Thursday, January 8, 2009

Siuán Ní Mhaonaigh & Antain Mac Lochlainn's "Speaking Irish": Book Review

Having studied at Oideas Gael, in Donegal, one of the places featured here, I was excited to find, the year after my course, the arrival of this book- DVD pairing. Others (on Amazon US where this appeared 12/22/08) have explained its rationale. I'll delve into its structure and organization. A brief comparison with other products (see my Listmania "Learning Irish Gaelic" for more) may assist your decision whether or not it's for you.

Twenty units focus on themes; the hardcover (thankfully-- this is a big plus in learning materials too rarely found; the ability to prop a book open is often worth the expense rather than a flimsy paperback whose pages separate and whose binding breaks) workbook naturally gives transcriptions and directions. I would have liked subtitles as an option, too; the lack of this makes it harder to keep up with the rapid (if you're at my level) speech patterns. Still, this immersion forces you to accelerate into the kind of encounters that prepare you for real life outside the halting pace of the classroom.

The timed interviews-- beginning from ten seconds and ending the book at nearly two minutes-- are prepared for with phrases or vocabulary that may differ from "school" or Standard Irish taught. Some are dialectal; some are grammatical elaborations, some cultural or vocabulary enrichments. Simple fill-in exercises may precede segments. Each chapter has a few taped snippets. Translations and answers well kept to the back of the book are given.

The range is wider than the old "The four sheep are in the high mountain meadow eating oats when Mary walks towards them" types of sentences found in primers. Buddhism, ecology, GAA, Israel and India, Irish sign language, learners vs. natives in Gaeltachtaí, dance, emigration, working mothers, the usually ignored presence of Irish speakers in North America: all receive their minute or two in the text and on the screen.

Poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh, activists Liam Ó Cuinneagáin & Helen Ó Murchú, TD Trevor Sargent, local residents, and, encouragingly, even learners from abroad can be heard among nearly two dozen interviewees. The range of accents, slips into English, and variations on the schoolhouse form of Irish may throw some off, but these are essential in preparing learners to leave the textbooks behind and begin to chat in Irish on the streets, and in the pubs. Seeing the Irish landscape behind so many of the speakers adds to the welcome illusion that you are back in Ireland hearing the native tongue vibrant, idiosyncratic, and ordinarily spoken, as it's meant to be.

This bridge into the natural communities that form by natives and learners and students refreshing earlier lessons may be lengthened with Turas Teanga, an RTÉ CD-DVD-book set geared more towards those reviving their "school Irish." This is aimed, be cautioned, at those intermediate or advanced students. SI is more practical and less linguistically focused per se than Mícheál Ó Siadhail's "Learning Irish;" it's less basic than "Gaeilge agus Fáilte;" it's certainly far beyond the Pimsleur conversations, and probably more enjoyable than the "Teach Yourself Irish" CD-book pairs.

For eager beginners: seek out "Gaeilge agus Fáilte." For SI's pricier, somewhat less user-friendly counterpart: "Turas Teanga." For serious linguists wanting a particular dialect, Cois Fharraige in Connaught: "Learning Irish." SI also is far more advanced than the new "Colloquial Irish" CD-book set, which is basic Connemara Irish of around 800 words. Ultimately, SI may prove the help that many, after finishing an immersion course in or away from Ireland, may need to continue their study when they return to a home far from a Gaeltacht.

1 comment:

Bo said...

Is maith an leabhar seo. I have it myself.