Can we get by as English speakers visiting Iceland?

  • We're going to Iceland for the first time in September. Will we be able to get around ok just speaking English, or should we try to learn some rudimentary Icelandic? And is that even what their language is called?

    When I visited Iceland, I didn't meet a single non-English-speaker. In fact, all of the natives with whom I spoke had excellent English. This is partly due to the fact that hardly anyone outside of Iceland speaks their language (well, maybe some Norwegians could get by), so they use English as a bridge language. Also, English is probably easy to learn compared to Icelandic's complex inflection and declension rules.

    @ESultanik just a small nitpick. Norwegian and Icelandic are not hardly mutually comprehensible. Faroese and Icelandic are the closest to each other. There are many words between English and Icelandic that are similar to each other, but its easier to see the link on paper.

    Learn "hello", "please", "thank you", and "cheers" anyway - it will be more fun for you and the locals (-:

    @MatthewMartin Ah, okay. I made that assumption because, I believe, Icelandic is closely related to Old Norwegian.

    @hippitrail Goðan daginn = good day/hello (colloquially pronounced sorta like goyin-dayin) Takk. Takk. (same word for please and thanks) Skal! (cheers!)

    You can get by in any country without speaking the language, as long as you are OK looking foolish while pointing and gesticulating. Off-topic, best Icelandic surprise: the food is extraordinary. On average better than France or Italy, which are renowned for their food.

    GammelNorsk which is a Norwegian dialect spoken mostly in northern Norway is much closer to Icelandic then NyNorsk, which is spoken in Oslo, is.

  • John Lyon

    John Lyon Correct answer

    10 years ago

    Yes, most Icelandic people speak very good English, you will be fine.

    Their language is indeed called Icelandic, and is fascinating in regards to its history. From wikipedia:

    The oldest preserved texts in Icelandic were written around 1100AD. The majority of these texts are poems or laws, preserved orally for generations before being written down. The most famous of these, written in Iceland from the 12th century onward, are without doubt the Icelandic Sagas, the historical writings of Snorri Sturluson; and eddaic poems.

    With regards to learning a few Icelandic phrases, as with anywhere, people appreciate non-native speakers making the effort. "Takk" for "Thanks" is an easy one for starters. Some of the pronunciation is nigh on impossible for English speakers who haven't been exposed to it before, so don't think you'll attain even a basic grasp without a lot of study!

    Their street naming scheme is charming, and you may also be interested in the exonyms and how people derive their surnames. "Z" was removed from the alphabet in 1973.

    This is just awesome... I asked about speaking English, got a really informative answer, *and* found out why the travel agent I dealt with by email was named "Matthíasdóttir" by following the culturally related links given by @jozzas. Thanks a bunch - wish I could upvote over and over again! I love this site already!

    @DLRDave Thanks! I fell in love with the place when I visited, I'm sure you will too.

    Fantastic answer jozzas!

    Only problem with the exonyms is there's no translation for New Zealand :( I wanted to see what they did with the 'Z' ;)

    @mark Zambia swaps the Z for an S in Icelandic, perhaps NZ is similar.

    New Zealand in icelandic is `Nýja Sjáland`

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution


Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM