Irish Gaelic isn’t the easiest language you could learn, but you shouldn’t aim for the easiest things in life, right? Most people who are learning the Irish language are doing it to identify with their heritage, learn more about themselves, and connect to people, places, songs, and poems that are close to their history.
Many Irish immigrants that moved to the United States in search for a better life didn’t forget about their Irish heritage and made sure that it was passed on to their children, grandchildren, down to their current descendants. For other people finding out they have Irish heritage comes as a surprise, but for both categories, it is essential to connect to their ancestry.
Almost everyone who starts their journey of identifying with their Irish heritage will also try to learn Irish Gaelic, but they will soon discover that it’s not that easy. Learning Irish Gaelic has to be taken seriously if one would want to master (or fully understand) it.
To get the best results when learning Irish Gaelic, you may want to:
- Take it seriously – create a schedule and a system that works for you
- Immerse yourself in the Irish language through the help of audio and video (radio, YouTube videos)
- Find someone to practice with
- Visit Ireland and discover where your ancestors lived
- Teach others the Irish language (your children, other relatives, friends)
Learning Irish Gaelic isn’t an easy task, that’s for sure, but if you want to meet someone who successfully did it, please read the following interview. Sam Foster is a member of the Bitesize Irish Gaelic community for quite some time, and his methods of learning the Irish language will surely help you do it on your own.
Bitesize: Where abouts in the world do you live?
Sam: I live in Durango, Colorado, USA. Durango is a town of about 19,000 people in the Rocky Mountains of southwest Colorado. Our town is a little over 6600 feet (about 2000 meters) elevation. However, I have lived in ten states all over America but in Colorado for the last ten years. I am from the state of Tennessee originally.
Bitesize: What got you wanting to speak Irish Gaelic?
Sam: I grew up with my grandmother telling me that we had Irish ancestry and about 10 years ago, I became very interested in pursuing my ancestry. At the same time, I became very interested in Celtic culture and spirituality. These two factors came together to inspire me to learn Irish Gaelic. I began listening to Irish and Scottish traditional music and many of the songs are sung in Gaelic. I was intrigued with trying to understand the music and the poetry. I love the spoken language…it is so lyrical! I also love the way that the language expresses meaning.
It [Irish Language] is so different than English and it seems richer in meaning to me.
– Sam Foster
As I cast about for a way to learn Irish Gaelic, I tried books and disc recordings but to no avail. I tried to find an Irish Study group where I lived in Colorado but also without success. Then I saw an advertisement for Bitesize Irish Gaelic and I signed up for it. That was five to six years ago.
Bitesize: Do you have Irish ancestry? Tell us about it.
Sam: Yes, I have Irish ancestry. My great-grandmother was a Kelly and I traced her lineage back to Ireland, in general, but I don’t have a specific location. Several of my ancestors were Scot-Irish or Anglo-Irish (Patton, Herron, and Woods) from Counties Donegal, Down, Antrim, and Meath specifically. I have visited the farm of my Patton ancestors from Donegal and the farm house was built in the mid-1600s. To prove the point, several of my family members and I have had our DNA analyzed and we test from 15-30% Irish.
Unfortunately, since my ancestors immigrated to the USA in the 1600s-1700s, the traditions of my family don’t specifically reflect those of modern day Ireland. However, I feel that many of us would fit quite nicely into Irish culture. I have been in Ireland three times for a total of about six weeks and I easily fall into the rhythm of the culture quickly. It is in our blood!
Bitesize: How do you use Bitesize Irish Gaelic?
Sam: When I am working properly, I spend about 45 minutes to an hour daily studying Irish Gaelic. Initially I relied almost exclusively on Bitesize Irish Gaelic. I took careful notes from each lesson and compiled them into books with sections on pronunciation, sentence structure, numbers and counting, months and seasons, etc. This helped me enormously because I would listen to the lesson, then write what I learned. Later, I would go back to refresh my memory.
The amount of material and the way it is presented in Bitesize is ideal.
One of the enormous keys to my success in learning Irish Gaelic was due to being able to listen to the pronunciation online in Bitesize. I am a scientist and I have to really analyze a language to understand it. I tried unsuccessfully to learn Irish Gaelic from just the spoken language and I utterly failed. I must both see and hear it to learn it.
In the years that I have been learning Irish, I began to incorporate other materials and techniques. I did attend a 1-1/2 week immersion course taught by Traolach O’Riordan from the University of Montana. This was enormously helpful. I met several people there and I continued to study with one of them after the course. We developed a rhythm of having a one hour session weekly using Skype. This helped me a great deal.
Bitesize: What advice would you have for a total beginner of Irish Gaelic?
Sam: I advise a new student to take it seriously and to be in it for the long run. Learning any language takes a long time. Some people have more of an aptitude for learning languages than others but anyone can do it. Be disciplined in setting aside time each day for studying. Also find someone to work with. I advise people to start with Bitesize Irish Gaelic and work with it for a few years gradually branching out to incorporate other material. I do think that it is easy to try to incorporate too much material too early and I think that it is better to focus on one source initially.
I found it important to purchase some critical materials to help in your studies. The student should buy a good dictionary that has pronunciation of Irish words built in. Also, it is important to buy an Irish grammar book and eventually a Verb book.
There are some good applications on line now such as the English-Irish Dictionary application for smart phones to use with pronunciation.
Want to strengthen the connection to your Irish heritage? Make the first step and sign up for a Bitesize Irish Gaelic membership.
If you want to start slow, that’s also fine – you can always sign up for our free trial!