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“It’s not really that hard; it just rolls of the tongue,” I was told. “Eyjafjallajökull.”

Uh, what tongue are we talking about here?!? Because it surely isn’t mine. A word with THAT many consonants cannot possibly just “roll off” a person’s tongue. Can it?

Well, in Iceland, apparently it can.

Here, syllables squish and meld together in odd ways. Nothing is pronounced like you think it should be. There aren’t enough vowels. Oh, and did I mention the weird letters like “Þ” and “ð”?

Reykjavik, Iceland

I’ve studied German (I have a minor in it, actually). I’ve muddled through basic Mandarin. I tend to have an ear for accents. But Icelandic? It is truly a language that baffles me; leaves me stupidly tongue-tied.

Close as it is to Danish, and since Danish is a Germanic language, I very naively thought that maybe I would be able to recognize a few syllables of Icelandic here and there.

But oh, how wrong I was.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Seriously, these words may as well not even be in the English alphabet.

As it turns out, I’m probably not ever meant to speak a Scandinavian language. Ever. It’s just sad.

I had hoped to film myself trying to sound out various words while touring around Iceland, but I quickly realized it would be nearly impossible. My tongue just can’t wrap itself around these syllables.

But, because I still want to give you something to laugh at, here are 3 Tips to Pronouncing Icelandic Words:

And now some photos to help illustrate my point of just how impossible these words are:

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

But at least Icelanders are aware of how impossible their language is for the rest of us…

Iceland

… and have a good sense of humor about it.

Iceland

This headrest cover made me fall in love with IcelandAir.

 

And I am exaggerating and being over dramatic here? Yes, of course. There are obviously plenty of people who CAN pronounce all of these words.

But I am definitely not one of them.

——

Have you ever encountered an language that you’ve really had trouble pronouncing?

 

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49 Responses to Impossible Icelandic Words

  1. Jackie D says:

    Haha, this is awesome. I think my first language shock was in Amsterdam — some of those Dutch words seemed so crazy to me because before that I’d only ever really been to countries whose residents spoke English or French. I have several pictures that resemble the ones you took of all the street signs — pictures I took simply because the words were so long and weird that I didn’t know what else to do with them except record them forever, haha. Also your video was adorable!
    Jackie D recently posted..travel inspirations (think Thelma and Louise…but with less murder)

    • DangerousBiz says:

      See, I might be okay with Dutch. Because, even though the words look weird, many of them sound fairly close to German. But Icelandic?? I was SO lost. Haha.

      Glad you liked the video!

      • If you are a word geek (that is, know thousands of anglo-saxon words that have fallen out of use since Shakespeare’s time) you can probably read Dutch. Pronounce it phonetically in your head, and nine words out of ten will make sense, no matter the letters on the page.

        • DangerousBiz says:

          Dutch, I think I could manage — it’s close enough to German that many of the words sound the same, even if they are spelled differently. But Icelandic is a whole different story!!

  2. Lindsey says:

    Wow, that looks … umm … fun? That must have been so crazy! I love the (not so) helpful hints they’ve given in the last couple of photos :)
    Lindsey recently posted..Just Do It

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I think they have a lot of fun poking fun at tourists for not being able to say any of the words. ;)

      • Lindsey says:

        Haha, well I certainly would ;)

        There was a woman on my train the other day who started addressing the entire carriage in Russian. I couldn’t help thinking I’d love to know a language not many Aussies do so I could do the same thing. It’d be so much fun! (and gain so many strange looks!)

  3. Sophie says:

    Fun post :)

    There’s actually 9 vowels in most Norse languages, so almost twice as many as in English. They just look strange. I think the compounded words make these languages look a bit difficult, too. Take the word in the sign above: Pósthússtræti. Following English rules, that would probably have been written Póst hús stræti (meaning Post House Street, btw).

    That said, Icelandic is the most complex of the Norse languages, so better start with Norwegian or Swedish. You’ll recognize lots from German, and the grammar is much easier.
    Sophie recently posted..Burano – a photo story

    • DangerousBiz says:

      9 vowels?? Holy cow. No wonder it’s so difficult. Thanks for a brief language lesson, though!

  4. Francy R says:

    Cool! I love your post! so funny! I think i’ll be unable to learn such a difficult language, though I’m quite good at speaking foreing language! Northern languages are terrible! When I was In Norway for a road trip, I’ve been taken some lessons but gave up quite soon! Impossible for me!
    Francy R recently posted..Top 5 Cities for Weekend Vacations

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yeah, I gave up on trying to say most of the words I saw in Iceland on the first day. Lol.

  5. Megan says:

    this is hilarious! when i was in iceland i recall walking around in the middle of the night (it was summer, so it was light of course) and trying to pronounce every word i came into contact with. i really should have recorded it because it was probably one of the funniest moments of my life! i love how the video basically says ‘just dont try’. :)
    Megan recently posted..Opening a Sustainable Restaurant Abroad

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You totally should have recorded it! I thought about it, but I knew the video would just end up being me butchering Iceland words and dissolving into giggles every 10 seconds. But I’m glad you liked the one I came up with!

  6. When I was in the Czech Republic, I couldn’t even say Thank You correctly.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..A Roving Wine Tasting in Buenos Aires

  7. Nice job on the pronunciation in the video! I’m certainly no Icelandic expert, but it sounded good to me.
    John of Travel Rinse Repeat recently posted..In Which John Attends The Kentucky Derby

  8. Curt says:

    After visiting Iceland, I often said the reason the cops drove around in station wagons was because the Icelandic word for “police” was too long to fit on a sedan.
    Curt recently posted..How to order coffee at McDonald’s in Phoenix

  9. wandergirl says:

    Haha, cute! I’ve never been to Iceland but my sister-in-law, who has barely taken language classes but can hold her own in Italian, French, and Spanish, and is essentially a genius, went last winter and thought she’d maybe be able to pick up a thing or two. Nope!

    I’ve never been to Iceland, but I tend to be able to be able to at least order a meal and say thank you wherever I travel – not in the Czech Republic. I couldn’t say anything but “na zdravi!” (and even that I’m sure I was saying wrong!)
    wandergirl recently posted..Welcome to Wanderlustkind!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You are the second person to comment on how tough Czech is! If it’s as difficult to muddle through as Icelandic, I don’t think I’d stand a chance.

  10. Great fun post! Unfortunately, I think I’d probably fall in the #3 category and just not try. But that would be after I had some good laughs trying :) I had trouble in Budapest. It just doesn’t look familiar.
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Architectural Gem in Budapest

  11. Barbara says:

    LOL! I love this post. Yes, Icelandic baffled me too. The words are so long and the letters sound so different from what I see, that it’s near impossible to decipher… of course, that made me want to learn the language more. Too bad I didn’t have a year to spend there. :) Looking forward to your posts!!!
    Barbara recently posted..The Mushroom Grower

  12. Has to be the hardest language EVER!!!!

  13. Andrea says:

    Haha those words are INSANE! Did you find that most people could speak English though?
    Andrea recently posted..Taking Care of Business: 5 Things About Korean Bathrooms

  14. Haha, love the headrest!
    A Montrealer Abroad recently posted..Postcards from la belle Gaspesie

  15. Arti says:

    Impossible for me to pronounce that!! Well we have over 25 languages here in India, so first I have to learn all those!! Then maybe I can move over to languages which are not native to my country!
    Arti recently posted..Boat Ride along the River Yamuna in Mathura

    • DangerousBiz says:

      25! Wow, that’s a lot! (Though, I suppose it’s nothing compared to some African countries, where they have hundreds of languages!)

  16. What a fun read! As a lover of languages, this TEMPTS me, DARES me, to try and learn Icelandic :)

    Thanks for the post!
    Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted..7 Super Shots

  17. What a great post and it certainly made me laugh!

  18. It is so so difficult! I could never pronounce anything when I was in Iceland! I have friends living there and they learned to speak but it took them years.

  19. Kim N. says:

    This is hilarious! I can’t even pronounce the first syllable. Or how will I know the syllables there? Lol. I’ll share this with my friends. Too funny, really!

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Kim

  20. Its far beyond me as my native language is originated from Latin. Icelandic is a Germanic language right? Although I know English and I want to learn German in the future…Icelandic? No! hello no!
    Although you may earn good money from translating jobs I think…
    Cristian Balau recently posted..Waldoch

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, I believe Icelandic is a Germanic language… but it sure is tougher to pronounce than German!!

  21. Amanda says:

    No need to be put off to ALL Scandinavian languages…Swedish isn’t that hard! They have the same alphabet as English with the addition of 3 vowels. While there are a few pronunciation tricks here and there (like any foreign language), it is not nearly as confusing as Icelandic!

  22. Those consonants look scary!! Can Icelandic speak English, like, in case if you need directions when travelling there? For me, languages I’ve had the most difficulty dealing with are graphical and/or tonal language. Russian, Arabic, Japanese and Korean would all fit the bill. Mandarin too, and I’m Chinese! I can speak a little bit of Mandarin, but I’ll bang myself in the head trying to understand how to pronounce those strokes.
    Andrew Darwitan recently posted..7 Wonders of Singapore

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, well the good news is that most Icelanders speak great English, too. I had no trouble at all finding my way around!

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