Monday, March 12, 2007

RTÉ's "Turas Teanga" book- CD- DVD

I revise a bit my Amazon review of this set. I bought the book-CD for the 40 euro list price in Westport three years ago; while Gill & Macmillan in response to my query promised me a review copy they never sent one. The DVDs are separately sold, by RTÉ for 40 euro. A fine way to humiliate yourself if you think you are progressing from a rank beginner at the "lá bhrea" stage, yet I suppose also a necessary boost even if its "agus" or "tá" only that you now find yourself hearing when following stumblingly along the rush of Gaelic spoken as she is in real life on her home turf and not enunciated on a patient, pausing, measured language tape.

This multimedia course is geared towards those who most likely have had Irish in school-- and I mean in Ireland-- years ago. It is not meant for beginners: to quote the back cover: but "at those who have studied Irish in the past and understand a great deal of the language, but have had few opportunities to use it in recent times." The "great deal" is the clincher. If you have not attained a past level of at least upper-intermediate fluency in speaking, listening, writing, and reading, you will flounder. Therefore, as one who has picked up admittedly less than "a great deal" of his Irish by study outside of Ireland, I found this course more marginally but still relatively useful.

Why? It fills a niche left so far empty. It's arguably the first comprehensive multimedia learning platform oriented-- as its presenter, participants, and preparers show-- to Irish in its native habitat, as in our 21st century. (The author also wrote a useful "Teach Yourself Irish Grammar" in 2005; I review this and two other grammars, Donna Wong's "Learner's Guide to Irish," and Nollaig Mac Congáil's "Irish Grammar Book," on Amazon, as well as some of the other titles mentioned in the review you're reading.) While beginners can select from O Siadhail's formidable "Learning Irish," the Teach Yourself Irish series, or Transparent Learning's "Irish Now?" CD-ROM, to name the three usually found easily around the world, after this, what next?

The three TT videos record the 20 TV programs broadcast originally on RTE; these for learners will seem fast-paced. There's a helpful website link via RTE that explains more about the workings of the language as a refresher, as the intent of this book + video is to sharpen conversational skills and not duplicate grammatical book-learning. (Wong, Mac Congáil, and TYIG can all help the latter need.) The TT book itself is designed to be used with the videos, although it can be bought separately. The book has CD exercises that the video does not. The videos overlap with but do not duplicate most of the textbook and CD.

Here are the differences. The chapters in the book start with learner's tips, go on to dialogues, follow with activities for practice (if you don't have sufficient basic comprehension already, you need to review, as they move briskly), a glance at key phrases or idioms, a bit of grammar, a reading text, and a review. Answers to the exercises are appended.

For the videos, the dialogues are acted out--this is very helpful, as three conversations are given, one each with Munster, Connacht, and Ulster accents (and dialectal usages once in a while). This feature aids a learner's ear for the crucial differences in stress and grammar that arise and challenge you once you leave behind "caighdean" or standard "school" Irish. These differences are rapidly commented on by Sharon Ni Beolain, the affable host, but you need to understand the bulk of the basic conversation on your own first. What's explained are the more subtle points that a teacher or tutor would comment upon. There are other video features not in the text. For me, this lack of integration is a definite shortcoming of the text proper.

Why? The most glaring and frustrating instance is when you get a "soundscape" of "everyday" conversation ambiently recorded. I know immersion is the reason. But it is often hard to hear the details of what is said or likely mumbled-- and as no captions are available and no text is offered, you cannot advance much in your comprehension. The visit made by the host to native speakers is only alluded to in the text by a picture and caption; again, with only an English caption provided for the conversation, it helps comprehension to a degree, but it would have been much better if the videos had always provided both English and Irish captions that a learner could switch between for self-study. Irish captions, in fact, are rare, when I expected them to be parallel to the English option. This lack is the worst shortcoming that I found in the videos. Repeated viewings enable one to better "hear" the Irish, but for words or phrases you're still unsure about, there's no text or any way to verify or correct your mental version of what you think you're listening to.

A similar shortcoming exists with the enjoyable "reality show" that brings together six people to see if they'll divide into three couples, as they compete to find romance and to win a house in the Gaeltacht of their choice! This offers a great chance to accustom your ear to the various dialects and accents, but with only English as a caption, this falls short of its potential. I have to admit that the graphics for this currently "up-to-date" video series look surprisingly shoddy, and that in a few years the haircuts and fashions will be terribly if amusingly dated!

All in all, there's finally a choice on the market for intermediate learners, and for that RTE is to be commended. Four stars for effort; three for execution? But the lack of a total match between textbook and videos, as well as the absence for the most part of Irish captions added to not any captions in large segments does mean that you will have been expected to have a sharp ear for mastering the Irish you hear but will not be able to read-- neither on the video nor on the page.

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