Cíaran Joe Fionn

Our little son is growing up fast! He’s already fifteen months old. This is my second time around with a young child. And time has sped up; the impatient anticipation for my baby to begin doing things I experienced the first time around just didn’t happen.

It’s clear that in many areas his development is accelerated because he observes his older sisters keenly. This already seems to be true in many areas, not least of which is language.

So far his vocabulary includes “déanta” (done), “all done”, “hi”, “no”, “out”, “uh-oh” and of course “mama” and “da” (more often he says “hi da” together as one word). His latest addition is the essential word for milk in Irish, “bainne”. He has also been pointing and saying something that sounds quite close to “ba mhaith”. He still has baby words of his own invention: “iya” is his word for “I want”, roughly. This word initially arose from his approximation of his oldest sister’s name, Saoirse.

Naturally our son’s understanding of Irish is more developed than his speaking ability. The first phrase he seemed to understand in any language was the Irish for come here: “tar anseo”. Many others he knows from daily use: “ná bain leis”, “ar mhaith leat bia?”, “clúidín nua”, “seo duit”, “cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?”, “an bhfuil tú réidh?” and so on. All of us, my wife Linda, and our daughters Saoirse and Róisín use Irish with him and each other.

Cíaran lena leabhar

Níl mórán nach dtuigeann sé. Is Gael go smior é.

Róisín continues to grow in her ability to speak Irish. She’s still happy mixing Irish and English freely, but getting better at continuing ongoing conversations in Irish. Her attention span has grown to the point that I can read her several pages from one of the Fionn Mac Cumhaill books in one go.

Occasionally we get different answers from Róisín in different languages. One day Róisín was struggling  to move something. Linda asked, “Want some help?”

Róisín: “No!”

Linda: “Ar mhaith leat cabhair?”

Róisín: “Ba mhaith!”

Sometimes she speaks English in an Irish way. Today she was pretending to be a kangaroo, and while hopping along she said to me “let’s be in our kangaroo!”

I have observed the wonderful sight of Joe Fionn and his sister Róisín playing with each other in Irish. Often she attempts a storyline or dialogue between toys; sometimes it’s spontaneous songs in Irish. I’ve also seen her admonish him in Irish. I hope this shared language will be their special bond.

Cheartaigh m’iníon óg mé i nGaeilge

Cheartaigh m’iníon óg mé i nGaeilge nuair a bhí mé ag labhairt léi inniu.

Bhí comhrá gearr againn faoin bindealán a bhí orm. “What do you have, daddy? Is that a band aid?” arsa Róisín.

“Is bindealán atá orm. Agus abair: ‘céard atá agam?’” arsa mise. Ní raibh mé ag smaoineamh i gceart áfach.

D’fhéac sí orm. Bhí sí ina tost. Ansin: “céard atá…AGAT?”

Thosaigh mé ag gáire. Dúirt mé léi go raibh sí iontach cliste.

Agus níl sí fós trí bliana d’aois! Tógfaidh sé tamall dul i dtaithí ar seo há há ach táim an-mhórálach.

The OC Comix Guide to Learning Irish Online

FOGHLAIM gaeilge

I decided to write this guide after seeing the same questions and complaints about learning Irish from folks online. Many believe they must spend a large sum of money on an expensive program; I also see a lot of frustrated and confused learners. I sympathize completely. I was also once stuck in the same rut. I have some very good news for you: the massive growth of online content in Irish means you can learn this beautiful language well for next to nothing. I have gathered some links for you to get started or to help you continue on your path.

I promise you can succeed. If you don’t, contact me and I will help you.

I recommend you pair a large number of internet resources, including websites and apps with a small investment in some flash cards, a notebook for jotting things down and a pocket phrasebook. Carry the phrasebook and notebook around with you and take them out when you have a chance to study, and spend fifteen minutes or so a night flipping through your flashcards. Only a year ago I would’ve also urged you purchase a dictionary, but that isn’t immediately necessary now as you’ll see below.

Your best bet to succeed is to study a bit daily and meet with a group or at least a friend to practice regularly. If you don’t know anyone else learning Irish find a local friend who loves Ireland and convince them to practice with you, or find someone online.

At first focus on speaking over writing. The more you throw yourself into speaking the faster you will improve. I studied a lot on my own for years only occasionally speaking with others. I developed a decent knowledge of the language and could spout off lots of phrases, yet my practical ability to hold a conversation remained weak. However once I began speaking Irish daily with my family and exclusively to my daughter, I reached a high level rapidly.

This approach will work for most any language; I followed the same route with French and ended up getting a better job in the process.

TL/DR version: The best way to start if you’re a complete beginner is to learn a few phrases that are relevant to real life (which are easily accessible for free online) and start speaking. Then expand your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar over time instead of wasting your precious money and efforts on expensive programs!

Free resources

One of the most popular language learning sites right now, for good reason, is Duolingo. You can do their courses for free on their site or on a mobile app which is also free.

Memrise is another popular free site that I use regularly. The courses are flashcards made by volunteers. Last I checked, you had to go onto their site and choose your courses there to make them available on your phone app.

Check out RTE’s Easy Irish lessons.

I HIGHLY recommend the Easy Irish series of fifteen video lessons on YouTube. It helped me with some pronunciations, and as a family we benefited from it.

Omniglot compiled a nice collection of handy phrases along with audio files. There’s some gems there like how to say “my hovercraft is full of eels”.

For general language learning advice, you can follow Benny the Irish Polyglot. He learns lots of languages, and Irish is one of them. His email updates are full of useful info.

Chris Lonsdale’s brilliant talk on learning a language in only six months is definitely worth a watch.

The wonderful site Daltaí has phrases, forums, a guide to Irish events and classes, an online shop and a page about grammar.

Irish translation forum: a lot of people go here with beginner questions. You can probably find an answer to your question by doing a quick search.

The Irish Language Forum is another good forum. It also includes Scottish Gaelic, which I will surely visit when I finally begin learning it.

On the website Forvo native speakers upload recordings of words. A map shows you their location, which is great for Irish learners who study a regional dialect.

Gaelchultúr Teoranta has grammar videos and a wealth of other resources including classes and certificates.

If you’re looking for a site for Irish grammar, I highly recommend this one, which oddly enough is translated into English from German.

The BBC Irish course is a popular choice.

Focloir is the official Irish dictionary. Many entries have recordings. The site includes conjugation tables for verbs and lots of helpful example sentences. Probably the single most useful link in this post! In December 2014 they added 5,000 new entries and 11,500 more sound files.

Make sure to sign up for the Irish word of the day emails! Each includes a recording of the word with an example sentence spoken by natives.

You can listen to Raidió na Gaeltachta by going to their site or listening to through a free phone app like TuneIn Radio.

The Irish People series of lessons will keep a beginner busy for some time with 125 lessons.

There’s a wealth of YouTube videos and entire channels with Irish content. Some we often watch at home include: Gaelchultúr Teoranta, TG FaisnéisGaeltalk, Urlton (this channel is one of my favorites, as it has cartoon clips with subtitles in English and Irish!), TG Spraoi, COD as Gaeilge, Seán O Briain, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, and finally How to swear/curse in Irish. There’s many, many more good ones of course, especially for music. But that’s enough to get you started.

Gaeltacht Minnesota is full of useful information, including a guide to locating words in the dictionary (which can be tricky for beginners) and tips for starting a study group.

If you’re not a beginner and already have some Irish, the site Beo is an excellent resource for picking up more phrases and idioms – it’s articles don’t translate the basics, but do offer them for more advanced terms and phrases, which you can view by hovering the mouse over the text.

Foras na Gaeilge has a lot of useful info and links.

Also check out this fun site full of Irish sayings.

There’s some great phone apps specifically for the Irish language, too!

Gaelfon is a free dictionary. Sometimes the results are slightly odd, but it’s mostly reliable. I mostly use it when I don’t have time to pull focloir.ie up. There’s a few more options for free dictionaries- Focal.ie also makes an app. And while you’re at their site, you can download some posters in Irish.

One of my personal favorites is Bun Gaeilge (basic Irish). It has a lot of phrases useful for parents along with audio files.

Cúla Caint is a series of free phone apps for children. They’re addictive to young children but of course work for adults, too. With these you can quickly boost your and your child’s vocab. They make other phone apps that are useful such as Bia Linn. I learned quite a few names for foods from it and my young daughter loves it.

Last but certainly not least is TG4, the Irish language television station’s website. There’s videos of sports, weather, news and shows, naturally, plus games for children.

bionn gach tosu lag

Don’t get discouraged!

For a price

Briathra – this app is all verb conjugations. You can get the same thing on the focloir website mentioned above, but if you need a verb quickly this will help.

When you’ve got a solid basic grasp a good way to “level up” is to read children’s books! Here’s where we’ve ordered from. And here’s another great shop.

Although I know some who didn’t, I enjoyed Progress in Irish. It’s a touch outdated, but still quite useful as it teaches you a large amount of the language and grammar without getting into boring explanations. I personally like the textbook style. Shouldn’t cost you more than $30, and with a bit of digging you could find it cheaper. Here’s one example of it for sale. The biggest flaw was the lack of audio recording and answer sheets, however those are now available online here and here.

Teach Yourself Irish is a great book and CD set. I’ve even given a copy to a friend. The older versions were based on Munster Irish.

Similar to TYI is Colloquial Irish. However this book and CD set focuses on a dialect of Irish in found in Galway known as Cois Fharraige.

Here’s a few more I’ve not tried but have only heard good things about: Gaeilge gan stró, Pimsleur, Bitesize Irish and Talk Irish, The Pimsleur method has become very influential, as it uses an approach that is proven to work, called spaced repetition. Many others including Memrise and Duolingo now use this method.

So after all this, if you’re saying to yourself, yeah but I’ve got a few hundred extra dollars and I’d really like to buy an expensive program, I would strongly urge you to spend it on an immersion weekend instead. These take place in many cities around the world. If they’re not close to you, you could save up to travel to the closest one as my family’s planning to do in Portland, Oregon.

A quick word on the official v regional dialects

The flaw with the Irish standard is that it is a mish-mash of all the dialects and not the language of a region, unlike say, standard French which is based on the way Parisians speak. The best way to proceed is to not worry about it right now and just learn the basics, unless you are near that region or have a teacher/tutor from a particular region. Otherwise you will overwhelm yourself and get nowhere.

Once you have a solid grasp, it won’t be hard to switch around or figure out differences from context. I’ve been dabbling in a sub-dialect of Connemara Irish for a while, also studying our family’s dialect of Mayo Irish and yet this morning I sang some songs with my daughter in Ulster Irish. It’s all quite manageable once you’re accustomed to it.

If at the end of this, after providing you with all these resources, you still believe you can’t learn Irish, it’s because you’ve made the choice not to.

Thanks for reading! If you find this useful please share!

Is mise,

Tj Ó Conchúir

My 2 ½ year old daughter’s English/Irish bilingualism

An update from the Gaeltacht Ó Conchúir!

It’s been eight months since my post tracking my daughter’s vocabulary in both English and Irish. She’s approaching two and a half years of age now. There have been a lot of positive changes and encouraging signs!

Our daughter often creates her own words and phrases for things: she loves to chew pieces of ice, and has insisted for some time on calling an ice cube a “carraig” (Irish for “rock”). She has been reluctant to say the correct Irish word, “oighear”, though she’s understood the word for some time.

Róisín’s pronunciation is coming along well and she is overcoming her difficulty with pronouncing the letter R. Recently she’s begun to pronounce it more clearly and just yesterday said it perfectly.

The range of vocabulary in both languages grows daily. We are well within the phase that we have to watch we say – she’s quick to imitate every spoken utterance, whether polite or rude. It’s been observed of children that they need to hear a word repeatedly to remember it, however only once if it’s naughty.

Róisín loves to count her numbers and say their color. At this point she only knows them in Irish.

Róisín loves to count her numbers and say their color. At this point she only knows them in Irish.

The most significant development is her improvement in making sentences through Irish. This had lagged behind English. Back in late March she was saying “thank you” and “I love you”, but the Irish equivalents came a little later.

According to the Comhluadar / Foras book A Guide for Parents Speaking Irish at Home, this is normal.  The literature says that it often seems like children are learning English better because English is simpler than Irish – both in that there are less sounds in English than Irish, and the difference is even greater in grammar. Irish is more in line with other Indo-European languages in the complexity of its grammar, unlike English which has fairly simple grammar by comparison.

For example, the vocative form – the rules for when a name changes while addressing that person – (eg: Colm = A Choilm) is of course not found in English. She seems to grasp it pretty solidly now, though for a while I could see it confused her. I’m sure there’s an added confusion with the word for “the” in Irish: an. When it comes before a noun with a consonant, the n sound is dropped, which means it sounds the same as the vocative. My wife has also noticed that Róisín will sometimes call her “a dama,” instead of mama, which could be a two-year-old’s silly attempt at vocative form.

Some of the difficulty is the longer phrases in Irish, so my wife Linda has taken to shortening: asking her to say “Dia leat” when someone sneezes, for example, and not bothering with “beannachtí”. Later I read that native speakers tend to use these shortcuts anyway, including Dia leat. Likewise, she can’t handle “go raibh maith agat” for “thank you”, but “buíochas” (“thanks”) is no problem for her.

Róisín has an equal like for both languages, and about an equal grasp of both, yet my wife believes she has slightly more respect for the Irish. We’ve noticed that if we tell her not to climb on something, or to stop messing with something she shouldn’t touch, she often ignores commands in English, yet will mind the Irish instruction. This “issue” has actually created an environment that requires more Irish in our general conversations at home with my wife and oldest daughter.

I’m not sure if this will remain the same for long, but when visitors come over to the house, she tries a mix of Irish and English at first. When they don’t understand she switches to mostly English, though even when she attempts to sort them apart she continues to mix them. Eventually, she’ll stop trying Irish at all and use English as the default language, with no expectation that the other speaks Gaeilge. That will be sad.

Since my last post on this topic, our son, Cíaran Seosamh Fionn was born. He is in good health and he is a wonderful addition to the family. Indeed, at this point it is hard to believe there was a time without him.

ag leamh an leabhar le cheile

Reading a story in Irish together.

It will be great for Róisín to have another Irish speaker around. I hope this will be a nice counter balance to the general lack of Irish speakers in our area.

As for me, I will be pushing my studies even harder. The next year will be critical, as she will begin to ask more questions about the world. I will need a more robust command of Irish to accommodate it.






My daughter’s bilingualism at 20 months



Reading a book to my daughter in Irish


We’re raising our youngest daughter bilingual (with Irish) here in the USA.  The success of this endeavor so far has been clear and gratifying. I have often wondered how I would be able to measure our success, because English is spoken in the home alongside Irish, and of course outside the home it’s everywhere.  I was curious if Irish was dominant, and by how much.  I had suspected she was slightly Irish dominant, but the results were surprising.

To track her progress, we decided to start writing down every word she uses and we know she understands the meaning of. We didn’t count each and every time she’s imitated a sound she heard, and made sure we waited for her to display consistent knowledge and usage of each word. There are, of course, a much larger pool of words she consistently understands, but hasn’t verbalized on her own yet.

This is uniquely effective at her current age, because she is still in the stage when she uses one word for each concept/object. In a few months she’ll begin using both languages, according to bilingual experts, but for now it’s a ball, not a liathróid (though she does indeed understand the Irish word when we use it).

So, the results were:

9 clearly English words

5 words that are the same in Irish and English (like car/carr, teddy/teidí, etc…)

And finally…

31 Irish words in her vocabulary!

This is confirmation that our bilingual goal is working. I would say the decision for both parents to speak Irish, and her older sister’s goodwill to learn and participate has led to this success. I have read in many places that the support of the older siblings is as crucial as the parents. The other day our older daughter told me she now understands more Irish than French- despite having studied French in school for twice as long (seven years, to be exact).

We also find it interesting that the widespread view that bilinguals begin speaking later doesn’t apply to our daughter. She’s above average in the number of words she’s speaking. Being able to measure her progression in two languages is not only helpful, but the results are encouraging and will keep us on this path!

Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh!


I hope everyone has a great New Year and 2014 blesses us all with peace and success!

Let’s start the New Year with two positive articles about the Irish language:

Study maps Irish and other minority language activity on Twitter which is fascinating, demonstrating the global reach of Ireland’s indigenous language,

and: ‘The surprising people speaking up for Irish’ which despite its title is actually about the continued growth of Irish outside of the traditionally Irish speaking regions and those learning Irish as a second language.

The best Irish apps

There’s some useful phone apps available for the tech-savvy Irish learner, with more coming out all the time.  Although I’ve at least eight or nine Irish language apps on my phone at the moment, there’s only a few I use regularly. Here’s my opinion on the best ones.



TG Lurgan – Although most, if not all of these music videos can be found on Youtube, it’s nice to have one place with nothing but Irish language videos.  There’s so much content there, and I’ve only viewed a fraction of it so far.


Briathra – This valuable app provides verb conjugation tables. It’s great for doubling checking spelling of verbs I’m already familiar with, plus I learned a number of new ones. I use it almost daily; it’s well worth the $1.99 price.


Cúla Caint – This series of apps are pages with theme contents (weather, food, animals, etc) consisting of images and recordings of children repeating the word. Highly useful! Not just for myself – I also use them to entertain my daughter, who enjoys them immensely.  Partially as a result of this app, we’ve boosted her vocabulary in Irish tremendously. There’s also a 3rd version, however I’ve yet to find it available for my phone.

Anseo – This brilliant product will allow Irish speakers and organizations to locate and network with each other.  They’re still in the Beta phase, according to the website. It’s generating a lot of excitement, with some dubbing it “the 21st century Fáinne”. To get updates on this you can follow them on Twitter: @AnseoApp

Did I miss any essential Irish language apps? If so, please let me know by leaving a comment!