The pronunciation of written Irish Gaelic is often an obstacle for learners of our native Irish language. There are also new sounds you’ll hear, that are new to your ear.
We recently got a very kind email from An tAstráil (edited with links and shortened):
There is one phrase in Bitesize Lesson 5 where the start is very had to pick up, and the phonetic pronunciation you have written doesn’t sound quite right me.
The Phrase in question is as follows:
Go breá /Guh braw/
Is there any way of slowing down the play back speed so I can get a better listen of the sounding out of the words because to my ear it’s nothing like the phonetic spelling.
Any help would be VERY appreciated as I love this course and plan to travel to Ireland as I have Irish ancestry.
Thanks very much
Nathan W. (AUSTRALIA)
It sounds like Nathan is really getting into learning to speak the Irish language. Fair play to him, as we say here in Ireland.
I can understand that trying to repeat the sounds in you hear in our Bitesize lesson can be tough, and it can be a challenge to understand why it’s written down the way it is (let’s just be thankful that the Irish language now uses a standardized spelling, which generally uses fewer letters than traditional spellings).
Let’s try to break it down a little, for how to pronounce “Go breá”.
By the way, the phrase means “Fine”, or “Well”. It’s a good response to use if you’re asked how you’re doing.
The “o” letter in the Irish language has a very soft sound to it (unless you see with as “ó”, which is more like “oh”). The letter “o” is soft, and sounds like “uh”.
So when we say “guh” in Irish, we write it like “go”. Yes, it does sound different to the English word “go”. It just happens it’s written the same, but we have different rules for what sound the letters make, just like the different rules between French and English. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just different ways to use the same letters to give you an idea to what word is being spoken.
Then “breá” is a longer word. The “r” is what we call “slender” (which we cover a bit more in our Cheat Sheets, and with audio in the Bitesize Irish Gaelic online course). It’s a soft “r” sound, almost like an “s” sound at times.
Then “eá” sound like “aw”. It’s because “á” is a long sound (that’s what the accent marks do, they give us long sounds).
Together you pronounce the full word “breá” as something like “braw”, but you might often see it written as “brah”, which is just a different interpretation. No phonetic spelling can be 100% accurate.
Put it all together, and you get the phrase “Go breá”, which is pronounced “Guh braw”. If you become a Bitesize Irish Gaelic member, you can hear it in Bitesize Lesson 5. The nice thing about our online course is that you can click to hear the audio in our lessons as many times as you like, and the phrases feature a phonetic pronunciation guide to help you understand the new sounds.
I hope that helps. If you’d like a reference to how to decipher the pronunciation of written Irish Gaelic words, our Pronunciation Cheat Sheets could be of interest. They feature our 4-Step Method for breaking down the pronunciation of just about any written word. The “bundle” value option also has a great workbook to download. Plus, you’ve got 30 days to contact us and get a full refund if you don’t find it useful.
With Bitesize Irish Gaelic, we’re here to help people all around the world to decipher the Irish language, and make a real impression on the locals.
So what’s your experience with trying to pronounce Irish Gaelic, trying to hear the new sounds of the language, and dealing with how the language is written down? Do leave a reply below.