Learning The Irish Language? These Are The Resources You Need

Irish language books and resources

Seachtain na Gaeilge shona daoibh! :)

Happy Irish Language (Gaeilge) Week!

Every year in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day there’s a festival that runs in Ireland and in many other pockets of the globe from the 1st to the 17th of March which is aimed at celebrating and raising awareness of the Irish language and culture.

As far as I’m aware, Irish is the only language in the world that gets 17 straight days of celebration. :)

From the Seachtain na Gaeilge website:

Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) is an international Irish language festival and one of the biggest celebrations of our native language and culture that takes place each year in Ireland and in many other countries.

In my home town of Brisbane it coincides with the Brisbane Irish Festival – a week full of activities (music, film, parades and so on) for the Irish community and those of Irish descent.

This is one of a few reasons why this is my absolute favourite time of the year. :)


In 2012 I taught myself the Irish language while living on the other side of the world with limited resources.

I spent almost the entire year going from absolutely zero knowledge of the language to fluency (with a lot of frustrating hours of poor resources and not having anyone to practice with), and then I finally jetted off to the other side of the world to the Irish Gaeltacht in Donegal to put everything I learned to use.

Irish Language Resources

After all the hard work I put into learning Irish and documenting my progress here on this blog, it was the perfect climax for me to travel all the way to Ireland from Australia and be surrounded by the language for several weeks.

This video I made summarizes my time there in the Gaeltacht:

Since the end of 2012, I’ve been distracted with other languages (living in lots of different countries) but Irish is always very near and dear to my heart so I like to revisit it from time to time in order to keep it fresh in my mind until my next visit to Ireland.

If you’re just starting out with Irish, it can be a little difficult to know where to start and what the best resources out there are so the list below will be helpful to you.

If there’s anything you think you should be on this list, please share it in the comment section below.


The best books and resources for learning Irish

These are some of the best quality resources currently available for Irish (Gaeilge).

I’ve tried to highlight the dialects where possible because one really frustrating thing you’ll face when learning Irish is not being able to work out which dialect a resource is teaching if it isn’t stated clearly.

There are four provinces in IrelandMunster, Connacht, Ulster and Leinster. Leinster is the only province that no longer has a living dialect of its own.

All Irish dialects are, for the most part, very similar and mutually intelligible (speakers can understand each other) but for us learners it can be challenging at first – especially if you’ve only used a book that focuses on one specific dialect.

Some resources teach what’s called Caighdeán Oifigiúil (Official Standard) as well which is not a ‘natural’ dialect but rather prescribed pronunciation and spelling designed to bridge all the dialects.

You’ll still find that even though people may be using standard Irish, their own dialect’s accent is still there.

My advice is to not get too hung up on the differences early on and to use whatever’s at your disposal for now.

Irish pronunciation at first can be super tricky to get your head around. If you see a word that you can’t pronounce, I recommend Forvo (multi-dialect) and Abair.ie (Connemara and Ulster).


Duolingo IrishDuolingo: Irish

I have to list this first as I think it’s great, it’s completely free and Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning platforms out there.

The Irish version was released not too long ago and I’ve been using it as a fun way to refresh my Irish since.

My only issue with Duolingo in general is that it’s not a tool for improving your conversation or listening skills. It will give you a great foundation in the language without boring you to tears but to become a better speaker you definitely need to use it in conjunction with other things (especially practice with people!).

For speaking practice I would ordinarily recommend a service like italki which connects you with native speaker teachers and tutors but unfortunately it currently only has 1 Irish teacher available (hopefully native Irish speakers read this and sign up to fill the demand).

Another option I’ve found useful is the GaelSkype group on Facebook which was set up to connect learners on Skype.


Gaeilge Gan Stró (Beginner, Lower Intermediate, Grammar)

Dialect: Multi

This is by far the best resource for Irish ever made in my opinion.

I’ve already reviewed this in detail before (read it here or watch the video below) along with the web version of the book called Ranganna.com (I prefer the book but the website has some video as well).

The books cover all dialects of Irish and are some of the best quality language books (including the audio) I’ve ever used.

If there’s one thing on this list that you get, make it this.


Pimsleur Irish

Dialect: Munster

I recently reviewed the Pimsleur series here.

It’s a purely audio-based course that emphasizes speaking and periodic, timed recall of what you learned earlier.

The Irish edition is a “compact” edition which means its shorter than many of their other titles but it’s great as a foundation builder for learning Irish.


Bitesize IrishBitesize Irish Gaelic

Dialect: Munster

A brilliant web resource for learning Munster Irish that breaks the language down into small, very simplified lessons.

I hung out with Eoin a while back in Ireland and made use of Bitesize Irish myself when I started learning. He really knows his stuff and this is the only interactive site of its kind for Irish (especially useful for people interested in the Munster dialect).

Eoin also put together a downloadable beginner course called Learn Irish With Eoin.


Speak Irish, Complete Irish and Irish Grammar

Dialect: Multi

Three separate books that are all part of the Teach Yourself series (each with a different focus).

Speak Irish is a purely audio course (along the same lines as but not the same as Pimsleur). Irish Grammar will suit anyone looking to improve reading and writing skills, or to get a better understanding of the nitty gritty of Irish sentence structure. Complete Irish is the best of both worlds.

There is an older version for Irish by Teach Yourself which focuses on Munster Irish and has dialogue from West Cork speakers but I’m not sure if it’s still being made (real shame if it’s not).


Oideas GaelEnjoy Irish from Oideas Gael

Dialect: Ulster

Oideas Gael is the adult immersion school in Gleann Cholm Cille where I went to practice my Irish (see the video above).

They produced this book (with audio) which I think is absolutely outstanding (the design, content and quality of the audio) and a must-have starting point for anyone wanting to focus on Ulster Irish especially.


Colloquial Irish

Dialect: Connemara

The Colloquial series (like Teach Yourself) has been around for a long time, covers many languages and is really hit-and-miss in terms of quality.

Some of them are great and some of them aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Colloquial Irish is one of the better books in the Colloquial series. As a resource for quality Connemara dialogues, this is one of the best I’ve used.


Irish On Your Own by Eamon Donaill

Dialect: Ulster

Irish On Your Own is a highly practical, topic-based book with audio in the Ulster dialect.

Instead of focusing on grammar explanations, each chapter/unit introduces a practical topic and then gives you a load of phrases and expressions you can use to communicate about it.

The audio’s a bit hard to keep up with though but the content is still great (if you can handle pausing and rewinding a lot to catch what’s being said). It’s a very handy resource for new Ulster dialect learners.


Turas Teanga

Dialect: Multi

Turas Teanga is perfect for anyone with a bit of a foundation in Irish already.

Like Gaeilge Gan Stró and An Ghaeilge Bheo (see below) this is one of the best resources around in my opinion – high quality material, full of engaging activities and best of all, An Grá Faoi Ghlas. :)

An Grá Faoi Ghlas is like a Big Brother spoof where a bunch of a random people are put in a house and interact with each other. The best part is, they all speak different dialects (so you get to hear a range of different accents) and the actors speak at an Elementary – Lower Intermediate level so it’s very easy to keep up with after you’ve covered the basics of Irish.

You can actually buy the video series but somebody’s uploaded them to YouTube anyway so you can check it out. This is the first episode (the guy from Cork is my favourite :)):


Learning Irish by Micheal O’Siadhail

Dialect: Connemara

I was a little bit reluctant to post this one admittedly due to it being a fairly dense coursework book (more of a typical grammar + exercise book) but it’s good quality and quite comprehensive so it may suit some learners.

The book itself is very popular (and the content is excellent) but I personally find coursework material like this to be too tedious when starting out with a new language.

If you enjoy detailed grammar study then I recommend it.


Buntús Cainte

Dialect: Standard

Buntus Cainte’s a three-volume series that’s as old as the hills and yet still considered by many as one of the best book series ever made for learning Irish.

I’m not sure exactly what their affiliation with Buntus Cainte is but there’s a site called TalkIrish.com that offers Buntus Cainte as a downloadable MP3 course and an ‘online interactive course’ as well.


Speaking Irish – An Ghaeilge Bheo – Take Your Language Skills Beyond Basics

Dialect: Multi

For anyone who’s already done some Irish and past the easy stuff already, An Ghaeilge Bheo is one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

It’s jam-packed full of very high quality listening material with transcripts in all dialects and covers a range of interesting topics. For each natural dialogue, the book goes into detail exploring and examining the unique vocabulary, grammar and expressions used by people from different parts of Ireland.

If you’re a serious learner of Irish, you must own this.


In addition to all these I strongly recommend watching TG4 regularly, Ireland’s Irish language television station for listening comprehension practice.

If there’s a book or resource that should be here but isn’t let us know in the comment section below.


Finally, here’s some ear candy to get you in the mood for some Irish study: :) 


This was written by .

Did you find this interesting, useful or encouraging? A quick share on Facebook or Twitter will make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

The One Thing You Can’t Bullshit In Foreign Language Learning

Foreign Language Comprehension

I made this comment a while back and figured it was worth repeating here:

Learning to ‘speak’ a language quickly is not as difficult as people think, but being able to actually comprehend language that’s spoken naturally and quickly takes a lot of time and exposure.

It’s the one aspect of language learning that can’t be faked.

Gimmicks that talk about ‘fast fluency’ are flawed for this reason. There’s no such thing as ‘fast comprehension’.

Comprehension, particularly listening comprehension, is the one aspect of language learning that you can’t bullshit.

It’s not that difficult to learn how to speak a language in a very short amount of time (even several weeks), but to acquire an ear for the language and to be able to catch what people are saying takes a lot of time and exposure to the target language.

People want fast results and the gimmick-peddlers are more than happy to offer those fast results for dollars, but unfortunately there’s no such thing when it comes to listening comprehension.

You need time.

Lots of it.

Of the 4 language skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing – it’s my view that listening is the biggest hurdle and the toughest (or at least most time consuming) challenge to beat without a doubt.


What I learned from Australian military language testing

I passed my testing for entry into the Australian Defence Force a while back as a signals operator linguist for the Air Force.

It’s actually been a long-term dream of mine to serve in the armed forces and I saw it as a great way to put my passion for foreign languages to use, and to also be paid to acquire more languages. For a few personal reasons I had to put the application on hold at the time and ended up heading to The Republic of Georgia as a teacher instead.

The point that I want to make concerning the testing that the military do to determine foreign language aptitude is that it’s primarily centered on listening comprehension.

For the test, myself and 30 other people were given a short briefing on an artificial language that the military had designed (with its own grammar system and vocabulary), and then we had to listen to recordings of that language and translate them as we heard them.

This was a very difficult task and only myself and 3 others (out of 30) ended up being successful.

Even other people in the room who were saying prior to the test that they could speak a few languages ended up failing the test.

Obviously, the main reason for the test being focused on listening ability is that the job requires listening to and translating a lot of intercepted transmissions but I also believe that it’s because listening comprehension is a major indicator of a person’s aptitude for language acquisition (anyone can learn a language sure but some people do it better than others).

Even though it was quite possible and likely that the Defence Force would require us in future to able to communicate (i.e. speak) those languages, the thing they were most interested in for testing was how well we could listen.


A person’s real language level is only evident during an unscripted conversation with a native speaker

There’s a straightforward reason for this:

The learner might be able to say a lot in their target language but as soon as a native speaker says something which warrants a response, it’s going to be very obvious whether or not the learner actually understands what’s being said.

I’ve seen a lot of polyglot videos on YouTube and various blogs, and people claiming to have picked up some language in a matter of weeks (the media always sensationalizes this) but assessment of their levels can only happen in a two-way, natural conversation with a native speaker.

‘Speaking ability can be faked entirely but listening comprehension can’t.’

Click to tweet.

This is why exams like IELTS consist of a native speaker having an unscripted conversation with the foreign learner because this enables the examiners to properly assess their level.

It’s also why I dispense entirely with any approach that says it’s all about speaking immediately, because if that’s your sole focus then you aren’t allowing yourself adequate time to soak up the language around you.

Your primary goal is just to be understood rather than to be understood and to understand.

Some people speak brilliantly but have poor comprehension and get overwhelmed in conversations because they’ve taken this approach.

Whenever I recommend tools and resources to people, one of the most important factors I look for is how useful it is as a listening comprehension tool (high quality audio content is the main reason I selectively use and plug products like GlossikaEarworms MBT and Rocket quite often here).

Again so you remember it:

You can’t bullshit listening comprehension.

You might not want to hear it but it takes time and there are no shortcuts.

Expose yourself daily to target language dialogue (take some time to shut up and listen!) whether it’s a product with quality, natural audio or a human being (even better) and your comprehension level will gradually improve.

Make sure to read this post if you haven’t already: How To Improve Your Foreign Language Comprehension.


This was written by .

Did you find this interesting, useful or encouraging? A quick share on Facebook or Twitter will make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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