Knowing the basics of how to pronounce Icelandic can make life easier while travelling.
If you speak English, you don’t have to worry about language barriers during your stay in Iceland. Icelanders generally speak very good English and some speak other languages too.
Although this is the case, it might be fun to try speaking some Icelandic with the locals. I know they will appreciate the effort!
The first step is to understand how Icelandic is pronounced. This isn’t easy, I know, but once you’ve learned the basic principles of the pronunciation, you will be ready to learn some phrases.
First of all, I’d like to introduce you to the special letters of the Icelandic language.
This is an easy one too. I often hear foreigners confuse Í and I when they are pronouncing words in Icelandic. Í is basically like a double e in English but I is pronounced like 'i' in 'miserable'.
If you can say “oh my god” without trouble, it shouldn't be hard to pronounce the Icelandic letter Ó. Just like the English “oh”, the letter Ó can be used as an exclamation.
Ú is pronounced like 'u' in 'super' or 'uo' in 'you'. Not a very difficult letter to pronounce.
The letter y is pronounced just like the letter i. For Icelanders, this is probably the most frustrating letter of the alphabet because it's hard to know when to spell words with i and when to spell them with y. Kids fail on spelling tests because of the letter y all the time!
The letter ý is also an unpleasant letter for Icelandic students. That specific letter is pronounced just like the letter í. There's not even a slight nuance, you make the exact same sound.
Þ is a letter that can only be found in the Icelandic alphabet. The name of the letter is Thorn and is never to be confused with P! It is often transliterated to 'th' when it's written, especially when the readers are English.
My name is Nína Þorkelsdóttir but I usually write 'Thorkelsdottir' when I'm abroad, otherwise it will be mispronounced as 'Porkelsdóttir'. It's also good to know that Icelandic words never end with the letter þ.
Æ is a grapheme, formed by the letters a and e. When this letter is used in English (in words like 'archæology' and 'encyclopædia') it's usually pronounced like the letter e.
In Icelandic however, it's pronounced like 'eye'. It can stand alone as an exclamation too, just like the letter Ó.
Ö is a vowel that not everyone can pronounce easily. For native English speakers, it shouldn't be so hard though. Ö can also be found in Swedish. Danish and Norwegian have a different letter: ø.