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Teaching Young Kids Irish

Notes from an Irishman abroad

These are my notes, for me, about how a person with weak Irish can teach the language to a young child. I've tried to give it some structure because I hope it can be useful to others too, but that's only a secondary purpose, so no complaining! A lot of info here came from reading the Irish Language Forum.

Most importantly: Children learn language by conversation and interacting with people. So the only way a kid will really learn Irish is if you learn Irish and speak it with them. So now you're learning Irish too.

Taking evening classes or doing an immersion course in the Gaeltacht would be great, but they're not possible for me so I've no info on those.

Contents

  1. Are interactive websites and apps useful?
  2. TV?
  3. Radio?
  4. At what age should you begin teaching other languages?
  5. Strategies for teaching two languages
  6. Choose a dialect? Or use Standard Irish?
  7. Choosing books to read with kids
  8. Things to read, for adults
  9. List with the dialect of each book or audio
  10. Some rhymes

Are interactive websites and apps useful?

No. The interaction is far too basic. Not even worth considering. If you have zero Irish, the only option is to start learning now and in a few months time you can start teaching your kids. Human interaction is essential because children learn based on tone, facial expressions, body language, reactions, how people's mood is affected by how something is said, etc.

TV?

TV can be useful for adult learners but kids will happily watch cartoons in a language they don't understand and just ignore the words.

Radio?

Yes! Similar to TV, kids usually won't pay enough attention or make the necessary effort to actively learn from radio, but it's important to hear native speakers and most of us don't hear any Irish spoken by a native speaker in our daily lives so leaving the radio on in the background is a good idea.

Radio partly reflects society so you'll hear a mix of native and non-native speakers, and a mix of dialects. The best station for learners is Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG) because the voices are almost all native, because there's more talk than music, and because even the music is in Irish (until 9pm). RnaG's headquaters are in Galway but they have offices in other counties and the station has a national focus.

At what age should you begin teaching other languages?

My experience (based on one child) is that teaching multiple languages gets harder after the second birthday. Before that, you can tell them what language to speak, or you can ask them to translate words. After two, they get assertive and they want to choose what language is used.

If they find it difficult to express themself in a language, they'll avoid using that language. So the more words you can teach them before they turn two, the less resistance they'll put up after two.

If the kid has already turned two then instead of telling them what to do, you'll have to attract their interest or curiosity. I have some tips below in the section Getting them to accept the other language.

Strategies for teaching two languages

Keeping the languages separate

When teaching two languages, it's important to not allow mixing. If kids are allowed to mix languages, they'll use the easy parts of each language, so they'll end up with incomplete vocabulary in both languages and no experience with the complex aspects of either. Instead, you have to find some way to separate the two.

Maybe the best approach is to alternate daily, with Irish one day and English the next. For very young kids, you can even hide the English learning materials (books, games, cards etc.) when they're gone to bed at the end of an English day and put the Irish materials in their place, and vice versa at the end of an Irish day. Just an idea so they don't get distracted or annoyed by seeing a book in the other language and being told they can't have it.

Other possibilities would be to speak one language inside the house and the other when outside, or if your spouse doesn't speak any Irish then you could have a rule of speaking English when your spouse is around and Irish when they aren't.

Getting them to accept the other language

Sing nursery rhymes in the language, with actions if possible. Sing them for yourself when the child is near. And talk to someone else in the language. If no one speaks the language, just put your phone to your ear and invent someone. Then talk about toys and things you can see out the window and whatever the child is interested in. Again, hopefully they'll want to be included in what you're doing.

Or if you want to read a book in Irish but the child insists on English then grab a teddy and say that teddy only understands Irish. So you can read a sentence to the kid in English, and then in Irish to teddy. And you can ask the kid to tell teddy, in Irish, the words for what's happening in the book. But it's important to keep a divide between the two languages. Don't let the child form a habit of switching to the other language to avoid difficulties. You have to keep working towards the goal of the child being able to read the book and discuss it in either language.

Another tactic is to simply say the book is in Irish. If they don't accept this, then you could say some or all of the characters in the book speak Irish, so you could read the non-dialogue bits in English and the dialogues in Irish.

Choose a dialect? Or use Standard Irish?

(The impatient can go straight to my conclusion.)

My first instinct would be to go for Standard Irish. Irish has an official standard for spelling and grammar, An Caighdeán Oifigiúil (CO, or "the Caighdeán"). For pronunciation there's only an unofficial standard, "the Lárchanúint," devised for the Foclóir póca dictionary. However, there are no good Irish courses that use the Lárchanúint. Courses that teach Irish without focussing on one dialect (i.e. courses that aim to teach "standard Irish") usually use audio recordings with a mix of Irish speakers with different dialects.

In my experience of learning languages, you need to start with one pronunciation that you can aim to imitate. If you listen to one pronunciation, you'll notice that sometimes a letter is pronounced one way and sometimes another way. You can then check the grammar and see what's changing the pronuncation. If you're listening to speakers of three dialects, you'll hear that letter pronounced six ways. Sometimes it will have changed because of dialect, sometimes grammar. This will make learning harder, but worse you risk developing the bad habbit of ignoring differences that you should be paying attention to. In terms of learning to speak, you risk speaking a hybrid accent which could sound strange to everyone.

Lárchanúint used to be at least used in materials for schools but it seems there's a trend of moving away from producing a single version of materials for all gealscoils and instead making separate versions for the three main dialects. The Séideán Sí books published by An Gúm are one example. Another is the book Gascaint, for parents of children in gaelscoils.

My second instinct would be to go for whichever variety sounds nicest. For me that's Donnegal Irish, but I'll look at the materials available first...

Best learning course books/CDs for learning a dialect

In terms of teaching "real" Irish and in terms of teaching a useful level of the language, I've only found six courses (plus 1 non-course) that Irish speakers have a something good to say about:

Name
  • Author(s)
Dialect Comments
Learning Irish
  • by Micheal O'Siadhail
Connacht Irish (Cois Fharraige) (discussion)
Teach Yourself Irish (1961 version, not the 1993 version)
  • by Myles Dillon and Donnacha Ó Cróinín
Munster Irish (West Muskerry) (discussion)
Buntús na Gaeilge
  • by Barbara Hillers with Bettina Kimpton
Ulster Irish (discussion)
Colloquial Irish
  • by Thomas Iyde
Connacht Irish (Cois Fharraige) (discussion) -
Buntús Cainte
  • by Tomás Ó Domhnalláin
Recorded by native speakers from Connacht, but speaking in a very neutral accent. It's a real pity there aren't any advanced books using this accent/pronunciation (discussion)

Plus one more book+CD which isn't really a language course but is useful for learners:

And here are some other courses, but which aren't recommended are:

And the TEG Teaching Materials is a good resource. They're for someone teaching a class, but there are a lot of handouts and recordings with transcripts which any learner could use.

Conclusion

The variety that will give you the least pain in this respect is clearly Connacht Irish (specifically, Connemara Irish), so it's what I'm learning.

As a bonus, Connemara seems to have also produced the most writers of literature and Connemara Irish will probably be the variety you'll hear most on TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta.

What to use for learning Connacht Irish

Use these four sets of books+CDs, in this order:

  1. Buntús Cainte - this course only covers the basics but the clarity of pronunciation is excellent.
  2. Colloquial Irish - I haven't seen anyone criticising this course. Nobody is madly enthusiastic about it either, but you'll need something before trying Learning Irish.
  3. Learning Irish - Native speakers love this course because it teaches an authentic, native form of Irish and the CDs demonstrate how Irish is spoken by native speakers. The down side is that it's one of the most badly organised books I've ever seen. So do use it, but do Colloquial Irish first. You'll need that base so that Learning Irish will make sense.
  4. Caint Ros Muc - not really a language course, but it shows advanced use of the language and contains sound files of real speakers.

The only exception I would add is to say that Gaeilge gan Stró, which mixes dialects, might have some value because people say it's well written. Don't use it for pronunciation, but you might find it helpful as a reference when Learning Irish isn't making sense.

What to use for learning Munster Irish

If you decide to learn Munster Irish, there are some tips for other learning materials in this thread on Irish Language Forum.

What to use for learning Ulster Irish

If you decide to learn Ulster Irish, someone said there are good mp3's available in the "Ulster Irish Study Yahoogroup".

Choosing books to read with kids

Reading books together is a great way to teach kids language.

Things to be careful of

I always read the book in a shop before buying.

Story books with too few words

If your Irish is weak, be careful of books with too few words. For example, Spot the Dog is available in Irish, as Bran. For each page of the story you'll have to say maybe five sentences about what's happening:

But the Spot the Dog books only have one short sentence per page. So this type of book won't be very useful if you'll struggle to add the necessary explanations in Irish.

Can you pronounce the words?

Give books a quick read to see if you can pronounce all the words. If you can't then look for books with audio recordings. You can listen to them on your own and practice the pronunciation before reading the book with your kids.

Where to buy books

These all sell books online, but the first four also have shops you can walk into.

Books specifically for parents learning Irish

Online audio/video

Here are some Youtube channels with stories being read or songs sung in Irish:

Things to read, for adults

These are books that I might want to read. I'm not trying to make a list of what's available. For a list by an expert, with discussion by some Irish speakers, see this thread on Irish Language Forum, and more discussion.

Stuff I might hope to read in Connacht Irish

Stuff I might hope to read in Munster Irish

Stuff I might hope to read in Ulster Irish

List of Books/CDs with the dialect of each

This is info I've gathered from various websites.

Songbooks with CDs or CDs with transcriptions

The two-letter colums are abbreviations for the various bookshops.

Name
  • Publisher
  • Author(s)
Dialect cn ke sg om ci si li lb (£)
cp
gl Comments
Rabhlaí Rabhlaí Munster no no no no no no no no no no Childrens
Bróga Nua
  • Áine Ní Shuilleabháin
Munster? €15 ? €18 ? €20 €20 €12 no £17 ? Áine's from Kerry, so if she's a native speaker then it'll be Munster Irish. If Irish is her second language, the CDs might be in Standard Irish. Book with 100 songs and two CDs.
Irish Songs We learned at School, Ar Ais Arís!
  • John Spillane
Munster (Cork) no ? €19 ? no no no no no ? 2 CD set, previously published separately as "Irish Songs we Learned at School" and "More Irish Songs We Learned at School".
Glór Bheanntraí
  • Litriocht.com
Munster (Cork) no no no no no no €8 no no ? litriocht.com says the lyrics are online but gives a broken link. Maybe contact them.
Ící Pící
  • Éabhlóid
  • Nellie Nic Giolla Bhríde, Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde
Ulster ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? CD with 56 mins audio; English translations; 24 songs, 7 are action songs
Ní Thuigimse daoine Fásta
  • Éabhlóid
  • Nellie Nic Giolla Bhríde
Ulster ? ? €16 ? no ? €16 ? £13 ? ?
Báidín Fheidhlimidh
  • Éabhlóid
Ulster no ? €16 ? no no €20 no no ? Or buy from the the publisher for €16
Grá mo Chroí an Óige
  • Gearóidín Breathnach
Ulster no ? €15 ? €15 no no no £14 ? Gearóidín is from Donegal. Collection of songs taught in school.
Óró na Casaidigh Irish Childhood Songs
  • Na Casaidigh
Ulster (Donegal) no ? ? ? no no €12 no no ? ?
Ceol Leat!
  • Róise Ní Bhaoill, sung by Gráinne Holland
Ulster? no ? €13 ? no no no no £10 ? 2 CDs. Róise is from Donegal and Gráinne is from Belfast, so presumably Ulster Irish
A Stór Is A Stóirín
  • Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin
Ulster? €25 ? €17 ? €25 no €21 no £12 ? Pádraigín is from Louth, now living in Ulster. Someone suggested "more or less Ulster".
Pota Mór Fataí
  • Caitríona Ní Cheannabháin
Connacht ? ? ? ? €12 no no no no ? No mention of the lyrics being available.
Gugalaí Gug
  • Futa Fata
  • Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin
Connacht €20 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? CD with 30 mins audio; No translations; No action songs
Peigín Leitir Móir
  • Futa Fata
  • Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin
Connacht ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? CD with 29 mins audio; No translations; No action songs
Bliain na nAmhrán
  • Futa Fata
Connacht ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? 53 minutes of songs
Ceol na Mara
  • Futa Fata
  • Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin
Connacht ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Déan Dráma 1 (and 2 and 3)
Connacht ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? These books are for teachers organising class plays but the CDs contain songs and the words are in the books, so you could just ignore the play and use these for the songs. Déan Dráma 1 is for young infants, 2 is for the following year and 3 is the year after that. Each set comes with two or three CDs but the CDs only have seven or eight minutes of music each (one CD per play). The songs in Déan Dráma 1 are very simple and repetitive, kinda boring. (Keep in mind that their purpose is to be songs that an entire class can memorise without the teacher losing their mind.)
Maidin sa Naíonra
  • Forbairt Naíonra Teo
  • Máire Breatnach, Treasa Ní Cheannaigh
Connacht? no ? €9 ? no €8 €8 no no ? I'm guessing Connacht since the two singers are from Galway, but the publisher is a service provider for non-gealtacht areas so Standard Irish is possible
Amhráin do Pháistí
  • Forbairt Naíonra Teo
Standard? no ? €9 ? no no €8 no no ? I'm guessing Standard Irish because the publisher is a service provider for non-gealtacht areas and the songs are sung by a choir from a school that's not in a gealtacht area
Báidín Fheidhlimí - Selected Gael Linn singles 1968-80
  • Gael Linn
  • Various artists
Various €15 ? ? ? no no no no £11 €15 Not specifically for kids, but probably similar songs to the above.
An tAmhránaí Óg
  • Treasa Ní Cheannaigh, Aidan O’Hara
? no ? €16 ? €16 ? ? ? £10 ? Lyrics included. Songs for under 7s.
Canaimis le Chéile
  • Treasa Ní Cheannaigh, Aidan O’Hara
? ? ? €16 ? €13 ? ? ? £9 ? Lyrics included. Songs for under 9s.
Damhsa na gCoiníní
? ? ? €11 ? no ? no ? ? ? Not sure if lyrics are included.
Plúra Lúra agus Na Bopóga
  • Mary Ryan
? ? ? €12 €12 ? ? €8 ? £9 ? CD contains the songs being sung. The box just says "music" but I phoned and they confirmed there is also vocals.
Fuaireas-sa cuireadh
  • Geal Linn
  • Cantairí Óga Bhaile Átha Cliath
Standard? ? ? €9 ? ? ? ? ? ? €10 From Dublin, so there'll be few or no singers from gaeltacht-native families. No info about whether a copy of the lyrics is included.
Dreoilín, Dreoilín (Rí na nÉan)
  • Comhar Naíonraí na Gaeltachta (Formerly: Seirbhísí Naíonraí Teo)
  • Mairéad Mac Con Iomaire
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Dialect: The publisher provides services for gealtacht areas, so this should be in one of the three real dialects, but there's no information
Scéilín Scéilín
  • Comhar Naíonraí na Gaeltachta (Formerly: Seirbhísí Naíonraí Teo)
  • ?
? no no no no no no no no no ? Dialect: The publisher provides services for gealtacht areas, so this should be in one of the three real dialects, but there's no information
Codail A Mhuirnín
  • Méav, Máire, Saileog, Peadar, Brian and Cór Naithí
? no ? no ? no no no no ? ? Lullabies. Might be out of print. Box includes words and English translations.
Suantraí
  • Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin
? no ? ? ? no no no no ? ? Lullabies.

Story books with CD

Name
  • Publisher
  • Author(s)
Dialect Comments
Scéilín ó Bhéilín Munster (West Kerry) Childrens
tídíl Eídíl ero Munster Childrens
Céadtach Mac Rí na gCor
  • Leabhar Breac
  • Mícheál Ó Conaola
Connacht Storybook with CD. Ó Conaola seems to be a gealtacht-native.
Eileanór an Eilifint Éagsúil
  • Futa Fata
  • Eric Drachman
Connacht CD contains 10 minutes of audio
Mair, a chapaill
Childrens
Madraí na nOcht gCos
?
Tús Maith
  • Risteard Mac Gabhann
Ulster
Ulchabháin Óga
? There's NO CD for this book, but a recording of someone reading it can be heard at soundcloud

Story books without CD

There are hundreds of childrens books so this is just a list of books that people have recommended.

Name
  • Publisher
  • Author(s)
Dialect Comments
Micí ar an bPortach
  • An Gúm
  • Gwyneth Wynn
?
An Béar sa Choill
  • Ivan Gantschev (translated by Gabriel Rosenstock)
? Translated from German.
Scéalta na gCeilteach
Connacht (Mayo) Translated from Welsh.
Tá mé ag fás
  • Futa Fata
Connacht Book series. Recommended by someone who might work for Futa Fata.

Christmas music

Not specifically for kids, but kids generally like Christmas music.

Name
  • Publisher
  • Author(s)
Dialect Comments
Amhráin na Nollag
  • Róisín Elsafty
Connacht Lyrics in inlay. 74 minutes of music, 59 when you remove the 5 instrumental songs.
Carúil Nollag
Connacht

Some rhymes

These are just rhymes I found online.

Aon, dó, Muc is bó

Aon, dó,
Muc is bó,
Trí, ceathair,
Bróga leathair,
Cúig, sé
Cupán té,
Seacht, ocht,
Seanbhean bhocht,
Naoi, deich,
Císte te.

Translation: one, two, pig and cow; three, four, leather shoe; five, six, cup of tea; seven, eight, poor old woman; nine, ten, hot cake.

Mo liathróidín donn

Anonn is anall leis,
Anonn is anall leis,
Anonn is anall leis,
Mo liathróidín donn.

Ó lámh go lámh leis,
Ó lámh go lámh leis,
Ó lámh go lámh leis,
Mo liathróidín donn.

Timpeall mo chinn leis,
Timpeall mo chinn leis,
Timpeall mo chinn leis,
Mo liathróidín donn.

Suas is anuas leis,
Suas is anuas leis,
Suas is anuas leis,
Mo liathróidín donn.

Síos is aníos leis,
Síos is aníos leis,
Síos is aníos leis,
Mo liathróidín donn.

Ring-a-ring-a-rósaí

Ring-a-ring-a-rósaí,
Buidéal lán de phosies,
Ceann duitse is ceann domsa.
Is síos linn go léir.

Translation: Ring-a ring-a rosey, a bottle full of posies, one for you and one for me, and down with us all.

Suí sá

Suí sá,
Maidí rámha;
Fear na breille,
I ndeireadh an bháid!

Translation: See-saw, margery daw,


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