Language is about understanding what you’re reading in the language. It’s about understanding what others are saying. It’s about expressing yourself to others.
It’s in that order that we generally improve our language learning: reading, understanding and finally, speaking.
You may start learning Irish Gaelic by learning a little vocabulary, words which you will later recognize when you see them written down.
You may start learning the language by simply listening to native speakers on the radio (something I would call ‘language osmosis’!).
Perhaps you will start learning simple expressions to use in conversation, such as “Dia dhuit” when you meet someone.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter what your very first starting point was to learn to speak Irish. When you’re starting off (the first few years!), instead of aiming for ‘fluency’, you should be training your brain to flip to the new language.
As you progress, you’ll probably be better at reading than hearing, and better at hearing than speaking.
This is not a rule, and you’re welcome to break it! But what I’m trying to say (to express!) is that crank into action you shouldn’t worry if you can’t yet have a simple conversation with another person through Irish. It is the most difficult activity to master. Speaking dynamically makes the tiniest out-reaches of your brain crank into action.
A difficulty with practicing conversation (after you have found a person to speak with!) is the worry about making a mistake. The worry that you’ll look “stupid” for not understanding what the other person just said. The worry that they won’t understand even the simplest phrases that took you hours to learn how to pronounce and memorize.
If you’re like me, and you worry like that, then get over it! Accept that you don’t have to be perfect to begin expressing yourself in a new language. Accept that you won’t understand lots (most) of the stuff the other person says. Accept that you’re a wide-eyed learner, and that you’re in it for the long term.
Listen to Raidió na Gaeltachta online, and watch TG4. Learn from the native speakers, in whatever way you can access them (by becoming a Bitesize Irish Gaelic member, perhaps?). Practice your pronunciation at home, with your dog, with your family. It’s a journey, it’s an adventure. Learn a little at a time, and don’t get frustrated with it. Just be sure that you’re improving a little each week and each month.
What’s holding you back from learning Irish Gaelic? Is it just all ‘too confusing’? Are you the only one in your area learning? Are you not able to practice conversation with others? Please reply with your thoughts below.