Is Icelandic Hard to Learn?

Learning a new language can be both exciting and challenging, and Icelandic is no exception. Often perceived as a difficult language to learn, Icelandic’s unique characteristics and complex grammar may seem daunting to English speakers. However, it is no more difficult than most other languages, depending on an individual’s linguistic background and their knowledge of other foreign languages.

Icelandic, with its rich history and links to the ancient Norse language, can certainly provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to those who take on the task of learning it. While the pronunciation of words may be one of its hardest aspects, as Icelandic letters often sound quite different from their English counterparts and may include accents, this challenge should not deter those hoping to master the language.

It is worth noting that Icelandic may indeed be relatively more difficult for native English speakers compared to other languages, but this is mainly due to linguistic differences rather than fundamental complexity. With consistent dedication, practice, and helpful resources, it is possible for anyone to learn Icelandic and reap the cognitive, travel, and potential financial benefits that knowledge of this exotic language can bring.

How Hard is it to Learn Icelandic?

Learning Icelandic can be perceived as hard, but various factors affect its difficulty for non-native speakers. In this section, we will discuss factors that contribute to the challenge of learning Icelandic and compare it to other languages.

Factors Affecting Difficulty

One element that makes Icelandic difficult to learn is its pronunciation. According to Lingalot, some learners find it challenging to pronounce certain Icelandic words accurately. Additionally, the language features complex conjugations and long words, which may pose challenges for beginners.

Another factor affecting the difficulty of learning Icelandic is the amount of time and effort needed to become fluent. As a category IV language according to the FSI, Icelandic typically takes around 1100 hours, or 44 weeks, of study to reach fluency (OptiLingo). However, this estimated time can be shortened with the right methods and resources.

Comparisons to Other Languages

While Icelandic is sometimes considered more difficult than other languages, the level of difficulty largely depends on the learner’s native language and prior linguistic exposure ( It is essential to note that similarities between the learner’s native language and Icelandic can expedite the learning process. However, with Icelandic, finding common ground with other languages may prove challenging due to its distinct features (Polyglot Geek).

In conclusion, the perceived difficulty of learning Icelandic varies for each individual. Factors such as pronunciation, complex grammatical structures, and differences from other languages contribute to the challenges faced by learners. Nonetheless, with the right approach and dedication, it is possible to overcome these obstacles and achieve fluency in Icelandic.

The Icelandic Language Structure

Icelandic, the official language of Iceland, is known for being a well-preserved language with complex grammar, phonetics, and vocabulary.

Phonetics and Phonology

The sound system of Icelandic comprises of a rich set of consonants and vowels that undergo various phonological changes depending on their position within words and phrases. For example, there are voiceless versions of many voiced consonants, and certain vowel and consonant combinations result in specific sound changes, which might be challenging for learners.


Icelandic grammar is known for its intricacy. With four cases, three grammatical genders, and two numbers for nouns, adjectives, and pronouns, the language involves a significant amount of agreement and inflection. Additionally, verbs have three persons, two numbers, two morphological tenses, and two finite moods (Grapevine). These factors contribute to the difficulty associated with learning Icelandic, especially for those unfamiliar with inflectional languages.

Conjugating verbs in Icelandic can also be intricate, as they vary with tense, mood, person, number, and voice. For example, the language has active, passive, and middle voice conjugations, adding to the complexity of the learning process.


One of the interesting aspects of Icelandic is its approach to borrowing words from other languages. Instead of adopting foreign terms, the language regulator actively coins older Icelandic terms, words, and phrases to maintain linguistic purity. This practice can make it more challenging for learners to guess the meaning of new words based on their knowledge of other languages.

In conclusion, the intricacy of Icelandic phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary contribute to the complexity of learning the language. However, with dedication and consistent practice, one can master the unique features of Icelandic and eventually become proficient.

Learning Strategies for Icelandic

Resources and Techniques

There are several resources available for learning Icelandic, including language apps and websites. One such app is OptiLingo, which focuses on commonly-used phrases and speaking skills. Other notable resources are Clozemaster, offering games and quizzes for learning Icelandic, and Mango Languages, which utilizes color-coding recognition to help learn language patterns.

Some techniques to learn Icelandic effectively include:

  • Allocating regular study time
  • Practicing speaking with native speakers
  • Engaging in language games and quizzes
  • Reviewing and learning from mistakes

Immersion and Practice

Immersion is a powerful method for learning any language, including Icelandic. Traveling to Iceland not only provides opportunities to immerse oneself in the language and culture but also to participate in language courses. For example, Crash Course A1 is a one-week course offered in Ísafjörður for beginning Icelandic learners.

Online resources can also provide language immersion experiences, such as listening to Icelandic podcasts, watching Icelandic movies or TV shows, and joining Icelandic social media groups. Regular practice with native speakers is valuable, even if it means speaking imperfect Icelandic with a foreign accent, as encouraged by Icelanders themselves.

Overcoming Challenges in Learning Icelandic

In this section, we will discuss the common difficulties in learning Icelandic and offer some tips and tricks to help overcome those challenges.

Common Difficulties

Icelandic is often considered a difficult language for learners due to its complex grammar and unique features. Some aspects that make Icelandic particularly challenging include its conservative nature, which has resulted in minimal changes since Iceland’s settlement in 874 AD, and the presence of uncommon sounds, such as voiceless sonorants.

An additional challenge is the complex grammar and syntax of the language, which can be daunting for new learners. However, it is important to remember that, like any other language, learning Icelandic is possible with dedication and practice.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some helpful tips and resources for learning Icelandic:

  • Start with a good textbook, such as Complete Icelandic by Hildur Jónsdóttir, which is highly recommended for beginners and includes a free audio guide.
  • Focus on grammar and conjugations, as they are an essential part of the Icelandic language. Use a grammar breakdown to help you understand the intricacies of the language.
  • Immerse yourself in the language by listening to Icelandic music, watching TV shows or movies, and reading Icelandic books or news articles.
  • Practice speaking Icelandic with native speakers whenever possible. This will help you become more comfortable with the language and improve your pronunciation.
  • Seek out language exchange partners, either in person or online, to practice speaking Icelandic and share helpful resources.

By utilizing these tips and dedicating time to practice, learners can make progress in their pursuit of mastering the Icelandic language.


In summary, Icelandic is considered a challenging language to learn for native English speakers due to several factors. One of the primary reasons is its pronunciation, which can be quite difficult for learners to master.

Additionally, Icelandic grammar can be more complex than that of other Germanic languages, such as German or Swedish. Furthermore, the vocabulary is characterized by a large number of archaic words and a lack of Latin-based terms.

Despite these challenges, there are aspects of Icelandic that might make it easier for some learners. For instance, the language has a predictable and clear stress pattern on syllables. Additionally, the US Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) ranking of language difficulty does not list Icelandic as the most difficult, suggesting that it is relatively harder but not impossible to learn compared to other languages.

Ultimately, the difficulty of learning Icelandic may vary for each individual based on their native language, learning style, and previous experience with languages. While it is true that Icelandic presents certain challenges in terms of pronunciation and grammar, with dedication and the right resources, it is possible for English speakers to learn and achieve proficiency in this unique and fascinating language.