Icelandic 101: Learn Basic Phrases and Sayings in Icelandic

Icelandic language education course

Iceland is the home of a language as unique as its natural wonders: Icelandic. The Icelandic language is rooted in the Old Norse and has a strong literary heritage. It has changed little from the country’s settlement in the ninth and tenth centuries, maintaining its linguistic purity and is therefore considered a cultural treasure. 

Icelandic has a reputation for being an especially difficult language to learn, with challenging grammar and linguistic complexity, which does, however, add a poetic depth to the language. A few words and phrases can go a long way for tourists travelling to Iceland, as locals greatly appreciate the effort. Although, there is no need to worry as most Icelanders understand and speak English.

Nevertheless, below, you will find a crash course in the language to help you learn basic phrases and sayings in Icelandic.

 

Learn basic words in Icelandic

 

Thank you/Thanks: Takk fyrir/Takk

Yes:

No: Nei

Please: Vinsamlegast

Little: Lítið

A lot: Mikið 

Cheers: Skál

Good: Gott

Help: Hjálp

 

English Word

Thank you/Thanks

Yes

No

Please

Little

A lot

Cheers

Good

Help

Icelandic Word

Takk fyrir/Takk

Nei

Vinsamlegast

Lítið

Mikið

Skál

Gott

Hjálp

Icelandic Pronunciation

Tah-k fih-r-ih-r / Tah-k

Y-ow

Ney

Veen-sam-leh-gahst

Lee-tith

Mih-kith

Sk-eow-l

Goh-t

H-eow-lp

Learn basic phrases in Icelandic

 

Excuse me: Afsakið 

My name is: Ég heiti

Nice to meet you: Gaman að kynnast þér.

How are you: Hvernig hefur þú það?

I’m good thank you: Ég hef það gott, takk.

How much does this cost: Hvað kostar þetta?

I’m sorry: Fyrirgefðu 

I’m looking for: Ég er að leita að 

Can you help me: Getur þú hjálpað mér

I don’t understand: Ég skil ekki

English Words

Excuse Me

My name is

Nice to meet you
 

How are you?

I’m good, thank you

How much does this cost

I’m sorry

I’m looking for

Can you help me

I don’t understand

Icelandic Words

Afsakið

Ég heiti

Gaman að kynnast þér

Hvernig hefur þú það?

Ég hef það gott, takk

Hvað kostar þetta

Fyrirgefðu

Ég er að leita að 

Getur þú hjálpað mér

Ég skil ekki

Icelandic Pronunciation

Af-sah-kith

Yeh-gh hey-tih

Gham-ahn ah-th kihn-ah-st th-yeh-r

kveh-r-nih-gh heh-f-ih-r th-uh th-ah-th

Yeh-gh heh-f th-ah-th goh-t, tah-k

Kv-ah-th coh-stah-r theh-tah

Fih-r-ih-r-gef-thu

Yeh-gh eh-r ah-th lay-t-ah ah-th

Gay-th-ur th-uh h-eow-lp-ah-th m-yeh-r

Yeh-gh skee-hl eh-k-ee

Learn basic greetings in Icelandic

Hello: Halló  

Hi: 

Good morning: Góðan daginn

Good evening: Gott kvöld 

Goodbye: Bless

Bye: Bæ 

English Word

Hello

Hi

Good morning

Good evening

Goodbye

Bye

Icelandic Word

Halló

Góðan daginn

Gott kvöld

Bless

Icelandic Pronunciation

Hah-low

Hi

Go-thah-n die-in

Goh-t kv-eu-ld

Bleh-s

Bi

What language is closest to Icelandic?

Icelandic is a North Germanic language, meaning it’s related to languages like Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Faroese. Icelandic is further rooted in the Old Norse and remains closest to Norwegian and Faroese.

Are there Apps or Websites that Can Help Me Learn Icelandic?

Whether you reside in Iceland, plan to visit, or simply hold an interest in the Icelandic language, numerous online resources are accessible to aid your learning journey. Here you can find a list of resources to help you learn Icelandic.

 

A summary of the Icelandic language

Overall, the Icelandic language is unique, with a rich cultural history and background. The preservation of the language is a point of pride for Icelandic people, and despite it being challenging to learn, many foreigners have been able to grasp it. The above words provide a good starting point for learning the language. Still, to fully immerse yourself in learning Icelandic, many schools offer classes, such as Mímir language school and The University of Iceland.  

Are there communities for expats in Iceland?

hallgrímskirkja reykjavík

First, a word of advice: for those considering moving to Iceland, or for those who already live here, there’s much to be said for learning the language and integrating into the community. We recommend seeking out opportunities to speak Icelandic where possible, as living as part of the community will likely make your stay in Iceland much more rewarding.

That being said, we recognize that there’s a time and place for wanting to socialize with people from home, or else just a more international milieu.

Many of the major social media sites will have what you’re looking for.

On Facebook, there are two large communities for expats in Iceland: Away from Home – Living in Iceland, a private group, and The Expats’ Lounge Iceland, a public group. Both communities are relatively large and active, and are a good place to look for events such as pub trivia nights and meet-and-greets, as well as more practical information concerning visas, education, childcare, and more.

While neither of these communities are explicitly oriented towards expats in Iceland, Reddit also hosts two large communities centred around Iceland. The community r/Iceland focuses on Icelandic residents and is therefore mostly in Iceland, but many foreign residents also post and discuss current events, ask questions, and so on. The community r/VisitingIceland is geared towards tourism, but many lifelong visitors and foreign residents also use the community.

All Things Iceland is the website and podcast of a notable expat living in Iceland. Many foreign residents have found her content useful, so this may be a good place to begin looking for expat communities in Iceland as well.

There are also several YouTubers who talked about their experiences living in Iceland as an expat.

There’s no one way to become a member of an expat community in Iceland, but some of these resources may serve as a beginning point for your research. In addition to these resources, it bears mentioning that those who work for more international employers may find community through their job, and parents may also find communities through connections to other families through their preschools, for example.

Future (or current) expats may find our guide to house- and job-hunting in Iceland useful.

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.