Icelandic Language Blog

We all have an accent. Posted by on Apr 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

Here’s a small example set of different kinds of accents from my class. Try to hear which countries they say they’re from for a small language practice. (Note the man who walks past the camera – we all saw him but he doesn’t show up in the video. I’m suspecting he may be one of Iceland’s elf population/hidden people.)  Takk fyrir kærlega, stelpur! 🙂


When I first arrived I didn’t really speak much Icelandic. At first this made studying a little challenging because, like previously mentioned, our professors use Icelandic when teaching. During the first year it wasn’t uncommon for them to explain some things in English either, especially when we were going through some demanding part of f.ex. grammar and it was crucial that everyone understood it correctly, but other than that the language of the lessons was/is always Icelandic. This means that all of the students are expected to speak Icelandic as well.

The people in my class were very varied in their language skills. Some, like me, had only arrived in the country right before the lectures began but some had already lived in Iceland for many years and spoke quite well. The professors’ attitude was understanding and friendly: mistakes didn’t matter (although sometimes they were corrected), clear pronunciation, while important, was not something they would have picked at. Well – sometimes they did correct some mispronunciation, especially with sounds that are difficult for foreigners to pronounce, but all in all I’ve found all my professors very kind in this regard. They know it’s difficult, they see it every year.

Yet I was so afraid of opening my mouth in class that for the first two months or so I didn’t say almost anything besides “hello”, “no” and “yes” and the reason for this was my strong accent and inability to pronounce certain sounds. In the beginning even my Icelandic friends sometimes had trouble understanding which word I was trying to use. Therefore I stayed quiet in class and thought I’d learn it somehow on my own first and then maybe, one day… but naturally all plans with “one day” as a deadline are doomed to fail. I had to admit to myself very soon that this approach did not only not work, it was holding me back as well.

One day I managed to gather my courage and that moment will probably never leave my memory, not because of the feat itself but because of the reaction of my classmates. “You’re using Icelandic! Finally!” Imagine this in loud, surprised, are-my-ears-deceiving-me tones with lots of pointing, poking others and “Did you hear that?”. Up until this moment the language I had spoken to my classmates had always been English so perhaps the reaction was understandable, but more importantly it showed me that by speaking English I was actually standing out far worse than if I had been speaking Icelandic, no matter how badly.

Saying this sounds like the oldest cliché ever, but for most people the best and fastest way of learning a language is speaking it, and when it comes to learning pronunciation I would say using the language daily is a must. As for myself I can’t say I switched from English to Icelandic immediately, but after this incident I began to speak more Icelandic, trying to use it in every simple occasion that I could. I began to greet people (Góðan dag/Daginn/Sæll/Sæl), order coffee in Icelandic (Ég ætla að fá kaffi), ask for plastic bags at grocery stores (Tveir pokar, takk), small, easy sentences that may not seem all that important but oh, they are. Simply using the language sped up my studies like nothing else and my accent’s grown lesser and lesser the more I do it. Fact is that I will never lose my accent completely and that a couple of rare exceptions aside most non-native speakers keep some of theirs, but it does not really matter.

I would urge all Icelandic students to use the language as much and as often as they can. My own shyness certainly did me no favours, it only served to make beginning to speak all the more difficult! If I could go back in time to meet myself on the first day of uni I would shake myself a little*, tell myself to stop worrying over every little thing and just start speaking right away. And that if I chance to tell my teacher that I’m feeling just machine today** it’s probably nothing new to her anyway.


*I hope this doesn’t count as self-harm.

**Mér liður vel [vɛ:l] means “I’m feeling well” unless you accidentally say vél [vjɛ:l] (= machine) instead. Apparently I did this for quite a long while before anyone corrected me. 😀

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!


  1. Alex:

    Hvaðan er önnur stelpa? Ég heyri ekki hvað hún segir.

    Takk fyrir athugasemdina um framanburðinn af VEL. Ég ímyndi mér að segja þetta alltaf í rangt hátt.

  2. hulda:

    Hún segir að hún er frá Bandaríkjunum. Skildirðu hvað aðrar stelpur sagði?

    Og gerðu svo vel! 😀

  3. Alex:

    I’ll try, but I’m awful with foreign names so I’ll just have to approximate 😀

    ÖLL: Sæl.
    #1: Ég heiti Saato. Ég er frá Finnlandi.
    #2: Ég heiti Rachel. Ég er frá Bandaríkjunum (it’s so clear now!)
    #3: Ég heiti Mabi. Ég er frá Japan.
    #4: Ég heiti Marion. Ég er frá Pórtugal.
    #5: Ég heiti Maria. Ég er frá Kólumbíu.
    #6: Ég heiti frá Vietnam.

    I hate questioning other people’s corrections, but I think if, at the end of the day, we all want to learn it as soon as possible, it might help, shouldn’t your sentence be:

    Hún segir að hún *SÉ* frá Bandaríkjunum. Skildirðu hvað aðrar stelpur *SÖGÐU*?

    Looking forward to the next lesson 😀

  4. Alex:

    Hmm, I wrote some question marks for the last one because I didn’t catch the name, they don’t appear to have shown up!

  5. hulda:

    No problem, those are some well-deserved corrections and always welcome. Especially considering you’ve studied Icelandic much longer than I have, your help is very valuable to me. 😀

    The girls’ names in order of appearance are: Satu, Rachel, Mami, Marina, Maria and Lieu.

  6. Veronika:

    Very encouraging blog entry. I will try to practice everyday, no matter what.

  7. hulda:

    Thank you, I’m glad you liked it! I’m striving to do the same. Every day, even if it’s just a little bit because the more I use the language the less self conscious I feel about it. This is not always easy, though, as Icelanders very quickly switch to English when they realize I’m struggling with my words. 😀