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Is Some Irish Gaelic Grammar So Important?

Irish Gaelic Grammar

Lots of Irish school kids, for example, speak Irish Gaelic with lots correct grammar missing. But you know what? Isn’t that better than speaking no Irish language at all? This applies to you, too. If you’re on your learning journey, be careful not to set your bar for perfection too high.

Gaeltacht Outsiders

I was listening to a Raidió na Gaeltachta documentary about “why won’t people in the Gaeltacht speak Irish to me” (there doesn’t seem to be a recording on that page).

The documentary was by an Irish man who went to the Gaeltacht to learn Irish, but found that the locals would speak English to him.

One of the conclusions of that documentary was that, let’s call them, “Gaeltacht outsiders”, didn’t use correct word mutations. They said that it sounded unnatural and that  a learner could never get it completely right.

What are these “mutations”?

If you dip your toes into the Irish language, you’ll soon come across the ideas of lenition and eclipsis (first covered by our Bitesize Lesson: Initial Mutations).

They are parts of speech that are used to convey meaning, and make speech flow more naturally.

For example, in our Bitesize Lesson: Asking where?, there’s a recording of: “ar an mbus” which means “on the bus”. That little sneeky “m” in “mbus” is a mutation of the word “bus”.

And here’s my point: if you’re dedicated to your language learning journey, and make a trip of to Ireland, so what if you say “ar an bus” slightly crudely rather than the correct “ar an mbus”?

I’m one of you

Let’s be clear – I’m a Gaeltacht outsider myself. I speak the Irish language every single day, yet my lenitions leave a lot to be desired for “correct” Irish. Call my Irish language whatever you want. It just happens that it’s not conforming to 200-years-ago Gaeltacht Irish.

So what is important?

Do you want to be able to speak some of the Irish language? Excellent! Our goal is to make it part of your everyday life. Immerse yourself. Create your personal Gaeltacht.

If we’re speaking about grammar, I would say that word order is hard and far more important than subtle (and not-so-subtle) word mutations. If you’re a Bitesize Irish Gaelic member, take our Bitesize Lesson: Word order in sentences.

If you haven’t tried our program with thousands of records, take our free trial now to learn your first phrase of Irish Gaelic, or jump straight in and sign up as a member which includes access to our private Facebook group.

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8 thoughts on “Is Some Irish Gaelic Grammar So Important?”

  1. Being “Englished” isn’t just found in the Gaeltacht

    I worked in Denmark for a year and a bit and I found NOBODY wanted ME to attempt to speak or learn Danish; they all wanted to learn “English” off me; in their eyes I was only in Denmark to give free English lessons!
    My wife led the way here; she bluntly refused to speak to either me or our children in Danish, despite her European origins

    Later, I worked in Holland for a number of years and had the same experience!
    Strangely enough, the ONLY way I found to shut them up about English was to tell them the blatant fib that I came from a part of Ireland where English is unknown and then come out with some Gaelic; (hoping no real Gaelic speaker was present to call my bluff!)
    My audience never learnt the truth and I hope St Peter listens to my explanation….

    There are a number of “accepted” ideas running loose in the world as a whole:
    1. English is destined to become the “World language”
    2. It is important that Europe leads the way
    3. That is why it is vital that England stays in the EU; its job is to ensure all of Europe gives up speaking German, Italian,Polish etc and starts to speak English instead
    4. This makes it MUCH easier and cheaper for “BIG BUSINESS” in the USA (as it doesn’t have the inconvenience of translating sales literature)

    1. Hi John,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us 🙂

      So, at the end did you learn how to speak Dutch in Holland or you taught them Irish Gaelic? 🙂

      Le meas,

  2. If you learn phrases (chunking) rather than individual words, learning and using mutations won’t be nearly as difficult. Even though I’m a beginner to Irish, it would never occur to me to say “ar on bus” because I learned the phrase “ar an mbus” from the start. Of course, learners make mistakes and that’s perfectly okay (and they shouldn’t be discouraged from speaking), but I think the goal should be to learn the language correctly and not to have the attitude that it doesn’t matter how I speak.

    1. Hi Basya,

      Thank you for taking the time to post your comment.

      Yes, I agree with you. It is better to learn the language correctly from the very beginning, but this post was meant to encourage new learners to keep going with their learning although they pronunciation may not be perfect.

      When they come to Ireland, they will be understood and will be able to enjoy a nice conversations with the native speakers of the language.

      If you have any questions regarding our lessons, feel free to contact us at any time 🙂

      Le meas,

  3. I’m an ESL teacher in Russia and I speak Russian rather well and have decided to pick up Irish as a third language for fun. My experience is that focusing overly much on grammar instead of communicating ideas is terribly demoralizing for second language learners. I vividly remember a Russian teacher in collage reducing me to tears on a regular basis cause I couldn’t remember case endings. However, most Russian people, particularly outside Moscow are simply thrilled I speak pretty decent Russian. In day to day life communicating ideas is what is important and that is what I emphasize with my kids. I watch them bloom as they are encouraged and gain confidence. My opinion is that languages primary function is communication and grammar only aids making ideas clear. I do remember being “Englished” in Moscow when I was trying to develop my Russian. I generally “fixed” the problem by persisting in speaking Russian and people would usually come round. I would imagine a similar approach would work in the Gaeltacht. Be polite but persistent in your language use and remember that many people speak even their native language without correct grammar ( myself included) so I would recommend a focus on understandably rather than a panic over grammar.

    Just my two sense

  4. sean macartaine

    considering Irish has only an 18 letter alphabet this is why we have to make up other letters by adding two letters together. I once had an Irish teacher who deflated the whole class one day by saying if you haven’t learned to speak Irish in the Gaeltach you will never be any good at it. a few people never came back including me.

    1. Hi Sean,

      Thank you for commenting.

      Please note that all of our lessons have audio files, so you can play every word and hear how it is pronounced.

      We also offer email support and our language expert will be glad to assist you with any questions you might have.

      Le meas,