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About Icelandic online

Icelandic Online

Icelandic Online is a series of self-directed, distance learning courses in Icelandic as a foreign language, open to everyone free of charge. The web-based courses are designed for different skill levels, from beginners to more advanced learners, from level A1 to level C1 on the CEFR scale. CEFR stands for Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and is used to standardise levels of language ability. The courses are intended for use by university students in Iceland and abroad, for scholars and others interested in Icelandic language and culture. The introductory Survival Course is for persons just beginning their study of Icelandic, who are living and/or working in Iceland.

Icelandic Online courses form a continuous programme of study, based on visual and interactive study material. Each course corresponds to 45-90 hours of study. The course material trains the student in Icelandic grammar and vocabulary, in listening and using the language, for instance, through interactive exercises. The vocabulary and grammar components are adapted to the needs of beginners/each level. The language of instruction is English. You can access the courses on your computer or smart devices.

The course material is also used in distance education by the University of Iceland Language Centre. In addition, the course material is used elsewhere in university instruction and language courses.

At year-end 2019 there were around 230,000 registered users and around 77,000 active users.


In 2000, the Icelandic department of the University's Faculty of Humanities and the Sigurður Nordal Institute began joint efforts to establish a website on Icelandic language and culture. The Ministry of Education provided a grant of ISK 2 million for the project that autumn. Among the items that were to be included on the web were teaching materials in Icelandic for foreigners. In 2001, the Icelandic department, the Sigurður Nordal Institute and the Centre for Research in the Humanities received a grant from the Icelandic Research Council to develop online teaching material for Icelandic as a foreign language The University’s Teaching Fund also provided a contribution for the project. A project management was appointed, directed by professor Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, who was an initiator of the project. Úlfar Bragason, Director of the Sigurður Nordal Institute, was also a member of the project management team. A linguist and computer specialist, Patrick Thomas, was the technical advisor for the project from its inception, while Kolbrún Friðriksdóttir MA initially did most of the work compiling the teaching material itself, with the assistance of others.

Collaboration was established with the University of Wisconsin at Madison to realise the project. Professor Dick Ringler served as that university's representative. Work then continued on the teaching materials, primarily in Iceland, while the University of Wisconsin focused on the preparation of an electronic Icelandic-English dictionary linked to the instructional material. In addition, co-operation was established with five universities in four European countries: in Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich, Lyon and London, where Icelandic was then taught with the support of the Icelandic government. Icelandic lecturers at these locations both worked on the course material with project staff in Iceland and had their students test the study material. The EU Lingua Programme provided substantial financial support for the project.

The first part of the online course Icelandic Online 1 was ready in August 2004 and was formally opened by then Minister of Education, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir. The second part, together with Icelandic Online 2, was ready in 2005. These courses are intended for beginners at the tertiary level.

The online study courses are compiled based on research into the Icelandic language and online language teaching. They have been developed in collaboration between teachers and students at the University of Iceland and the partner universities. Furthermore, the intention has been right from the beginning, with the help of a course-related monitoring system, to launch research on acquiring Icelandic as a foreign language through online instruction and on the learning behaviour of students. This research should also provide better insight than is currently available as to how adults learn highly inflected languages such as Icelandic.

Following the opening of Icelandic Online 1, the Centre for Research in the Humanities at the University of Iceland, the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies (in which the Sigurður Nordal Institute has been incorporated) and the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute for Foreign Languages joined together - with the collaboration of five Nordic Institutions, the University Language Centre and the Multicultural Centre - to add two additional, more advanced units of instruction to Icelandic Online, i.e. Icelandic Online 3 and Icelandic Online 4. They also worked to create a preparatory course aimed at responding to the needs of immigrants, the so-called Survival Course. The Nordic Council of Ministers' Nordplus programme provided support for this work. The courses were opened for use in 2010.

Shortly thereafter, work began on Icelandic Online 5. This was conceived as a course of further study focusing on the cultural literacy of students studying Icelandic as a foreign language at the University of Iceland, including the ability to comprehend both older and contemporary literary texts. The co-ordinator of this project was professor Jón Karl Helgason. The course was conducted in collaboration with the Icelandic Faculty of the University of Iceland, the Centre for Research in the Humanities, the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute, the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, the University of Bergen and the University of Helsinki. The project was supported by the Nordplus programme. This course was ready for launch at year-end 2013.

Reprogramming and revision of the Icelandic Online courses for smart devices began in 2014 in collaboration with the University of Iceland's Faculty of Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. Computer science students at the University, under the direction of Patrick Thomas, developed new course software. The redesign, reprogramming and transfer of the material to the new system and its revision involved extensive and costly work. Many people contributed to the project under the direction of the project managers, professor Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, research professor Úlfar Bragason and adjunct Kolbrún Fridriksdóttir. The project was supported by the Nordplus programme, the University of Iceland, the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute for Foreign Languages, the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and the Directorate of Labour. The redesign was aimed at making the courses usable on smart devices. The project was completed in the summer of 2018 with the exception of Icelandic Online 5, which has yet to be redesigned.

In tandem with work on redesigning the online Icelandic courses, collaboration began with the University of the Faroe Islands and the University of Helsinki in developing courses in Faroese and Finland Swedish. A beginners’ course in Faroese and one beginners’ and one advanced course in Finland Swedish have been completed.

Work in progress

The Icelandic Online courses and material offer plenty of potential for further development. Professor Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir and Halldóra Þorláksdóttir, editor of Icelandic Online, have now received grants to develop study material for children linked to Icelandic Online. A new analysis from the Icelandic Institute of Education (2018) pointed out the urgent need for educational material for children whose native language is not Icelandic and numerous requests for such from teachers. The aim is to meet this need by developing 60 hours of quality teaching materials for 5-7 year-olds, which will be easily accessible, entertaining and interactive. Emphasis will be placed on building vocabulary, speech practice, and developing inherent language skills through exercises, games and puzzles. The target group will include both children whose mother tongue is not Icelandic and native Icelandic children who have been raised in a different language environment and need Icelandic language education. The project management consists of Kolbrún Friðriksdóttir adjunct at the University of Iceland, Úlfar Bragason, research professor emeritus, and Branislav Bedi, project manager at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, as well as Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir and Halldóra Þorláksdóttir. The project has received grants from the children's benefit association Sumargjöf, Áslaug Hafliðadóttir Scholarship Fund, Immigrants’ Development Fund, Educational Material Development Fund and Ministry of Education.

(compiled by Úlfar Bragason at the beginning of 2020)