Monday, March 12, 2007

Éamonn Ó Dónaill's "Teach Yourself Irish Grammar"

Here's my Amazon review from today on the latest grammar. I posted at Amazon and then here about --among other learner's resources-- Gabriel Rosenstock's "Beginner's Irish," Turas Teanga, Nollaig Mac Congáil's "Irish Grammar Book," Ó Siadhail's "Learning Irish," and Donna Wong's "Learner's Guide to Irish" over the past few days on this blog.

Not to be confused with the "Teach Yourself Irish" tape/CD w/book that focuses somewhat on a Munster-based Irish and is itself a revision of the old 1961 Ó Sé & Shields text full of sentences about sheep, TYIG is a 2005 fresh text and a new addition to the TY series by Éamonn Ó Dónaill, a noted teacher of Ulster Irish who earlier made the "Now You're Talking" learner's materials, now out of print. Ó Dónaill also worked on the recent Turas Teanga RTÉ CD-DVD-book series, so he's up-to-date on how to teach Ireland to a largely more urban, possibly international, audience.

This book combines the sort of paradigm-centered discussion you can find in Nollaig Mac Congáil's "Irish Grammar Book" (from Cló Iar-Chonnachta, and this book in turn's not the same as "Irish Grammar" by Noel McGonagle-- this does get confusing) with exercises after each of its 22 chapters. Appendices and supplements cover naming conventions, list declensions, give a glossary of grammatical terms, and suggest learner's resources. This book is more useful for classroom and self-tutored work than Mac Congáil's reference, if less technically organized than Donna Wong's more expensive and more academically intended "Learner's Guide to Irish," although I recommend those two books for any self-motivated learner who's committed to getting serious, past the "where's the pub?" and "see you later, then" types of exchanges. Ó Dónaill's book with its mass market distribution in chain bookstores and on Amazon will be the easiest of the three to purchase for most learners, and serves as a necessary basis for the )also recommended) LGI and Mac Congáil books.

Ó Dónaill's text is arranged with boxed charts, boldfaced lettering to emphasize changes in patterns, and has attractive fonts (as with Mac Congáil and Wong I might add-- all three remember how crucial for self-study becomes the visual element of organizing material for comprehension outside of a classroom with a patient teacher at the board). TYIG may borrow a helpful feature found (if in more detail typically) in LGI: it refers to and shows how to consult the standard Niall Ó Dónaill & Tomás de Bhaldraithe 1977 dictionary Foclóir Gaeilge- Béarla. Éamonn Ó Dónaill begins each TYIG term by defining it straightforwardly. Explanations are briefer than Wong if slightly more detailed than Mac Congáil. This middle ground will for most learners needing grammatical drills plus a handy reference suffice unless the in-depth discussions of Wong's LGI are needed-- as they may well be-- to explain Gaelic intricacies and nuances.

Grammar for most of us is not inherently thrilling. I think learners with a knack for math, language learning, and structural patterns tend to favor grammar more than those of us (like me) who struggle with forms but pick up vocabulary more naturally. The order is: spelling, accents, and stress; articles & nouns; genitive case; adjectives; prepositions; pronouns; lots of verbs; cardinal and ordinal numbers and personal numbering; adverbs; relative clauses; indirect speech. Each lesson has a helpful preview with key themes, and answer keys are at the back of the book. All Irish words and phrases are translated into English. However, this would not be the place for a beginner to start; I'd recommend an encouraging guide like Gabriel Rosenstock's "Beginner's Irish" or the dryer, but concise and handy Mairead Ní Ghrada's "Progress in Irish."

For anyone past the initial stages of learning Irish, this will be a useful guide and a handy tutor-- it fills a need (as far as I know) that no other text for learners of this language has met: grammar plus drills.

Why less than five stars? While no fault of Ó Dónaill's, you cannot use TYIG without breaking the spine apart to flatten it enough to do the exercises. And I doubt if you can write the answers in the lack of space provided. These are more ideas of exercises than ones meant to be completed in their actual configuration on the pages here.

TY in their present format (I have one from decades ago for TYLatin and one for TYChemistry both with large-format, notebook-sized layouts much easier for real-world use) sells the type of cheap paperback too common for learners of any language: it is not designed with any practicality. If you weigh down the edges so as to actually read the pages more easily, the spine separates and the pages come loose from the glue. Wong's book justifies its price by a large-format spiral binding. I wish other publishers would do this-- I would pay more for this durability. I guess you can prop it open somewhat and copy TYIG exercises into a notebook laboriously, thus reinforcing the exercises content by writing them out before completing them! One ironic way in which you must teach yourself Irish grammar, I suppose.

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