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Learning Irish Without a Teacher

Updated on December 8, 2009

Learning Irish/Gaelic can be a difficult task especially without a teacher. One reason is that Irish is an "encoded" language, that is, it used to have it's own alphabet and now it uses English letters to represent sounds that don't exist in English. Because of this it can be hard to derive the pronunciation of a new word or phrase by just looking at it. Without hearing the word and knowing how to say it, memorization will be that much harder.

The first task in your quest will be to find a good textbook with an accompanying CD. There are a few on the market but the find one that provides spoken examples of all or most of the material provided in the text. There are two excellent books for learning Irish, "Teach Yourself Irish" by Diarmuid O Se and Joseph Sheils and "Spoken World Irish" from Living Language. "Spoken World Irish" in my opinion is the best because it provides spoken examples of nearly every example in the book.

One of the things that you will have to get used to in Irish are the different accents. In the spoken examples you will hear different pronunciations for the same words. For example, "Go raibh maith agat" (thank you) in one recording may sound like "Gorumm Mah Hahguht" and in another may sound like "Goruv mah Hahgut" . You might even hear "Gahruhm MY-agut".

At first this can be frustrating but don't worry so much about which accent and just try to make sure that it is pronounced correctly in at least one of them. Eventually you will be able to recognize the different accents and alter your pronunciation to fit the one you have chosen.

If you want to try Irish without investing in a book right away there are many good places on the Internet that you can learn for free. These are especially good if you only want to learn just enough to get around. One of the best online Irish lessons can be found on the BBC's Blas site. Here you will find two complete programs of Irish lessons that you can use online or download for later use.

To get ahead in Irish without the pain of learning the grammar you should also consider getting a phrase book. There are quite a few available so you should shop around and get one that you are comfortable with. You should look for a phrase book that has a pronunciation guide that you find the easiest to learn. If you find one with a CD then all the better.

Unless you are really dedicated to learning Irish and have a good handle on the grammar and pronunciation, getting an Irish dictionary will probably not help you much. The one I have does not have a guide to pronunciation and only lists words in their root form. If you are not familiar with the grammar you will probably not be able to fit the words into a correct sentence.

If you do pursue your studies and find that you are getting pretty good at Irish then you will need some way to re-enforce your knowledge. You can do this in a couple of ways. The obvious way would be to travel to Ireland and practice speaking it to the native speakers. Of course, this may not be the most practical way to keep in practice but their are two inexpensive alternatives.

One way to practice and keep up your Irish skills is to listen to it. There are quite a few Irish language radio and television programs available online. One of my favorite television services online is TG4. They have plenty of Irish programs available and most of them are subtitled in English for those of us who are just learning.

Finally you might be able to find a local Irish club where you can find people who will practice your Irish with. Look for specialty stores and Irish pubs for announcements of group meetings in your area. Also look online at for Irish groups that meet in your area or start your own group.

As with any language you must practice often and try to learn something new everyday.  So have fun and "go n-éirí leat" ... Good Luck!                         


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    • Owenyoyoyo profile image

      Owenyoyoyo 7 years ago from Leeds, England

      Great article; I think I'll check out TG4 online and I am hoping to buy a book when I get paid (I had been thinking about the Teach Yourself one, but will have a re-think now!). I also like to listen to Raidió Na Life online for a little while each evening- I think its helping me.

    • profile image

      Niall 7 years ago

      Tús maith leath na hoibre/A good start is half the work.