20 July 2008

Basic Resources

As part of the new-and-improved plan for learning Irish, I’m really going back to square one and trying to add some sort of structure to what I’ve been doing. My approach has really been scattershot, using a number of different resources. While this has given me a good beginner-level understanding of things (at least so far!) it’s been unsatisfactory – I don’t feel like I’ve really got a good grasp on things – only that I’ve learned X or Y, but not necessarily how it all fits together.

I think this is pretty common learning a new language as an adult. We approach it differently, I think. More...analytical, more information…but with less control, perhaps.

There are a number of resources available to a beginner:

I had been using the audio lessons of Irish On Your Own to get a working knowledge of things. This course comes with five cassette tapes with lessons and conversations to repeat, as well as a colorful textbook that manages to insert some grammar and cultural references. But this course only touches on grammar and relies heavily on rote repetition of phrases in simple conversation. I like the course a lot, it’s very energetic and certainly gets me speaking (at least to my car!) out loud. I strongly recommend this book-and-tape set.

The primary course book for Irish – or at least the most popular one – is a densely foot-noted textbook by Michael O’Siadhail, titled Learning Irish. While this is designed as a self-taught course, it is definitely not an easy one and focuses on grammar more than conversation. I’ve had to rely on a lot of outside support to make sense of the rules. Each chapter has exercises which are mostly translation work, which is not a very successful learning method for many people. I'm currently hosting an online set of additional lessons by Nancy Stenson -- these are very useful as more ‘conversational’ level work that follows along with each lesson. There are tapes (an a newly released version with CDs) along with the book, which have some rather flat recitations of vocabulary words and short readings. (I say flat, but what I usually tell people is "scary" -- the woman who reads the pronunciations and initial chapter's vocabulary is a fierce sounding woman, indeed).

Rosetta Stone language learning software has recently released three levels of Irish instruction. Using pictures and a variety of interactive activities, Rosetta Stone teaches language in a natural and easy-to-use method. My adorable husband purchased all three levels for me, for my birthday this year, and I am using those lessons as the basis for returning to my study of Irish. So far, it has been a very easy and low-stress way to learn. Being able to "talk back" to the computer and compare my pronunciation with theirs has been a really interesting process. I can pinpoint where the problems are and as I get better with pronunciation, the software can be set to be more and more picky about matching exactly. I feel a bit ridiculous wearing a headset and solemnly replying to my computer, but any time I speak out loud, I'm making better progress.

The venerable Teach Yourself series has a book on Irish which has recently been updated and released with CDs. While I have a copy (books! more books!) I haven’t really used this much. Quite a few people like these courses very much, and a grammar reference has been released in the last few months. There is also a quick-and-dirty Teach Yourself Irish Conversation that is primarily an audio-only course and is a quick introduction to the basics.

Progress in Irish is a teeny little book that relies almost entirely on translations exercises to introduce vocabulary and grammar concepts, so in my opinion, it can’t really be called a “course”, especially since correct answers aren’t actually provided in the book. It can be a bit hard to work with alone, but online resources do help a bit here.

Perhaps the most common first-time Irish texts that are mentioned are the Buntus Cainte series, which are entirely conversation based, no grammar rule, and split up into short, easy to repeat lessons. They introduce Irish as it would be learned as a child: short, simple sentences that build on one another and can be learned by heart and then extrapolated into more difficult sentences. This is a fairly old course, but it has recently been rerecorded with CDs. The illustrations are still cute, though.

Pimsleur also produces a short course in Irish, but other than an interesting example of the Munster dialect, it really doesn’t offer much (a grand total of 55 words). I snagged it off Audible.com, but it really hasn’t been very useful except to get me more comfortable with speaking out loud. I suppose if my goal was to chat up someone of the opposite sex while traveling, this would be good: half the course is a single conversation with someone asking if they understand you and where they're from.

Most of these books can be found at Litriocht or from Amazon.

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