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Speaking the Language

Iceland - Speaking the Language

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic (íslenska) with 93.2% of the population speaking it. Notably, it does not differ in dialects and remains consistent throughout the country. The Icelandic language itself is a North Germanic Language which is the closest of such languages to Old Norse. Icelandic people adopt purism when it comes to their linguistic policy in the country. This is meant by either coining new words rather than using foreign words or looking within their language to recycle and reuse archaic words which are then given a new meaning. An example of this may be simi (telephone).

Icelandic uses the Latin alphabet after the adoption of Christianity to the country. The Icelandic alphabet includes four additional letters on the English alphabet and are as follows: Ö,ö which can be compared to the ‘u’ sound in purr, Ð,ð which is like ‘th’ sound in together, Æ,æ which is like ‘i’ in spike and Þ,þ which is like the ‘th’ sound in think. Additionally, vowel letters appear in two ways, one with an accent and one without, for example o, ó. It should also be noted that the letters z, q, w and c are rarely used in Icelandic.

The most common foreign languages spoken by Icelandic natives are Norwegian, Swedish, German, Spanish, French and Danish. The immigrant population typically speak Polish, English Lithuanian, German, Danish, Filipino, Portuguese, Latvian and Thai plus other smaller pockets of languages. Representing the deaf community there is also the Icelandic Sign Language. English is very commonly spoken in Iceland and is always the go to language for tourists wishing to communicate with locals. The language used for the most part in the workspace is Icelandic. With more and more immigration from English speaking countries to Iceland however, there are some offices and businesses which now operate in English as their first language. Still, a majority of industries operate with Icelandic as their main language, switching to Danish or English when necessary. There are opportunities for some career and higher income roles in an environment where English is spoken, for example software engineering, programming, computer science and engineers’ jobs though these jobs require specific education and skills. Even if you are not fluent in Icelandic, there are still chances for non-Icelandic speakers, with some finding work in factories, catering, tourism and cleaning roles.

With more and more immigration to Iceland (in fact 10% of the population are immigrants); English is becoming the language of communication to bridge the gap of understanding between foreigners and Icelanders. Some industries and jobs require full competency in Icelandic such as healthcare or agriculture as these industries require professionals fluent in Icelandic due to the local and specific nature of the work. Speaking Danish can also be possible in the work arena as this is a language along with English which is a compulsory subject at school. The Icelanders call their version of Danish Skandinavíska and it can be understood by Swedes and Norwegians alike.

Whilst it is possible to live and survive without learning the local language in Iceland, to truly integrate, feel part of the community and be fully functioning a basic competence of Icelandic is recommended. Locals will appreciate your efforts, many more work opportunities will open up to you and you will feel that you can understand the nuances and personality of the country to a better degree. Basic words such as good morning (góðan daginn) thanks (takk) Please (gjörðu svo vel -single, gerið þið svo vel- plural) yes (já) and no (nei) will show a willing ability on your part and may go a long way in job interviews. Studying and becoming fluent in Icelandic is ideal for an expat.

Face to face Icelandic Language schools

The University of Iceland
A wide range of lesson based learning, one week courses, three week and level led courses from the A1 Crash Course to B2 Advanced Special.
Tel:+354 667 1155
Email: ff@icetrans.is

Informal ‘Icelandic from A to Ö’ lesson in the teachers own home for groups of 2-10 learning basic vocabulary, some phrases and the history of Iceland plus how the language works.
Tel: +354 511 5522
Email: hello@iheartreykjavik.net

Multikulti Language Centre
Level-led courses from Icelandic Level I to Icelandic Level V. Lessons range from 2x or 3x weekly and students can choose from AM or PM learning.
Tel:+354 899 6570

Private Tutors

Svava Skúladóttir Online Icelandic Lessons
Lessons which vary from 45 to 60 minutes via Skype with the frequency chosen from the learner eg 1 lesson per week or 3 lessons per week.
Email: info@icelandic-lessons.com

Mentoring Scheme Icelandic Red Cross
A local Icelandic lady is paired with a non-native lady and as part of this mentoring (Félagsvinur) scheme from The Icelandic Red Cross Charity Icelandic can be practiced and learnt by the non- native.
Tel: +354 570 4000
Email: central@redcross.is

Mímir-símenntun Language school
The Mímir-símenntun Language school specialises in labour workers learning languages, but prospective students can contact them to be set up with a reliable and recommended private tutor too.
Tel: +354 580 1800
Email: mimir@mimir.is

Online Learning

The University of Iceland
Six levels of learning available from a survival course to Beginners Icelandic Online 1 to Advanced Level Icelandic 5.
Tel:+354 525 4000
Email: hi@hi.is

Additional online learning resources

Clear and concise notes about Icelandic grammar and links to other sources

Exercises for grammar

Site for direct translations, basic vocabulary and useful phrases

Site listing key phrases, basic vocabulary and the Icelandic alphabet

In some instances, if your first language is English then this could create work opportunities for you. There are a small number of English language schools where students can go to learn English with English speaking teachers through CELTA, TESOL and TEFL routes. This may also be the case for Universities where they require an English speaking professor, though the standards of English for locals of this profession are also high. In terms of becoming a private tutor, this can be a good move if you have a teaching qualification and want more flexible work. It would benefit you to learn some Icelandic so you can compare the two languages and express some understanding to your students. Also in universities or in some international companies they may have a department where an English native/ English speaker is required for marketing purposes. Interpreting and translating tend to be done by Icelandic natives because their grasp of English is so strong.

When watching and understanding TV programmes, English and foreign language TV shows and films are shown in their original language, with Icelandic subtitles. Children's programmes are dubbed.

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