Icelandic is hard. No really, I am not lying. Icelandic is consistently ranked as one of the most challenging languages to learn, in part, due to its irregular verb tenses, difficult pronunciation, and its archaic foundation set in Old Norse. Fun Fact: Icelandic today is not that much different than traditional Old Norse. Meaning, if you were fluent in Icelandic and traveled back in time, you could probably pretty clearly understand Icelanders from centuries ago. The same can’t be said many other languages. However, if you’re headed to Iceland, and you want to get some basic phrases under your belt, good on you. I am going to break down some useful Icelandic phrases.
Resources for Icelandic Phrases
It is ironic that one of the world’s most difficult languages has so many free resources on the internet. There are countless great learning resources for tackling basic Icelandic. Now before I get ahead of myself, I should state that we will not be diving into basic Icelandic. I don’t have the time, and you definitely don’t have the patience to learn it. But instead, what we are going to do is learn some very helpful phrases and sayings for your trip.
This is where the resources become crucial. What makes Icelandic so hard, in my opinion, is the pronunciation. Unless you speak Swedish, Norwegian, or Danish, you will struggle. Everyone does. It is a double-sided problem though. First, when you read Icelandic, it can be impossible for novices to discern the pronunciation, and secondly, you really have to hear the word spoken to master it. That’s where YouTube comes in.
The greatest ally in your Icelandic linguistic exploration will be using YouTube in conjunction with written resources. There are plenty of them, for instance, here and here. But, you need to hear the language. Once you see it and listen to it simultaneously, it will start to make more sense. My two favorite videos that I send my friends before they visit are from the YouTube channel Expert Village. They don’t have many videos on Icelandic, but the ones they do have are perfect for short-term visitors and beginners.
Greetings In Icelandic
Being able to greet shopkeepers, store owners, and restaurant employees will go a long way. It always adds a bit of happiness to my day, when I hear a foreigner attempting to use my language. I know that they will have a tiny piece of my culture with them forever. So, first things first, you have to learn some proper Icelandic greetings. Before we move on, check out the Voyaging Viking’s Pronunciation Guide. It’s spot on.
The preferred method for retaining our Nordic greetings and phrases is to listen to this Expert Village Youtube video while you read along with my article here. Let’s get going.
Good morning Góðan daginn
Good evening Góða kvöldið
Goodnight Góða nótt
How are you? Hvernig hefurþú það?
How are things? Hvernig gengur?
Fine thanks, and you? Ég hef það fínt. En þú?
I’m afraid I have to go now. Ég verð því mi ður að fara núna.
Goodbye Bless bless
See you later Séð þig seinna
See you tomorrow Sjáumst á morgun
It was nice meeting you Gaman að kynnast þér
Have a good trip Góða ferð
A little lost? I don’t blame you. This Scandinavian tongue twister of a language has been perplexing foreigners for years. Just take a few minutes every day to practice basic greetings before your trip to Iceland, and you will eventually get there. Now for the last section, phrases. Let’s take a look.
Essential Basic Phrases In Icelandic
Like in the previous section, I prefer the speaker from Expert Village, so we will follow her. She has a clear and understandable accent, which most English speakers will find easily understandable. Play the video, listen to her pronunciation, and follow along with our list.
Ok Allt í lagi
That’s fine þetta e í lagi
That’s right þetta er rétt
Yes please Já Takk
Thank you þakka þér fyrir / Takk
You are welcome Verði þér að góðu
No, thank you Nei þakka þér fyrir / Nei Takk
Excuse me Afsakið
Sorry Ég biðst afsökunar
That wasn’t my fault þetta var ekki mér að kenna
It was my fault þetta var mér að kenna
If you made it through both videos, pat yourself on the back. Hearing Icelandic for the first time can be quite jarring, especially trying to match the words on the screen to the sounds being pronounced.
Helpful Icelandic Phrases to Use During Your Trip
Learning these simple phrases one by one, you will eventually get a better idea of how to pronounce Icelandic. There are many complex grammar rules to follow, and the pronunciation will have you doing mental gymnastics, but Icelanders will appreciate that you are making an effort to speak our language. Keep practicing, and you will be wooing Icelanders in no time.