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Learning Irish Through Reading – Part 3

In our previous two posts in this series, Learning Irish Through Reading – Part 1 and Learning Irish Through Reading – Part 2, we talked a little about where to obtain reading material suitable for learners in Irish and how to get started with it as a complete beginner.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to approach reading as a more advanced learner (advanced beginner through intermediate).

A different approach

For an absolute beginner, reading is about acquiring vocabulary and getting a handle on idiom and basic sentence structure. For the more advanced learner, reading is about internalizing the language, which requires a different approach.

For one, while you are still going to want your dictionary, you’re not going to be using it nearly as much as you did before (more on that in a bit).

You’re also going to be reading different material. To start with, you’ll want to acquire a few of those novels written for adult learners we talked about in Part 1. Those are probably the most approachable resources. Optionally, you might want to try a novel written for teenagers, or an on-line news magazine such as Beo.

No Translating!

What makes this type of reading different from what you did as an absolute beginner is you’re going to try your best to understand the Irish as you read it, without translating it.

When you were just starting out, you didn’t yet have enough vocabulary, or a strong enough sense of how Irish syntax works, to read per se. Rather, you were using reading material to acquire vocabulary and to become familiar with the syntax.

Now, however, as an advanced beginner or intermediate learner, you’re ready to read simple material in the same way you read things in your own language, without mentally translating it.

Let’s get started!

Find yourself a comfortable spot and start reading.

Yep…just like that! Run your eyes over the Irish text just as you would with something written in your native language. Don’t make a special effort to read slowly, and don’t worry about words or phrases you may not recognize.

Most important…don’t try to mentally translate what you’re seeing! Just look at the text and see if you can get the gist of what it’s saying.

Start small

When you’re just starting out with this, it pays to start small. Start with a sentence or a short paragraph. When you’re pretty sure you’ve got the gist of it, move on to the next one.

As you encounter words or expressions you don’t recognize, resist the temptation to look them up right away. If you want, you can mark them in some way, or jot them down on a note pad, but don’t get out the dictionary right off.

Set a goal for yourself. For example “I will attempt to read the entire page before looking anything up.” Often, as you read further on, the meanings of things that may have confused you earlier will become come clear.

If you reach the end of the page (or whatever limit you’ve set for yourself) and you don’t feel that you have at least some grasp of what it said, try reading it again, a bit more slowly.

Only after at least a couple of attempts to read in this way should you try to translate what you’ve been trying to read, and even then, you only want to translate enough to get you past whatever is confusing you. Once you understand what is going on, go back to reading normally.

Keep things short at first

When you first start reading in this way, you may be surprised at how tiring it is. Rather than push yourself to the point of fatigue and frustration, try setting yourself a time goal…say, 15 to 30 minutes of Irish reading a day.

As you get better at it, you’ll find it easier and more pleasant, and you’ll just naturally want to do more (it’s kind of like physical exercise in that way!).  By all means, do! It’s almost impossible to do too much reading, so long as you’re enjoying it!

Ups and downs

As you get started with reading, there are several predictable ups and downs to be aware of:

Initially it may seem like a lot of hard work…as if you’re having to struggle constantly to extract any meaning at all from the text.  That’s normal at first, but if this phase persists, the problem may be that what you’re attempting to read is a bit too advanced for your current level.

Try choosing a simpler book (a short novel for adult learners rather than a book geared toward Irish teenagers, for example), or one on a subject with which you’re familiar (perhaps one of those graphic novels based on Irish myths and legends).

If you keep working at it, doing a little every day, it will get easier. You’ll be tremendously proud of yourself the first time you make it through an entire page or chapter without having to look anything up!

Sometimes it will seem as though your ability to read comes in fits and starts. You’ll be reading along effortlessly, as easily as you do in your native language, when all of a sudden…bam! You slam head-first into a paragraph that might as well be written in Ancient Greek for all the sense you can make of it!

That’s a normal phase too (frustrating as it is!). Try skipping the difficult paragraph and coming back to it after you’ve read on a bit.

If you find this happening a lot during a particular reading session, it may be time to put the book down for a bit and go do something else. Often this particular difficulty is a sign of fatigue, and if you come back to the difficult passage later it will all become clear.

Another useful exercise: reading aloud

No matter how hard your elementary school teacher worked to make you learn to read silently, when you’re learning a foreign language, there’s a real advantage to spending at least a little time every day reading aloud.

It’s harder than you might think! You know how to pronounce the sounds of the language, and there’s the text right in front of you…it should be easy, right?

The thing is, there is a very real mental “gap” between the printed and the spoken word. That’s actually why children typically learn to read their native language out loud at first…they need to bridge that gap. As an adult language learner, you’re doing the same thing, but coming at it from the other direction.

This is especially important if you don’t have a teacher or a study group with whom you can practice speaking the language regularly. If you practice reading aloud regularly, you’ll find that your spoken Irish comes much more easily when you have the occasion to use it.

So what are you waiting for?

As you learned in the first article in this series, Learning Irish Through Reading – Part 1, the ability to improve your Irish through reading is as close as your computer, thanks to a wealth of on-line bookstores and other resources.

So what are you waiting for? Grab a book or pull up a website and get ready to have fun while honing your Irish language skills!

Happy Reading!

Did you find this article helpful?

Do you use reading to help you with your Irish learning? Let us know your thoughts below!

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