Lá ‘le Pádraig Sona Daoibh!

There’s nothing at all normal about this St. Patrick’s Day.

A chairde,

It’s a crazy, different time in which we find ourselves! There’s nothing at all normal about this St. Patrick’s Day.

I don’t know how things are where you are, but I’m guessing not too different from where I am. Lock down. Pubs closed. Parades and masses canceled. Future events in doubt. Maybe you’re sitting home, as I am, wondering if you’ll even have a job a few weeks from now.

But you know what? It’s still St. Patrick’s Day! Lá ‘le Pádraig! It’s our day! I don’t know about you, but I’m going to celebrate in every way I can!

Green is definitely in my future tomorrow, even if I don’t have anywhere to wear it but in front of my computer. There’s a shot of Jameson’s waiting for a toast tomorrow evening. And, because it works out that I WILL be at home tomorrow, I will sing Óró ‘sé do bheatha abhaile tomorrow at noon with all the rest of you who will be doing so around the globe!

And, of course, there’s this song, without which St. Patrick’s Day never seems quite complete.

Dochas Linn Naomh Pádraig

Have a wonderful day tomorrow, a chairdeGo mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís.

Le grá,

GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

St. Patrick’s Day and being Irish in the time of COVID-19

Right now, I can’t focus on things that divide us.

So, a chairde, this is not the post I thought I would be sharing today.

For the past several weeks I’ve been working on a post on what it means to say “I’m Irish.” It’s something several friends on both sides of the question have asked me to address — why it is that Irish-Americans insist on referring to themselves as “Irish.”

It’s something that really bothers some people, and a culture clash that seemed ripe for the sharing near St. Patrick’s Day. I get it. I’ve been working on it with the goal of publishing today, and I have to say that, as of yesterday morning, I was no more than three paragraphs short of giving it a final proof and hitting “publish.”

But in the end I couldn’t do it. Because, while there are valid arguments on both sides (“My grandfather came from Ireland!” “You’re not Irish, you’re American! Deal with it!”), right now, I can’t make myself focus on things that divide us.

So much has changed

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two weeks since the reality of the coronavirus exploded here in Northern California. Within 48 hours we went from “This is something we should maybe be worried about” to out-and-out panic. The reality of what was happening in China, Iran, and Italy suddenly became our reality (yeah…sometimes we’re a little slow on the uptake).

Now Italy is on lockdown. Ireland is on lockdown. Parts of the U.S. are “containment areas.” Our government tells us that our friends from Europe are no longer welcome here. Resorts here on the California Central Coast have turned into quarantine wards.

A little thing, but…

In the light of all this, it seems that the question of who is entitled to call themselves “Irish” is a pretty minor thing, as is the widespread cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Parades, masses, sessions…those can be rescheduled, yes? Semantics and identity can be debated another day.

At the same time these minor things are the things that really hit us where we live, right? Somehow it’s a lot easier to accept the the Dow plummeting that it is to come to grips with the cancellation of seasonal festivities. That makes it personal.

And, while it’s undeniably an issue, let’s be honest: In the face of all this, does the question of who says “I’m Irish” really matter?

What has the Irish language ever done for you?

A few days ago, a friend asked me what value I’ve found in learning Irish. And I have to say, there’s been one heck of a lot.

There’s the satisfaction of learning a new language, which is pretty amazing, when you think of it. Another way to communicate. To a wordsmith, there is no greater joy.

There’s the connection to a culture that has drawn me from the time I was a teenager and first fell in love with Irish traditional music. I can’t begin to explain to you just how much that has meant to me. It’s a connection to my soul.

And yes…there’s the tremendous satisfaction of confounding telemarketers! (“I’m sorry ma’am. No one here speaks Chinese.” Somewhere in Connemara, Yu Ming is laughing!)

But, in the final analysis, the greatest gift Irish has given me is you.

The community I’ve found through Irish is easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Some of you are singers, some of you are poets or teachers, some of you are learners, some of you are fluent, or even native speakers. Some of you have no interest in learning the language at all, but have come into my life through Irish music. You come from the U.S. and Canada, from Germany and from England and from Brazil and from Japan, and, of course (where else?) from Ireland.

And in realizing this, I also realized that, in the face of this worldwide challenge, the last thing I wanted to focus on is something that divides us. It doesn’t matter what “Irish” means. What really matters is who we are, and what we have in common.

So what will you do on St. Patrick’s Day?

There’s no doubt that this year is going to be way different from other years. St. Patrick’s Day’s celebrations have been canceled from Dublin to New York!

I don’t know what you will do on March 17, but here’s what I will do:

I will reach out to my friends around the world, and rejoice in this language we share.

I will sing and make music, because that’s what I do.

I will hold my loved ones close.

I will walk outside and revel in the beauty that surrounds me.

And I will pray that next year we will look back on this time as something we got through together.

Is sibhse mo mhuintir. Is sibhse mo chroí. Is sibhse amhrán m’anama.

Le meas is le grá,

GG

* The featured image in this post was taken in Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal, in July, 2008. Glen Head and a dramatic Donegal sunset.


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

“I am,” or Copulating in Irish

If you’re new to Irish, you may be wondering if The Geeky Gaeilgeoir has been hacked by a porn site (Don’t worry. It hasn’t)

Ha ha…made you look!

If you’re new to Irish, you may be wondering if The Geeky Gaeilgeoir has been hacked by a porn site (Don’t worry. It hasn’t). If you’ve been studying Irish for a while, you’re most likely either giggling or rolling your eyes (it’s an old, old joke).

This post is not X-rated, or even R-rated (though some of the language I’ve heard from people trying to sort out this subject would definitely earn an R rating!). It has to do with one of the most fundamental aspects of Irish (or pretty much any language) — the correct use of what is, in English, the verb “To Be.”

Two “To Be’s” (and They Aren’t Synonyms)

Irish has two verbs that correspond to the English “to be” — bí (the present tense, tá, is more commonly encountered by beginners, so I’ll use that to refer to this verb from here on out) and “the copula” —  is (pronounced to rhyme with “kiss,’ not as “iz” or “ish”).

The thing is, they aren’t interchangeable. Each has its own function, and using one when the other is called for is a serious grammar mistake (often referred to by learners as a “tá sé fear” error — TSF for short — for reasons that will, hopefully, become clear further on).

Figuring out when to use the copula and when to use can drive beginners a little bit crazy, and the way it’s usually taught doesn’t often help. We’ll talk about that in a second, but first…

What’s a copula?

“Copula” may sound a little like some kind of disease, but it’s actually just a grammatical term for what is sometimes called a “linking verb.” Here’s what Webster has to say about it:

Definition of linking verb

a word or expression (such as a form of be, become, feel, or seem) that links a subject with its predicate

It is related to the words “couple” and — yes — “copulate.” In Irish, “is” is the only copula, and it has a very specialized function, as we’ll see here in a bit. It’s really not as scary as it seems at first.

(But if you want to refer to it as “that copulating copula,” be my guest. It’s been called worse.)

Permanent vs. Impermanent

Typically, when new learners are first introduced to this concept, they are told to use is when talking about things that are permanent and tá when talking about things that are impermanent. Unfortunately, this explanation breaks down pretty quickly.

I was chatting with an advanced beginner at the San Francisco Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta (Irish immersion weekend) some years back, when the subject of vegetarianism came up. I gave her the word for vegetarian (feoilséantóir — literally “meat denier”) and asked if she could use it in a sentence (always teaching!).

She hesitated for a second and then said “I guess it would be “Tá mé feoilséantóir,” because I haven’t always been a vegetarian and I might not be one forever, so it’s not a permanent state.”

Unfortunately, the practice of teaching the copula as something used to indicate a permanent state is a set-up for exactly this kind of mistake. You can’t say “Tá mé feoilséantóir.” It’s a TSF error. You say “Is feoilséantóir mé.

(I do have to say, for the record, that there ARE times when you would use “ta” to describe a new, transitory, or future state, but that requires a special construction using “i” — “in” — that I won’t go into here. Maybe in a later post.)

When you think about it, there is very little about people, animals, or things that is truly permanent. “The tree is tall” — until it’s been topped. “John is alive” — until he’s dead.

In addition there are things that are, more or less, permanent — for example “She is smart” or “Donegal is beautiful” (it is!) — for which we wouldn’t use the copula, at least not in this kind of simple construction. So clearly this isn’t a very useful distinction.

Nouns vs. Adjectives

At one point, when I was an intermediate learner, I overheard a teacher working with beginners offering this distinction:

“Use is when describing something using a noun. Use  when describing something using an adjective.”

This distinction actually worked pretty well for me for quite a while, because it’s more or less true: If  you want to say “X is [noun]” you use the copula and if you want to say “X is [adjective]” you use . Easy peasy, right?

It broke down in practice, however, when I started teaching beginners myself.

Aside from the fact that I often had to explain the grammatical terms, there are too many instances for which this distinction is just too broad.

For example, what if you have a sentence that includes both a noun AND an adjective (“He is a tall man,” for example)?

What about tá sentences that don’t include an adjective (“Tá an madadh ag ithe”: The dog is eating.  “Tá an pláta ar an tábla“: the plate is on the table”)? Maybe they even include an adverb (“Tá an madadh ag ithe go mall”: The dog is eating slowly)!

And what about those “is” idioms indicating likes and preferences that are often among the first phrases we learn (“Is maith liom tae”: I like tea. “Is breá liom fíon dearg”: I love red wine)? In this case, there are adjectives (“maith”: “good” and “breá“: “fine”) directly following the copula.

Tell it Like it is (or Tell Us What it is)

Here’s the method I finally settled on for teaching about the difference, and it holds up pretty well:

  • If you want to say something ABOUT something or someone, use tá.
  • If you want to say WHAT something or someone IS, use the copula.

You use tá say what something or someone is like: its appearance, its state or condition, its location, what it’s doing, etc. Some examples:

Tá an madadh dubh: The dog is black.

Tá an múinteoir ard dáthúil: The teacher is tall and handsome.

Tá Máire sa chistin: Maire is in the kitchen.

Tá na daoine ag rith: The people are running.

You use is to say what someone or something IS. Some examples:

Is madadh dubh é sin: That IS a black dog.

Is cócaire í Máire: Máire IS a cook.

Is é Seán an múinteoir: Seán IS the teacher.

Is iad na daoine atá ag rith: They ARE the people who are running.

(If you like grammatical terminology, these are called “identification” and “classification” sentences).

You also use the copula in certain basic set phrases, mostly having to do with likes, dislikes, and preferences (there are a few others as well, but you’ll pick those up as you go along):

Is maith liom: I like

Is breá liom: I love (as in “I love New York,” not as in “I love you, my darling”)

Is fearr liom: I prefer

Is fuath liom: I hate

Is cuma liom: I don’t care

There are more of these set expressions, but these are the ones you’re most likely to encounter early on.

It’s not really all that hard at all now, is it?

Is that all there is to it?

Of course, this isn’t the entire story. For instance, both verbs have negative forms, interrogative forms, a past tense, and a conditional mode. Tá also has a continuous mode and a future tense (Is doesn’t need a conditional mode, and doesn’t have a future tense, which is when that special construction using “in” that I mentioned above will come in handy).

But this WILL help you sort out the basic nuts and bolts of when to use tá and when to use the copula, and will help you build the foundation upon which everything else having to do with the verb “to be” in Irish will be built.

With enough practice, you’ll soon be copulating with the best of them!

(Oh, stop rolling your eyes!)


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

 

The Modest Preposition

The humble preposition plays a vital role in the Irish language

A while back, I wrote a Facebook post lamenting the loss of the preposition “from” in the phrase “to graduate from college.” Apparently, in increasingly common usage, one no longer graduates from college, one “graduates college.” (There are lots of reasons why this oddly truncated phrase doesn’t work, which I’ll let Grammar Girl describe in detail. To me it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.).

This led to a discussion about prepositions in general, with predictable side trips into regionalisms/colloquialisms, prescriptivism vs. descriptivism, language evolution (or devolution), etc., but what it all boiled down to was that prepositions are little words and, in English at least, are sometimes easily tossed aside.

(That said, I’ll challenge anyone who defends “graduate college” to explain why he doesn’t also “go school” or “sleep night”).

Me being me (yes, the geek is back!), this got me thinking about the vital role the humble preposition plays in the Irish language.

Little Word, Big Job

First let’s talk about the basic function of a preposition. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:

Prepositions show direction, location, or time, or introduce an object. They are usually followed by an object—a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. The most common prepositions are little and very common:

at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to, with

Further…

Prepositions typically show how the noun, noun phrase, or pronoun is related to another word in the sentence.

a friend of mine

the dress with the stripes

hit by a ball

no one except me

That’s a lot of work for a bunch of small words!

And how they work can vary greatly from country to country and from region to region, as this article demonstrates:

Prepositions: The super-handy and horribly confusing widgets of language, by James Harbeck.

Still, useful and perplexing as they are in English, prepositions take on a whole new job when it comes to Irish. They can take the place of verbs.

Let me explain

Perhaps the above needs a little explanation. It’s not that Irish doesn’t have verbs. Irish has plenty of verbs, and conjugating them drives new learners crazy (Though I’m not sure why. Irish verb construction is really very simple. More on that in another post).

English, however, is much more reliant on verbs to convey meaning. We have a dedicated verb for just about every conceivable action. Give us a concept and we can verb it (see what I did there?).

Irish, on the other hand, often favors a preposition, supported by some form of the verb “to be” to convey the same concepts. For example, in English we have (verbs in bold):

  • Seán has a new car
  • Máire is sick
  • Gráinne loves chocolate
  • Síle loves Sinéad
  • Éamonn hates tomatoes

The same sentences in Irish (verbs underlined; prepositions in bold):

  • carr nua ag Seán. (Literally “Is car new at Seán”)
  • tinneas ar Mháire (Literally “Is sickness on Máire”)
  • Is maith le Gráinne seacláid (Literally “Is good with Gráinne chocolate”)
  • grá ag Síle do Shinéad (Literally “Is love at Síle for Sinéad”)
  • Is fuath le Éamonn trátaí (Literally “Is hatred with Éamonn tomatoes”)

“Tá” and “Is” are both words that correspond to the verb “to be” in English (they’re not used interchangeably, but that also is a subject for another post…or maybe a book…or perhaps a small library).

But wait…there’s more!

An interesting thing about Irish prepositions (and a feature of Celtic languages in general) is that they have a special affinity with another class of small words that begins with “P” — pronouns. Irish conjugates prepositions by joining them with pronouns, in a form that is formally called a “prepositional pronoun.”

Knowing how prepositional pronouns work is integral to learning and speaking Irish (unless you want to sound like Tarzan).

Meet the pronouns

You probably remember from school that a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun (which saves us from having to say such things as “Audrey drives Audrey’s car to Audrey’s office every morning. Audrey gets out of Audrey’s car and unlocks the door to Audrey’s office and then goes to Audrey’s desk and checks Audrey’s email” which would be a pretty tedious and cumbersome way to talk, you have to admit).

These are the pronouns in English:

I/me
You
He/him
She/her
We/us
They/them
It

These are the pronouns in Irish:


Tú/thú
Sé/é
Sí/í
Muid or sinn (“sinn” is primarily used in Munster)
Sibh
Siad/iad

Because all nouns in Irish, animate or inanimate, have grammatical gender, Irish doesn’t have an equivalent of the neuter inanimate pronoun “it.” Also, unlike contemporary English, Irish has singular and plural forms of “you”: tú/thú for singular and sibh for plural.

Putting it all together

In Irish, you can’t just put a pronoun next to a preposition. You must combine the two into a “prepositional pronoun.” For example, you can’t say:

Ag mé

You have to say:

Agam

Here’s the full conjugation of “ag” (“at):

Agam (“at me”)
Agat (“at you” – singular)
Aige (“at him”)
Aici (“at her”)
Againn (“at us”)
Agaibh (“at you” – plural)
Acu (“at them”)

Here are the sentences I used earlier, each with one noun replaced with a prepositional pronoun:

  • carr nua aige(Literally “Is car new at him,” i.e., “He has a new car”)
  • tinneas uirthi (Literally “Is sickness on her,” i.e., “She is sick”)
  • Is maith léi seacláid (Literally “Is good with her chocolate,” i.e., “She likes chocolate”)
  • grá ag Síle di (Literally “Is love at Síle for her,”i.e., “Síle loves her”)
  • Is fuath leis trátaí (Literally “Is hatred with him tomatoes,” i.e., “He hates tomatoes”)

What this all comes down to is that, when translating many common phrases from English to Irish, you need to know at least three things:

1) Is this an instance that requires a preposition rather than a dedicated verb?
2) If so, which preposition is required?
3) If I want to use a pronoun, how does that pronoun combine with the preposition?

(There are actually a few more things you have to know, such as “how does the preposition affect a word that follows it?” but we’ll deal with that somewhere/time down the road).

Bad news for wannabe translators

There are myriad reasons why a person who isn’t reasonably fluent in Irish (or in any other language not their own) shouldn’t attempt translations for anything permanent or public. This is one of the biggies. Idioms involving prepositions and prepositional pronouns are integral to the language. There’s just no getting around that. And if you don’t know how to use them, you’re going to get it wrong — guaranteed.

And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times YOU CANNOT RELY ON GOOGLE TRANSLATE. Seriously. Just don’t. If you need an example or two of how just how badly Google handles Irish, check out this post I wrote for Bitesize Irish a few years back:

Bitesize Irish – Irish Translators

I’m sorry to say it hasn’t improved much in the intervening seven-plus years.

Translator’s bane, learner’s boon

If you’re learning Irish, or contemplating doing so (maybe as a New Year’s resolution!), this may seem a bit daunting. Don’t let it worry you.

The fact that these idioms are so integral to Irish means that you will begin encountering them from your earliest lessons, and the more common ones will become familiar very, very quickly. These include the kinds of sentences you will use over and over again, such as:

  • Those involving possessions
  • Those involving physical attributes
  • Those involving desires, likes, and dislikes
  • Those involving health/physical condition

It won’t take you long to begin to get a feel for the patterns. And when you need help, this is one case in which your favorite dictionary can be really useful.

Most dictionaries, whether print or on-line, have extensive entries on prepositions, which will not only give you the prepositional pronoun forms, but lots of examples of usage. Here’s an example from Teanglann.ie:

Ag (at) in Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla

You’ll get it — I promise! And faster than you might think.

The Geek is back!

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around for a while (You have noticed, haven’t you? Please tell me you noticed! Actually, if you haven’t, don’t tell me!). Adjusting to working full time after 20+ years of working from home, as well as dealing with some health issues, put a cramp in my style for a bit.

I’m back now, though, and I made two resolutions for 2020:

  1. To get this post finished and posted by the end of New Year’s Day (nailed it!)
  2. To write more frequently in 2020 (I’m aiming for publishing fortnightly, if possible. Hold me to it!)

If you think of something you’d like me to write about regarding Irish and/or translation, please let me know! You can say it in the comments below or message me via WordPress.

Athbhliain faoi rath is faoi mhaise daoibh! (A lovely and prosperous New Year to you all!)

Le meas, GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

A Cautionary Tale, or What to Buy Your Celtic-Loving Loved Ones for Christmas

Or for Hanukkah. Or for Yule. Or just because. Because friends don’t let friends get bad tattoos!

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time, a young man decided to honor his heritage by getting a tattoo in the language of his people…

Alas, he put his faith in the internet and the results were, shall we say, less than optimal.

I really wish this were a fairy tale!

Truth in Advertising

The video above may be an advertisement (in fact, it’s a promotional video by my publisher, Bradan Press, filmed in a real tattoo studio and at a Nova Scotia kitchen party) but the situation it portrays is all too real.

There is a significant interest in tattoos, engravings, cards, and other such things in the languages of the Celtic lands. In the nearly 15 years that I’ve been learning Irish, I’ve seen literally thousands of requests for tattoo translations, and almost as many requests for translations for artwork, cards, T-shirts, etc.

And that’s just in Irish. Heaven knows how may translation requests go out every day for Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, or Breton.

What’s really frightening, though, is that for every person who has requested a translation, whether from a forum, from a professional translator, or from an individual, there are many more who just do an internet search, or make the mistake of relying on Google “Translate.” And many of those translations, though hideously bad, end up permanently inked on someone’s skin.

(Not to mention in my blog. Here are just a few tattoo travesties I’ve written about in recent years: It’s A Long Life With A Bad TattooThe Great Soulmate DebateBig Sister’s Big Mistake: Four Mistakes in Two Words).

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Celtic Tattoo Handbook Series

Two years ago I was approached by Celtic-themed Canadian publisher Bradan Press about writing The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook as a companion to The Scottish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook, which had been published the previous year.

It was exciting, working with friends who are native speakers, as well as two professional Irish-language editors, to come up with the best, most authentic, translations for the most commonly requested tattoo words and phrases.

It was even more exciting to have the opportunity to educate people a bit about the language and about the translation process, which is much less simple than you might imagine! Sometimes I look at the book, open it and read the first chapters, and hope that it’s encouraged people to learn more about this language that I love.

Not Just for Tattoos

Although both books target tattoo seekers, both are also valuable for people who use, or would like to use, these languages in their artwork, as well as for such things as family reunion T-shirts, grave markers, and other such purposes (Fun Fact: After tattoos, inscriptions for grave markers/tombstones are the most commonly sought after Irish translations!).

Beyond these, both books are great for people who have an interest in or are learning these languages, as they supply not only common phrases, but also basic facts about the languages and the people who speak them (yes, both are living languages).

If you have friends or family members who are interested in the Celtic languages, or in tattoos, or in both, these books make great stocking stuffers!

Act Now!

I’ve always wanted to say that! (I think I was a infomercial narrator in a previous life!)

But seriously…don’t delay. Both books will increase in price in 2019, so if you want them, or know someone who would like to (or should) have them, now’s the time to buy!

And There’s More! Here’s to a Happy New Year!

I did mention that this is a series, right? Well, it takes more than two to make a series, and I’m happy to announce that the next two books in the series will be available in spring, 2019!

The Welsh Tattoo Handbook is one of the books that will be coming out next year. Welsh, a Celtic language that is spoken in Wales and in parts of Argentina, is a member of a different branch of the Celtic language family: The Brythonic Branch.

The Scots Tattoo Handbook is the first of the series to address a language that is spoken in a Celtic country, but is not itself a Celtic language. Scots is a Germanic language spoken in the Scottish lowlands and in Northern Ireland (If you’ve ever sung “Auld Lang Syne,” or read any poem by Robert Burns, you’re familiar with it). While some may argue whether Scots is a language distinct from English or a dialect of English, it is distinctive enough to merit its own book, and should interest anyone who has a love for Scotland!

Nollaig Mhaith, agus Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise Daoibh!

Whatever holiday you celebrate, and whatever language you speak (or want to speak), I wish all my readers and your families and friends happy holidays and a lovely and blessed New Year! See you in 2019! (My New Year’s resolution is to write more!)

Is mise, le meas,

The Geeky Gaeilgeoir


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

Clannad (Not the Anime) Abú!

I received the new Clannad CD today, and the word that keeps running through my head is “wow!”

Wow. Just wow.

I received the new Clannad CD set, Turas 1980, today, and the only word I can think of (the word that’s been running through my head since the first notes of the first track) is “wow!”

It’s exciting enough when a group of Clannad’s stature and longevity (almost 50 musical years!) releases a new album, but when it’s an album as good as this one, you want to shout it from the rooftops!

(I’m afraid of heights, though, so I figured I’d just blog about it instead)

Beyond all expectations

I do have to say that, when I first heard about this CD, after the initial excitement, I was a little disappointed. This is a release of songs and tunes Clannad performed on stage in Bremen, Germany in 1980, and live albums typically aren’t my thing. They rarely live up to expectations, and these are almost 40 year old recordings…I mean, seriously?

Seriously? Seriously! Go deimhin! These tracks are GOOD! Not just Clannad good (which is pretty damned amazing by any standard), but “where has this been all my life” good. So often a live show recording is poorly miked, overcome by background noise, unbalanced…you know how it is.

This collection, however, is about as perfect as it gets. It has all the freshness of a live performance with the richness and quality of a studio recording.

The old made new

If you think you’ve heard everything Clannad has to offer, think again. Several  of these songs/tunes are ones that Clannad hasn’t released on CD before, but even those that have been released on other albums  are fresh and new here because of the difference in harmonies and instrumentation. I’ve been driving around belting out Cuach Mo Londubh Buí with a big grin on my face, as if I’d never heard/sung it before!

That’s another thing I’m in love with about this album. There are  A LOT of songs in the mix — most of them in Irish. Many Irish trad CDs are more balanced toward instrumental tunes, but this one is balanced more toward singing, which pleases me, and more toward Irish than English, which pleases me greatly!

Those of you who have followed my blogs over the years know that I’m a huge advocate of learning by singing, and this is a great album to sing along with. Most of the songs are standards in the Irish trad repertoire, so if you’re a music lover who is also learning Irish, you’ll eventually hear these elsewhere, and it will be nice for you to have some familiarity with them.

Details, details

They say the devil is in the details. Well, there’s plenty of attention to detail here.

One of the reasons I’m not normally a fan of live albums is that there tends to be a lot of talking at the beginning of each track. Typically there’s no option to just listen to the song without going through the between-track patter first.

I listen to music while I’m driving to and from work. My time is limited. It can be annoying to have to listen to the same introduction over and over again just to hear the song I want.

The funny thing is, I’d never really thought about this until now. What they did here is so simple it took me a while to realize what it was, yet so effective that it completely changed the experience of listening to a live album for me. It’s a small detail, but an important one:

Instead of putting the patter at the beginning of a track, they put it at the end of the preceding track.

So, for example, the first track is Turas Ó Carolan and the second is An Cruiscín Lán. They put the spoken introduction to An Cruiscín Lán at the END of the Turas Ó Carolan track. So if I want to listen to it, I can, but if I just want to skip to the beginning of An Cruiscín Lán, I can do that.

Simple, right? Simple, but brilliant! I don’t know why this isn’t universal, but it totally should be! Let’s be honest here…while a bit of talking between songs in a concert is useful and expected, it’s not what most of us buy albums for.

Just one minor quibble

I do have one little issue with this album, and it’s one that I have with a lot of Irish collections. There’s no lyric sheet.

I’m not quite sure why this is. Perhaps the musicians think that people are unlikely to want to or be able to read the Irish lyrics, or perhaps it saves some money in production. I don’t know.

News flash, lads…the Irish learners among your listeners would madly, passionately LOVE the lyrics (and the non-Irish-learners would at least get a kick out of thinking “How do you make THIS sound like THAT?”).

Given that many people these days are more likely to download the music than to buy a CD set, even an official on-line site with the lyrics would suffice. There are lyrics out there from various sites, but they’re not always accurately transcribed.

And you know the old saying: There are two versions of every story, and 12 versions of every song!

A must-have

Minor quibble aside, this album is a must-have. If like Irish music, and/or you’re learning Irish, this album belongs in your collection.

About that anime

Maybe this won’t be a surprise to you, but it was to me: Apparently there’s quite a well-known (and, by all accounts, quite good) manga and anime out there by the name of “Clannad.”

It seems that the artist co-opted the name under the mistaken impression that “Clannad” means “family” in Irish.

Mini Irish lesson here: It doesn’t. (If nothing else, for you tattoo seekers out there, this underscores the fact that good research is your friend).

The word clann in Irish (which is the origin of the English word “clan”) typically is used to refer to the children of a family, or to a group of siblings. This isn’t universal, however, and in parts of Donegal, you’ll hear clann used simply to mean “family.”

But that’s clann. Where did “Clannad” come from?

As it happens, when the group first got its start, they had to come up with a name on the fly, and they went with Clann as Dobhar: “Family from Dore.” “Clann a. d” eventually was shortened to “Clannad.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

If you wandered in here seeking information about the anime, however,  fáilte! (welcome!). Stick around! We love to share our language, and you’re welcome to join us! It’s a small world, and the Irish-speaking world is even smaller. Bígí linn! (Join us!).

Le meas,

GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

 

An Modh Coinníollach, or The Monster of What May (or May Not) Be

Don’t be afraid of the dark…or of the modh coinníollach!

Dá mbeinn chomh saibhir is a bhí mé anuraidh
Thógfainn tigh mór ar an chnoc údai thall,
Fíon agus ór ‘siad a bhéarfainn do mo stór,
Is bheinn ag gabháil ceoil le mo chailín rua.

The Monster in the Living Room

I just have to say it. Ever since I started learning Irish, I’ve heard people speak with dread and loathing of the modh coinníollach (pronounced, roughly “mohg kun-EE-lukh”).

“It’s too difficult!” “I’ll NEVER get it!” “Why do we have to have this in the language?” “Can’t we just get rid of it?” (this latter group usually wants to do away with the tuiseal ginideach — the genitive case — as well).

As I’m sure you can imagine, by the time I was an advanced student, I’d built the modh coinníollach up into a terrible monster in my mind!

And I wasn’t alone! I’ve even seen an entire class of advanced students turn white as sheets when the teacher suggested doing a drill on the modh coinníollach. I swear, you’d have thought he’d asked us to rappel down Sliabh Liag using dental floss!

Irish-American comedian Des Bishop had a similar experience:

Des Bishop on An Modh Coinníollach

Meet the Monster

So what is this terrible thing that has been terrorizing Irish students for generations? Well, if you listened to the above video (And you should. Des Bishop is hilarious!), you already know: It’s simply the conditional mode of a verb. 

Furthermore, if you’re a student of Irish, it’s likely that you’ve been using the modh coinníollach from some of your earliest lessons.  Does any of this sound familiar?

Cad é ba mhaith leat?: What would you like?

Ar mhaith leat cupán tae?: Would you like a cup of tea?

Ba mhaith.:  Yes (“I would”)

Níor mhaith: No (“I wouldn’t”) 

Ba, ar, and níor are, in this case, conditional forms of the copula is.

In my case, I’d unknowingly encountered the modh coinníollach even before I started seriously studying Irish, in one of my favorite songs: An Cailín Rua (“The Red-Haired Girl”), the last verse of which is at the beginning of this post:

If I were (dá mbeinn) as wealthy as I was last year,

I would build (thógfainn) a big house on the hill over yonder,

Wine and gold I would give (bhéarfainn) to my love,

And I would be (bheinn) making music with my red-haired girl.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

A Matter of Condition

I suspect one reason the modh coinníollach worries people is that they’re not sure how or when to use it.

Formal grammar terminology can be intimidating if you’re not familiar with it (and sometimes even if you are!). And modh coinníollach” certainly is a mouthful, even in English (“conditional mode/mood”).

But it’s really not all that bad. Let’s break it down:

Modh = “Mode” or “Mood”:  A distinctive form, or set of forms, of a verb.

Coinníollach = “Conditional”: Something that is dependent on certain conditions.

So, put reasonably simply (or hilariously, if you listen to Des Bishop’s monologue), the modh coinníollach is a verb form you use when you’re talking about something that might or might not happen, depending on other factors (“conditions”):

“If I were rich, I would buy a Ferrari.”

“If I had the time, I would write more blog posts.”

“If it weren’t raining, I would go for a walk.”

The first part of the sentences above tells you what would need to happen (more money, more time, no rain) to make the second part happen (buying a Ferrari, writing more blog posts, going for a walk).

Of course, you can also flip such conditional sentences around:

“I would buy a Ferrari, if I were rich.”

“I would write more blog posts, if I had the time.”

“I would go for a walk, if it weren’t raining.”

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Another way to keep track of when to use the modh coinníollach, at least if English is your first language, is to link it in your mind with certain English words:

Should

Would

Could

Were (Not as in the past tense — “the boys were playing” — but in the subjunctive — “If I were rich.”).

Don’t be intimidated!

But perhaps the issue isn’t so much knowing when to use the modh coinníollach as knowing how to form it.

The thing is, it really isn’t difficult. It’s certainly no more difficult than other Irish verb forms (which, because of the relative lack of irregular verbs in Irish – there are only 11 – aren’t all that difficult at all).

If you can learn the future and past tenses, you can learn the modh coinníollach, and I’m going to give you some basics to get you started.

Days of future past

With a nod to The Moody Blues*, then, let’s get started.

(*And yes…I know the name of the CD is actually “Days of Future Passed.” But this always pops into my head when I think about the modh coinníollach – you’ll see why in a moment – so I think the band will allow me a little leeway).

If you know how to form the past tense and the future tense of regular Irish verbs, you’re more than halfway to knowing how to form verbs in the conditional mode.

First, change the beginning

For independent verb forms* in the modh coinníollach, the beginning of the word is the same as it is in the past tense. Let’s review those:

1. If it begins with a lenitable consonant, lenite it. Shín sí: “She stretched.”

2. If it begins with an unlenitable consonant, leave it alone: Lean sé: “He followed.

3. If it begins with a vowel, put “d’” in front of it. D’éirigh siad: “They arose/got up.”

4. If it begins with “f,” first you lenite it and then, because “fh” is silent, you also put “d’” in front of it. D’fhan sé: “He stayed.”

* Independent verb forms are those that don’t “depend” on a particle: “an,” “ar,” “nach,” etc. 

Next, broaden your future

The future tense of the verbs above are as follows:

Sínfidh

Leanfaidh

Éireoidh

Fanfaidh

To form the conditional mode, after you change the beginning, if necessary, you make those slender endings (i.e., “i” or “e”) broad:

Shínfeadh sí: She would stretch

Leanfadh sé: He would follow

D’éireodh siad: They would arise/get up

D’fhanfadh sé: He would stay.

Not too bad, is it?

Exceptions, Exceptions

One way in which the conditional mode differs from other verb forms is that the first- and second-person singular  are formed a little differently.

The first- and second-person singular forms in the modh coinníollach always incorporate the pronoun into the verb itself (if you speak a dialect that uses táim and táimid instead of tá mé and tá muid, you’re already familiar with this concept). Technically, these are referred to as “synthetic” verb forms.

For first-person singular, that means that the verb ends in “-inn” (Yeah, I know that seems a little odd.  If it helps you to remember, just pretend that “nn” is an “m.” It kind of looks like an “m” in sans serif fonts anyway.)

For second-person singular, that means the verb ends in “-fá.” I have no mnemonic for you for this one. It’s just one you’ll have to learn. But it’s unusual enough that it’s actually pretty easy to remember.

So, for the verbs we’ve been talking about:

Shínfinn: I would stretch.
Shínfeá: You would stretch.

Leanfainn: I would follow
Leanfá: You would follow

D’eireoinn: I would rise/get up
D’éireofá: You would rise/get up

D’fhanainn: I would stay
D’fhanfá

See how easy it is? Just follow the pattern!

It’s a bit of a struggle at first to remember not to add a pronoun after the word (for example, it’s just shínfinn, not shínfinn mé, because the pronoun is already incorporated into the ending), but it’s just a bit of practice…nothing insurmountable.

First- and third-person plural

First- and third-person plurals are also different, and require a little bit of memorization. The ending for first-person plural is “-mis.” For third-person plural, it’s “-dís.

Shínfimis: We would stretch
Shínfidís: They would stretch

Leanfaimis: We would follow
Leanfaidís: They would follow

D’éireoimis: We would arise/get up
D’éireoidís: They would arise/get up

D’fhanfaimis: We would stay
D’fhanfaidís: They  would stay

Again, these are synthetic verb forms, so don’t stick a pronoun on the end…it’s already there.

Is that all? Of course not!

Some time in the future (when I have time to sit down and write again) we’ll explore the negative and dependent forms of the conditional mode. In the meantime, spend some time practicing what I’ve given you here.

Really, the point of this post is not to make you an overnight expert, but to minimize the angst that seems to surround what really is a very basic and simple verb form.

Don’t shy away from it! It really is no more difficult than any other verb form. Why it’s developed its fearsome reputation I have no idea, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you avoid it.

You would be much happier, and you could find yourself much more comfortable with conversational Irish, if only you would let go of your fear!

An modh coinníollach abú!

The featured picture at the top of this post was taken on midsummer eve in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. The cottage is in a little holiday village where I and some friends stayed for a week, making music and seeing the sights. © 2008, by Audrey Nickel.


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

 

“English Only, Please!”

You’d think a docent at a place called “Gardens of the World” would be more receptive to world languages, but apparently to some a rós is not a rose.

Language discrimination. You hear about it all the time.

A young woman is standing in a supermarket line, talking on the phone to her mother in Spanish, and someone taps her on the shoulder and says “This is America. We speak English here.”

Two college students are chatting in Arabic on the underground in London, and a big guy gets in their faces and tells them to bugger off back to their “own country.”

A couple of women go on holiday in Wales and come back red-faced and angry because “They were speaking Welsh in the pub, and we know they were talking about us!”

You hear about it, and it makes you angry, but you never really, truly internalize it until it happens to you.

Welcome to the World

I  spent this past weekend thoroughly enjoying the annual Los Angeles-area Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta (Irish language immersion weekend), which was held this year in Thousand Oaks, CA. This was my fifth year at this event, and I always look forward to it. Wonderful people, An Ghaeilge an t-am ar fad…what’s not to love?

I’ll write more about the L.A. DSG a little later this week (I have a lot of photos and memories to organize!). I had a wonderful time! But right now I want to write about something that happened to some of us on the last day of the weekend, because it was very upsetting to all of us, and not something I feel I can let slide.

On Sunday, the last day of the DSG, a group of us decided to visit the nearby Gardens of the Worlda botanical garden in the heart of Thousand Oaks.

Gardens of the World was established by Irish-American entrepreneurs Ed and Lynn Hogan as “a striking monument to commemorate the various cultures of the world.” It consists of five different gardens, each one dedicated to a particular world culture.

“Field trips” are a fun feature of the L.A. DSG…a chance to speak Irish in a different setting, with different conversational topics. As Gardens of the World is no more than a mile from where we were holding our classes, it seemed like a perfect place to spend some time on a Sunday afternoon, speaking Irish and enjoying the beautiful early summer weather.

Seeming is Not, Alas, Believing

I really wish I could say that the Gardens of the World was a good experience. I wanted it to be a good experience. I’d had a wonderful weekend, I love botanical gardens, and this seemed like a perfect cap to the occasion.

Sadly, things went pear-shaped rather quickly.

Three of us arrived shortly before the others and, noticing the very small parking lot, politely asked one of the docents if there were other places to park nearby. We were treated to an officious lecture about how limited space is in the gardens (it really isn’t all that limited, nor was it particularly crowded!). It was very clear that our little group presented a huge problem to this person, and she wanted to be sure we knew just how big a problem we were.*

Nothing like first impressions, eh?

Eventually the rest of our group found parking, and we set off to enjoy the gardens, chatting as Gaeilge.

A second confrontation

We hadn’t been in the gardens 15 minutes when we were confronted again, by the same docent.

We’d stopped at a display of the California missions and one of our number had begun to talk (in Irish, of course) about the missions and the role they played in the history of California,  for the sake of those among us who were from out of state.

Suddenly this woman confronted us again. She accused us of “conducting a private tour.” She accused the person who had been talking about the missions of “using an amplification device” (she wasn’t).  She complained again about the size of our group. Then she said the thing that turned our irritation into shock and outright anger:

“We can’t have you doing this in a foreign language, because we don’t know what you’re saying.”

To say that we were gobsmacked would be putting it mildly.

I have no idea what she thought we might have been saying that could possibly have been so bad that she felt threatened by the language we were speaking. Horrible things, such as “The Japanese garden is all about tranquility” or “The missions were established by the Spanish”? Or maybe “Roses are my favorite flower?” Or perhaps she thought we were talking about her, like the women in the Welsh pub?

You’d think a docent at a place called “Gardens of the World” would be more receptive to world languages, but apparently to some a rós is not a rose.

Well, we continued on our “tour,” and we didn’t stop speaking Irish, but that line continued to fester, and when we got back to the place where our classes were being held. we talked about it for a bit.

California is a state that people of many tongues call home, and that many more visit every year. There is no excuse for language discrimination in any place, but in a place as diverse as Southern California, it’s absolutely absurd.

I found it particularly ironic that this happened in a place that was established by a family with the surname “Hogan.” I don’t know if Ed and Lynn Hogan spoke Irish, but their ancestors certainly would have. And they would have faced terrible discrimination — a form of bigotry and cultural genocide that came very close to eradicating the language altogether.

I volunteered to write a letter, which I have done. If I hear back from them, I’ll update this post with their response.

Why the fear?

I’ve never understood the xenophobia that makes some people suspicious or resentful of those who speak another language.

Are some people actually so self-centered that they think that people speaking another language are talking about them? Really?

It’s a big world, full of people of divers tongues and cultures. To my mind, one of the best parts of living in the 21st century is the opportunity we have, thanks to the internet, to communicate with people all over the world…to learn about languages and customs that our ancestors never had the chance to experience.

It’s time to let go of the fear. To learn to appreciate and enjoy diversity, rather than to resent and shun it. It’s time to celebrate the human family in all its wonderful variations.

A garden full of flowers of all the same color, shape, and scent, after all, would be a very dull place indeed.

Le meas,

GG

* In the interest of full disclosure, there is a line, buried in the small print on Gardens of the World’s website, asking groups of six or more to contact the gardens before they come. We  hadn’t seen it. We weren’t a large group, but there were more than six of us, and had we seen it, we most certainly would have called. And, had this been explained to us politely when we showed up, we would have been happy to break into smaller groups, as the reason we were given for the problem with larger groups was that they’re concerned about big groups interfering with the “traffic flow” in the gardens. Unfortunately, we were shown no politeness whatsoever — in fact, we were lectured as if we were naughty, and not particularly bright, little children — which, by the way, are also apparently not welcome in the gardens!


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

 

O Say, Can You Say…?

Irish pronunciation: You can learn it. You CAN crack the code. And I’m going to tell you how.

In the 14+ years I’ve been learning Irish, I’ve noticed that, among learners (including myself), there’s a particular pattern of what I call “freakoutage” — i.e., things that make you clutch your hair and moan “Oh no! I’ll never learn this!”

It’s a very particular pattern, and it goes like this:

  • Freaking out about pronunciation
  • Freaking out about dialects
  • Freaking out about the use of tá vs. is.
  • Freaking out about how to answer “yes/no” questions
  • Freaking out about Irish verbs in general
  • Freaking out about certain verb forms

And it’s not just beginners! Far from it! In fact, I was once part of a class of advanced learners — people who can chat fairly comfortably on a wide variety of topics — who froze in wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror when the teacher cheerfully suggested “Let’s practice the modh coinníollach!

(The modh coinníolach is the conditional verb form — would, could, should, etc. — and for some reason that I really don’t understand it strikes terror into the hearts of Irish learners everywhere).

At some point I hope to talk about each of these in this blog, but for right now, let’s start with the most basic.

The elephant in the room: pronunciation

Once you’ve cracked the code, it can be hard to believe that you ever struggled with Irish pronunciation.

For an absolute beginner, however, the first time you look at an Irish word and then hear it pronounced (and realize that nothing that came out of the speaker’s mouth sounded remotely as you’d assumed it would), the prospect of actually learning to speak the language can seem pretty overwhelming.

The truth is that Irish spelling and pronunciation are surprisingly regular, particularly when compared with English (the language that gives us “through,” “though,” and “tough,” to name just a few of English’s inconsistencies!).

You can learn it. You CAN crack the code. And I’m going to tell you how.

First, forget all you think you know

Usually the first thing I hear when I pronounce an Irish word for someone is “How can that possibly make those sounds?” 

People tend to assume that letters have more or less absolute values, and that, perhaps with a few exceptions, they should sound more or less in one language as they do in another.

Language learners learn fairly quickly that that’s not always the case. Some letters and letter combinations in Irish sound like their counterparts in English, but many do not. Sometimes the difference is subtle and sometimes it’s quite marked.

Irish words also often seem to have more letters than they could possibly need.  One reason for this is an Irish spelling convention that dictates that a vowel on one side of a consonant or consonant combination must be matched with a vowel of the same type on the other side.

This rule is referred to as caol le caol agus leathan le leathan (“slender with slender and broad with broad”).  The “slender” vowels are i and e, and the broad vowels are a, o, and u. Often, when you find three vowels together in Irish, one of them is there simply to satisfy this spelling rule.

Add this to the fact that consonants and consonant combinations often make very different sounds to their counterparts in English, and you can find just about everything you know about spelling turned upside down.

If you go in without the expectation that things will “sound like they’re spelled” (a phrase I’ve come to hate, as they DO sound like they’re spelled…if you speak Irish! English is not the arbiter of the alphabet!), you’ll have an easier time right from the start.

Next: Forget Phonetics

It is so very tempting, when you hear an Irish word, to write it out using English phonics, or to ask the teacher to do so for you. So it may come as a surprise to you when I say that this is one of the WORST things you can do if you truly want to learn to read Irish as written.

There are a lot of reasons why writing things out “phonetically” is a bad idea. Here are just a few of them:

  • The sounds of Irish cannot be accurately represented by English phonics.* Consider the word gaoth (wind) for example. When people attempt to write it with English phonics, it usually gets set down as “gwee.” The problem is, while there is a sound in there that sounds a little like an English “w,” it’s not precisely equivalent. You can hear it pronounced in the three major dialects here:

    Gaoth
  • Phonetic renderings impose an extra step between your ear, your eye, your mind, and your mouth. When you use English phonics to describe Irish sounds, you’re not really learning to associate the sounds with the Irish spelling, which can make learning to read and pronounce Irish doubly difficult.
  • Phonetic renderings can quickly become a crutch. I’ve known several people who never have learned to pronounce Irish as written, even after years of study, because they haven’t been able wean themselves off their English phonetic renderings (and at least one guy who claims it’s “impossible” to learn how to pronounce Irish as written and is trying to promote a new, English-based Irish spelling system. How sad is that?).

* Someone here is bound to mention IPA. Yes, the International Phonetic Alphabet is capable of representing pretty much any sound. It also takes just about as much time to to learn as Irish phonics, and presents the same problem as using English phonetics when it comes to putting a barrier between you and the written language. Save the IPA for another day.

See it; hear it; say it

So how do you learn to pronounce written Irish? The answer is so simple you’re going to think I’m pulling your leg. So simple, and yet so vital:

  • You see the word or phrase
  • You listen to a recording of the word or phrase
  • You say the word or phrase

What you need to do is establish a link between the word as it appears, the word as it sounds, and the word as it’s said. There is absolutely no substitute for this kind of practice if you want to learn to read Irish as written.

Don’t sit there and think to yourself “How can this possibly be pronounced like that?” Just accept that it is and learn it. It really is just that simple, and you’ll be surprised at just how quickly it works.

Of course, there are details

They say the devil is in the details, and if you want this method to work well for you, you need to give that devil his due. If you go about this randomly, at best it will take much longer to learn and at worst you may find yourself so confused that you give up.

Here are a few words of advice:

  • If you don’t have a teacher, pick ONE self-teaching method that has both a written and an aural component and stick with that one until you’ve finished it. This is important advice for learning Irish in general, and especially important if you want to get a solid grasp on how to read it as written. Don’t worry about dialects at this point. You’re just trying to get the basics, without confusing yourself too much. Once you’ve got those down, you can adjust your pronunciation as needed. I list several good resources in my blog post “Beyond Duolingo.”
  • If you do have a teacher, ask him or her if you can make a recording of vocabulary words and phrases/sentences from the unit you’re working on.
  • For now, avoid YouTube “pronunciation” videos. Yes, all of them (unless, of course, they’re part of the self-teaching method you’re using or of the program your teacher is using). Some of them are good, some are “meh,” and some are outright horrible. You don’t want to confuse yourself, and you certainly don’t want to establish bad habits right from the start! Those videos can wait until you’re a little farther along.
  • Practice daily, or more frequently if possible. Spend at least a few minutes every day working with your recordings. Look at the word or phrase you’re learning while you play the recording and again while you try to emulate the recording. See it; hear it; say it. Some self-learning programs, such as “Enjoy Irish!,” even have apps available for your phone, so you can spend a few minutes practicing during your lunch break (or on the bus or train if you don’t mind people looking at you funny!).
  • Every so often, reverse the order: Look at the word or phrase first, try to say it, and then compare what you said to the recording. This will allow you to assess your progress. When you get to the point where you’re pronouncing things correctly most of the time, and it’s just a matter of refining pronunciation rather than trying to work out how all the letters sound, you’ll know you’ve cracked the code.

Practice makes perfect

It may be a cliché, but it’s true nevertheless. If you work like this a little each day, pronunciation of written Irish will come to you more quickly than you may have dreamed possible when you first began.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, get a good learning method (if you don’t have one already) and start practicing!

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh!

Happy Learning!

GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/