Review: Bitesize Irish Gaelic

Bitesize Irish Gaelic

Update: Bitesize Irish Gaelic is now offering an awesome 95% off for the first month of membership to readers of this site!

Just use the coupon code MEZZO at the checkout to take advantage of this generous offer. You can also try Bitesize out with no obligations for 14 days.

 

I was recently offered a complimentary membership for Bitesize Irish Gaelic, a handy online resource for learning the Irish language, and after finding it so damn useful I thought I’d slap together a quick review for anyone else looking for an inexpensive tool to help with their Gaeilge.

I make it my business to sample as many books and websites as possible so that I can offer recommendations to others who are in the same boat, fence-sitting on a decision to make a purchase or wondering which products are worth the time.

This one is worth the shell out for beginner learners.

 

What Bitesize Irish Gaelic is all about

Bitesize is a family business run by Eoin, a native Irish speaker and his wife Sasa, a Slovenian national who is herself a learner of Irish.

Despite my initial hesitation with the product due to it being partly run by a non-native, it occurred to me that the great clarity offered by Bitesize is largely due to Sasa’s learner perspective and input. Like the rest of us adult learners of Irish, I’m sure she’s experienced the same challenging aspects of the language and all the poor explanations offered by so many other products, so it’s great to see that Bitesize employs her experience by explaining everything so well for the low-level learner.

Their mission is quite simple: to help you learn to speak Irish, and they attempt to do this by presenting 155 bite-size (very brief) lessons on grammar, vocab and conversation which all contain both written explanations and audio recordings.

Bitesize Irish Gaelic

In terms of the difficulty level it does begin with content aimed at the absolute beginner (how to say hello) and then works up to an upper elementary level with slightly more advanced features of grammar.

 

What I like about Bitesize Irish Gaelic

1. Simple, clear explanations

The main thing that I like about Bitesize is the way that it simplifies its explanations about many features of Irish, particularly where other sites and books aren’t as clear.

Take for example how to form one of the future tense conjugations:

When you see a verb ending in -faidh or -fidh, you are looking at something that is yet to happen… These endings are both pronounced: hig. This is the usual pronunciation in Munster, which is what you will hear here. In Ulster, they are pronounced hee.

As you can see it’s simple, it doesn’t go into too much detail and it provides just enough information at this early stage for the learner to get enough of a general grasp to use it in a conversation or recognize it in writing.

Thanks to brief explanations like this I was personally able to go back and clarify certain aspects of the language that I’d previously been unsure about.

 

2. It doesn’t leave you guessing about the pronunciations

Just about every word and phrase that Bitesize covers has a little audio play button so you can hear how it sounds (Munster dialect), as well as an English transliteration for extra help.

For example:

Bitesize Irish Gaelic

Irish is one of those languages that takes a lot of time getting used to the spelling and pronunciation so this an excellent feature to have to avoid any confusion or mispronunciation.

3. Cheap as chips

Between $15-$35 a month (depending on membership type) and no contract.

For a quality paid product, it doesn’t get much better than that.

 

4. Plenty of useful content

Having 155 lessons means that there’s plenty of useful vocabulary and expressions even as a later reference.

Take for example lesson 120 - In the countryside – which contains a list of vocab related to nature, flora and fauna along with a handful of relevant conversational phrases. I might not need to talk about waterfalls and schrubs right now, but it’s a reference point for me to come back to later when I do.

Being so well organized and structured it serves as a good grammar reference as well if I’m ever unsure about anything.

 

Where I think Bitesize Irish Gaelic needs to improve

1. The audio is far too slow

NOTE: Since writing this review, Bitesize Irish Gaelic has fixed this issue! The audio is now brilliant. :)

This is a problem that many language learning resources have:

In… real… life… nobody… talks… like… this…

When people talk naturally sounds get assimilated, deleted, doubled, etc. Words are strung together and spoken very quickly so it’s important that learners are exposed to natural speech from day one so they can begin to train their ears to recognize the sounds in the target language.

Colloquial Irish and Turas Teanga are two excellent examples of this.

My advice to Eoin would be to speak the phrase once slowly then a second time as it would sound in a normal conversation.

 

2. Plenty of vocabulary and grammar but needs more conversation

NOTE: This problem has been fixed as well! The content includes a lot more useful conversation now. :)

Most of the lessons between 1 and 11 are conversation lessons but then the next one isn’t until lesson 63.

Despite this huge gap, there are plenty of useful phrases throughout the vocab and grammar lessons but in my opinion Bitesize would really benefit by having more of a practical, conversational focus.

There’s no better way to learn vocabulary than in context.

 

3. No tests or quizzes

This is not a major issue but since these are sequential lessons that are marked as finished it would be a nice touch to periodically quiz the learner on what they’ve covered so far. A small test can be really helpful in assessing whether or not you can actually recall what you’ve covered.

 

4. Further suggestions

Here are a few other suggestions that might help improve Bitesize Irish Gaelic:

  • There seems to be quite a few people using Bitesize so a forum or chat window to help learners connect with each other and practice would be excellent.
  • Perhaps Eoin and Sasa are already planning this, but it would great to have some additional lessons with higher level conversational content. (Since writing this review, this has been done! Great job, Eoin :))
  • The inclusion of video of dialogue with native speakers (interviews, etc.) for those like myself who learn better visually.

 

An excellent tool for new learners of Irish

If you’re planning to learn Irish Gaeilge or looking for an online tool that explains everything clearly and succinctly, then Bitesize Irish Gaelic is something I highly recommend you try. They also have a free trial so you can see what you think.

If you’ve used Bitesize Irish Gaelic yourself then let us know what you think of it in the comment section below.

I also highly recommend these books in addition to Bitesize (all of which I now own and use myself):

Gaeilge Gan Stró (the best book series available for Irish that I’ve ever seen)

Colloquial Irish (for scripted dialogue this is probably the best in terms of it being naturally spoken)

Turas Teanga – A New Multimedia Course For Learning Irish

Speaking Irish – An Ghaeilge Bheo (superb multi-dialect interviews)

Teach Yourself Irish

 

This was written by .

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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.

Arabic and Hebrew: Why Semitic Languages Are Not Difficult

Libyan guy in Egypt

I read a lot of comments on forums and other blogs, and have received emails from people asking questions about the difficulty of Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew (Arabic mainly).

Fear-mongering novice learners try to frighten other would-be learners by describing Arabic as extraordinarily difficult, and the Foreign Service Institute places it in its fifth and most difficult category, with Hebrew and Amharic in its fourth.

As far as I’m concerned, the FSI’s placement of Arabic and Hebrew in those categories is absurd.

I’d also like to know how the hell Amharic (the Semitic language of Ethiopia with the much more challenging Ge’ez script and more unfamiliar culture to English speakers) is easier than Arabic.

If you’re an Amharic speaker/learner I’d like to hear your response to that question in the comments section below.

I admit that Amharic’s a language I haven’t studied yet, but after years of Arabic and Hebrew (and some Aramaic in college) I can confidently say that of all the languages that I’ve learned or dabbled in over the years, Semitic languages really are some of the least intimidating to learn.

I’ll briefly mention some, but not all, of my reasons below (with particular attention paid to Arabic and Hebrew).

 

Nerd, businessman or vagabond?

Before you do anything, it’s really important that you work out what your goals are for a language like Arabic or Hebrew.

This is true for all languages but for these in particular it depends on whether you want to learn the classical variety of Hebrew or Arabic for academic or religious reasons (e.g. Judeo-Christian/Islamic theological studies), a standard dialect to engage in business or to monitor current affairs (Israel/Palestine, terrorism, etc.) or a colloquial language for travel to engage and form relationships with local people.

With Arabic in particular the most common question asked by people is:

Should I learn Modern Standard Arabic or a dialect?

The only person who can answer that question is the one who asks it.

If you want to be able to converse in the language then pick a dialect (preferably the dialect of the region you’re planning to travel to) or a widely understood one like Egyptian. I’ve already mentioned the best series ever made for the Egyptian dialect, but there are plenty of others for other dialects whether you choose one like Moroccan or Iraqi (unfortunately dialects like Sudanese and Tunisian have fewer resources but I’d recommend starting with Egyptian if you’re interested in them anyway).

If you’re studying language for religious or academic purposes, then you’d benefit from a coursebook in Classical Arabic (or Biblical Hebrew) which are much more detailed about grammar, old vocabulary and exegesis.

Otherwise, the majority of resources available for Arabic are for Modern Standard Arabic (one of my favourite being this one) and from what I understand all Modern Hebrew resources are for Standard Hebrew as there are no major dialect distinctions in Israel comparable to those in the Arabic-speaking world.

 

Triliteral roots

Okay, so what makes them easier than people make them out to be?

First and foremost: roots.

Roots exist in all languages but one of the defining characteristics of Semitic languages is that most of their vocabulary comes from three-letter stems of radical consonants (there are a handful of four and two-letter stems too but most have three).

For example, in both Arabic and Hebrew, from the root K-T-B (كتب and כתב) we can derive many words relating to writing by simply adding certain vowels (or adding an extra consonant).

So for example:

كتب – katabahe wrote

مكتب – maktab – office

كتاب – kitaab – book

كاتب – kaatib – writer

Because of this, acquiring and recognizing vocabulary isn’t nearly as difficult as a language like English where the words office, book and writer have no clear connection whatsoever.

If you’re reading an Arabic or Hebrew article you can at least recognize dozens of stems and take a good shot at guessing the meaning of certain words. Even just a basic knowledge or awareness of various forms can enable you to take pretty accurate guesses at the meaning:

For example, let’s say you know that F-T-H (فتح) means “to open” and you know that putting a mim (letter M) at the beginning of a word with a long vowel on the last syllable turns it into an instrumental noun.

مفتاح

What’s an instrument used to open things?

A key.

It’s not always this easy but very often it is and it makes vocabulary so much easier to learn in comparison to other languages.

 

 

Dialects aren’t such a big deal

As I said above, people ask which dialect is the best to learn a lot and make a big deal about dialect variation as if this affects the difficulty level of the language.

The reality is, with the possible exception of Maghrebi Arabic (Moroccan/Algerian), people all over the Arab world will understand you regardless of the dialect you choose.

If you study Iraqi, Egyptians will understand you. If you study Levantine, Saudis will understand you. If you study Sudanese, Libyans will understand you.

Arabic speakers have grown up listening to all those varieties on TV and even if they haven’t, in much the same way as English speakers from New Zealand can understand the English of Scotsmen (with a bit of effort), these people can understand different types of Arabic too.

People say to me, but when they talk back to me I won’t understand them.

True.

But let’s say you can speak Levantine Arabic and you’re talking to a Kuwaiti with a rough Gulf dialect.

That Kuwaiti is able to imitate the dialect in the same way that I, as an Australian, can imitate an American to get foreigners to understand what I’m saying. Sometimes, especially when I’m teaching English, I have to put on an American accent because my Australian accent is difficult for some foreign students to understand.

Every Arab I’ve spoken to has been able to do the same.

 

Hebrew and Arabic scripts have the same origin as ours would you believe

Another major concern for people wanting to study Arabic or Hebrew are the scripts/alphabets.

Both of these languages have very exotic-looking writing, written from right to left, and this intimidates people. This is particular true with Arabic because the letters are connected and in both languages some of the letters change depending on their position in the word.

Despite what some scientists say, neither of them are overly difficult to read. I taught myself how to read both scripts in a day – it just takes a bit of adjustment switching over to a right-to-left language and getting your head around which letters change shape depending on position.

The Arabic and Hebrew scripts originate from the Phoenician alphabet, just like our Latin one does.

This means that some letters actually have slight resemblance to the ones we already know in Europe, and switching between Arabic and Hebrew is even easier because the letters are almost the same.

Pheonician Arabic Hebrew Latin

 

Really simple grammar compared to many other languages

Semitic grammar in my opinion is a heck of a lot easier than many other languages.

When I put down a German or Greek grammar and pick up my Hebrew grammar it’s like taking a breath of fresh air – seriously.

Without going into too much detail here are some examples:

  • The verb ‘to be is omitted in the present tense in both languages (e.g. “you are good” is simply “you good”)
  • There’s no neuter
  • The definite articles (ال) and (ה) are indeclinable, meaning they can be applied to masculine or feminine nouns and don’t change for different cases
  • A lot of the more intricate details of grammar (e.g. vowel changes for different noun cases, nunation, Masoretic markings, etc.) aren’t really a concern for anyone wanting to study colloquial dialects. The only people who really want to pay attention to this stuff are religious students.
  • Verb forms in both languages are best learned as words in context, rather than trying to learn and apply grammar rules. Over time you start to recognize the different forms (e.g. from the root 3-L-M - (اعلم) to teach (اتعلم) to learn) and see their connection, but there’s no need to overwhelm yourself in the early stages trying to learn them.
  • Learning a few suffixes is all that’s really necessary to understand noun possession and direct objects in verbs (e.g. -ka = you (m.) so kitaabaka (your book) and a7ebuka (I love you). <– Modern Hebrew possession is a little bit different as it uses the same suffix on a separate word for your (שלך).
  • In Egyptian Arabic in particular, to make a present or past tense verb negative is very similar to the way it’s done in French with a prefix and suffix (ne…pas – e.g. je ne viens pas) using ma… sh. So ‘he wrote’ - katab. ‘He didn’t write’ - makatabsh).

Those are just a handful of examples of why I consider Semitic grammar to be simpler than other languages. So much of the complexity that you find in other languages just isn’t a problem for Arabic and Hebrew learners.

 

Are those pharyngeals, velars and uvulars or are you mad at me?

Those harsh sounds you hear that sound like somebody’s pissed off about something.

There’s actually no secret or shortcut to pronunciation of the guttural sounds (and it certainly can’t be explained in writing). In the same way you’d learn Chinese tones or the French guttural R, you just need to listen and practice over and over.

As I said in a previous post, take your time with pronunciation and don’t race ahead until you get the sounds right. Like all languages, it just takes time and practice to start producing it properly.

Maha, a very popular YouTube polyglot originally from Palestine and now living in Italy (fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Italian and English) has put together some very good videos aimed at beginners that have attracted a huge following. Here’s one of her videos on pronunciation:

 
 

 

Surprising amount of loanwords from English and French

Finally, there are quite a lot of loanwords in the English language and if you know other languages that have had a lot of contact with the Arab world then chances are there are plenty of loanwords there as well.

Turkish for example is full of Arabic words. Even Georgian has some Arabic borrowings.

Rather than reproduce the list, there’s a really good list here of Arabic loanwords in the English language.

Hebrew has a lot of European influence and so do the North African and Levantine varieties of Arabic, where you’ll find words like asansir for elevator, bisseen for swimming pool, and cwafir for hairdresser to name a few.

Going from Arabic -> Hebrew, Hebrew -> Arabic or Dialect -> Standard is also very easy as most of the work is already done with shared vocabulary as well as the common grammar.

 

Semitic languages aren’t that bad

Take classifications by the FSI and others with a grain of salt and don’t be intimidated by Semitic languages.

If you’ve learned, are learning or want to learn a Semitic language (including those I haven’t mentioned here), make sure to share your thoughts below!

Also make sure to read this post I wrote on 5 books that you absolutely should own if you’re learning Arabic.

 

This was written by .

Do you use StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest or Digg? A quick upvotelikepin or digg 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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