Deep North Episode 67: A Different Story

Karitas Hrundar Palsdottir

Icelandic, it is often said, is an impossible language to learn. Beyond the the cases and declensions, however, lies a simple fact – there are not many resources for learning the language. Karítas Hrundar Pálsdóttir is trying to change this with a series of books aimed at adult learners of the Icelandic language.

Read the story here.

Icelandic Language Resource BÍN Launches App

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

The free Icelandic online language resource BÍN has recently released an app: BÍN-kjarninn, created by William Stewart.

BÍN is an online inflection reference for modern Icelandic. Though not an Icelandic dictionary, it is an essential resource for native Icelandic speakers, in addition to those who have learned Icelandic as a second language.

The new app, BÍN-kjarninn, features a simplified subset of the BÍN database. Árnastofnun, the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, states that the app will be particularly useful for learners of Icelandic.

The simplified BÍN-kjarninn database is also accessible via an API connected to the BÍN database.

The vocabulary in BÍN-kjarninn covers both basic word forms in Icelandic and a selection of recognized word forms adhering to grammar rules and conventions. It aligns largely with the word list in the Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók (Icelandic Contemporary Dictionary), which contains approximately 50,000 words. Additionally, common non-inflected words (including prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) are included in BÍN-kjarninn in limited numbers.

The app is available both on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.

Icelandic language learners can find more resources here.

A Different Story

Karitas Hrundar Palsdottir

It’s early Saturday morning and normally I would have slept through the few hours of scarce brightness that bless us this time of year. During winter, it is far too easy to hibernate through the gloominess of Iceland’s longest season. But this Saturday was different.  Let’s read and chat The sun was slowly creeping its […]

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Deep North Episode 52: The Awful Icelandic Language

icelandic language icelandic flag

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for this different and fun archival piece for the annual Icelandic Language Day. In this 1973 article, an Irish student at the University of Iceland laments the difficulties of learning Icelandic. We dust off this article and see what’s changed, and what hasn’t, about learning Icelandic.

Read the original archival article here.

Parliamentary Resolution on the Icelandic Language Introduced

The Icelandic government has published a parliamentary resolution, consisting of 18 actions formulated by five ministries, to protect and bolster the Icelandic language. The plan has been uploaded to Samráðsgátt (the government’s online consultation portal) and emphasises supporting the Icelandic language, particularly in relation to children and young people, immigrants, and within digital spaces.

“A big change in attitude” towards Icelandic needed

Yesterday, the government’s parliamentary resolution for the protection and bolstering of the Icelandic language was made available for presentation and comment on the government’s online consultation portal (i.e. Samráðsgátt). There are a total of 18 actions formulated in cooperation between five ministries, whose goal is to prioritise the government’s projects in the years 2023-2026 when it comes to the protection and development of the language.

“The agreement of the governing parties emphasises support for the Icelandic language with attention being paid to supporting children of foreign origin and their families. I am very happy with the priorities in this action plan because they are in line with what we proposed when we formed the government. I am convinced that increased support for all those who move here and want to live here results in an increased quality of life for everyone,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is quoted as saying in a press release on the government’s website.

Read More: Nothing to Speak Of (On the Shortcomings of Icelandic Education Policy)

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The press release also quotes Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs: “We need a big change in attitude towards our language – Icelandic itself. Together, we need to unravel that apathy and that misplaced sense of obligingness that has given precedence to the English language. We have this language – this lifeline – which is part of our identity, expression, and our understanding of history. With these actions, we are sharpening priorities in favour of the Icelandic language. I encourage everyone to delve into the issue.”

Strengthening Icelandic in the digital world

As noted in the press release, a ministerial committee on the Icelandic language was set up in November 2022 at the Prime Minister’s proposal: “The committee’s role was to promote consultation and cooperation between ministries on issues relating to the Icelandic language and to ensure coordination where issues overlap. In addition to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs; the Minister of Education and Children’s Affairs; the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market; and the Minister of Education, Science, and Innovation have permanent seats on the committee.”

The press release goes on to say that in parallel with the meetings of the committee, work had been done to formulate actions related to the issues of the Icelandic language, taking into account the review of Icelandic language policy that took place at the level of the Icelandic Language Committee between 2020 and 2021 in addition to the progress of actions in parliamentary resolution no. 36/149, on promoting Icelandic as an official language in Iceland (approved in June 2019).

“Icelandic is a valuable resource that should be a creative and fruitful part of the environment. It is specifically noted that attention needs to be paid to the teaching of Icelandic to children and young people, adult immigrants, and Icelandic students in order to meet the changing conditions in society. Work must also continue to strengthen the position of Icelandic in the digital world with an emphasis on language technology.”

Key actions in the programme include:

  • Job-related Icelandic learning for immigrants alongside work.
  • Improved quality of Icelandic teaching for immigrants.
  • Introduction of electronic assessment tests in Icelandic.
  • Joint distance learning in practical Icelandic as a second language.
  • Icelandic for all – requirements should be made for immigrants to acquire basic skills in Icelandic and incentives to do so strengthened.
  • Strengthening the Icelandic language skills of staff in kindergartens and primary schools and after-hours activities.
  • A web portal for sharing electronic learning materials for all school levels.
  • Coordinated procedures for receiving, teaching and serving children with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds with a special emphasis on Icelandic as a second language.
  • Regular measurements of attitudes towards the language.

The proposed legislation will be open for comment on Samráðsgátt until July 10.

Is there an app or website where I can learn Icelandic?

learning Icelandic language online

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

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.

Everyday life situations covered by the series include going to the dentist, taking the bus, going to the grocery store, looking for an apartment and visiting a restaurant.

Read more: Tongue Twister – Why many foreigners struggle to learn Icelandic

Apps

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.

IceFlash 4K is a flashcard app that contains the 4,000 most common words in Icelandic, with translations into English, Polish, Chinese, or Ukrainian.

Orðagull is supposed to strengthen vocabulary, memory, auditory understanding and speech. It is available on iOs and Android.

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.

YouTube channels

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.

Icelandic dictionaries

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.

Disney Answers Call for Icelandic Subtitles and Dubbing

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir / Minister of Culture and Business Affairs

A Disney representative has answered a letter from Iceland’s Minister of Education and Culture urging the company to add Icelandic-language subbing and dubbing to their streaming service Disney+, which launched in Iceland last year. In a letter to the Minister, Manager of The Walt Disney Company in the Nordic and Baltic regions Hans van Rijn states the company is currently working on adding Icelandic dubbing and subtitles to the service but it will take “a few months” to complete the project.

Iceland’s Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir wrote a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek on February 1 urging the company to add Icelandic subtitles and dubbing to its Disney+ streaming service. Disney films and TV shows have been subtitled and dubbed in Icelandic over the past several decades and Disney owns the rights to that material, but it has not been made available on the company’s streaming service, which entered the Icelandic market last September. In her letter, Lilja described the Icelandic language as “the core of the nation’s culture and identity,” adding: “We work hard to maintain it, especially among children and young people who are heavily exposed to other languages daily, mainly English.”

Read More: Icelanders Call on Disney+ to Add Icelandic Subtitles and Dubbing

In his reply, Van Rijn thanked Lilja for her letter, saying Disney “strive[s] to be locally and culturally relevant” in all markets in which it operates, adding that the company had been exploring how to add “more dubbed and subtitled stories in Icelandic” to its service since launching in the country last September. Among the titles that van Rijn says the company will make available in Icelandic in the future are the four Toy Story films, the Cars franchise, The Lion King, WALL-E, and more recent titles such as Frozen 2 and Coco.

In a Facebook post, Lilja described the letter as a “sign of goodwill,” saying she would push for the project to be sped up so Icelandic content would be available even sooner.