Friday, August 3, 2007

Irish-language Book-CD sets for learners

Review: Here's my impressions of Book-CD pairs, especially Turas Teanga, Gíota Beag & Gaeilge agus Fáilte. (Posted to the Learning Irish Yahoo Group today.)

I have reviewed on Amazon US (please visit and rate under John L Murphy "fionnchu") various CDs and beginner's guides in book format. I think that Turas Teanga is better if you have had "school Irish" or live in Ireland where you have picked up more easily a low-level exposure to phrases, words, TV channels, etc, or helped your children with their lessons. It comes in two halves, one the CD-book combo, the other the ten-part DVD series aired. The two overlap, but do not totally mesh. The book has more than what was aired, and vice versa! The two halves, confusingly, are not available as a three-media package! You have to order from RTE the book (which can come on its own too) with the CDs, and then buy the DVDs. It's not cheap, but there is no other competition. Warning: for us foreign learners, TT probably expects too much will ""come back to us" as we listen that we plain don't have!

Let me explain. If you lack earlier Irish classes way back, after a while the well runs dry and you're left gasping. TT assumes that your well of deep knowledge can come back by recall, and the series is designed to refresh your recollection. Since I am an adult learner, TT's pace very soon exceed my ability. You expect to be challenged, and this is not bad, but realize the demographic that TT aims at reassuring.

After two weeks in partial immersion at Oideas Gael in Glencolmcille, however, as I spent last month, I will return to the TT series and give it another go. (I can tell you as an adult learner from books and it turns out not enough tapes, that having other learners rapidly rattle Irish at you in a class and chat context is far more harrowing than learning as I have solo, as I never had the chance really to go to classes or speak Irish with others! I also know now that I must listen to the feeds for TnG4 now that we thanks to the web have no excuse abroad.) The teachers and advanced students recommend TT to reinforce such as TnG4 & RnG, although I know learners with a soft spot for Buntus Cainte with its little cartoons and dialogues-- it's now on CD and I have ordered it as backup help from Oideas Gael, whose non-profit site carries all these tape-book combos mentioned in this post. I recommend them highly, and you support a worthy Gaeltacht endeavor.

(As an aside, I have not heard the "Tús Maith" series, now two parts out with a third on the way next year to complete the package, which Risteard MacGabhann created for learners of Ulster Irish. One learner I know --who is a reader of this Yahoo Group-- highly praises this, and used it in his classes in Boston. It has the advantage that few language texts bother to incorporate, a loose-leaf binder that allows you to study a text without breaking the spine. Again, not cheap, but comparable in price to TT. Lots of diagrams and cartoons to show relationships and define connections. I have the "Learning Irish" Michael Ó Siadhail book, which apparently has been reissued with its pronunciation tapes long on cassette now as CDs, but having labored through this formidable text for over a year on and off and now 2/3 of the way through, unless you are a linguistically-enamored learner, this approach is more for the academic than the avocational among you.

Next, Gabriel Rosenstock, the Co Limerick guru-poet-translator, has a hour-long CD now attached to the Hippocrene Press "Beginner's Irish" short text, which blends the historical, cultural, linguistic, and plain idiosyncratic I think well, but the dialogues will not be the standard ones you find elsewhere, and its ten lessons are brief. Strong on prepositions, less so on practicality. Good side-dish, however, for the other main courses I sample here.

Finally there's an Urscealta Yahoo Group making its way through now the second Pól Ó Muiri "Paloma" detective novel for adult learners; Comhar Teoranta has these, some with CD readings packaged with these attractive stories about drugs and death and crime and refugees, some only as books. )

TT's advantage is the exposure to all three dialects each lesson. Among its drawbacks are an ambient video passage each chapter with absolutely no explanation of what the people are mumbling. Also, the graphics and fashions will look horribly dated very soon-- I know those who have watched the admittedly strong (I have never seen it-- the VCR and the cassettes both are becoming obsolete!) "Look Who's Talking" series circa the early 90s cringe at its "once-trendy look." The TT RTE website assists somewhat, but there are portions without answer keys, which annoys me no end.

I like the BBC-NI "Gíota Beag." In a way, ironically, the lesson helps and support at the "Blas" website and the other interviews and grammar lessons on the site that can be read and listened to put the RTE's TT site to shame. The BBC site is more tech-savvy, and has fun games and children's exercises as well as help for schoolchildren. GB is geared to a lower-level audience than TT, logically reflecting the demands of many in the North who have had no formal exposure to the language. I downloaded it to my iPod and it helped me get a feel for the Ulster "blas" before going to Donegal. Fearghal MacUiginn has a great accent, and gently encourages you along. The lessons are ideal, packing a lot of info if not much grammar into a five hours or so. The silly voices in the first series vanish in the second, and although too much time for my tastes is taken up with the hesitant travails of a sample adult learner, the series integrates place names, lore, culture, and relevant "sidebars" geared towards a Northern Irish audience effectively in fifteen lessons of about ten minutes in each of the two modules.

Finally, Annette Byrne's "Gaeilge agus Fáilte" from Linguistics Institute of Ireland & Gael-Linn came out around the same time as TT. I only purchased it recently, so I have not had time to study it in detail. It too comes as a book-cassette or book-2 CD combo, although confusingly often the book itself is sold separately from the CDs! It too is not cheap, although less than the whole TT package, certainly. It addresses the needs of learners different from both GB & TT. GB as I mentioned targets the Northern Irish resident who probably has had no Irish in school but for cultural and social reasons has picked up a bit of the language naturally, and takes first steps towards basic conversations and a general sense of sounds and sense. TT fits the adult wanting to return to earlier Irish learned and partially forgotten, at least as an active speaker. GF integrates the basic level of GB with the Irish resident (or student abroad in a class for beginners of Irish) who may be new to Ireland and who wants to discover both cultural topics and linguistic roots.

One downside is the marked paucity of information about this book on the rather moribund Gael-Linn site. There's no web reinforcement as there is for GB & TT, but I suppose the BBC "Blas" could enrich a learner in GF, and after GF, the learner might be ready for TT. GF's book's very colorful, and more in line with the bright graphics and plentiful illustrations that for better or worse characterize student textbooks for the current generation. Maybe a bit too "loud" for me? But, like "Blas," little puzzles and sidebars appeal to those learners needing stimuli geared at "multiple intelligences." It is aimed at a diverse audience of non-Irish immigrants, foreign learners, and possibly Irish learners in adult classes who somehow did not have much school Irish, so the level is for total beginners more like GB, not TT.

In fact, GF would make an ideal bridge between GB & TT, come to think of it!

Blog P.S. There's also a 3-CD "Gaschaint" series with a book, each CD the same conversations with children for parents whose Irish is lacking, in the three dialects. Image credit: From a village in the Mayo Gaeltacht, on the peninsula near Belmullet, Inver NS children's paintings:

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