - can be real tongue twisters.

Some visitors get the hang of it after a while, for others these words remain unpronounceable. (For information: Icelanders do not use surnames, they simply add -dóttir (daughter) or -son (son) to the first name of one of the parents - usually the father's. = Gunnarsdóttir).

I hope that I can make it easier for you to get started and make the language a little easier than you thought!

How to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull


When the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, the world became aware of it as international flights were canceled. I'm not going to go into details of the volcanic eruption, but the most entertaining thing about it was the way news reporters - and tourists - tormented themselves with the pronunciation of the volcano's name: EYJA-FJALLA-JÖKULL. The videos above show some great examples.

But is Icelandic really that difficult? I don't think so and I will try to teach you the language as best I can. In order to explain them as simply as possible, I only use translations between Icelandic and English or German and examples from these two languages.

The Icelandic alphabet

Let's start with the most basic - the Icelandic alphabet and its pronunciation. The most irritating mistakes made by non-native speakers are pronouncing Þ like a P (it's NOT a P!) And pronouncing J like an English J (with a kind of D sound) - so avoid that as much as possible!

Icelandic is a very phonetic language: once you've learned how to pronounce the letters, you can read and pronounce the words correctly. The stress is always on the first syllable, and there are no silent letters, so my hot tip: learn how to pronounce the letters! The Icelandic alphabet has 32 letters:

Aa Áá Bb Dd Ðð Ee Éé Ff Gg Hh Ii Íí Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn ​​Oo Óó Pp Rr Ss Tt Uu Úú Vv Xx Yy Ýý Þþ Ææ Öö

Notice that there is no C, no Q, no W, and no Z. All regular vowels (A, E, I, O, U, and Y) have an identical vowel with a comma above it. This comma is not an accent, but indicates a different vowel with a different sound. In addition, the Icelandic alphabet includes the vowels Æ and Ö. So there are a total of 14 vowels in the Icelandic alphabet - and 18 consonants.

Most letters sound the same in Icelandic as they do in German; the pronunciation of the other - more unusual - letters is listed below.

Ð - ð: When capitalized, this letter looks like a D with a slash that crosses the first part; In lower case it is sometimes confused with a Ó. It sounds like the English TH in the words "the", "they" or "then".

G - g: The letter G is identical in some words to the German G, e.g. B. in "golf" (golf), "gata" (street) or "gefa" (to give). Sometimes the G is pronounced softly, e.g. B. in "vegur" (way / road) or "skógur" (forest). This soft G is similar to the G in English words such as “thing”, “design” or “campaign”.

H - h: The H is pronounced like a normal H in German; EXCEPTION: In connection with a V it sounds like a K. This is the case, for example, in all of our question words: "hvað": kvath (what), "hver": kver (who - or hot spring!), "Hvenær" : kven-Ir (when), "hvernig": kvernig (how), "af hverju": af kveryu (why).

J - j: The letter J presents some difficulties for English speakers. It is not difficult to pronounce - but the pronunciation is not the same as in English, but as in German: A good example is the word "jójó" (English: yo-yo), which sounds the same in both languages. “Jól” (yule / Christmas) and “eyja” (island) in Icelandic sound like an Englishman saying “yol” and “A-ya”; “Jazz”, on the other hand, sounds like “djass”.

L - l: A simple L is pronounced the same way as in German. It becomes problematic with the double L, e.g. B. in the word "jökull" (glacier). The double L corresponds to a slight click and resembles a TL in its pronunciation (i.e.: yökutl - more about Ö below).

R - r: The Icelandic R is rolled. You only need to roll it a little - but if you can roll it properly you can pronounce “Reykjavík”: RAkyaveek (smoky bay) like a local!

V - v: The letter V is pronounced like an English V - or W -. There is no W in Icelandic, and Icelanders usually don't hear the difference between V and W. English speakers can enjoy themselves when Icelanders say words like "videos" and "video recorder" and other terms that begin with a V in English ...

Þ - þ: The famous Icelandic Þ! Þ occurs in many words, and the best-known example is “Þingvellir” (Parliament Fields) on the Golden Circle. It is NOT a P, and therefore Þingvellir should never be spoken or written as Pingvellir. Þ sounds like the TH in “thing” or “think” and an acceptable spelling of Þingvellir - if the Þ is missing on your keyboard - is Thingvellir.

Æ - æ: Simply put, the Æ is pronounced like a capitalized English "I" (German: "ei"). Always! As a reminder, remember that it sounds like YE in the English word “bye” (Icelandic: bæ).

Ö - ö: Ö corresponds to the German "Ö"

In addition, there are combinations that make letters sound different:

Au: A is pronounced differently in conjunction with U (AU). I can't think of an example of this, but it sounds a bit like a combination of Ö + I (öi).

Egg / Ey: The combinations of E and I (EI) as well as E and Y (EY) sound exactly the same. They are pronounced like a capital A or AY in “way”. An Icelandic example is “eyja” (island).

Here you can find more details on how to pronounce the Icelandic alphabet.

What's up with all those crazy long Icelandic words like Eyjafjallajökull?

Eyjafjallajökull, Þingvellir, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Jökulsárgljúfur, Egilsstaðir and Fjaðrárgljúfur are some of the Icelandic words you are likely to come across on your trip to Iceland.

These are compound words.

Let's first “dismantle” the “Eyjafjallajökull” - the world's most famous Icelandic volcano since its eruption in 2010. The term actually consists of three different words: “eyja” (island), “fjall” (mountain) and “jökull” ( Glacier). The frightening task of pronouncing “Eyjafjallajökull” loses a bit of its horror when one looks at the individual elements of the word; The same basically applies to "Inselberggletscher", also a tongue twister - unless you break down the word.

“Þingvellir” is made up of the terms “þing” (parliament) and “vellir” (fields).

"Kirkjubæjarklaustur" is a combination of "kirkja" (church), the possessive form of "bær" (city) and "klaustur" (monastery) = church city monastery.

"Jökulsárgljúfur" consists of three terms - the possessive form of "jökull" (glacier), the possessive form of "á" (river) and the word "gljúfur" (gorge). Glerscher's River Gorge.

The name of the city "Egilsstaðir" in the east of Iceland means "Egils place". Egill is a man's name.

And finally: "Fjaðrárgljúfur" translates as FederFlussSchlucht.

As you can see, most of the place names in Iceland are very easy to read through. Eyjafjallajökull is actually a glacier on a mountain on an island, Parliament once gathered in the fields of Þingvellir and there used to be a monastery in Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

It is not only common in Icelandic to combine several terms into one longer word; in German there are also numerous examples of word combinations, e.g. B. "Ballpoint pen" (Icelandic: kúlupenni). English also has many compound words, but these rarely consist of more than two terms (blacksmith (blacksmith), cheesemonger (cheese merchant), heartache (heartbreak)).

And then there's Welsh: The longest place name in the world is Welsh, but unfortunately there's hardly any news from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, otherwise I'd love to hear how news reporters pronounce this name!

Are there similarities between Icelandic and English?

There are MANY similarities between Icelandic and English. Icelandic has at least two internationally known words: "geyser" and "saga". "Geysir" is derived from the largest geyser in Iceland (Geysir at the Golden Circle), and the Icelandic sagas from the 13th century are great examples of epic sagas. The Icelandic word "saga" simply means "story".

There are also many other similarities between Icelandic and English vocabulary. Some examples have already been mentioned above (“dóttir” = daughter, “jól” = yule, “gefa” = give, “vegur” = way).

According to the Icelandic sagas, people in Iceland could easily converse with Scandinavians and British hundreds of years ago - in the Viking Age.

Iceland is an isolated country and the language has remained accordingly pure and close to its roots; Icelandic is the closest language to Old Norse. In English, on the other hand, in addition to the influences of the Nordic languages, there are also many loanwords from French, German, Latin and Greek, e.g. B. rendez-vous, déjà-vu, Zeitgeist, biology, philosophy, zoology, curriculum vitae etc.

Icelandic has a lot of similarities to older English terms. The outdated English pronouns "thou", "thy" and "thee" were replaced by "you" not so long ago - because "you" sounds more like the more modern "vous" from French, which was spoken by the upper class. “Thou” and “thy”, on the other hand, are not too far from “þú” (Icelandic singular form of “you”), and “thee” is similar to “þér” (form of “þú” and earlier politeness).

There is no “polite” way of addressing people in Icelandic today, such as: B. "Sie" in German or "Vous" in French; one always says "þú". Appropriately, everyone is addressed by their first name - never by their last name.

The word "eyja" (which you should know by now) can be shortened to "ey" and still means "island". That would explain the names of the Orkney Islands as well as Jersey and Guernsey.

The English word “husband” has no obvious meaning - but it is very similar to the Icelandic word “húsbóndi”, the literal translation of which is “house builder” or “man of the house”. “Húsbóndi” is no longer used broadly in Icelandic as a term for a husband in the sense of “husband and wife” (or “husband and husband”); the new term for it is "eiginmaður" (which literally means "his own man").

Many old English names of places resemble Icelandic words, such as mountains containing the word "fell" (including Scafell Pike and Cross Fell) - an obvious connection to the Icelandic word for mountain: "fjall"!

There are also many related words related to fishing or the sea, such as B. "gangvegur" (gangway / passage), "skip" (ship), "bátur" (boat), "fiskur" (fish), "akkeri" (anchor), "sjór" (sea / see) etc.



What is special about the Icelandic language?

(Photo source: Amtsbókasafn)

Icelandic is a very old language that hasn't changed much over the centuries. New Icelandic words are mostly invented - and theoretically anyone can come up with a new word. A special word committee creates new terms for every new invention and every new slang that comes up with us. Some words spread and become part of everyday language, while others are less successful.

While many languages ​​use the same roots for reinvention (and old roots for words like chemistry, biology or psychology), Iceland is determined to create its own unique words for everything.

Many established words such as “land” = land / land, “vín” = wine / wine, “hús” = house / house and “glas” = glass / glass (for drinking) are similar and easy to learn. Newer words such as “tölva” (computer), “sjónvarp” (television / television) and “rafmagn” (electricity) are very different.

The word for computer - "tölva" - is a combination of the old word "völva" (fortune teller) and the T from the word "tala" (number). So basically a “computer” in Icelandic is a “numerical fortune teller”.

The word “sjónvarp” (television) is made up of “sjón” (view) and “varp” (projection), the word “rafmagn” (electricity) from “raf” (electron) and “magn” (mass). Lots of words make perfect sense when you look at the individual elements, e.g. B. "ísskápur" (ice box = refrigerator) or "frystikista" (frozen box = freezer).

The Icelandic language is popular


I am a big fan of the Icelandic language and I think it's a lot of fun. Icelanders are very proud of their language and the country has a literacy rate of 100 percent! There are also an infinite number of Icelandic books to choose from - according to statistics, one in five Icelanders writes a book in their life. Before every Christmas, a flood of new books appears and this wave of books is aptly called “jólabókarflóð” (“YuleBookFlood” / “Christmas Book Flood”).



There are tons of weird and funny expressions and sayings in Icelandic, and there's an old saying hidden in every Easter egg. For many, the saying inside the egg is more enjoyable than the chocolate itself!

Many Icelanders make an effort to speak correctly and to keep up to date with the new words. A popular 2013 television series called Orðbragð plays with Icelandic words and dissects the language - it was so successful that it continued in 2015!

(Photo source: MS)

You can also find out more about new Icelandic words on the milk carton page.The language is rich in words, but many of them have double or triple meanings; therefore, word games in (completely untranslatable) jokes are extremely popular.

Is Icelandic one of the hardest languages ​​in the world?

Icelandic is known to be a difficult language to learn. For Western Europeans and native German speakers, however, it is not that difficult - I dare say. (You can of course disagree!)

True, Icelandic has many different forms and the words change a little depending on the sentence they are used in, sometimes we speak as we breathe in and we have more than a dozen words for "snow" - but it is one very phonetic language in which the letters always correspond to a sound (different from, for example, English or French; similar to Spanish or German). In addition, the alphabet is Latin and is familiar to Western Europeans.

It is even possible to learn Icelandic in just a week - if you are extremely talented! The Briton Daniel Tammet already showed this in 2004.

It's always difficult to learn a new language, but I think Icelandic shouldn't be too difficult for German speakers - at least not as much as languages ​​with a completely different structure and alphabet, such as German. B. Chinese, Arabic or Russian. And in a European comparison it should still be easier than Welsh!

There are some useful websites where you can learn Icelandic online - either for free or for a small fee. These include icelandiconline.is, icelandiconline.com and italki.com. You can also learn Icelandic online or take courses in Iceland - in the Tin Can Factory: The lessons include visits to galleries and band rehearsals, cooking together according to Icelandic recipes and much more.

Expressions that are useful for first-time visitors

Hello -Hello

Hæ -Hi

Bless -Goodbye

Yes -Yes

No -No

Góðan daginn - Good day 

Góða nótt - Good night

Gaman að kynnast þér -Nice to meet you

Sjáumst (seinna) -See you later

Takk fyrir síðast -Thanks for the last time

Takk sömuleiðis -Thanks to you too

Takk -thanks

Takk fyrir mig / Takk fyrir matinn -Thanks for dinner

Verði þér að góðu -My pleasure

Velkomin / Velkominn -welcome

Hvað kostar þetta? -How much is it?

Hvar er næsti hraðbanki? - Where is the next ATM?

Einn bjór, takk - A beer, thank you ["thank you" is said instead of "please"]

Skál - cheers

Ég ætla að fá ... - I would like to have ...

Gæti ég fengið vatnsglas? - Can I have a glass of water please?

Ég er að læra íslensku - I am learning Icelandic

Ég tala reiprennandi íslensku -I am fluent in Icelandic

Hvernig berðu þetta fram? -how do you pronounce that?

Ég heiti ... -My name is ...

Ég er frá ... -I'm from ...

Hvar er ráðhúsið / Harpa / Hallgrímskirkja? -Where is the Town Hall / Harpa / Hallgrímskirkja?

Mælir þú með góðum veitingastað / bar? -Do you recommend a good restaurant / bar?

Hvað er fiskur dagsins? -What's the fish of the day?

Hvað er réttur dagsins? -What is the dish of the day?

Veistu símanúmerið hjá ...? - Do you know the phone number for...?

Ég elska Ísland / Björk / Sigur Rós / þig -I love Iceland / Björk / Sigur Rós / you