Shiny Photos

Iceland Language


So you want to visit Iceland, one of the most photogenic places on the planet? You’ll love it! I have visited Iceland three times so far and on one of those trips I spent a full month traveling all over the country. In this series I share my tips for a fun trip. We cover flights, must-see sites, the Northern Lights, transportation, food, booze, money, language, lodging, and, of course, photography.  This is not a complete itinerary nor do I intend for it to be. For me, travel is about exploring at your own pace – not checking items off a list.

Part Three - Language

Everyone I have ever met in Iceland speaks fluent English. I have never had any trouble communicating with anyone in English. That said, however, I am the kind of traveler that likes to demonstrate that I have made an effort. Before my longest visit I hired a tutor to work with me for ten weeks. I was under no illusion that I would become so much as conversational but I was able to learn quite a bit about pronunciation, syntax, and the like. Having a few phrases, nouns, and verbs in your pocket is helpful and, at the very least, is a good ice breaker. I've included a few choice food words that may be helpful if you have specific dietary needs.

In this guide I often will include a rough pronunciation guide in parentheses. In the examples below I include the english word/phrase followed by the Icelandic version in italics. Example: Hot Dog - pylsur (pill-sur).

The Alphabet

In addition to accented letters such as ó, ö, á, etc. Icelandic has a few letters that English lacks, well lacks today anyway. We used to have them a long ago. Those letters are:

Ðð - Eð. Pronounced "eth" as in Beth. The letter sounds closest to the eth sound we use in "weather". In fact, the Icelandic word for weather, veður, is pronounced exactly the same except for the first letter (veth-ur).

Þþ - Þorn. Pronounced "thorn". The letter sounds closest to the "th" sound in English in words such as the, thesaurus, or thesis. The God Thor for example is spelled Þor but is pronounced exactly the same as in English.

The letter R is rolled or trilled on the tongue in a similar way as in Spanish or Italian. Other letters are pronounced in different fashions as well which I have attempted to describe in the simple pronunciations below.

The Basics

Yes - (yow, rhymes with wow)
No - nei (nay, like the horsie says)
Thanks - takk (tock)
Thanks a lot! - takk fyrir (tock fear-urr but remember to roll those rrrrrrs!)
What is this called? - Hvað kallast ðetta? (kvath, rhymes with father, cot-lasst thetta)

Food & Drink


Breakfast - Morgunmatur (morgun-madur rhymes with stagger the last syllable has a softly rolled r sounding like r-shh)
Lunch - Hádegismatur (how-day-us-madur rhymes with stagger the last syllable has a softly rolled r sounding like r-shh)
Dinner - Kvöldmatur (kuh-vuld-madur rhymes with stagger the last syllable has a softly rolled r sounding like r-shh)

Water - vatn (faht)
Coffee - Kaffi (kaffy, short a sound as in hat)
Tea - (tay)
Milk - Mjólk (myol-kth)
Juice - Safi (savvy)
Beer - bjór (bee-your)
Soda - goss / gos (go-ss like the o in goat)
Coke - kók (coke)
Red Wine - Rauðvín (ray-thu-veen)
White Wine - Hvítvín (kuh-veet-veen)

Hot Dog - pylsur (pill-sur)
Meat - kjöt (ky-oat)
Vegetables - grænmeti (gryn-matti)
Fruit - ávöxtur (ow-fox-tur)