Top critical review
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A good introduction only.
on 9 December 2014
Twenty years ago I decided I wanted to learn Icelandic but there was only one book available – the original Teach Yourself, which dated from 1961. As the very first exercise it asked you to decline all the different types of nouns, without even explaining what the cases meant. The book didn’t have any audio support and the internet didn’t exist so I had no way of even hearing what the language sounded like. Unsurprisingly I got absolutely nowhere and I soon gave it up. Even twenty years later there are now still only two main Icelandic books on the market, Daisy Neijmann’s Colloquial Icelandic and this one, the new revised Teach Yourself. I am pleased to see that this new version is now readable and easy to work though, completely different to the impenetrable first version I tried so long ago.
This book took me two months to work through, working for about an hour a day. It is easy to use and explains the basic concepts behind the complex Icelandic grammar very well. Not having studied an inflected language before it explained what the different cases meant in a fairly understandable way. It got me started on learning the language, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Each chapter starts with a dialogue to follow on the CD, the book then explains some concepts and then gives you some exercises to work through. Each chapter has a theme, like describing someone’s appearance or having dinner with family. There is a mini dictionary at the back. I did have some issues with this book as I went through it – the dictionary doesn’t list the gender of the nouns (so you often can’t work out which endings to use) and there are a few (but not many) mistakes in the answers for the exercises. There are no extended texts at the end so there is no way to practice what you have learned when you’ve finished the book.
On finishing the book I didn’t feel like I had a grasp on the language by a long way so I bought the other book Colloquial Icelandic and was shocked at how much this book left out, how many fairly basic concepts it omitted and how unrealistically slow the dialogue on the CD was. The last chapter of this book is about the same level as chapter four of Colloquial Icelandic. Daisy Neijmann’s book throws you right in at the deep end in a far more challenging way, it is more in depth but it is a great deal harder to work through. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that I might have just given up again had I started right with Colloquial Icelandic. Colloquial Icelandic also has some mistakes in it so neither book is ideal.
Overall this is a very user friendly introduction to Icelandic, an interesting but often difficult language. Without a “Teach Yourself Volume 2” this is a long way “Complete Icelandic” as the title suggests. I would recommend this book as an accessible starting point to a challenging subject. I don’t think that you can learn any language from just one textbook, you really need to work at it and immerse yourself in a number of different sources, expose yourself to as much of the language as you can. I’m still a long way from understanding this language, I don’t know if I will ever get there given its complexity and the lack of available resources. However I would recommend this book as an assessable starting point. I think that Colloquial Icelandic is a better book overall though. I just bought both.