Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Goireasan ionnsachaidh, ceanglaichean feumail is mar sin / Gaelic learning resources, useful links etc.

Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by conmaol » Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:37 pm

A chàirdean,

Gaelic 2012 is a new informal initiative to try and get together a group of people who have made a resolution to learn Gaelic in 2012. We did a bit of viral marketing last week, and as of now, 48 people have registered interest in doing so. The plan is to get them to sign up as new members of Fòram na Gàidhlig, and to encourage them to use this new sub-forum (kindly created by GunChleoc) to share their initial experiences of learning Gaelic, and get help and advice from existing members.

To kick things off, I thought it might be a good idea to ask existing members to post their "top tip" for new Gaelic learners. So, based on your own experiences of Gaelic learning, what would you recommend to someone who is starting to learn Gaelic in January 2012? What books would you buy? What websites would you look at? What classes would you do? What groups would you join?

(Also: any help you could give us with the viral marketing over the next two weeks would be much appreciated. The relevant URL to be distributed is: :-)

Mòran taing!

Update 3 Jan 2012 -

Gearr-aithris (summary) of some of the most useful suggestions below as to free, online resources for learning Gaelic:

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by Gràisg » Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:50 pm

Gur math a thèid leis agus tha mi an lann cinnt gum bi a' bhallrachd ann a sheo a' leigeil an cuid taic dhan iomairt cudromach gaelic 2012. Co-dhiù tips:

A few times each week I used to top up by listening to Litir do luchd-ionnsachaidh. I'd select a letter, play the sound file and have the text open on the PDF too. Do that about half a dozen times. It doesn''t matter if you don't understand what is being said, just look at the text and listen to the recording at the same time. Helps you get your head round things a little.


Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by conmaol » Sat Dec 17, 2011 7:09 pm

Deagh mholadh, a Ghràisg - thòisich mi fhìn leis na Litrichean Beaga :-)

I also started learning Gaelic with the Litir Bheag podcasts. Even though I didn't understand a word at the start, it was by listening to each program over and over and comparing what Roddy says with the written transcript that I slowly learned the relationship between Gaelic spelling and pronunciation.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by GunChleoc » Sun Dec 18, 2011 12:53 pm

When I first started, I listened to Radio nan Gàidheal a lot. I didn't actively listen, just kept it running.

I used music to practice the sounds, and akerbeltz to learn how the sounds worked. If you can afford it, I can warmly recommend Blas na Gàidhlig to learn the sounds.

To get you started on phrases and grammar, TAIC and BBC Learn Gaelic.

For more resources, check our home page and

If there are classes near you, go for it.

And don't hesitate to post as much Gaelic here as you can! You can't learn a language without using it.
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by sr3nitygirl » Sun Dec 18, 2011 3:11 pm

As a current beginner/learner, I have found all of the resources quoted above to be useful. I especially enjoy listening to Radio nan Gàidheal at work (I use an mobile app called 'Tune-in Radio' to stream it, and it's not too greedy in terms of bandwidth if you're using cellular network).

If I had one tip, it's try to do even a little Gàidhlig every day - even if it's just listening to Radio nan Gàidheal, listening to a CD in your car on the way to work, or listening to a lesson or RnG on your mobile device - If you're like me, over time you'll come to realise just how much it starts to sink in...

At the same time, don't try to over-do it!

I'd just like to add that those wishing to learn in North America may wish to look at Atlantic Gaelic Academy and Gaelic College, both of which offer learning opportunities that may be more convenient to those of you in the North American time zones.

And don't forget to come back here to Fòram na Gàidhlig! :D

Beannachd leibh.
Steaphanaidh Carlyle.
Last edited by sr3nitygirl on Sun Dec 18, 2011 10:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by Broganta » Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:56 pm

The first thing if you're able, is to take a Gaelic class. I took a TIP, and taped every class. As you practise and repeat what you hear, your tongue will start to wrap around the words. Secondly, listen to tapes of native speakers. Google gaelstream and Cape Breton Collection will give you stories that are in Sgeul gu Latha and Na Beanntaichean Gorma. I bought an app called Audio Speed, where I imported one story from Gaelstream that was in one book, then listened to it over and over, chose a few phases and repeated them a hundred times, until they started to pop out automatically! The app slowed down the speaker, until I could grasp the whole phrase. The third thing I'm learning now, after a year is to write. I thought it was more important to get sounds imbedded, before reading or writing. I'm now in my second year of Gaelic, together with my husband, and we mostly speak Gaelic at home.


Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by conmaol » Sun Dec 18, 2011 7:52 pm

'S e goireas feumail a th' ann an ceart gu leòr. has two notable features which are particularly useful for beginners -
  • There is a good dictionary, both Gaelic-English and English-Gaelic.
  • You can find the dialogues from all 72 episodes of Speaking Our Language, ranging from absolute beginner level to advanced level, complete with transcriptions.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by faoileag » Sun Dec 18, 2011 11:09 pm

Deagh fhiosrachadh agus mholaidhean gu ruige seo. :D

I have had a lot of contact with would-be Gaelic learners in assorted forums, social networks and real life, and unfortunately many of them just keep asking for more and more tips, (free) sites etc, and never actually seem to use any of them.

I think it's easy to make the collection of resources into an excuse for not actually learning. It's human nature, I suppose - I notice myself that I love the research phase of work or academic tasks, but am very last-minute and undisciplined about actually putting it together in a finished product. The to-do list can become an end in itself.

For that reason, I would strongly recommend any serious learner to find one course they like the style of and stick to it, e.g. Beag air Bheag (BBC online course, free), or Colloquial Scottish Gaelic (book, by Spadaro & Graham, a bit more modern than TYG), and do the listening to RnaG or other sites as a backgound extra, to help consolidate, improve listening and pronunciation etc.

If you can afford a course, presence or distance, that is a BIG plus, as it not only teaches you systematically, but provides the discipline to stay with it, and group solidarity to help you all along. Worth investing in.

If you can only do the occasional intensive course, remember that what you learn quickly you will forget quickly unless you use it regularly, which means having systematic active contact of some kind on at least a weekly basis, e.g. class, self-study with listening and repeating/responding, Skype partner, forum participation (like here! :priob: ) etc.

See the resources pages on this website (links from GunChleoc above), and look at Sabhal Mor Ostaig (UK time zone) and the Atlantic Gaelic Academy (Canadian Atlantic time zone) distance programmes if you have nothing local. Both programmes easier to cope with if you have already done a bit of Gaelic first, so maybe think about joining from September when their new school year starts, and work on Beag air Bheag etc in the meantime.

Gur math a theid leibh uile! Cumaibh oirbh! :moladh:

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by AlasdairBochd » Mon Dec 19, 2011 9:20 am

After reading and listening to Litir do Luchd Ionnsachaidh, I find it helpful to read it out loud a dozen times to practice not only pronunciation but the flow from word to word, which is very important in the spoken language. It will help to imprint manners of speech and turns of phrase in your brain. A Skype partner who suits you is priceless as speaking and responding in a conversation is what language is all about after all.


Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by conmaol » Mon Dec 19, 2011 10:48 am

Ceist inntinneach mu dheidhinn leabhraichean cùrsa.

The suggestion about course books made me think back to my own experiences with the various alternatives. Basically, Spadaro and Graham's Colloquial Gaelic didn't really work for me, and neither did Robertson and Taylor's Teach Yourself Gaelic. However, I found Speaking Our Language really useful. Probably because of the slower pace and the fact that the dialogues involved videos rather than just audio recordings. I know from past experience that I'm more of a visual learner than a purely auditory one. Other people may have different opinions.

And if you want reasonably detailed grammatical explanations, then Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh's Gaelic in Twelve Weeks is invaluable.


Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by sr3nitygirl » Mon Dec 19, 2011 1:42 pm

I'd just like to echo the point about having a practice partner on Skype, or other VOIP service, and relate my own experiences for what they're worth...

I'm enrolled in the AGA beginner course, but I'm also fortunate enough to have a regular practice partner (on the same course) with whom I work at least 2 or 3 times a week, and it makes ALL the difference.

The points that faoileag made above are not lost on me. For so long, I tried to learn on my own, finding this resource and that, and while all of that was useful for memorizing things along the way (I consider it preparation), having someone I can regularly work with and speak the language out loud is something of a revelation for me, and as I said, it makes all the difference.

But at the same time, we don't work in isolation - if we encounter something we are not sure about, we note it down and we bring it to our course instructor (who is wonderful by the way) during the next class.

Speaking of which, the structure that a course offers is also of huge benefit (it certainly is to me, for sure). The slow, graded approach with repetition and regular revision helps it all sink into the grey matter between my ears, and my retention had improved greatly although I still have problems remembering the genders of nouns, but that will come with time!!!

So, in conclusion, I guess I'm not adding anything new, here!
I'm just confirming (through my own experiences) what's already been said.


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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by GunChleoc » Mon Dec 19, 2011 4:31 pm

Memorising gender can be difficult. I still have to check the dictionaries a lot.

Once you have been introduced to the genitive, the best thing is to memorise the genitive form with the article, because then the article tells you which gender it is.
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by Seonaidh » Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:58 pm

Try getting a feel for a word, so you don't need to keep relating it back to English, Russian or whatever your best language is. Similarly with short expressions.

Try to avoid such indirections as (inquisitor) "Ciamar a tha thu?" (you) mmm, mae hynny'n golygu rhywbeth fel "Sut wyt ti?"... Wel, sut ydw i? Gweddol - o damo, dwi ddim yn gwybod sut i ddweud "Gweddol" yn yr Aeleg...beth am "Iawn"? A-ha, dyma "Ceart gu leòr" yn yr Aeleg... "Ceart gu leòr" [but by this time, the inquisitor has been waiting sooooo long for your answer that they've gone off and started talking with somebody else.] NOTE: although the "thought processes" were shown in Welsh there, it's not what it might mean that's important, but the fact that the process of turning from Language A to Language B, working out a reply in Language B and then trying to tronslote it to Language A and finally saying it - is not a good model for how to deal with a new language.

As for grammar, how often do the English speakers here pause to consider what an English plural or genitive might be? You probably don't if you're relatively fluent. And you never did - you started out getting it hideously wrong but you were too young to be bothered by that then. You got English grammar entirely subconsciously. Not that you can now merrily proceed and do the same with Gaelic grammar - but it's worth minding that folk will still understand you if you make the odd grammatical slip - such slips vanish with PRACTICE, i.e. loads of conversation. Don't be afraid to converse for fear of mistakes - in the immortal words of Ms. Nike, (or was it Dr. Adidas?), "Just do it!"

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by Níall Beag » Tue Dec 20, 2011 1:55 pm

I'm going to be controversial and contradict lots of people who've already posted.

1) Don't go looking for something to match your "learning style" -- I don't believe learning styles exist. Also, even if they do exist, it's been quite convincingly shown that no-one as yet knows how to teach to them. Therefore do a course based on its individual merits, not on what "learning style" it is aimed at.

2) Do not confuse end-goal and process. While a fluent speaker doesn't tr*nsl*t*, there's no shame in a beginner tr*nsl*t*ng -- practically everyone does. Anyone who doesn't is probably just parroting fixed phrases. When you want to learn something new, you use what you already know to make it easier -- in this case, what you already know is English, and while there are differences between the two languages, they are actually more similar than you might think.

3) Writing is not your enemy. I agree that language is a spoken phenomenon, and the spoken form should take priority. However... if you don't know a language, you can't hear all the sounds. If you can't hear the sounds, how can you learn them? E.g. If you can't hear the difference between CH and GH in Gaelic and you try to repeat a word, you may start learning it with the wrong sound. Having a look at the written form as well as the spoken form means you know what you're trying to say, even if you can't say it right yet.

4) Listening to stuff you don't understand doesn't really gain you anything. It doesn't hurt to do it, but you can end up spending a lot of time for no real benefit.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here's how I started off.

I took a week-long beginners course (at the Sabhal Mor). I would recommend that you start quickly. If you're doing 1 or 2 hours a week, it's going to be a long time before you can do anything interesting in a language, and it will feel quite boring. If you start quickly, you've got a far better chance of keeping your interest up.

I then started attending a regular conversation group. I couldn't understand everything, I couldn't say much, but I tried to say more each time.

I had a copy of Hugo's Scottish Gaelic in Three Months (the predecessor to Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks), and every week I would flick through the book and pick out something and memorise it between finishing work and going to the conversation group. I would then try to use it as many times as possible, and I'd more or less learn it from that. I really just learned one thing at a time -- remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare!

I kept going to intensive courses (once at Easter, once in summer, once at Easter, once in summer) and kept going to the conversation circle, then started going to more events.

At some point, when I felt I could understand some of it, I started listening to Reidio nan Gaidheal. I also started listening to the Litir do Luchd-Ionnsachaidh, but rather than just listening while reading, I stored a dozen or so on my MP3 player and listened to them each several times, and understood more each time.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread post by akerbeltz » Tue Dec 20, 2011 3:30 pm

I think this thread needs a *fleodrainn at the top with just a bullet point summary of all the suggestions, perhaps grouped a little bit by type/topic, the later someone comes to this, the less likely that they'll read *all* of it and miss some of the really good suggestions.

It's a big world so I have no bone with anyone's learning strategy as long as it gets them there but just to be controversial myself, I never go through the tr*nsl*t**n stage with any language unless I have no class where I'm taught i.e. when learning only on your own, it's nigh impossible not to as Niall says. But when I go to a class, I sort of blank my mind of other languages and think in pictures and match it with what I've been taught to date. That also, incidentally, implies memorising as much of what you're being taught as possible. It's hard to describe but it works for me.

My two special tips for Gaelic are:

1) whatever you do and however fast you go, you must get you're tongue working the right way. You may never hear exactlly all the minute sound patterns a native ear will hear but unless you make the right sounds in the right place, you're unlikely to ever have a full conversation except with people who are making all your mistakes too. And get used to stuff being run together in Gaelic - gaps between words only really show up on paper.

2) focus on what you know i.e. when you listen to someone speak, don't try and figure out all the words you didn't understand. Even if you only get 3 words (one of them bound to be agus and the other one an English word) in a sentence, use your wits (context, knowledge of the topic, guesswork) to get the gist and keep following the thread of the conversation. Otherwise you immediately loose any chance of getting "it".

Beiribh buaidh!

*1 Not trying to be smart but i can't remember what php calls it in English. My PC speaks Gaelic at me ;)

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