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!
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.
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.
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 Faisnéis, Gaeltalk, 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.
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.
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.
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!
Tj Ó Conchúir