12 February 2006

And off we go...

I've been puttering on and off trying to learn Irish Gaelic on my own -- bought the books, have CDs in the car, the whole shebang. I never learned a second language in school (well, beyond the one semester of German in high school that I have completely forgotten) and the oft-cited fact that it's harder to learn a language as an adult is absolutely true.

Why Irish? Well, I don't really have a good answer for that beyond: I want to. I have no Irish ancestors that I know of, I don't belong to any particular groups that speak Irish. I did pick up fiddle in the last few years (also on and off) and focused mostly on Irish music, with words in Gaelic, so I guess that is reason enough.

Irish is spoken by about 70,000 people as as first language, and by roughly a million people as a second language. Until 1974, proficiency in Irish was required for government work, and it had been a compulsory class for all Irish schoolchildren. The Irish are proud of their native language, though, and have succeeded in making sure that it will continue: it will be an official working language of the EU starting in 2007. Cool!

At any rate, I've been approaching this rather haphazardly and while I understand quite a bit of written Gaeilge, I was rather quickly disabused of the notion that I could actually speak it during our month-long trip to Ireland. I'm sure I sounded like a nursery-school child, but my attempts were at least greeted with smiles and polite corrections, not outright laughs.

So, I'm going to be a bit more organized (or, at least try to be) and post notes here as I go along. In the past year, I've collected a huge amount of reference material (as is my wont when starting a new project) and collated a lot of online references into documents for myself. As I went along, I thought I'd post the words, questions, comments, quibbles, and overall weirdness that I've found trying to comprehend the rules for a language that is startlingly different from English.

A website used to do a "word-a-day" listing for Irish -- Focal an lae -- which was an interesting source of daily Irish words. The site has not been active for quite a while. I will not even begin to attempt to replicate the work done on that site, but I may include words now and again as I try to work through some of the coursework that I have. Another source of daily words is the Travlang archive, which will happily mail you Irish words (or a ton of other languages) every single day, usually with a sound file for the correct pronunciation.

Remember that I'm a rank beginner, really. Nothing that I say here should be taken as gospel, least of all my actual sentences in Irish. If you're looking for expert advice or translation, try Daltai.com or Irishtranslators.org. Both have extensive forums for questions, in both English and Gaeilge. I have an extensive section of old Gaelic courses on my website, as well as more notes from a beginner there. This is more for the commentary, at least at first.

I'll post a biography of my sources in a following post, however my primary coursebook is Learning Irish by Michael O'Siadhail -- this is the book to work with, according to the fine folks at Daltai. I'm open to all suggestions, corrections, and other input. Please!

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