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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