The Icelandic language may look like a series of tongue-twisters, but with these tips you’ll be rattling off daunting words like Eyjafjallajökul in no time.

Iceland is an isolated country and its language has stayed pure and close to its roots – it’s the closest you can get to Old Norse. Today many Icelanders speak English, but it’s always nice to be able to say place names properly and fun to know appropriate phrases for the occasion.

Pronunciation

Most consonants are pronounced similarly to English. Accent marks over vowels change their sound, usually from short to long.

a as in car, á as ou in shout
e as in bet, é as in ye in yet
i and y as bin, í and ý as ee in seek
o as the a in all, ó as ao in boat
u as u in under, ú as oo in toot

æ like i in ice
ö like u in fur
Þ, þ like th in thin
Ð, ð like th in thunder
ei, ey like ai in aide
ll (double L) pronounced tl

J like y in yes
R is rolled
hv pronounced kv
f in the middle of a word changes to a v

Accent always on the first syllable

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Useful Icelandic Phrases

One charming phrase that doesn’t seem to have an equivalent in English is Takk fyrir siðast (pr: tahk fi-rir see-thast). It means “Thanks for the last time [we met].” Used when meeting a friend or friends one has spent time with recently.

Thank you can be an informal takk (thanks). Takk fyrir mig (thank you for me) is more formal, and a must when standing up from the table if someone has served a meal.

Cheers!: Skál (pr: scowl)

Yes: (pr: yow)

No: Nei (pr: ney)

Hello: Hae (pronounced as the English Hi) or Hallo.

Goodbye: Bless, often said twice.

Please is not used as frequently as in English. A request of viltu (will you) gives the equivalent of please.

Excuse me: Afsakið (pr: Av-sock-ith)

Where is the toilet? Hvar er klósettið? (pr: Kvar er kloe-set-tith?)

How much does it/that cost? Hvað kostar það? (pr: Kvath kostar thath?)

Longer words look challenging but are most often smaller words strung together, like Eyjafjallajökull. Eyja-fjalla-jökull, island-mountain-glacier. Break up the words to make them easier to pronounce.

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1 Comment

  • Kate Florio said

    I really like this site, by worldnomads.com!
    It makes pronouncing things so much easier!
    Am in Iceland now, and love it.
    Going to Egilsstaðir January 3, God willing!
    Thank you for this site!

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