Newsletter #42: May 2018

Learning Irish: the learner's perspective

Nuacht Ghaelchultúir recently spoke to two learners, Niamh Ní Riain from Dublin and Riccardo Superbo from Italy, who have both done several courses with Gaelchultúr, to find out what their opinions are about Irish and about learning the language. Niamh is an Education Assistant in the National Library of Ireland and Riccardo works in machine translation with KantanMT.

Riccardo Superbo

1. How did you first become interested in learning Irish?
I have a strong interest in linguistics and languages in general. I’m a bit of a language geek! When I came to Ireland I was interested in learning about the language as I wanted to get in touch with Irish culture. I know the majority of people speak English but I wanted to really understand Irish people. I’ve lived in different countries in the past and I’ve always tried to learn the language in those countries. When I came to Ireland I wanted to see what Irish sounded like and looked like, and I wanted to learn more about it.

2. What did you know about Irish before coming to Ireland?
I had heard about Irish from being interested in languages. I had known its linguistic roots and what language family it belonged to. I did learn more about Irish though when I moved to Ireland, even before I started learning the language. For example, when I arrived I learnt that people call it Irish whereas in Italy we would call it gaelico – I know now that Gaelic is used here to refer to Scottish Gaelic.

3. Why did you decide to study with Gaelchultúr?
When I arrived in Ireland about four years ago, I started studying Irish by myself using Duolingo to get a feel for the language. About two years ago I decided to look for classes. I looked up beginners courses in Dublin because I wanted to see which course would be the best for me. I also asked a few people who were teaching Irish for advice, and they recommended Gaelchultúr’s courses. I looked up the course online and I decided it would be a good fit for me and for my schedule. I went for it and I signed up for the Beginners level.

4. What have you enjoyed most about your courses with Gaelchultúr?
I’ve done a few courses now – beginners, elementary and lower intermediate. I like that there’s a lot of conversation and listening in the classes and I think it’s a really positive approach. I know Gaelchultúr’s beginners courses focus mostly on conversation rather than the written elements. Personally, I prefer writing and learning grammar, but I understand that there are other aspects such as speaking that are more important at the beginning.

I've recently finished the lower intermediate course and I felt a lot more comfortable afterwards, despite the course being quite challenging. It definitely helped me with the listening as the teacher spoke only Irish. It was a shock for me at first but I certainly learnt a lot!

5. Have you had a chance to go to the Gaeltacht?
I had been to Ireland before coming to live here and travelled all over, including the Gaeltacht. I went to An Daingean and An Spidéal a few times. After I started studying Irish I went to Donegal and Conamara again. When I went back after I started studying, I found I had more of an understanding at that stage. I could read the road signs and understand a little of what was being said.

6. What learning resources do you use outside the classroom?
I would like to get into a regular routine of listening to Irish to improve my comprehension skills. One of the unexpected benefits of taking the class at lower intermediate level was that my classmates were able to give me some tips that they had picked up themselves. They recommended watching TG4 and listening to Raidió na Gaeltachta so I’m trying to do that on a regular basis. I also still use Duolingo because it gives structure to my learning and helps me learn vocabulary.

I bought Gaeilge gan Stró! – Beginners Level and I think it’s a really excellent resource. I found it so useful that I decided to buy the second book in the series, Gaeilge gan Stró! – Lower Intermediate Level. I feel it’s very comprehensive and it really helps me a lot. The book allows me fill in the information I can't get from the class and it gives some structure to my independent learning. There isn’t enough time in class to do everything and the book has helped me to get some background knowledge of grammar so I can have a better understanding of what's happening in class.

I plan on using the book to keep learning over the summer.

Niamh Ní Riain

1. Did you enjoy Irish at school?
Yes, but it was different in my case as I attended an all-Irish primary school, Scoil Uí Dhálaigh in Leixlip, and I also received my secondary education through Irish in Coláiste Chilliain in Clondalkin. It was kind of natural for me to speak it – I was speaking it at home with my parents and sister. But I liked Irish at school.

When I was on holidays with my family, I used to enjoy being able to speak it, having a kind of secret language, though we used to holiday in Ireland.

2. What Irish courses have you done since leaving school?
I attended college in Maynooth for a year and I studied Irish while I was there. The problem was that I was studying music and, to be honest, I wasn’t too good at it! I didn’t stay there for the degree, then, but I really enjoyed doing Irish during my time in the college. The people who spoke the language were very nice and the other students in the class with me were also very friendly.

I’ve done several courses with Gaelchultúr in the past while. I attended Advanced 2 for one term and I did Accuracy in Irish twice after that. It’s great that you can do classes at the same level for three terms because the material changes from term to term. I’d also like to do the Intensive Preparatory Course in Written Irish with Gaelchultúr but it might take a little while longer for me to reach that standard. Some time in the future, I suppose!

3. How long have you worked in the National Library?
I’ve worked in the Library since January of last year – just over a year, then. Before that, I worked in two cultural organisations and I was able to use Irish in those two jobs. And I have to admit that it was because of my Irish that I got the position in the Library. I was able to speak it and, of course, people are always looking for tours through Irish or workshops through Irish and that’s great for me. We’re providing a lot of Irish language tours this year because it’s Bliain na Gaeilge and we’re hoping we’ll also have workshops through Irish.

Some of the other staff members in the Library speak the language, so we usually meet once a week to have an Irish language conversation. I’m working in the Outreach Section and they’re working in other sections: in the Manuscript Reading Room, for example, and in the Main Reading Room.

4. Which groups ask for Irish language tours?
It’s a mix. We have a tour for the general public once a month, depending on the month, and depending on the exhibition as well. At the moment, we have the Yeats exhibition and I can conduct an Irish language tour about that. We have an exhibition about the First World War and the Irish people who took part in it and that tour is available through Irish as well. In addition, we have an exhibition called Photo Detectives in the National Library Photographic Archive in Temple Bar and it’s based on the voluntary work done by people on the Flickr Commons website – and that tour is available in Irish as well.

And, of course, if a teacher wants a tour for school pupils, I can do that as well. We have to do more to get word out there so that teachers understand that tours are available through Irish. But there’s demand for the other tours, the public tours – there’s demand, for sure.

We publicise the Irish language tours on Twitter and Facebook and on the Library website,

I’d like people to know that Irish language services are available from us. You have to ask for service through Irish before you go to the Library to ensure that an Irish speaker is available – in case the person who provides that service is not present that day.

5. Why did you decide to do Irish courses with Gaelchultúr?
For various reasons. A lot of the work I do involves proofreading. I read the Irish language material we already have and I correct it. I felt that I needed a little bit more help as regards grammar but, in addition to that, I enjoy the classes. I want to improve my Irish as well for personal reasons.

I believe that people should use their Irish, no matter what their level is. As regards myself, I love being able to even say “Go raibh maith agat” to people. People should use whatever Irish they have, they should try it wherever they can.

6. Do you have many opportunities to use Irish outside work and outside the classroom?
I do. My sister speaks Irish, one of my best friends speaks Irish and my boyfriend speaks Irish. As well as that, I have a group of friends made up of people I met when we worked together in one of the cultural organisations I was employed in. We’re still in contact and we try to meet and speak Irish. And, of course, there is also the Pop Up Gaeltacht.

I don’t see many negative things as regards Irish. Sure, people give out about the amount of money spent on Irish language services and it bothers me to hear that. In the Library, we want to provide material through Irish – we want to do it and not just because we’re required to do it. We devote a lot of energy to Irish, we want to get things right. That’s why I was attending the courses in Gaelchultúr: because we want everything to be correct.

7. What are your plans for summer, in work and on a personal level?
If I can, I’d like to go and do a course in the Gaeltacht – I didn’t have an opportunity in the past to do that. But I don’t know if I’ll have an opportunity to do it this summer. As regards holidays, I intend to go to the Aran Islands – I love that place.

And then, in the Library, we’re going to run an event or two through Irish. They haven’t been confirmed yet but I hope they will be shortly.

Gaelchultúr's summer night classes

Gaelchultúr’s evening classes, from Beginners 1 to Accuracy 1, will start again the week beginning 14 May 2018. You can register for a course here, or if you’re unsure as to what level you are at you can pop into Gaelchultúr between 12.00pm and 1.00pm this coming Saturday, 12 May, and attend a free event, A Taste of Irish. We’ll assess your standard of Irish and, once the assessment has been completed, you’ll have an opportunity to attend a 20-minute Irish class, which will give you an idea of the teaching approach we use. You’ll also be able to register for the summer course, should you wish, but there will be no obligation on you to do so.