An Introduction to Icelandic Sounds
Icelanders are very proud of their language. The Icelandic language is the closest living relative of Old Norse, and has been conservative in retaining some very old features lost in other Germanic languages. That's especially true of Icelandic grammar.
A lot has changed since Norse times, and Icelandic pronunciation is no exception. Still, if you pay attention to the rules below, you'll be able to pronounce most Icelandic words based on their spelling.
This website has Icelandic words, sound files and practice exercises to help you learn Icelandic pronunciation. Here's a short table of contents for this page:
Long vowels and short vowels
There are two types of vowels in Icelandic. The first is called a long vowel. Notice the long mark on top of these long vowels.
|Icelandic Long Vowel||Sounds like English...|
|nýr||new||(same as í)|
The second type of vowel is a short vowel. Listen for the difference between long and short vowels.
|Icelandic Short Vowel||Sounds like English...|
|að fara||to go||saw|
|hundur||dog||none (try French reçu)|
|systir||sister||(same as i)|
Look out for these two vowels. They don't have long and short variations.
|kjöt||meat||set, but with rounded lips|
Now, try saying these Icelandic words out loud:
Most Icelandic consonants will be easy to pronounce. Keep in mind that p, t and k have a puff of air, just like in English.
|Icelandic consonant||Sounds like...|
Their counterpart plosives (b, d and g) are different in Icelandic. They're voiceless.
Pay attention to the sound of the Icelandic consonants j, r, ð and þ.
|rúm||bed||better (American pron.)|
|þið||all of you||thing|
Keep an ear out for g. It sounds like a rough "h" before Icelandic t, and like a voiced rough "h" between vowels or between a vowel and the end of a word.
|sagt||said||none (try Scottish loch)|
|dagur||day||none (try Spanish agua)|
|og||and||none (try Spanish agua)|
The letter f is pronounced like v between two vowels.
Speak these Icelandic words aloud:
Vowel combinations (dipthongs)
When multiple vowels have their pronunciations combined, they form a diphtong. Listen how the diphthongs au and ei (or ey) sound in Icelandic.
|Icelandic vowels||Sound like...|
|auga||eye||they (but with rounded lips)|
The Icelandic double consonants pp, tt and kk are pronounced like a single p, t or k with an h-sound before it. Hear the "aitch" in these words:
|Icelandic consonants||Sound like...|
|ekki||not||(h + k)|
|stoppa||stop||(h + p)|
|þetta||this||(h + t)|
Icelandic f is pronounced like a "p" in the combinations fl and fn (when they come after a vowel). Compare this to the other pronunciations of f:
|safn||museum||(p + n)|
|hafa||have||v (btwn vowels)|
|að fara||to go||f (elsewhere)|
The consonant clusters sl, sn, rl, rn and ll all insert a "t" sound before the n or l.
|íslenska||Icelandic||(s + t + l)|
|barn||child||(r + t + n)|
|bíll||car||(t + l)|
Icelandic speakers pronounce hv like "kv".
|hvað||what||(k + v)|
Say these words in Icelandic:
There are a few recommended offline courses with thorough pronunciation guides and audio CDs (allowing you to hear and imitate the pronunciation of native Icelandic speakers). Beginner's Icelandic comes with two compact discs that read through the excellent pronunciation guide and the dialogues in the book. Teach Yourself Icelandic offers a great book-and-CD program, with an intro to pronunciation. Colloquial Icelandic also provides a complete lesson course, but does not come as highly recommended.
Forvo has a list of words in Icelandic you can listen to. Sigur Rós has a basic pronunciation guide. You might try this page on Icelandic Phonology (Wikipedia) if you know IPA. An Icelandic learner also has a video of pronouncing the alphabet.