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Visitor question: What if I can only learn with phonetic spellings?

Keith from New Zealand sent on a question this week:

Pronunciation is of prime importance to me and I feel that I need to see phonetic spelling alongside the written ‘Irish phrases in your lessons??

Great question! The basic problem that many people feel with learning Irish Gaelic is that the language uses a different combination of letters to represent sounds.

Lots of people (not Keith) have said to me “Irish Gaelic isn’t pronounced like it looks!”. That’s not exactly correct! Irish Gaelic just uses letters and combinations of letters differently to represent spoken sounds, in relation to English, for example.

Let’s take an example that might be more familiar to you. A French person will know exactly how to pronounce “tenez” as something like tennnay. But if you tried reading “tenez” according to English language rules, you would say like ten-ehz.

By now I hope you agree with me that different language have different rules for how to represent spoken sounds, even if they share the same alphabet.

If you still agree with me, then you’ll understand that the Irish language also has its own pronunciation system for written words.

As an Irish speaker, I know exactly how to pronounce the phrase “An bhfuil tú?”. It’s just that you don’t have the pronunciation rules to deal with that phrase!

As you might have guessed, our primary approach is to teach you the rules of Irish Gaelic pronunciation in our online lessons.

Update: Some of our online Irish lessons now do feature phonetic spelling of Irish Gaelic words! It’s written beside each “play” button, where available.

In each online lesson, wherever you see Irish words written, there is a play button to hear that word pronounced. More specifically, several of our lessons teach you how to pronounce words based on the combination of letters you see.

A nice summary of Irish Gaelic pronunciation is to be found in our Pronunciation Cheat Sheets for Irish Gaelic.

We don’t show you the words written out as if they are in the English language. Rather, we equip you with the knowledge necessary to decode how a word should be pronounced, even if you have never seen it before.

Join Bitesize Irish Gaelic today to access all our 60+ lessons that cover pronunciation and much more.

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4 thoughts on “Visitor question: What if I can only learn with phonetic spellings?”

  1. The problem with phonetic pronunciation is arriving at an agreement on the phonetics:
    e.g., in English phonetics, is “on” pronounced like “on” in “on the table”?– in which case it might better be written phonetically as “ahn.” Or, is it pronounced like “own” as in “I own that”?
    Having said that, it would be easy to develop an agreed-upon set of phonetics for English and then write Irish phonetically along side the correct Irish spellings as an aid to learning the language. My grandmother was a native Acadian French speaker. her language was not a written one for the most part. Even today, speakers of Acadian french in Louisiana, when they write their language, write is phonetically in English. For example “Passez moi le sel” becomes pahssay mway (or mwah depending on area you come from) lerr cell.” BTW in one of these posts someone points out that French has different phonetics from English. That did not used to be the case. In early french, vous parlez was pronounced very much as it is written with the zeds being loud and proud. When you see an e with an accent in French, that simply means that it used to be pronounced as es. For example, e’tate (meaning estate or more commonly e’tat meaning state) used to be estate and was pronounced that way. Similarly, Fore^t used to be Forest. The current differences between french and english phonetics are due to 1. the great vowel shift in English and more often to the gradual lisping of esses and nasalization of r’s in french over the past several hundred years. Interestingly, in Louisiana and in Acadie, you can still hear a light “r” sound in aller as spoken by some native Acadian french speakers of those regions

    1. Hi William, you’re right about being difficult to convey pronunciation through a standard set of letters. Moreover, like you said, it restricts you to understanding the sounds that already exist in English.

      As imperfect as they are, we get complaints when the phonetic spelling is not given for one of our Bitesize Irish Gaelic lessons. I think it helps the learner better interpret what they are hearing through audio, at least to begin with.