For the first two years of my Irish studies, it was almost entirely a written language for me. Not only did I not have a class to attend, I had no idea where I could possibly hear the language spoken, aside from a couple of learning programs.
A vital ingredient
The thing is, if you ever want to truly learn a language, you need to hear it. All the pronunciation keys in the world won’t help you get a feel for the actual sounds of a language…not only its unique phonemes, but also its natural cadence and rythmn.
It’s also vitally important to hear it spoken at a conversational pace if you ever hope to understand the spoken language in a natural context. Of necessity, audio learning programs, including Bitesize Irish Gaelic, make recordings in which the speakers speak slowly and clearly so that learners can replicate the sounds.
After a while, though, you need to start training your ears to understand the language as it exists in the real world, where people often talk quickly, hem and haw, repeat themselves, slur or drop certain sounds, etc., and where you’re often faced with similar-sounding words.
Listening while reading: A good start
When you first start out, one of the easiest things to do is to listen to a piece of text being read aloud while you follow along.
Fortunately, nowadays there are quite a few options for doing this. As we mentioned in Learning Irish Through Reading — Part 1, some novels geared toward adult learners are available with an audio CD (that blog post also lists places where you can buy such books).
There’s also a workbook and DVD set geared toward intermediate learners, called “Speaking Irish: An Ghaeilge Bheo,” that allows you to do this. Because it is geared toward more advanced learners, you’re meant to listen to the speaker first, before reading the text, but beginners can benefit from using it as a “read-and-listen” book.
If you’re not ready to buy a book yet, there are also quite a few on-line options for listening and reading. Eoin recently linked to a couple of these on Bitesize’s Facebook page — small pieces taken from Irish literature and posted on the website of New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House :
Another good option is the “Guth Braoin” (Braoin’s Voice) board on the Irish Language Forum (ILF). This board features several sound files, mostly articles from Gaelscéal, read aloud and translated by a native Irish speaker.
Ditching the script
Reading while listening is a good way to start, but somewhere along the line (and sooner rather than later) you’re going to need to “ditch the script,” so to speak, and just listen.
Of course, you can use your books with audio CDs or the DVD from “Speaking Irish” for this as well, but there’s a broader range of free, on-line, options open to you once you’re no longer reading along.
To begin with, there’s the website for the Irish language TV station TG4, which allows you to watch TV shows — everything from game shows and soap operas to documentaries and the daily news — live or archived, in Irish (we talk about this option a bit more in Watch TG4 Live to Learn Irish).
(By the way, as an Irish learner, you may find this article on making Irish “cool,” written by Raidió Rí-Rá’s chairman Traic Ó Braonáin, interesting! But I digress….)
We talk more about this option, and offer a complete list of Irish radio stations, in Irish-Language Radio: A Free Resource for Learners.
Not surprisingly, YouTube can be a great resource for hearing Irish spoken too. You have to be a bit more careful here, however. Often learners upload videos of themselves speaking Irish, and, while it’s great practice for them, the pronunciation isn’t as good as it could be.
Your best bet on YouTube is to stick with short films produced by TG4 and Bord Scannán na hÉireann for the “Oscailt” series, such as Fíorghael, Yu Ming is Ainm Dom, and Fluent Dysphasia (some of these are also available on a DVD entitled “Gearrscannáin“).
There are also excerpts from the excellent and informative (but funny!) documentary “Scéal na Gaeilge” on You Tube that are well-worth listening to.
Going to the movies
You may not be able to walk into a movie theater and hear Irish, but there are a couple of very good feature-length movies in Irish, including the brilliant film adaptation of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s classic novel “Cré na Cille.”
If you don’t mind a bit of strong language (which, interestingly enough, is in English), the Irish Academy Award-winning “Kings” is also worth popping some popcorn for (but you may want to save it for when the kiddies are in bed!).
The more natural speech you listen to, the faster you will progress, in both understanding and speaking. So what are you waiting for? I think I hear Yu Ming calling….
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