Iceland’s official language is Icelandic. It’s an ancient Nordic language that we can trace all the way back to the early settlers and Vikings. So it can be pretty tricky for foreigners to learn the pronunciation at first. (Understatement of the year!).
But you don’t have to worry.
We speak good English in Iceland, with most residents learning it from a very early age. Honestly, almost every Icelander speaks English fluently. While some older people in the more rural areas might not understand much English, you can get through these situations with a smile and an open mind!
I hope this article will answer any doubts you might have about communicating in Iceland. But if you have any other burning questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below!
Do Icelanders Get Annoyed When You Speak English To Them?
I can’t speak for every Icelander, but most of us are more than happy to speak English. We grow up watching English language TV programs, and 99% of young people speak English fluently.
Honestly, there are people that worry about English replacing the ancient Icelandic language. So a bit of humility might be appreciated by some people, particularly the older generation.
For example, you could greet an Icelandic person by saying, “Hello, I’m afraid I don’t speak Icelandic. Could you please help me?”
Some people might appreciate that you didn’t launch straight into English without checking, and you’ll get even more brownie points if you learn how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Icelandic. (I’ll pop some helpful phrases at the end of this article!)
Why Do Icelanders Speak Such Good English?
Icelanders welcome more than 2 million foreign visitors a year, and that number is constantly growing. That creates many jobs and opportunities for Icelandic people!
Very few of these visitors speak Icelandic, but many have a reasonable grasp of English. So it makes sense for Icelandic people to learn English, too.
Icelandic schools teach English to their students from a very early age. And we watch lots of undubbed British and American TV. The older generation doesn’t always speak fluent English because tourism in Iceland has only exploded since the 1980s.
Is It Hard To Learn Icelandic?
Yes, it is tough to learn Icelandic! It’s consistently rated as one of the most complex languages in the world for foreigners to learn. That’s because of the complex grammar and weird and wonderful pronunciation, which is almost impossible for the untrained person to emulate.
We don’t want to put you off because anything is possible if you are committed and enthusiastic. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) estimates it’ll take about 1100 hours of study to become conversational in Icelandic, whereas a language like Spanish only takes around 480 hours.
Of course, everyone is different! If you’ve already learned a few languages before, you’ll probably find it doesn’t take so long.
Should I Learn Icelandic Before Going To Iceland?
If you plan to visit Iceland a few times or stay for a long time, it can be a great idea to take some language classes. But if you’re only visiting for a couple of weeks, it’s probably not worth the time and effort.
Learning a few phrases is polite and appreciated. But you don’t need to speak Icelandic to vacation here, and the vast majority of tourists don’t know how to say more than hi and bye!
Of course, speaking Icelandic can unlock some cultural doors that nonspeakers won’t access. Like being able to converse with the older people of Iceland, who will have some pretty amazing stories to tell about their childhoods.
What Other Languages Do They Speak In Iceland?
Icelandic people are taught Danish from an early age, so nearly all Icelanders can speak at least some Danish as well as English. Quite a few people working in the tourist industry speak more languages, like German, French, and Spanish.
But Icelandic is the country’s official language, and you’ll have a better chance of being understood if you can speak at least a bit of English. (If you’re reading this article, that means you’ll be fine!)
Phrases To Learn Before Visiting Iceland
You don’t have to go too crazy learning Icelandic!
But learning the following phrases could be appreciated by your hosts.
|Do you speak English?||Talar þú ensku?|
And if you’d like some help pronouncing these words, you can check out our short youtube tutorial at the top of this article!
You don’t need to spend the next ten years in a Language School before you can visit Iceland. For a tourist, speaking English is just fine. The people working at the car hire, the restaurants, and the hotels will know English. And so will the guides that take you out on the glaciers or volcanoes!
So long as you politely ask before launching into English, no one will mind if you don’t speak Icelandic. But if you do fancy learning a few words of our ancient language, it will be appreciated!
We hope you found this article helpful and we look forward to welcoming you to Iceland soon