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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.

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!