The True Definition of Learning Irish “At Your Own Pace”

The True Definition of Learning Irish "At Your Own Pace"

Readers of this blog, as well as every Bitesize Irish Gaelic student know that our motto is “learn Irish at your own pace”. Until now we met really interesting people who shared with us (and with the Bitesize community) their story of learning the Irish language, their Irish heritage and how they use our tools to strengthen their connection to their Irish origin.

If you want to read someone’s story who is a master of applying our motto, please read on since you’re going to meet Chelsea, Bitesize Irish Gaelic member who really understood what we meant by “learning at your own pace.”

Chelsea shares with us bits and pieces from her life: how she wanted to learn Latin and Italian… and failed, why does she have a strong connection to the Irish language, and what she does when she feels discouraged while learning Irish Gaelic.

Take a few minutes and read Chelsea’s interview for Bitesize. We found her words to be highly insightful for new Irish language learners, for those who feel discouraged from time to time when learning, and for those who really want to learn Irish Gaelic at their own pace.

Bitesize: Where abouts in the world do you live and what do you like about that place?

Chelsea: I live in Northern Virginia, about an hour south of Washington DC, USA. I have lived here almost my entire life, so it will always have a special place in my heart. However, I do love that this area has a great mix of history and environmental regions. I’m close to several state and national parks, such as Shenandoah, but also close to many historic sites.

I am an environmental scientist, but also a total history nerd, so there’s always something for me to do, not that I have much time, as I am in grad school at the moment.

Bitesize: What got you wanting to speak Irish Gaelic?

Chelsea: I have always wanted to learn a language, but never succeeded. In high school, I took four years of Latin, and I was terrible at it. In college, I took two years of Italian, and I was also terrible at it. I am, however, really good at grammar, which is how I passed all those classes. I think part of the reason I was never “good” at Latin or Italian is that I never really wanted to learn it. I was required to take language credits, and I took languages I thought I wouldn’t be too hard. You don’t have to speak Latin, and Italian is like Latin… right? (It’s not).

Chelsea Gray - Bitesize Irish Gaelic community
Chelsea Gray – Bitesize Irish Gaelic community

However, I still always wanted to learn a language, and, as a history nerd, have become more interested in my Irish ancestry. My father was born in Dublin, and my Grandparents speak Irish Gaelic. I also have cousins and family friends who can speak Irish Gaelic, though no one in my family speaks it at home. We frequently visit friends and family in Ireland, and I used to find the signs and place names challenging. I figured Irish might be fun to learn, and I started Duolingo about a year ago. I only kept up with it for about a month, then forgot. However, this past summer I hurt my back, and spent about a week on the couch, which is when I picked it up again.

Learning a language became a nice distraction from the stress of graduate school and research for my thesis (which, unexpectedly, will be on Basking shark tourism in Ireland). Since I now know I will likely be spending a prolonged period of time in Ireland (as opposed to a week trip), it has sustained my interest in Irish Gaelic, as I will be in an area where I can potentially practice the language, (or at least be able to pronounce place names!). Plus, I am now addicted to Ros na Run and sometimes the subtitles don’t work on TG4- I can’t bear to miss out on all the drama!

Bitesize: Do you have Irish ancestry? Tell us about it.

Chelsea: My dad was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated when he was a child. My grandparents both speak Irish Gaelic, and would teach us a phrase or two, and my grandmother’s parents are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery I also have cousins in Dublin, and family friends in Waterford, all of who had to at least learn Irish Gaelic in school.

They will say they aren’t fluent, but they often teach us a word or phrase while we are there. My family goes to Ireland at least every couple of years, and visit family and friends. Every year for Christmas, my father makes a traditional Irish pudding, with a recipe from the 1800s. My grandparents live in Quincy, MA, and whenever we are there we stop at the Irish butcher to get Irish sausages, black pudding, and bread. And of course, my family makes tea every day.

Bitesize: How do you use Bitesize Irish Gaelic?

Chelsea: Not nearly enough, unfortunately. Once school picked up, my practice went down. I use Bitesize in a couple of ways, but most important for me is the pronunciation guide.

The phonetic spelling combined with the audio has been immensely helpful for me.

Along with Bitesize, I use a language workbook and have a grammar workbook. But I don’t think that I would have continued my language practice without Bitesize, for several reasons.

First, it was the first thing I started using once I “upgraded” from Duolingo. It made Irish so not intimidating and accessible to me, and that I think really spurred me onto investing in more detailed, grammatical material. I also frequently create flashcards of Bitesize lessons and vocab words, because the phonetic spelling helps me check my pronunciation when I’m practicing away from a computer (i.e. in line for coffee).

I frequently search for a Bitesize lesson that is relevant to other learning material, again, for the audio. The book I have came with audio, but I find that Eoin’s speech is much clearer for hard to distinguish sounds. Not to mention, I really appreciate the little bits of encouragement sprinkled throughout so much of the material. It’s very easy to get discouraged, and frequent reminders that even the littlest bit of practice is still practice really helps keep me motivated when I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to Irish practice.

Thanks to the Black Friday sale (Seriously, that sale was awesome!) I now have the Bitesize audio, and that has been a great addition. I listen to the audio when I go on a walk, when I’m driving, and when I am working in my lab. The Bitesize audio is especially helpful for me, because Eoin explains what he’s teaching, instead of it just being a voice reading out vocabulary. Lately, I’ve only had time to do any practice while driving, but I’ve only been able to find audio of things like practice conversations, which is great, but doesn’t help me understand grammatical concepts, and isn’t helpful if I haven’t had time to review written material.

Bitesize: What advice would you have for a total beginner of Irish Gaelic?

Chelsea: Don’t get discouraged! I am still a new learner as well, but it’s easy to set too high expectations for yourself. When I get frustrated, I go back to something I have translated before. Often, I find that it’s much easier than I remember it being, and this really helps me see that I’ve improved.

Want to strengthen the connection to your Irish heritage? Make the first step and sign up for a Bitesize Irish Gaelic membership. Don’t forget about practicing the language, immersing yourself in Irish and visualizing yourself as being fluent.

If you want to start slow, that’s also fine – you can always sign up for our free trial!

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