Learning Irish

Learning Irish 

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When I started learning Irish, I didn’t think much about the new words that my primary school teacher was giving a four-year-old me in Dublin: ceapaire meant sandwich, madra meant dog, leabhar meant book. It was only later that the words came to mean so much more. Before starting secondary school, I attended a summer camp in Dublin that involved Irish classes and sports through Irish. As a teenager, this transformed into trips to the Gaeltacht, and I spent many summer months immersed in the language in Connemara. Throughout university, I was making friends through Irish at my university’s Irish-language society, working through Irish during breaks, and living through Irish in the university’s Irish-language accommodation. As well as the employment opportunities that I have enjoyed from learning Irish, the language has brought me friendships, a sense of community and a commitment to linguistic diversity. Learning the language has shaped my life. I’m very happy to be writing this post, which is the second part of our series focusing on learning Celtic languages. If I can help you towards even some of the fulfilment that I have gained from learning Irish, I will be very pleased.

Please do not worry if you do not have the years of learning behind you that I have been lucky to have. It is never too late to start learning a language and you can be very excited about what lies ahead. When starting, many people choose to join the more than 1.1 million active learners that are currently learning Irish on Duolingo This can be a great place to start, especially for building up your vocabulary. There are also courses for beginners offered by organisations such as Gaelchultúr and Conradh na Gaeilge, which are currently being taught online. These classes offer the opportunity to work with a teacher and to meet new people through the language from day one. These organisations, and others, offer Irish-language courses at intermediate and advanced levels too. Many learners opt to take part in intensive Irish-language courses in the Gaeltacht, such as those offered by Gael Linn in the Donegal Gaeltacht. These courses allow learners to enjoy social activities and to take part in cultural events around the language, such as céilithe.

Whether you choose to learn on Duolingo, with a formal class or through an intensive course in the Gaeltacht, there are many tools at your disposal that will help you along your learning journey. Irish learners are lucky to have access to a wide range of English-Irish online dictionaries such as focloir.ie, which is particularly helpful for finding the Irish for common English phrases, and tearma.ie, which is a great resource for finding technical terms. Teanglann.ie, which provides access to three different dictionaries, also allows learners to use a grammar and a pronunciation database. The grammar database can help with identifying the gender of nouns, the changes that need to be made to verbs in various tenses and changes based on case, too. The pronunciation database contains recordings of the pronunciation of many Irish-language words by different speakers representing the three major dialects associated with the language: Connacht, Munster and Ulster. For example, click here to hear how the word teanga (language) is pronounced by the three speakers.

Not all language learning needs to involve putting time aside to sit at a desk and study intensely. There are many other ways to incorporate learning Irish into your everyday life. Instead of binging a show on Netflix, try the TG4 Player, which provides access to television shows that have previously aired on this Irish-language channel, with the availability of subtitles in both Irish and English. If you are a fan of podcasts, listen to an Irish-language podcast, such as Beo Ar Éigean. Of course, you can also listen to the Irish-language episodes of our own Celtic Students Podcast. You can connect with other Irish learners and speakers on social media, via Twitter and Facebook groups, and can follow popular figures such as Múinteoir Meg and Gaylgeoirí. This way, scrolling through your feed can become an opportunity for language learning. You can also combine Irish with another interest you might have and join an Irish-language book club with Club Chonradh na Gaeilge or join online yoga sessions through Irish, for example. 

While I could mention plenty more resources and activities available to you for learning Irish at any level, I will limit myself to one final suggestion: conversation groups. There are many conversation groups that have gone online or emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and some are specifically targeted at beginners and learners. Lists of the various groups are posted regularly on the Facebook page Ciorcail Chomhrá agus Pop Up Gaeltachtaí ar líne. For intermediate and advanced learners, I can recommend an online Pop Up Gaeltacht every Saturday evening on Zoom at 7pm GMT, which arose from an in-person Pop Up Gaeltacht event in San Diego. All of these events can help you to work on your conversational Irish. Moreover, they show the Irish proverb Beatha teanga í a labhairt in action (‘the life of a language is to speak it’), as you connect with a lively community of speakers.

I hope that the suggestions in this blog post help you as you embark upon learning Irish or improving the Irish that you have. As important as it is to know where to find the above resources, it is also important that you approach them with the right attitude. Remember that making mistakes is part of the process, that you don’t need to apologise for where you are at in that process and that the discomfort that comes from not knowing a word or a structure is a space where learning can happen. With that in mind, and by engaging with some of the links in this article, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying everything that learning Irish has to offer.

Alexandra Philbin
MA Linguistic Anthropology, Maynooth University (2020) 
Certificate in Teaching Irish to Adult Learners, Maynooth University (Currently) 


  1. Sár tuairimí agat anseo, Alex, a chara. Go raibh maith agat as ucht iad a roinnt linn!


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