Learning Icelandic

Velkominn!

Sæl og blessuð! So you are learning Icelandic? Wonderful! I have collected some useful tips and links and have added them to this webpage. Hopefully you will find something useful!

First, full disclosure, I can't speak Icelandic. Ég tala ekki íslensku. I am just an old computer guy who has been trying to learn for many years, and still makes weak attempts now and then. So, of course, take anything I say with a grain of salt, as I probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

Radio

First let's get you some internet radio so you can hear Icelandic and begin to immerse yourself.

visir.is - this is a web portal vísir means "indicator" and is sort of an icelandic yahoo.

Go there and click on útvarp (meaning "radio" - literally "out-cast" as in "broadcast".) Icelandic is very cool that way, not borrowing words like "radio" but making up their own.

Anyway, click on that link and you will get a list of radio stations. I recommend the last one "apparatið", it seems to play more Icelandic music, less English language pop. These are mainly music stations. For talk radio see RUV below.

Ríkisútvarpið (or RUV) ruv.is
RUV is the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, much like BBC or Canada's CBC. They have two audio streams RAS 1 and 2. These are great to hear spoken Icelandic.

News

Morgunblaðið - Iceland's Newspaper on-line
Want to see what Icelanders read for their news and see how well you're doing or how far you have to go? Here is Iceland's largest newspaper's web site. Don't get too frustrated if you have a hard time reading anything here. news sites tend to be a bit more difficult, in my opinion. They tend to use compuond words more than everyday speach.

TV and movies

I've seen two excellent Icelandic movies lately Bjarnfreðarson and Málmhaus (Metalhead). The first is a great comedy that appeals to me and hits close to home, being somewhat of a failed socialist idealogue. The latter is a powerful, touching drama. Both are really excellent. They are hard to find. Email me and let me know what country you live in, maybe I can help...

I am currently watching The Lava Field (Icelandic title: Hraunið) on Netflix in the US. It seems like Iceland is jumping on the nordic noir train with this, but it's great dialogue that I can sometimes follow!

Music

I'm amazed that such a small country produces so many musicians, Bjork and now Of Monsters and Men. Too bad they mostly sing in English. I think listening to music lyrics is a great way to learn languages. More here soon (ok, probably not soon).

Books

Learning Icelandic by Auður Einarsdóttir, Guðrún Theodórsdóttir, Mária Garðarsdóttir og Sigríður Þorvaldsdóttir
Simply put, this is by far my favorite book for learning Icelandic for the English speaker.
This book is a real pleasure and easy to use. It does not start out with hammering you with noun declensions, but gives you dialogs. The thing I really love is the dialogs are ones you might actually hear and include interjections you may run into. It's not the stilted business or travel dialog ("How much is a room for the evening?"), but dialog within a family ("Guðni, don't be like that. Sweetheart, talk to your son..."). The dialogs are actually very funny and enjoyable, including the boorish co-worker and how to blow off someone trying to pick you up!
The book comes with a CD of all the dialogs in the book, and the dialog on the CD seems to be "regular speed", it's what you might expect to hear in Iceland. The book does not leave the grammar out, just introduces it in small doses as you go along. It does, however, leave out the whole "polite form" of you. I know this is big in German and other books on icelandic include this, maybe this is falling by the way in Iceland or maybe it was left out for simplicity, I don't know. Folks, this is the book to get. You won't find it in any of the big internet bookstores, it's published in iceland. You could try and get it from Mál og menning or it might be easier to get it from Randburg, where I got it. If you're learning Icelandic, get as many books as you can, but definitely get this one, it's the best!

Icelandic : Grammar, Texts, Glossary by Stefan Einarsson
This is the most thorough book for English speakers interested in Icelandic. It was originally printed in 1945 but is being reprinted as of this writing. This is an excellent, thorough, well-organized book, I actually got this after the book below but find this much more useful. Excellent exercises. The drawbacks are there are no answers to the exercises so you can't be sure you're doing them right (if someone has the answers, please let me know) and the spectacular glossary only goes from Icelandic to English - if you want to know the Icelandic equivalent to an English word, you have to guess and see if you're right (you might get good at this though.) This book is around $21, and they did scrimp a little on the binding, but I would rather get it as it is than spend $40 for a well bound version.

  • Teach Yourself Icelandic by P. J. T. Glendening
    This is a small paperback and I was very happy to find it in my local bookstore. It is very dense, it has a lot of stuff and working through it is slow going - but well worth it. Icelandic is not easy, this book tries to cover everything grammatically and does a great job. If you are looking for a useful phrasebook or learning conversation - this is not the book. I've studied this book for a few years (off and on) and although I just got the Einarsson book above, I still refer back to this as I know where things are in it. If you're learning Icelandic, you should have this book, but if you get only one, get one of the ones above. This one does have a two-way glossary and answers to the exercises.

    Update: OK, a lot of people wrote and said they do not like this book. The other two above are better, in my opinion, but this one has merit, it is fairly grammar intensive at the beginning and the exercises are not very good, but it does introduce the grammar in a different pattern than the above, and I think getting a lot of different looks can only help. Don't get bogged down in learning the whole slew of inflections for nouns. Again, this is the least useful but still useful.

  • Hippocrene Icelandic-English/English-Icelandic Dictionary by Arnold R. Taylor, Arnold T. Taylor
    This is the only dictionary I have for Icelandic, it's very concise but it does the job. You will need to use it in combination with a good glossary like in the above two books. It costs less than $10 and I have seen it on the shelf at the local bookstore. I've never seen the other dictionaries, but as they are $60 or more, or much more, it may be a long time before I need them. It doesn't have modern words like 'computer' but you can find these elsewhere. This is your dictionary.

    Colloquial Icelandic: The Complete Course for Beginners by Daisy L. Neijmann
    This book looks great. I don't have a copy but I've heard great things about it and seen it in the library. The "Learning Icelandic" book I love may be hard to find, but this one is readily available!

    Phrases

    Icelandic Phrase Page
    Years ago someone made a nice collection of Icelandic phrases and put it on the web, but thier site is long gone, but there phrase page lives on here! The original author of this page is Jeff Feeley. Enjoy!

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