“The people spoke their own language, preserved their Gaelic customs and ways of life, and remained united in their common traditions. They had no inducement to look outside their own country, and entrenched behind their language and their national traditions, they kept their social life intact. Ireland was still the Ireland of the wholly distinctive Irish people.”
– Michael Collins
The Problem With Gaelic Education
Béarla (English) is our primary language on this island. We learned this language organically and effortlessly in our youth – not because we were especially capable of learning words and grammar in our first 4 years, but the nature in which we were learning. We call this “comprehensible input”. It’s the exact opposite to how we learn Gaelic and foreign languages in school later in life, which very few people actually master. The teaching of Irish and other languages depends on memorization and regurgitation, which explains the large number respondents to numerous surveys (in the median range of 37%) who claim to speak “some Irish”, yet AIB reports fewer than 1% of their customers use the Irish option at their cash machines.
Why isn’t Irish taught in the same way that young children learn English?
Duolingo (Learning App)
Your first stop should be Duolingo’s app (Apple, Android, Windows) and website. As you can see from the mainpage, Irish is one of the seven learn-able languages prominently displayed. Irish is not an afterthought on Duolingo and is instead handled very well, largely thanks to a dedicated and vibrant community that has formed around it. As of the beginning of 2016, 1.3 million people are using Duolingo to learn our language, with approximately 22% of that number coming from Ireland itself, 52% from the United States, and others from Britain, the Netherlands etc.
Duolingo will teach you through repetition of translation, will speak some sentences to you, and will gradually introduce you to the various grammatical structures. It will correct you as you go, suggest revising particular lessons if you show weakness in an area, help you set daily goals, encourage you to meet those goals, and remind you daily via the app and/or email in the evening. It’s free and powerful.
For those interested in the history and significance of this service, “Bringing Irish to the Masses: Irish for English Speakers on Duolingo” by Oisín Ó Doinn is suggested (short) reading.
Daltaí na Gaeilge (organisation, class directory, discussion forums)
Founded in 1981 by an Armagh native, Daltaí was founded in New York, USA, and later became an online presence to help people in the US, Ireland, and around the world find classes based on the founder’s model. As well as being a directory to find such classes, the forums and other resources are extremely useful for learning.
Teanglann.ie (dictionary, translation, and audio pronunciations)
A word and grammatical database of translation dictionaries. Also has a pronunciation service with real voice recordings of all four dialects (in the majority of cases).
Abair.ie (sentence pronunciation and phoneticization service)
This website is useful if you want to quickly hear a sentence spoken (computer synthesization) presumably in the Connacht dialect. It also offers a service that will give you a phonetic form of an Irish sentence. A free service from the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht Affairs.
Learn By Immersion
After you have mastered the basics, have established that you wish the learn the language, and are happy to proceed, it is important to immerse yourself in order to actually become fluent.
Mentioned above, you can join the forums on this website, ask intermediate questions as well as converse as Gaeilge on the Irish-only portion of the forums.
As you learn on your own, either in a class or self-studying, you can train yourself to recognise the language as it’s spoken as a child would. This is different from passive or sleep-leanring which many people try and fail at if they don’t accompany the experience with conscious learning. Raidió na Gaeltachta features Irish music, news, and talk radio – as Gaeilge. It’s light-hearted and entertaining to listen to.
TG Lurgan (music covers)
Personally I think this is sail mhiotail, but if you like pop music this is a sincere and inspiring group of people who translate the lyrics of popular songs and sing (mostly) in chorus over the instrumentals with professional sound.