At least once a month there is a person who posts on the Irish Language SubReddit or on the ILF asking for help finding resources for learning Irish and many times people post the same list of resources but in every instance, some of the best resources are left out. It also seems to me that some of the older lists of resources have a large number of dead links or lack some of the better more recently created resources. For these reasons, I’ve decided to put together a list of the best resources that I have found for beginners. I’ll cover resources for intermediate learners in another post. I will also note when the resources are paid and when they are free and if there is a specific dialect being taught by the resource in question.
Online Resources that All Learners Should Use
Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla Online – this is the gold standard by which all other Irish language dictionaries are measured. It gives definitions as well as examples of usage and also includes dialectal variants. If you are a serious learner, you should both own a physical copy as well as have the web address saved as a book mark. I use this site literally every single day and if you want to learn Irish, you will do so as well.
De Bhaldraithe’s English-Irish Dictionary – this online dictionary was coded and is hosted by the same individual who did the FGB above so there are links in both the Irish and English versions that will take you back and forth helping learners find more information faster and more easily. Take note of the tabs for grammar and pronunciation.
Fuaimeanna na Gaeilge (The Sounds of Irish) – If you are a beginner, then this site will likely seem very technical to you. I cannot exaggerate the long-term benefit that a beginning language learner will get by dedicating a little time to learning the International Phonetic Alphabet as it relates to Irish as well as the adapted phonetic alphabet that is used in most dictionaries.
Gramadach na Gaeilge - Irish Grammar – This is exactly what it says and it gives dialectal grammar and usage as well as standardized Irish grammar.
TG4 – The Irish language television station. You can watch all sorts of programs from talk shows to cartoons.
Radio na Gaeltachta (RnG) – Irish Language Radio. You can find podcasts to download as well as live stream the radio station.
Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge – On the TEG site you will find syllabi and example tests for all levels of Irish Learning except the most advanced. It’s based on the CEFR and I highly recommend it.
Online Retailers and Publishers - Cló Iar-Chonnacht, a publishing company based in Connemara, sells on their own site as well as on Amazon.com and has a large number of their books on Scribd. You should also take a look at Litríocht, Siopa.ie, and Kenny’s Books. Kenny’s also has a seller account on Amazon. If you are a US resident purchasing books from abroad there is no tax or import fee. The only time you would need to worry about that was if you were purchasing with the intent to sell.
Irish Beginners and First Time Language Learners
If you are just getting started in Irish and it’s your first time learning a language then I’d suggest that you take about a month to also learn how to learn a language. I’ve taught myself a number of languages to a conversational level and I know the pitfalls and booby-traps that lay before you. Here are my top 5 tips that I’d like you to take to heart but if you forget everything else that I say in this article, please really pay attention to number 5. It’s that important.
1. Subscribe to a few language learning pod casts and listen to previous episodes. I suggest these 3 Language Mastery, Actual Fluency and Language is Culture.
2. If you start frequenting a language learning subreddit or forum, search to the answers for your questions before you ask. There is a near 100% chance that any question you have, another person has already asked it. Use the site’s built in search features and use Google. One trait all good language learner have is the ability find the answers they need not to just be lazy and ask the nearest group of people a question they have already answered 5 or more times.
3. Break study time up into 25 to 30 minute sessions and space them out through your day. My preferred method is three 20 to 25 minute sessions daily. In the morning I review the previous night’s learning, in the afternoon I do focused listening, and in the evening I do course work. I do this because it decreases the likelihood that I will ever skip an entire day of study. Even if I miss two of my daily sessions, I still spend 20 minutes on learning. Frequency also tricks your mind into remembering things more easily. If you are using Irish more frequently throughout your day, your mind will know that it needs to pay attention because this is something that is happening a lot now. If you only study in one and a half hour sessions three times a week, then your mind will not think it is as important and it will not retain the information as easily.
4. In the beginning, focus most of your learning on acquiring new vocabulary. You should not dedicate more than 10% to 15% of your study time to grammar. Pick grammar up in small chunks from your course books but don’t spend much time specifically studying a grammar workbook until you can get to the level that you are able to study a grammar workbook that is in Irish. Getting to the point where you can read books in Irish at the 9 to 12 year old level will increase your learning and your motivation so focus on vocabulary.
5. Focused study (ass-in-chair with no interruptions) is the only thing that counts as study time. Talking to a native speaker is not study time. Listening to RnG is not study time. Watching Ros na Rún while you make breakfast is not study time. These things are all important and you should still do them but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are studying. You are not. Irish, due to its very different grammar, syntax, and phonology is classed as medium difficulty and will take roughly 1110 focused learning hours to get to an advanced level. If you are dedicating one hour per day that means, that you can expect 3 years of learning to achieve a C1 level. If there is anything in this article that you actually pay attention to let it be this: learning takes time and there are no cheat codes. While highly intense study might take 6 months off the total time it takes, it’s far more likely to burn you out at which point you will just quit. Let me say that again: It’s far more likely to burn you out at which point you will just quit.
Before I list the resources I’d like to cover some terms that you will encounter that in your learning to help you a bit: native speaker, heritage speaker, and dialect.
Native Speaker and Heritage Speaker – Defining these terms can be controversial. Technically anyone raised with Irish as their first language has the right to call themselves a native speaker. But this can be very ambiguous. Should a person who was raised speaking Russian in the home to their parents but spoke only English in every other aspect of their life be classed as a native speaker? They may make grammar mistakes that their parents, schooled in Russian would never make, they feel more comfortable in English, but Russian was still their first language. What about a person living in Dublin whose parents were not native Irish speakers but who raised their daughter speaking Irish in the home? She didn’t grow up around native speakers. She started using English from day one outside the home. She wasn’t schooled in the language. She didn’t speak it on the playground. Generally, in linguistic circles, we would call people in these situations heritage speakers and not native speakers. The reason why I bring this up is because many people claiming to be native speakers of Irish will not have the same proficiency or natural accent that you might expect. It’s not necessarily that they are lying but that they are using a different operational definition of the term than you might expect. Just be aware of this when seeking out language partners or teachers.
Dialect – There are 3 main spoken dialects of Irish (Munster in the south, Connacht in the west, and Ulster in the north) and the official written standard. Due to the history of Irish in the 19th and 20th centuries, the spoken dialects of Irish are very different. As an illustrative analogy you might imagine them as being as different as London Working Class English, Australian English, and Texan English. On a more positive note for beginners, the presence of Irish language TV and radio has helped to reduce this somewhat and now-a-days speakers understand all the other dialects. The “Official Standard” or An Caighdeán Oifigiúil was created in an air of controversy and it has never been able to shake that since. Many, especially older, native speakers look down on it. Most courses created after the 1980s teach a form of standardized Irish with aspects of one or more of the spoken Gaeltacht dialects mixed in. Another dialect that has emerged over the past few decades is “Urban Irish”. Generally, this is a learners dialect that mixes aspects or Ulster Irish with An Caighdeán Oifigiúil. On a final note I have been somewhat vague out of necessity and as complicated as I have made things seem they are in fact more complex. Don’t be discouraged. And if you don’t know which dialect you want to pick to learn, just stick with the standard for now and after you get a little experience and see what resources you can find pick a dialect later. Most learners speak a mixture of dialects any way. But under no circumstances should you let a lack of resources for a specific dialect prevent you from learning.
On a side note, when discussing the language in English call it Irish not Gaelic. While there is a long history in the English language of calling the language Gaelic over the past 50 years people who study and speak the language have preferred the term Irish and they can be pedantic in the extreme. So just stick with Irish and avoid being judged.
Now let’s get to the resources!
Free Online Resources
Buntús na Gaeilge – Dr. Barbara Hillers has published her Irish Language Course material online and it includes sound files. If you follow the link above, she lists the material near the bottom of the page under Course Materials/Textbooks. Don’t confuse this with the classic 3 book series Buntús Cainte.
Duolingo Irish – At the time of writing this article, this course has some issues and if you are going to use it, I would suggest that you not use the accompanying sound as it is not from a native speaker.
Teach Yourself Irish (West Munster Dialect) with Audio – This is the original teach yourself book from the 1960s and should not be confused with the newer book of the same name which teaches the official standard with Munster accents.
Ag Foghlaim Gaeilge YouTube Channel – Study help for the Irish Leaving Cert this is probably best for learners at the A2/B1 levels but it offers standardized Irish in context, a transcript, and a clear (although non-native) accent.
The Learning Irish Workbook – Dr. Nancy Stenson allowed this to be published online in MS Word format. It’s got some minor problems still but is a valuable resource for learners of Connemara Irish. It is intended to accompany Learning Irish. It teaches the dialect of Cois Fharraige, Connemara but uses a mostly standardized spelling.
A large number of out of print and in print resources have been made available on line as well and there is one Torrent I am aware of. Use these things at your own risk I am only providing links for informational purposes.
Vifax – This resource is really best for people at the CEFR A2/B1 levels or higher. When I first got back to studying Irish I found the bunleibhéal too difficult but a year in they are a bit too easy. There is a massive amount of material available and this represents one of the single best learning resources period. I have a mirror of the material on my personal OneDrive incase anything ever happens to the site. If the link starts giving a 404 error at any point, please contact me and I can share it with you.
Memrise – Memrise is a spaced repetition app and isn't specifically for Irish.The Memrise Irish courses are community created so you should be careful in what you use as the “courses” may not be of very high quality. Here is a list of the ones I suggest as I have either used them or at least looked at them to some degree.
- Vocabulary - Gaeilge gan Stró - Irish TEG A1
- Beginner: Spoken Irish 01-20: Buntús Cainte
- Céad Caoga Focal
- Focal an Lae
iTalki – While this isn’t a specifically Irish related site there are a few people offering to teach Irish. Using the site itself is free but lessons/tuition is usually paid. Use them at your own risk. I just wish that more native speakers would sign up and offer conversation on the site. It would be an awesome help for learners and could be a way to supplement one’s income a bit.
Paid or Freemium Resources
Líofa – The site is currently down due to security issues. It’s quite a shame. If it’s not back up by spring, 2015 then I am going to take this link down as it won’t ever likely return.
Bitesize Irish Gaelic – I’ve not used this resource but I know a few people who are involved in the project.
Rosetta Stone – While it’s wildly overpriced, it’s not a bad resource. It focuses on Munster pronunciation but also offers tutoring online with a native speaker. It’s not clear to me which packages include the online tuition so make sure you check before you spend the money.
Ranganna.com – They offer classes based on what I feel are the best, most complete course books created in the past decade: Gaeilge gan Stró. They offer a lot of material for learners and online classes. I’ve not taken the online course but if it’s of the same quality of the books it’s probably worth it. My only reservation is that they suggest asking questions in their forum. So, it’s not really clear to me what you would get above self-study with the books and making use of the Internet.
Gaeilge gan Stró Beginner Level and Lower Intermediate Level – As I mentioned above these are the best self-study course books that exist. They teach standard Irish but introduce aspects of the spoken dialects. They map to the TEG A/A2 and B1 levels respectively.
Learning Irish – As I mentioned previously this book focuses on Connemara Irish, specifically on the dialect of the Cois Fharraige Gaeltacht. It moves fast and can be very technical and intimidating for first time learners. If you want to learn Connemara Irish, I would suggest that you combine this book with Colloquial Irish and don’t forget the workbook I mentioned in the free resources section. It teaches dialectal Irish with modernized spellings.
Colloquial Irish – For absolute beginners (corresponds roughly to the TEG A1 level) and teaches standard Irish with aspects of Connemara Irish included. I would suggest that you use it in conjunction with Learning Irish as it focuses mostly on conversational language, which Learning Irish does not.
Turas Teanga book with 3 CDs and DVDs – The DVDs are sold separately and even harder to find than the book and CDs as they are all out-of-print. Despite that, it is an excellent follow up to the Learning Irish/Colloquial Irish combo. It’s from the same author as the Gaeilge gan Stró series but dates from the early 2000s and maps to the TEG B1 level. Some of the videos from the DVD have been posted on YouTube but not all. In addition to An Grá faoi Glas there were interviews and additional material that went along with the dialogs in the book.
Buntús Cainte I, II, and III – These classic books form the 60s can be a bit odd (children stealing dad’s beer and cigarettes, women can’t drive, etc). But if you can get over that they teach a “generic” Connemara version of the Official Standard and can be used as an excellent supplemental resource for Learning Irish and Colloquial Irish. Despite their age I have included them here because they have been reissued as an MP3 course as well.
I’m leaving out some older books that are out-of-print but there are a lot more print resources that you might be able to find at your local used book store. Make sure you take a look. I hope you find these useful and if you find any dead links or think that I missed something, please tweet to me @RobertKaucher or contact me via my GMail address which is my Twitter handle at GMail.com.