We’ve mentioned this a few times on our blog and Facebook page. You don’t need Irish heritage to learn the Irish language. Although people with heritage will have a better chance of mastering Irish Gaelic, that doesn’t mean that heritage is required to successfully learn Irish.
People learn new languages to connect with others, to identify with their heritage but also just because they want to be the best version of themselves, and that means continuously improving as a person. Now, if you were to learn a new language to improve yourself, why not choose one of the most beautiful languages in the World?
We’re not bragging (well maybe just a little bit) that Irish Gaelic is the most beautiful language ever, but it’s high up that imaginary ladder. We’re not the only ones who think this – we’re getting amazing feedback on our email and Facebook regarding the teaching tools we provide, and their role in learning Irish Gaelic.
Members of our Irish-learning community strongly believe that Irish is one of the most beautiful languages in the World’s history, and we agree 100%. If you don’t think so, start by listening to some Irish music and see how that sparks your desire to learn the language.
As you see, you don’t need Irish heritage to see the beauty of Irish Gaelic, and another thing – you don’t have to be in a specific place in your life to learn it. You’re never too old to learn something new, you just need the right tools.
Don’t believe us? Then how about reading Lauri’s story about how she started learning Irish Gaelic just for the pleasure of learning it. You can find her interview below. Thank you, Lauri – your words will surely inspire other Irish language enthusiasts to learn.
Bitesize: Where abouts in the world do you live?
Lauri: I live in Geelong, in the State of Victoria, Australia. Geelong is a lovely regional city on the coast of Corio Bay, about 1 hour drive south-west of the state capital Melbourne.
Bitesize: What got you wanting to speak Irish Gaelic?
Lauri: In 2012 I developed a serious illness which forced me to give up a career that I loved. This meant retiring at least 10 years earlier than I had ever anticipated, and it also imposed quite strict limitations on my ability to sustain physical activity. Conventional wisdom says that learning a language is a great strategy for keeping the brain active in retirement, but learning a language didn’t feel like an option for me. There was no particular language that I had an interest in learning. I have no opportunity to use another language in my everyday life, and my medical issues now make any further overseas travel highly unlikely. Also, I was not in a position to commit to a program of study that would involve attending formal classes, doing homework and assessments etc.
Then in August 2015 I saw a notice in our community newspaper about a local community based Irish language class, and I was intrigued. Over the years my husband, John, and I have gathered a fair collection of Irish music CDs, including many with Irish language lyrics. Even with such limited exposure, Irish is a language I have always loved listening to.
It had never occurred to me that there might be an opportunity to actually learn Irish here in Australia – I mean, how likely was it really that I would be able to learn the language I knew as ‘Gaelic’ just down the road in suburban Geelong? Really??? I went along to the local class more curious than committed – and I promptly fell in love with Gaeilge. Just over two years later, and I still love it (even / especially when it drives me crazy.)
After all, if I’m going to learn a language for the pure pleasure of learning it, what better than to learn one of the world’s beautiful languages?
Bitesize: Do you have Irish ancestry? Tell us about it.
Lauri: I wasn’t born with Irish heritage – I married into Irish heritage. As far as I know, my own family history is predominantly Scottish. But I didn’t grow up in a household with a strong sense of heritage. We identified as Australian, and nothing else was seen as having much relevance to our lives.
In contrast, John’s family history is Irish and Scottish, and when I first met his extended family as a 17-year-old, they seemed to have a strong sense of pride in their Irish heritage. I was progressively introduced to Irish music, Guinness, Irish whiskey, a general interest in Irish history and life, and what I now recognise as occasional Irish-English forms of speech. I loved it, and happily embraced it as the culture I had married into.
In 1996, John, (his) Mum and I achieved a shared dream of spending 3 weeks touring Ireland together in a hire car, staying in B&B accommodation. Travelling with Mum meant that we didn’t cover as much ground as we might have done if John and I had been travelling alone. But far from being a problem – it was the best thing that could have happened. Travelling at Mum’s pace instead of charging around on our own saw us take the time to engage more with the places that we visited and the people we met.
Most days started and ended with long conversations with our Irish hosts over the breakfast and dinner table. It was a special experience for all of us, and something that we often talked about afterwards.
Bitesize: How do you use Bitesize Irish Gaelic?
Lauri: I use Bitesize Irish as an online resource to supplement and extend what is covered in my local community based class. This format works particularly well in my situation. The class that I attend is small, friendly, relaxed and informal. As part of each class we are working our way through a Beginners Level text book.
We also have a quick look at Grammar, plus each week we are each encouraged to compose a couple of short sentences to share with the class as our scéal beag. It is all very relaxed and informal, and there is no pressure, which is good for me because I can’t rely on always being well enough to attend (or actively contribute to) the class.
Bitesize Irish is a perfect resource to support my learning. I dip into the lessons that align with the topics being looked at in class, rather than working through them in sequence.
Lauri: I particularly enjoy the grammar lessons, because they are short, clearly presented, and easy to understand.
And I can go back and revisit them as often as I need to. Like the classes, Bitesize Irish involves no pressure, and no formal schedule that I have to stick to. If I’m only able to spend 5 minutes on my study, that’s long enough to do one Bitesize lesson.
In particular, the Bitesize lessons on Word order in sentences, and Creating short sentences / negative sentences have been essential for my participation in the class scéal beag activity.
Bitesize: What advice would you have for a total beginner of Irish Gaelic?
Lauri: The various Bitesize resources have lots of excellent advice for beginners, so the first thing I’d say is to explore those resources and follow their advice. Then there are two things I’d add from my own experience.
First, don’t be intimidated by Irish grammar, even if (especially if) you’re not particularly comfortable with grammar in your native language. While I have long confidently used high level written and spoken English in my professional life, when I started learning Irish I was largely unable to articulate the formal rules of English grammar. I imagined that this would be a huge barrier to learning Irish, but it hasn’t been a problem at all.
I used the Internet and my local community library to find some easy-to-understand entry level grammar resources that I can dip into when I need them – some English grammar resources and some Irish grammar resources. (In fact, that’s how I found Bitesize Irish – it was one of the sites that always came up when I searched Irish grammar terms.) Each time I encounter a grammar term that I’m not familiar with, I just go back to my resources and look for an explanation that I can make sense of.
Two years later, not only do I feel quite comfortable with Irish grammar, I now understand more English grammar that I have ever done.
My other piece of advice is to have a strategy that keeps you connected during those times when Life gets in the way and makes it difficult to keep up your Irish language learning. Earlier this year I had a setback, and for many months was simply unable to sustain the energy needed to extend my learning. So I shifted my focus from trying to learn anything new, and just concentrated on not losing what I had already learned. I went to class when I was able, even though I often struggled to contribute much.
I kept reviewing the units I had already covered in my class text and revisiting the lessons I had already completed in Bitesize Irish. And I continued watching TG4 and listening to Raidió Na Gaeltachta, even though most of the language was just washing over me. But it worked. Despite not being able to study for some months,
I didn’t lose anything I had already learned, and I didn’t feel discouraged. Now, as my health is starting to stabilise again and I have more energy, I am able to start shifting my focus back onto learning new things.
Whatever approach you want to take, be it academic or your own personal method, 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!