Updated in January 2023. Original answer from May 2020.
Online resources for learning Icelandic have been steadily increasing over recent years, and thankfully so, as more and more people are interested in learning the language. Whether you are living in Iceland, coming to visit, or just have an interest in the language, there are many online resources available to assist your learning. Here are a few of them.
Icelandic Online is a comprehensive online platform set up by the University of Iceland to teach Icelandic as a second language. The material is organised into courses, ranging from “survival” to advanced, and you can even hire a real-life tutor to guide you through the process. There is a lot of in-depth material here, which is great for grammar buffs but can be somewhat overwhelming for beginners. The survival course for beginners is aimed at people living in Iceland who want to learn the language. It includes interactive, visual and audio exercises for learning Icelandic for everyday life in an easy way.
Viltu læra íslensku? Video Series
If you are looking for something a bit more casual, Viltu læra íslensku? is a series of 21 subtitled videos that help put basic Icelandic vocabulary into context. The videos contain scenarios based on both real-life situations and a classroom setting. Each video is followed by exercises to help you internalise the vocabulary. Like Icelandic Online, the material is a little dated, but it is nevertheless very helpful and accessible for beginners.
Compared to other languages, apps for learning Icelandic are few and far between, though a few options are available. Memrise and Drops are a multi-language apps that support Icelandic. Pimsleur is another resource for Icelandic, focusing on speaking through audio lessons. It focuses on conversational skills by incorporating dialogue. Íslenska (available on iOS) helps practice tricky Icelandic declensions. Duolingo is not yet available for Icelandic at the time of writing, but a petition has been set up to urge Duolingo to add Icelandic to its portfolio.
In addition to the basics of grammar, building vocabulary is the key to making progress. Many find flashcard apps to be the most useful in building vocabulary. Anki is a popular app available on both Android and iOs. Its interface is a little bit dated, but the Android version is free, and many people swear by it. Quizlet is also a popular website and app used by students and teachers throughout the world. You can find other sets made by language learners, or else make your own custom-tailored deck.
LP Icelandic offers practice driven memorisation through multiple-choice tests on Icelandic vocabulary and grammar. Answers you give are instantly confirmed or corrected. Label Icelandic is another app available on Android that covers Icelandic grammar with native voicing and a range of exercises.
Mango Languages is another option that many find useful. It is largely used by organisations such as universities, companies, and libraries, so an individual membership may cost money, but you may already have access to it through your local library, or if you’re a student, your university.
Finally, LingQ is a popular language-learning app that offers Icelandic. This app puts special emphasis on native material, so you will read, listen to, and watch authentic material while you learn. The app also has a built-in dictionary feature that allows you to highlight and save new words.
Learning with Others
The Facebook group Practice and Learn Icelandic has a document listing many more resources for learning Icelandic, including beyond the web. It’s also a great forum to ask questions and connect with other Icelandic learners.
It is a pricier option, but some may also find the help of a private tutor to be beneficial. Two popular sites for online language tutoring are iTalki and Preply.
The Reykjavík Public Library also offers group Icelandic practice, and even group board gaming in Icelandic on the weekend. Check it out under their Facebook events.
Learning Icelandic can be a challenge, but it is crucial to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture and society.
There are also several YouTube channels that can help with Icelandic grammar, pronunciation and practical conversation tips. Here are a few:
The Cool Icelandic Lessons channel has for example vocabulary for fruits, 50 most common Icelandic names for women and 50 for men, numbers and colours. It also covers pronunciation for some towns and other locations in Iceland and questions including why, who, how etc. Learn Icelandic covers the pronunciation of the Icelandic alphabet, 10 key verbs in Icelandic and common greetings. Max Naylor is a teacher of Icelandic and in his channel, he explains time expressions, possessive adjectives, the present tense of verbs and possessive pronouns. Max also has the website Icelandic Grammar Reference, a guide to the grammar of the Icelandic language.
If you are familiar with the Smurfs from childhood, the Smurfs in Icelandic might be of help. There are several episodes on YouTube. Cartoons and other children’s TV material can be a great way to learn a new language, including Icelandic, as the vocabulary is relatively simple, and you should be able to get some context from the visual part as well.
Listening to Icelandic music
Listening to music is a good way to learn languages as our brains are wired to remember lyrics that can be associated with the songs that accompany them. There are various artists that can be recommended in terms of learning Icelandic, e.g. modern ones such as Moses Hightower, GDRN, Svavar Knútur, Prins Póló, Brek and KK. Classic Icelandic popular musicians include Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson (aka. Villi Vill), Ellý Vilhjálms, Ragnar Bjarnason (aka. Raggi Bjarna) and Hljómar. On YouTube, you can find some songs with lyrics and even some with translations of the lyrics as well:
- Krummavísur is an Icelandic folk song about a raven in harsh winter conditions
- Á Sprengisandi is another folk song about a horse-riding trip through various dangers of the land in old times
- Vor í Vaglaskógi is an old Icelandic song that Kaleo covered some years back in this version.
There are several dictionaries that can be recommended for Icelandic language, between English and Icelandic and with definitions in Icelandic. BÍN is a good guide to declensions in Icelandic, which many foreigners find difficult to learn. Declensions are a more advanced part of the language, do not be discouraged if you find the declension of Icelandic words difficult and remember that the most important thing is being understood. If you use the right words, people will often understand you even though you are not using every word in the right form for the context.
On Málið.is, you can search various Icelandic dictionaries at once, including the Dictionary of Modern Icelandic (is. Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók), BÍN, The Icelandic Spelling Dictionary (is. Íslensk stafsetningarorðabók) and the Term Bank (is. Íðorðabankinn).
Glosbe offers English-Icelandic and Icelandic-English dictionaries among its language combinations and shows examples of how the terms are used in sentences for a better understanding of context.
The University of Wisconsin also offers an online dictionary for Icelandic. Note that using an online Icelandic dictionary often requires some previous knowledge of grammar. Because of Icelandic’s inflection system, a word will change depending on how it is used. You therefore will often need to tell what the base form of a word is based on its endings in order to look it up in the dictionary. If you don’t know, however, you can often enter the word in BIN to get the entry for it.
The biggest collection of dictionaries in Icelandic is on Snara.is, access to that is available for a limited fee. Snara searches in several bilingual dictionaries of Icelandic and other languages, including English, German, Spanish, French, Polish and Italian.
Finally, we would be remiss to not mention Google Translate. It is quite intelligent and is often the fastest way for translating large blocks of text. You will of course learn less if you use this in place of learning Icelandic grammar and vocabulary, but it can be a legitimate tool in your language-learning journey.