So, as nearly promised, I am now going to dive into my learning process and how I attempted to tackle this beautiful but complex, grammar-ridden language.
It didn’t just happen in a snap. I didn’t decide in an instant, “Okay, I want to learn Icelandic, let’s go,” but rather found a moment in time, in a boring high school government class, when I thought it might be interesting to look at how to count to ten in Icelandic. I remember sitting there, scrolling through articles on my phone about how to spell one, two, three, and so on. I found “einn,” meaning one, on one page. And then “eitt,” also meaning one, on another page. Within ten minutes I figured out that either the internet was a very unreliable source for language learning, the language was very complex, or there was some amalgamation of the two going on that I was going to have to figure out. At the correct mention of the number “one” having three different genders, I was hooked. It skyrocketed from there. That afternoon I huddled myself away in the school’s library and did multiple searches on how to spell colors, numbers, common objects. I took out an old chemistry test and wrote on the back of it, over and over again, “einn, tveir, þrír, fjórir, fimm, sex, sjö, átta, níu, tíu,” and again. I went home and started researching online what different phrases meant, how greetings were pronounced. And then I stumbled upon some websites that had completely different information than the previous. I no longer could tell which places to trust and which to label as false information. This brings me to the most important lesson in beginning the icelandic language:
NEVER FULLY TRUST ONLINE LANGUAGE ARTICLES
and on top of that,
NEVER RELY ON GOOGLE TRANSLATE
While I do recommend Google Translate as a quick way to paste in Icelandic text to get the gist of what something translates to, I do not recommend it for typing in english text and expecting to have an accurate translation in Icelandic. It is much better at deciphering Icelandic than it is at creating valid translations beginning with English. That being said, I realized that Google Translate would not be there to help me converse with Icelanders without getting a few laughs, so I turned to some actual, valid printed evidence of how the language was supposed to be spoken. After reading many reviews, I decided on this lovely book:
Here you have a book a little over 200 pages that comes with two CDs in which you can follow along with clear translations. I highly recommend this specifically as a book to introduce yourself to the grammar. It is comprised of 14 sections that each include example conversations, vocabulary for the conversations, grammar lessons, useful expressions, and some very neat exercises in which you can quiz yourself along the way. It is a decent slow paced book that allows you to really sit down and analyze each aspect of how the grammar presents itself. I have not finished it yet but I couldn’t have imagined a more flawless and easy start thanks to this book. The only con I might add is that the vocabulary lists can sometimes contain very random words that you may not really need to know when using beginning vocabulary. I have also found very useful rules that have to do with speaking icelandic in daily situations that I have not found in other books that aim to teach you (above all) how to read and write.
After buying this book, I realized I needed something else to fill in the gaps that this book may not have covered. I decided to purchase another popular book that was almost as highly recommended as the Beginner’s Icelandic:
To be straightforward, I would not recommend this for the absolute beginner. When comparable to Hippocrene, it runs on a much quicker pace and takes half a page to teach a grammar rule that takes a chapter to explain in the previous language book. It explains the rule well, gives examples, and then moves on. After starting off with Hippocrene, I was able to develop a well rounded idea of an aspect of grammar, which Colloquial Icelandic refined for me in a much simpler way. If you cannot understand linguistic vocabulary than this book may be a little overwhelming at times, because it gets very specific about the aspects of language it is explaining. After learning with these two books, I believe that Colloquial is actually my favorite, and the one I go to more often. It has many examples of dialogue and appropriate vocabulary for each one, many many exercises, and even includes readings that provide further translation at a more complex length. This book has audio to go along with it but when I bought it online, it did not include any audio so I’m not sure how well the quality of it is. Also, for those who want to secure each chapter into their memory, a very generous user on the website Memrise.com created an entire lesson of all the vocabulary in each chapter that you can practice with. So far he has created the lessons for the first three chapters and is working on the fourth. You can find the first one here.
As of right now, those are the only two Icelandic language books I own, although I plan to get an Icelandic/English dictionary and have heard that the Hippocrene Icelandic-English Dictionary is a lovely candidate. Instead of using an Icelandic dictionary in print form, I actually use an online dictionary that was recommended as a go-to source by Háskóli Íslands’ (University of Iceland’s) IcelandicOnline course. It is the Icelandic Online Dictionary and all you have to do is search for an Icelandic word or an English word and you will immediately discover translations that Google Translate couldn’t even dream of. To get an idea of the format, here is an entry for the verb “lesa,” or “to read”
It clearly states the root of the word, the form (acc), different variations of the word, and other phrases that are commonly used that include the word in them. An example here would be “lesa upp” which means to recite.
I found this dictionary through a very important and well known language learning website provided by the University of Iceland. It is called IcelandicOnline.is and is a 3+ part course intended for students that want to learn the language to speak it colloquially in iceland. A bit of challenge: It is entirely in Icelandic, which forces you to really focus on everything you are reading around yourself, until sense can be made of it. It is the best way to entirely submerge yourself in the language online, since lesson plans like Rosetta Stone don’t exactly have an icelandic course available (with only around 300,000 speaking the language, it isn’t exactly a popular candidate). With the first part of Icelandiconline, you are taken step by step through an absolute beginners course (bjargir), a course on nature (náttúra), and a course on culture (menning). I find that while maneuvering through this course, it is best to also have an open tab with the online dictionary, as well as a notebook where you can write down words that you come across with their translations into English. It is very accumulative so many words and ideas are recycled over and over until they stick. I’m currently on Náttura and can tell you all there is to know about the whale industry in Iceland (well, at least it feels that way).
So there you have it! These are my main methods of learning, and they’ve proven to work pretty well. I don’t use them one at a time, but rather peruse back and forth through them and use them all collectively. It prevents the boredom from always using the same source, while also providing a great variety of learning styles and ways to implement the language.
Here is a short list of other sources I use that I may expound upon later:
- Find Icelanders! Best way to truly learn Icelandic out of the country. I’ve met Icelanders through mutual friends online, through blogs, dating sites, you name it. It might seem impossible without connections but trust me, there is one somewhere. I’ve had the greatest help from Icelanders who have been willing to guide me and practice with me through messages and Skype sessions.
- Icelandic Literature. I’m currently reading Englar Alheimsins, (translated into “Angels of the Universe” which is a novel by Einar Már Guðmundsson, and a very popular one in Iceland. There is also a movie and a translated version that is more easily obtainable. One of my friends living in Iceland sent the Icelandic version to me for Christmas and I have been dragging my feet trying to get through each page. It is well worth it and almost feels like “Icelandic in action.”
- Icelandic Music. This is a must. Listen to anything in Icelandic at all times of the day and you are bound to pick up on some things. Great music to start with that has great diction of Icelandic: Valdimar, Ásgeir Trausti, Svavar Knútur.
- Memrise.com. I mentioned this before but very briefly. On this website, people studying languages or teaching languages create courses where you can practice memorizing the vocabulary of many dozens of languages. It has a neat design to get you to practice: You start by “planting” words into your memory, and then you go on through the course to “grow” them, for short term memory. Then every few hours it’ll notify you that it’s time to “water” your plants, or in other words use your long term memory to reiterate learning the words. There is also an app that you can download to your phone do you can practice when you’re away from your computer.
- Forvo.com. This is a website dedicated to audio clips of words and phrases spoken in different languages. simple search for an Icelandic word and you might get lucky with a sound clip of a native Icelander pronouncing it.
- Tatoeba.com. An interesting website of example sentences in Icelandic that you can try to translate, with answers in different languages once you click on each sentence.
- Modern Icelandic Inflections. This is a website where you can enter any form of a word and find every inflection of that word. It’s very helpful when you want to determine which verb form to use in a sentence. There is also another website in English where you can enter in the original verb form and find every conjugation, at verbix.com.
- RÚV – The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, which posts Icelandic news and streams television and radio channels 24 hours a day (some broadcasts are only in Iceland and cannot be seen from other countries).
- Morgunblaðið – A popular daily newspaper in Iceland, which can also be read in English here.
- Iceland Review – News of Iceland presented in English
- Reykjavík Grapevine – Magazine in English that specializes in current events, music, and culture
- Vísir – Icelandic news coming out of Reykjavík
Hopefully this helps those who want to do a little exploring with the language! And even if you’re not interested in learning it, it’s always nice to find exposure with something a little out of your typical realm.
Here is my permanent post on Language resources set on my homepage that I will update regularly: