Foghlaim na Gaeilge

25 Sep 2011

It’s decided. I’m going to greim an piléar (bite the bullet) and learn the Irish language. I mean, if I had moved to any other foreign speaking country I would have to learn the native language, right? So, why not do so here in Ireland where Gaeilge is meant to be Ireland’s first and official language.

But, there are many reasons for which to decide to learn Gaeilge, not the least of which is the fact that our little boy is coming home with more and more Irish homework. And I will admit it: I haven’t a clue as to what these new words mean, how they are pronounced, and I certainly have no idea how to go about helping him with writing or spelling this new arsenal of Irish grammar he is being introduced to each day.

As commander-in-chief on the homework front, I feel obliged to know what in the world this boy is learning and saying to me. Therefore, I feel it’s only right that I learn along with him. This dawned on me the other afternoon when we sat down together with a workbook called Bun Go Barr. He also had this book in Junior Infants last year. To my mind, I figured it had to do with baked buns and chocolate bars. In reality, Bun Go Barr translates to the phrase ‘bottom to top’. Not as much fun, but definitely has more of a learning connotation to it.

As Geoffrey worked on his assignment, I couldn’t help but feel a bit perplexed. Not only did I not understand the words, but I also couldn’t identify some of the images that he was working with, as can be the case occasionally. It is not unusual for him to know be familiar with a line drawing of something like a scone and for that not to register immediately with me as an example of an everyday symbol. (Now if it were a doughnut, I’d catch on straight away)

There have been a few instances like this where I find myself feeling very silly not being able to help simply because there are subtle cultural differences like this. Imagine how awkward it can be when you add in my lack of understanding a lick of Irish. This is why I must learn.

As a foreigner living in a country where you often see words in Irish, but do not know what they mean, you can start to get funny notions in your head about their definition and how they are pronounced. I’ve written about this before, but it happens time and time again. For example, I recently met a lovely young woman named Sile. Luckily, I was informed just a few days before our meeting that her name was the Irish spelling of the name Sheila. Beforehand, I had been referring to her as “SY-LE” like style without the T.  Mortified.

As much as it would be fascinating to go off and do an immersion course in the language, it is not an option for me to get away like that nor is it necessary. I will be learning right here at home using an online learning program, which will teach basic Irish words and conversational skills, including greetings and introductions, simple questions and answers. I will also be learning with Geoffrey and leaning on the rest of our family along the way too.

So, that’s the craic. I will keep you posted on my progress along the way!

Slan Abhaile,




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18 Responses to “Foghlaim na Gaeilge”

  1. I have to admit that I attended a beginner’s class some time ago but it is so difficult to practise when it isn’t used in normal speech. My 2 are in 2nd and 3rd class and the problem is the pronounciation too let alone knowing the meanings. I was terrible at Irish in school and want them to enjoy learning the language. good luck 🙂

  2. Katie says:

    Good luck to you, Imen! I am interested in trying to learn (that is, teach myself) Irish too. Would you mind saying what online learning program you’ll be using?

  3. Go n-éirí leat, Imen!
    That translates as ‘good luck’. I’m sure you’ll discover a whole new world of meanings and interpretations. Languages are always a revelation!

  4. It’s so cool. Learning new language is so cool. And Irish names are still nightmares for me, but I didn’t make any faux pas yet 😉

    • imen says:

      Magda, do you speak Irish too? I just told some Polish neighbours about your blog the other day =) Thanks for your comment.

  5. nessa robins says:

    Imen, I studied Irish in school and I’m still fairly ‘perplexed’ while doing Irish homework with the boys! My husband has a much better grasp on the Irish language so I hand this part of the homework over to him. I too should really brush up on my Irish! It is always nice to try something new so do enjoy your course.

    • imen says:

      Richard (and all of his friends!) seem to be the same as you with the Irish…I get the impression it wasn’t a favorite topic in school! Thank you for your comment. xx

  6. Jennifer says:

    Fair play duit!! I know EXACTLY how you feel starting this task! As we are living in the Gaeltacht and our kids are in Irish speaking schools, we decided we wanted/needed to learn it, too. I look forward to reading about your experience!!

  7. Karen says:

    Best of luck Imen, you’ll do great – try watching Dora on TG4 in the mornings, Des Bishop swears it’s what taught him Gaeilge!

    • imen says:

      Thanks Karen…great idea!! I remember seeing Des at UL talking about learning Gaeilge! It was really funny xx

  8. Móna Wise says:

    Good luck Imen. It is a whole new kettle of fish but I am sure you will love it. There are many beautiful words you will encounter and I look forward to seeing them pop up on your page.

    • imen says:

      Do you speak it Mona being a Galway girl? It is such a lovely looking language….but will be a definite challenge! I am fairly fluent in French but I believe that is a bit easier than Irish! Thanks for your comment here. xx

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