Learning a wee bit of Irish

Cad é mar atá tú? Tá mé go maith, go raibh maith agat!

Or, in other words: How are ya? I’m well, thank you!

In case you haven’t figured this out yet (i.e. if you haven’t read all my previous posts about Ireland and the Irish, and if you haven’t been part of my life for the last decade or two), I am a bit nuts about all things Irish. Some might uncharitably say it borders on an obsession. I prefer to think of it as a yearning to fulfil a lifelong dream.

A year or so ago, I discovered an online Irish Gaelic language learning series on the BBC’s Radio Ulster.

There are actually two series: The first is called Giota Beag (meaning, rather cutely, “a wee bit”), which is for complete beginners. The follow-up is called Giota Beag Eile (“another wee bit”).

I found the first one extremely accessible and easy to follow, but the second one is much harder, as they don’t write out all the words and phrases they teach you, so I’ve had to resort to using an online English-Irish dictionary. It’s really good in many ways, but I find it impossible to figure out how a word is spelt from how the announcer pronounces it. And if you put the fadas (those funny marks on á é í ó ú) in the wrong place, you will never find the word you’re seeking.

I ain’t even gonna try the phonetic transcription bit. The Wikipedia says, authoritatively: “The written language looks rather daunting to those unfamiliar with it. Once understood, the orthography is relatively straightforward.” (Irish Language)

Oh really? I still don’t grasp the differences between long and short vowels, broad and slender consonants, aspirated and eclipsed consonants, long and short diphthongs etc. – although these chaps here did their level best to explain it.

Sensibly, like our parents the friendly teachers of Giota Beag first teach us to be polite by saying please and thank you.

  • Le do thoil  (Please)
  • Go raibh maith agat (Thank you)

These are now engraved in my memory banks! In addition, they give really useful phrases such as:

  • Gabh mo leithscéal (Excuse me)
  • Cá bhfuil an leithreas? (Where is the toilet?)

Unfortunately, the only answer I’ve so far learnt to recognise is:

  • thart an coirnéal (around the corner)

So if the toilet is NOT “thart an coirnéal”, but “down the passage to your left, up the stairs to the first floor, turn right, go half a flight down, past the big pot plant in front of the window to the street, and it’s the third door on your left with the little leprechaun in a dress on it”, then I am going to be completely stumped.

But I suppose I can then say:

  • Ní thuigim (I don’t understand) – which I think was one of the first phrases I learned in French too – followed by a desperate
  • An bhfuil Béarla agat? (Do you speak English?)

And I am always much relieved, when the announcer says “Maith thú (Good on you/well done)”… even though he can’t possibly hear how badly I am mispronouncing his mother-tongue. I should also add that I think they are teaching us Ulster Irish, which I was told differs markedly from other dialects.

Great, that should be fun…

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For other posts on this blog related to Ireland and the Irish, click on:

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