If you’re like me, chances are the first thing you remember learning in school, after how to spell your name, was how to tell time. It was important after all! How else could you tell when the bell was going to ring for recess?
If you’re an Irish learner, one of the fun ways you can share your love of the language with your children (and to learn something useful yourself!) is to teach them how to tell time in Irish.
Those of you who are already Bitesize subscribers may want to check out our audio-rich lesson “What’s the time?” If you’re not yet a Bitesize subscriber, however, or if you’re specifically interested in teaching time-telling in Irish to your children, read on.
Is My Kid Ready?
A child is ready to learn to tell time once he or she knows the numbers from one through 12. Here they are in Irish:
A hAon (uh HAYN): 1
A Dó (uh DOH): 2
A Trí (uh TREE): 3
A Ceathair (uh KA-hir): 4
A Cúig (uh KOO-ig): 5
A Sé (uh SHAY): 6
A Seacht (uh SHAKHT): 7
A hOcht (uh HOKHT): 8
A Naoi (uh NEE): 9
A Deich (uh JEH): 10
A hAon Déag (uh HAYN jayg): 11
A Dó Dhéag (uh DOH yeg): 12
(If you’re not sure why that little word “a” is there in front of the name of the number, you might want to check out this article on counting in Irish.)
He or she should also be able to count up to 30 by fives:
A Cúig (uh KOO-ig): 5
A Deich (uh JEH): 10
A Cúig Déag (uh KOO-ig jayg): 15
Fiche (FEE-hyeh): 20
Cúig is Fiche (KOO-ig iss FEE-hyeh) or Fiche Cúig (FEE-hyeh KOO-ig): 25
Triocha (TRUKH-uh): 30
It’s not quite as essential, but it will be easier for your child if he or she knows two simple fractions as well. These are:
Leath (Laa, where the “aa” has the same sound as the “a” in “pat”): Half
Ceathrú (KAA-hroo, same vowel sound as “leath”): Quarter
The easiest way to teach these fractions is by using something circular the child is already familiar with — a pizza, a cookie/biscuit, a cake, etc.
Cut a line through the middle of the pizza or cookie and show the child how the line makes two pieces, each called “leath” (a half). Then cut another line across that line and show the child how you now have four pieces, each called “ceathrú” (a quarter).
The vocabulary you need for telling time is:
Cén t-am é? (kayn tam ay?): What time is it?
Tá sé… (tah shay…): It is…
A Chlog (uh khlog): O’clock
Chun (khun): To/until
Tar éis (tar aysh): Past/after
Nóiméad (NOH-mayd): Minute
Meán Lae (myahn lay): Midday/noon
Meán Oíche (myahn EE-hyeh): Midnight
Now you’re ready!
There are some really good books out there on teaching your children how to tell time. One in particular that is written for Irish-speaking and Irish-learning children is Cén t-am é?, by Siobhain Grogan.
If you want to proceed on your own, however, you can certainly do so. You’ll need to find a fairly large clock with moveable hands (or make one yourself out of cardboard). Start simply, with the long hand on the 12.
Start by working sequentially through the numbers. “Tá sé a haon a chlog.” “Tá sé a dó a chlog.” Once the child has that down, try mixing it up. Move the short hand around to various numbers and as “Cén t-am é?”
When that gets easy, move to the minute hand. First show the child how to count from the 12 to the 6 by fives. Then you can move the minute hand, working on the “afters”: “Cúig tar éis a haon,” “Deich tar éis a haon,” “Ceathrú tar éis a haon,” etc.
Once you pass the six (“leath tar éis a haon”) explain that the “fives” are now “until two” (“Chun a dó”) instead of “after one” (move the short hand slightly toward the two, as would happen on a real clock to illustrate this). This is a slightly harder concept, so be prepared to take a little extra time with it.
Midnight and Noon
Midnight and midday/noon are special cases. You can, of course, just say “Tá sé a dó dhéag” (it’s twelve o’clock), but if you want to specify “midnight” or “noon,” you have to use a slightly different construction.
Is meán oíche é: It’s midnight
Is meán lae é: It’s midday/noon
At this point it’s pretty much common sense and practice.
A good game to play
A fun game for three or more children that can help reinforce time-telling is known variously as “Mr. Fox,” “Mr. Wolf,” “Midnight,” etc. For our purposes, we’ll call it “a Shionnaigh” (uh HYUN-ee) – “O Fox” (If you don’t know why we put the “a” in there, you might want to check out this post on the vocative case in Irish).
One child is chosen to be “it.” The other children line up opposite “it” on the other side of the room or yard.
The children who are lined up take turns saying, “A Shionnaigh, cén t-am é?” (O Fox, what time is it?). As the question is asked, each child in the line moves forward one step.
“It” (the fox) may reply with any time at all. “Tá sé a dó a chlog.” “Tá sé deich chun a trí.” Etc. But, when the fox figures the other children are close enough, or off guard, he she yells:
IS MEÁN OÍCHE É!!!
The other children start to run back to their starting position, where they’re “safe.” The fox tries his or her best to tag one of the other kids before they reach safety. That child becomes the next “fox.”
More on speaking Irish with children
For more on speaking Irish with your children, check out this video of Jody and her children.
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