Book: Beginner’s Icelandic

Beginner’s Icelandic

By Helga Hilmisdóttir & Jacek Kozlowski

(221 pages, nonfiction, 2009)

The possibility of seeing the northern lights this December — followed by subsequent disappointment — made travel restriction realities hit differently. Remember when Icelandic airline companies plastered images of the aurora borealis and crystal blue hot springs on seemingly every vertical surface in Boston?

Since the dud light display in December, I’ve consoled myself with a different type of travel preparation: foreign language learning. Beginner’s Icelandic is geared for self-study, including audio CDs that assist tremendously in pronunciation. At first, Icelandic seems quite foreign, but as a Germanic language there are some clear similarities (e.g. fyrst = “first;” morgun = “morning,” lengur = “longer”). It’s quite fun to spot such cognates and related words, such as hund for “dog,” related to our English word for “hound.”

Don’t let the alphabet and sound system scare you away; it’s not so complex as it at first looks!

Just as children don’t learn the rules of when to use long or short vowels until they’re fairly proficient in their language, I’d recommend jumping right into the basic vocabulary and useful phrases. Perhaps in times to come we can again travel and see the northern lights in all their near–arctic glory. While that timeline is yet unknowable, learning common pleasantries and basic conversation in a foreign language is highly motivating.

As tourists we’re treated differently when we try to truly engage in local languages and customs, and that in turn enhances the overall travel experience. Whether it’s Iceland or another language/country of interest, the library has a wealth of learning resources, be they in book, CD, or online format, free with your library card. Learning a language is challenging but rewarding. Good luck, and have fun!

Visit Concord Public Library online at

Lindsey Hunterwolf

Author: Insider Staff

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