Reykjavik, Iceland

Do People Speak English in Iceland?

Iceland, the land of fire and ice, has captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world with its stunning natural beauty and unique culture. But how widely spoken is English in this remote island nation? In this post, we’ll take a closer look at just how proficient Icelanders are in the English language and what this means for visitors to the country.

Icelanders are among the most fluent English speakers in the world. Nearly all Icelanders speak English, with many of them speaking it as a second language from a young age due to the country’s strong emphasis on language education.

What are the main languages spoken in Iceland?

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, which is a North Germanic language that has been largely unchanged since the country was settled by Norse people in the 9th and 10th centuries. It is the mother tongue of virtually all Icelanders, and is used in education, government, and business.

In addition to Icelandic, there are a few other languages that are spoken in Iceland, although they are much less common. English is the most widely spoken foreign language, with nearly all Icelanders speaking it to some degree. Danish is also spoken by a small percentage of the population, and there are some speakers of other Scandinavian languages as well.

Here’s a breakdown of the percentage of the Icelandic population that speaks each language, according to the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture:

LanguagePercentage of population that speaks it
Icelandic100%
English98%
Danish19%
Swedish0.6%
Norwegian0.3%
German0.3%
French0.2%
Spanish0.2%
Other0.6%

It’s worth noting that while English is widely spoken in Iceland, visitors should not assume that everyone they encounter will be fluent. In more remote areas of the country, it’s possible to encounter Icelanders who speak little to no English. However, in most urban areas and tourist hotspots, English proficiency is very high, making it easy for visitors to communicate with locals.

English Proficiency Level in Iceland

Icelanders are known for their high level of English proficiency, and this is reflected in numerous studies and surveys. According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Iceland consistently ranks as one of the top countries in the world for English proficiency, with a score of “very high proficiency.”

English proficiency levels in Iceland vary depending on age and geographic location. Younger Icelanders tend to be more proficient in English than older generations, as English language education has been emphasized in schools for decades. According to a study by the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, 99% of Icelandic students aged 16-18 are able to speak English to some extent.

In terms of geographic location, English proficiency tends to be highest in urban areas and tourist hotspots. For example, in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, English proficiency is very high among the local population, and it’s common to hear English spoken on the streets. However, in more remote areas of the country, English proficiency can be lower, particularly among older generations who may not have had access to English language education in their youth.

English in Schools in Iceland

Education has long been a top priority in Iceland, and language education is no exception. English is taught as a second language in Icelandic schools from a young age, and most students receive years of formal English language education.

According to the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, English is the most widely taught foreign language in Icelandic schools, with 99% of students receiving instruction in the language. English language education begins as early as age six and continues through primary and secondary education.

English language instruction in Icelandic schools is generally of a high standard, and teachers are well-trained and qualified. In addition to formal classroom instruction, many schools also offer language immersion programs and opportunities for students to participate in language exchange programs with students from English-speaking countries.

Overall, English language education is an important part of the Icelandic school curriculum and has helped to produce a population with a high level of English proficiency. Visitors to Iceland can expect to encounter many Icelanders who are able to speak English fluently, thanks in part to their early exposure to the language in school.

English in the Workplace and Higher Education in Iceland

English proficiency is not only important for education but also for career opportunities in Iceland. Many companies in Iceland require employees to have a high level of English proficiency, particularly those in the tourism and tech industries. English is often the language used in international business, and having strong English skills can open up opportunities for Icelanders to work and study abroad.

Higher education in Iceland also places a strong emphasis on English proficiency. Many university courses are taught in English, particularly at the graduate level. In addition, many Icelandic universities offer English language programs for international students, which can attract students from all over the world.

English language proficiency exams, such as the TOEFL and IELTS, are often required for admission to Icelandic universities, particularly for non-native English speakers. These exams test a student’s ability to read, write, speak, and understand English at an advanced level, and are often used as a benchmark for English proficiency in higher education and the workplace.

Overall, English proficiency is an important factor in career opportunities and higher education in Iceland. Those with strong English skills may have a wider range of opportunities available to them, both within Iceland and abroad.

Can You Get By Speaking English in Iceland?

Yes, you can definitely get by speaking English in Iceland. English is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in urban areas and tourist hotspots. Signs and menus are often available in both Icelandic and English, and many Icelanders are able to speak English fluently.

In Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, English proficiency is particularly high among the local population. It’s common to hear English spoken on the streets, and most locals will be able to understand and speak English with ease. However, in more remote areas of the country, English proficiency can be lower, particularly among older generations who may not have had access to English language education in their youth.

For visitors to Iceland who don’t speak Icelandic, having a basic knowledge of English can be very helpful. Tour guides, hotel staff, and restaurant servers are often able to speak English, and many tourist attractions have English-language materials available. However, it’s always a good idea to learn a few basic Icelandic phrases as a sign of respect for the local culture and to facilitate communication with those who may not be as fluent in English.

Overall, while knowing some Icelandic can enhance your experience in Iceland, it’s definitely possible to get by with just English, particularly if you’re sticking to the main tourist areas.

Putting It All Together

Iceland is a country with a high level of English proficiency, thanks in part to the emphasis on language education in schools and the importance of English in the workplace and higher education.

While Icelandic is the official language of the country, nearly all Icelanders speak English, making it easy for visitors to communicate and get around. Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Reykjavik or venturing into the remote Icelandic wilderness, you can be sure that English will get you far.

So pack your bags, brush up on your Icelandic phrases, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in this beautiful country where language and culture come together in a unique way.