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The purpose of this forum is to provide a place for people who are interested in the Irish language and various Celtic languages to discuss them, to practice them, and to share information about them, particularly (but not exclusively) in the context of traditional music and culture.

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PostPosted: Thu May 13, 2010 1:02 pm 
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This is something I wrote for the classes I'm teaching. Some here may find it useful:


We often tell people here that listening to spoken Irish as often as possible is a vital part of the learning process...and that's very true. Just as a musician needs to listen frequently to a particular type of music if he is to learn to play it well, a person learning a language needs to hear that language spoken, frequently and naturally, if he is to learn to speak and understand it well.

There are two kinds of "listening" however, and both are important to the learning process.


Passive listening is what we usually advise beginners to do right from the start. It's what you're doing when you're listening to an Irish singer in the car or on your iPod, when you're listening to RnaG playing in the background as you go about your work, or when you're watching a film or a TG4 program with subtitles. You're not actually working to understand what you're hearing, but rather you're relaxing and letting it wash over you.

It may not seem like you're doing much, when you're practicing passive listening, but actually, your brain is doing a great deal. It's becoming familiar with the natural rhythm and flow of the language...with its unique sounds. Every language has its own unique "signature," and teaching your brain to recognize it and accept it through passive listening will go a long way toward helping you to understand and reproduce it down the road.

It's a little like what happens when you start listening to a different kind of music than what you're accustomed to...perhaps something from another culture, based on different scales and harmonic patterns. At first it may sound foreign...even, in some places, strange and unpleasant. The more you hear of it, however, the more familiar the natural patterns of the music starts to feel, and the more "musical" it sounds. You start to "feel" it.


Sooner or later in your learning, however, (and I advocate sooner rather than later) you need to start practicing "active listening." "Active listening" happens when you actually start to try to make sense of what you're hearing. Some books refer to it as "listening for comprehension."

To some extent, this is what you're doing when you use language tapes/CDs, or work with a computer program that has listening and speaking exercises. The problem is that, useful as these are, they're not quite enough. The speakers on instructional recordings speak very slowly and very precisely. That's good at first...after all, you need to hear the words clearly if you are to reproduce them. But at some point, you need to start working on understanding the language in its natural it's spoken day-to-day.

To a beginner learning a foreign language, especially a heavily inflected one such as Irish, this can seem daunting...perhaps even impossible. When people speak naturally, they tend to speak much more quickly. They may run words together or avoid articulating word endings. They may use "slang" or dialect-specific terms, and often they don't use the "perfect" grammar you're learning in class (not to mention the fact that they'll know and use more advanced grammatical structures). And, of course, they'll have a lot more vocabulary than you do.

The trick is to start slowly. You know it's going to be some time before you'll be able to understand an entire song or TV program in Irish, so don't even try at this stage. If you're a new beginner, make yourself a list of short words you have learned...preferably words that don't take initial mutations. Some you might consider are:

Tá (is, or "yes" in answer to "an bhfuil...?")

Níl (isn't, or "no" in answer to "an bhfuil...?")

Is (is)

Ní (isn't)

Is ea ("Yes" in answer to "an...?")

Ní hea ("No" in answer to "an...?")

Agus (and)

Ach (but)

Nó (or)

Slán (goodbye)

Take your list, get comfortable, and prepare to listen to some spoken Irish. This can be a radio program, a TV program, a short film...even the interview or acting segments of the Turas Teanga DVDs, if you have them (if possible, turn off any subtitles, or if watching TG4 on your computer, choose a program that isn't typically subtitled, such as the news). Set yourself a time more than five or ten minutes at first, and see how many words from your list you hear.

As this becomes easier, you can start trying to spot set expressions phrases you know. Greetings, for example (be aware that these will fly by very quickly!), as well as "le do thoil" (please) and "go raibh maith agat," (thank you) (which will also tend to go quickly, and often be slurred together). Other common expressions to listen for include:

Cinnte (certain/certainly)

Ar ndóigh (of course)

Go díreach (exactly)

Go deimhin (definitely)

Áfach (however)

Mar sin (thus/so)

Listening to the news can be a great way to practice active listening, as certain words tend to occur over and over. For example, if you were to listen to an Irish news broadcast today, you might pick out:

Uachatarán (president)

Taoiseach (prime minister)

Éire (also Éirinn or Éireann in some contexts): Ireland

Sasana (England)

Stáit Aontaithe (United States)

An Bhruiséal (Brussels)

Bolcán (volcano)

Íoslainn (Iceland)

Cogadh (war)

Timpiste (accident/wreck)

Gardaí (Irish national police force)

The weather broadcast is another good one for practicing active listening. You can listen for such words as:

An aimsir (the weather)

An teocht (the temperature)

Te (warm/hot)

Fuar (cool/cold)

Fliuch (wet)

Tirim (dry)

Ceo (fog/mist)

Báisteach (rain)

At this stage, you'll want to be aware that these words MAY have initial mutations, so listen for the overall sound of the word without worrying too much about the initial sound. For example, if you just heard "un WASH-chakh" ("an bháisteach": the rain) that doesn't sound terribly different from "BASH-chakh" ("báisteach": rain).

It's really, really important to keep these sessions short, especially at first. This is hard work you're asking your ears and brain to can be tiring and frustrating (and, if you really overdo it, boring), and you DON'T want that! Do five to ten minutes of active listening and then go back to passive listening...or take a complete "brain break" and do something else entirely. Your mind will continue to process what you've been doing, and each time you will find it a little bit easier.

This is a little like how a musician listens when he really wants to learn to play or sing a piece. Instead of just sitting back and enjoying the music, he starts listening for how the music is expressed...for chord patterns and intervals, for dynamics and ornaments. This improves his comprehension of the music, so that, ultimately, he can play it well.

If you regularly practice BOTH kinds of listening, you will be amazed at just how quickly your comprehension of the language -- and, eventually, your ability to speak it well, with a good grasp of accent and idiom -- will grow.


...agus déanfaidh mé do mholadh ar an gcruit a Dhia, a Dhia liom!

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