Irish Lesson 1

With this issue we begin the rerun of our study course in Irish. The purpose of the course is to give Americans, whether of Irish descent or not, a working knowledge of the Irish language. This course begins with the basics and is entirely self-contained. We have planned it especially for persons who are studying alone or in small groups without a teacher, books or recordings.

To keep your past study lessons handy, each week remove the lesson from the paper and paste or staple it into a notebook, so that you will have the lessons available for review or reference.

Pronunciation and study methods are important for you who are learning Irish in this way. We will say a few words about these two subjects first.

Americans studying Irish have always learned pronunciation from either an Irish speaker or from one of several recordings accompanying textbooks. Because we will not be able to teach pronunciation in these ways, we will give you a simple pronunciation guide system and then extra instruction from time to time. If you have the chance to listen to a native speaker, however, do so. There are differences in regional pronunciation in Irish, as in other languages, but if the speaker talks slowly and clearly, you should have little trouble in understanding the words you know.

The pronunciation given in the guide for this lesson series is not based exclusively on any one region of Ireland. Where the differences are significant, we will give you some of the other pronunciations and usage, to make it easier to talk to all speakers.

Study Method

  1. Learn the pronunciation guide system and do the practice work for English words that we will give you.

  2. For each Irish word, phrase, or sentence, first look at the pronunciation guide (which will always be in parentheses) and say the word or words several times out loud. Then look at the Irish word and pronounce it several more times. After you have gone over the lesson in this way, write the Irish words, copying them from the lesson and saying them out loud as you copy them.

  3. Each time you say an Irish word or phrase, try to form a picture in your mind of the meaning. Although this is difficult with some single words, persist and it will become easier as the phrases and sentences become longer.

  4. Translation is the next step. Read the Irish word or phrase out loud and then translate it into English. Do this several times, until you are sure that you know it. Then translate the English into Irish several times. If you are learning Irish with others, each person can give another a word or phrase to translate and can take a part in the conversation in the lessons.

  5. In the conversation exercises, look first at the pronunciation and meaning, then look up from the lesson before you say the Irish words out loud. Work phrase by phrase at first, until you can memorize entire sentences. If you study with others, take turns in reading what each character says.

    In the conversation exercises, you will see words and phrases that will seem difficult at first. Memorize them and don't worry about the grammar. It will be explained later.

Pronunciation guide system
Most of the symbols are letters and letter groups for sounds common in familiar English words. If you pronounce them in that way for the first few lessons, you will be close enough for a beginning. We will gradually correct you and improve your pronunciation as you advance, so that you will soon have a genuine Irish pronunciation.

For most consonants, such as b, d, f, g, h, l, m, n, p, r, s, and t we will use the letters themselves as pronunciation symbols. In the lessons you will get instructions on how to pronounce these sounds in the Irish way. Nearly all these consonants have two sounds in Irish, depending on what vowels are next to them. (English "c" and "g" also have this characteristic. Notice how you start to pronounce "king" and "coat", and then "give" and "go".)

The vowel symbols may need some explanation, so here are the symbols and description of their pronunciation:

Symbols and pronunciation
(ah) as in English "ah-hah".
(a) as in English "at".
(aw*) as in English "tot". but held for a longer time
(ay*) as Irish pronounce English "say" without a trace of (ee) as in English "mean".
(i) as in English "pin".
(eye) as in English "eye".
(oh) as in English "toe", but without the trace of (oo) sound at the end as in English "food".
(oo) as in English "food".
(u) as in English "put".
(uh) as in English "but".
(ou) as in English "shout"

We will capitalize the letters in the accented part of the word or phrase. We will use asterisks, as in some symbols above, to indicate a sound fairly different from usual English sounds. Remember, too, that many Irish sounds are not exactly like their English counterparts. Some English sounds, such as "z" and "th" are not in Irish.

Now try these English words as practice in using the pronunciation guide system:

(boht) (HAM-muhr) (kin) (KUH-stuhm-ayr-ee) (de-LIV-uh-ree) (giv) (trans-LAYT) (ad-MEYE-uhr) (ful-FIL) (fuhn-duh-MENT-uhl) (wohnt) (wawnt) (tawt).

The actual English words for these are:

boat, hammer, kin, customary, delivery, give, translate, admire, fulfill, fundamental, won't, want, taught. These sounds are not always exact, as you can see, but are close enough to be understood. With these important preliminaries taken care of, you will make your entry into Irish next week.

(c) 1997 The Irish People. May be reprinted with credit.

Irish Lesson 2

Return to the Irish People Home Page