Teach Yourself Icelandic review

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Teach Yourself books. On the one hand, they are often the only textbook for less-commonly-taught languages, and I've appreciated the way they let you bootstrap up to more complicated books. On the other hand, Teach Yourself's quality control is spotty, and if there are two or three textbooks for a language, there's probably a better one.

Complete Icelandic starts out pretty well, except for the recordings – which begin with a dreadful one … word … at … a … time style that you will never hear in real life. (They do speed up later.) I could do without things like a TWO AND A HALF PAGES of words for nationalities and languages in chapters 2 and 3 (how often, really, does a beginner need to say "I am Latvian and speak Estonian?" And if you do need to say it, can't you just look it up?) – but overall the first half of the book has some perfectly fine lessons on telling time, common verb endings, and a lot of basic things that you might genuinely use.

I especially appreciated the way that the end-of-chapter exercises included realistic-looking advertisements, signs, and TV listings, and encouraged you to search through the parts you couldn't read for the information you could read – what days and hours a store is open, say, or how much something costs. And, even better, once you've worked farther into the book, you can come back and read more of the stuff that went over your head! It's simultaneously a task you might really need to do in a foreign country – sifting for important things in a document you're not skilled enough to read in its entirety – and a little perk when you go back and review.

About the halfway point is where turbulence hits. As I've mentioned before, Icelandic has a huge number of endings for nouns and adjectives – and Complete Icelandic simply handles this by dumping out big tables of endings, giving you a dozen exercises, and moving on as if you know them.

The exercises might let you test whether you've learned the material, but there are not nearly enough of them to practice. I slowed down considerably on the course as I put together my own flashcards and learning materials.

By the last chapter, you're staring at five tables of twenty-four adjective endings apiece (plus a sixth table for a common irregular adjective). This isn't a summary, either – you're seeing these for the first time.

TY is obviously trying to cram in as much grammar as they can – I wouldn't be surprised if there's a page count limit. But they don't have time for the subjunctive verb forms, which that Transparent link calls "an often used verb form" and notes is used in most polite phrases, or comparative forms of adjectives (like "bigger" or "biggest" in English.)

If this were the only Icelandic textbook you had, you'd be grateful for it. But if you have to choose just one English-based textbook, I'd suggest Beginners' Icelandic instead.

Written on February 21, 2016