Showing posts with label donna wong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label donna wong. Show all posts

Sunday, April 8, 2007


Smaionte: Encouragement for we learners of Irish.

These cupla focal are from the Yahoo group going through Mairead Ní Ghrada's stolid but compact and blessedly even able to be opened and easily read (cf. my comments last month in my Donna Wong book review in turn on Eamonn Ó Dónaill's fine content but woefully bound paperback "Teach Yourself Irish Grammar") "Progress in Irish." An old dependable primer for straightforward school "caighdean/ official standard" drill. I am deeply enmeshed in the Sargasso Sea of all Irish texts, Mícheál Ó Siadhail's misleadingly titled "Learning Irish: An introductory self-tutor." I am on chapter 18, after a year and a bit more, of the thirty chapters. I am liking the little texts to translate at the end of each chapter, but the exercises of English into Irish take me hours. Then, I use Nancy Stenson's helpful if also (as in the Ch. 18 section) equally opaque intellectual workouts with directions and then answers half understood. The fact that both Stenson and Ó Siadhail are reportedly error-ridden does not help matters. I share the letter-writer's urge as stated below to toss book at wall, then repeat. But like him I keep on keeping on, giota beag agus beaginin. Adh mor oraibh freisin!

LI is a long march through a sludgy type, tiny italics, and topical terrain full of bogs and sumps, and maddeningly frustrating in Ó Siadhail's oblivious lack of reader-friendly pedagogical encouragement. (I reviewed it too, unfavorably compared to the even denser but better written guide by Wong.) Given my own Old & Middle English, classical & medieval Latin, and Spanish courses over the years, adding bits of Hebrew and Greek, why so many headbanging moments with Irish? Yes, it is much more difficult than those other languages. Why stick with it? Same reason I did the Ph.D. I must finish this challenge and not let it defeat me. Do marathon runners love and hate what they train for? Think of LI as proto/anti-ALS.

Lately I have been encouraged by the handy Blas BBC NI site for us beginners, Gíota Beag, and the "little bit" of ten-minute lessons I have uploaded finally last week to my iPod after a wee bit o' technical difficulties. This kind of approach helps me hear some Ulster Irish in snippets, and I like the heavy Norn Iron "blas" of the presenter, chuckling Fearghal Mag Uiginn. Interviews and supplemental material for more advanced students also appears. Among others, a talk with Wong. She pops up again, included as not the first Californian I have heard-- hi Carrie!-- who's picked up a giota beag of a vowel shift towards the North herself amidst her otherwise demotic standard flat Western American (which in the belt Cal is in is the same accent belting the center of the US from Pennsylvania to the Pacific). Listen to the clips, read the lessons, and see for yourself. The Blas site is mentioned in passing below, but the fuller URL is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/irish/blas/learners/index.shtml

Well, this Yahoo re-post cheered me up. If you are a learner or considering being or helping one, or curious why anybody bothers to try to wrap their noggin or tongue around Gaeilge, read on. Even if you do not fit into any of these categories, Éamon's reply to Gearóid's a nifty glimpse into how Irish syntax differs from English and how in "Hiberno-English" it echoes.

I thought that this message from the Gaeilge-B list from 2 years ago,might be worth a read, plus the reply to it, further below.

Gearóid-----Original Message-----From: Lucht Foghlamtha na Gaeilge [mailto:gaeilge-b@...] OnSent: 18 January 2005 11:26

To: GAEILGE-B@...Subject: An encouragement for beginners.

About 9 months ago I decided to learn Irish and sought out learning material and lists like this one. I was determined that I was going to learn it. However after an initial phase of enjoying the odd phrase I could now say when greeting people or asking for a pint in the pub, I started to becomeworried at what seemed unsurmountable grammar and unfeasable pronunciation.

Nonetheless I stuck with it and continued learning phrases with the help of the Blas website on the bbc.co.uk and CDs and books . These phases between determination and despondency went in a kind of loop , sometimes in frustration I would swear to put my study books on ebay , shouting at the screen that this was an 'anti-language' and made no sense.

But something happened a couple of days ago that I wanted to share with other beginners. I am still at a very basic conversation stage and have along way to go but suddenly I can see how things fit in to place and why the grammar takes the seemingly strange paths it does. It was like a light coming on and I am now looking forward to advancing with my ability in Irish. I guess what I'm saying is that if anyone is struggling and feeling the same frustrations, and feels like chucking it in then have hope becuase itdoes eventually become clearer and less overwhelming. It's just unfamiliarity with the subject that makes it seem such a tall wall to climb. Now I feel that all I have in front of me is a language to learn and not the superhuman task I was afraid it might be. My hope now is that in about 6 months time I will be able to come back andwrite about my progress as Gaeilge ! Keep on keeping on.

Is mise, Gearóid<------------------------->


Subject: Re: An encouragement for beginners. From: Éamon Jeffers <eamon_jeffers@...>Reply-To: =?iso-8859-1?Q?=C9amon_Jeffers?= <eamon_jeffers@...>Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2005

Togha fir, a Ghearóid, Nach raibh an fhadhb chéanna agamsa féin agus mise ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim anseo i Londain blianta ó shin. I ndáiríre, níl gramadach na Gaeilge chomh casta sin: aidiacht i ndiaidh ainm fhocail, an comórtas idir 'is' agus 'tá', agus dosaen briathair neamhrialta - tá na céadta i mBéarla. Is ionann iad an nua-litriú agus an fhuaim, ach tá a chuid rialacha féin ag an nGaeilge agus ag an mBéarla. Ar ndóigh, níl baint mhór idir stór fhocal na Ghaeilge agus stór fhocal an Bhéarla. Níl an dara rogha ann ach iad a fhoghlaim de ghlan mheabhair. Ina dhiaidh sin, níl ort ach glacadh le meon na nGael. Agus is dó
igh liom gurb é sin an fáth a thosaigh tú ar fhoghlaim na Gaeilge i dtús báire! Éamon

[MORE OR LESS 'FOCAL AR FHOCAL' (word for word)

Good (choice) man, Gearóid.

Wasn't the same problem at me self and me at trying the Irish to learn here in London years ago. Really {in earnestness), Irish grammar isn't that complicated (twisted): adjective in afterness of noun, the contrast (competition) between 'is' and 'tá', and a dozen irregular (unruly) verbs-there are (the) hundreds in English. It's identical they (are) the modern (new) spelling and the sound, but Irish and English have their own (share of) rules. Of course, there isn't a great connection between the vocabulary (word-store) of Irish and the vocabulary of English. There's no option (no second choice) but they a-learning by heart (of clear mind?). After that, you've nothing to do (there isn't on you?) but adopt (accept) the mentality (temperament?) of the Gaels. And I suppose (it's probable with me) that is the reason you started on learning of Irish in the first place!

Éamon

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Donna Wong's Learner's Guide to Irish

I figured here I'd put up some of my Amazon reviews about Irish-language books. Helping to spread the cupla focail. Maybe I can even figure out how to sub-divide the blog so as to keep them in their own sidebar? Well, I'll need expert advice. I told my spouse over at http://casamurphy.blogspot.com and http://manifeasto.blogspot.com/ about the most basic HTML the other day. I think she was surprised I knew anything, but teaching nearly a dozen years at a university made for and full of techies rubbed off a bit.
Here's the first book, the formidable but useful LGI, from a brave and talented and formidable scholar who learned Irish in the US of A, and then wrote a big book about how to do so, that is, if you love hundreds of examples of to me often recondite grammatical distinctions....

This book is not hardcover (despite Amazon's data) but spiral-bound, so it's more useful for readers. It's not cheap, but compared with poorly-made paperbacks on Irish grammar, LGI's worth the investment for the serious learner who's already worked through simpler explanations of how Irish works. This book, however, is not the right choice if you simply want to pick up pub phrases or survey the context for Irish. The small Hippocrene (Paul Dorris) Irish-English phrasebook- dictionary meets casual needs for the inquirer. An overview of the language is Darerca Ní Chartúir's 2002 guide; cogent background and short lessons are in "Beginner's Irish" by Gabriel Rosenstock. (These three books are reviewed by me on Amazon-- see my blog link to my reviews.) Tapes & booklets "Buntús Cainte," and Máiread Ní Ghrada's primer "Progress in Irish" are suitable for the uncertain or the curious. LGI suits instead committed "gaeilgoirí" -- those self-convicted as lifers!

Too often, hefty language texts are either doomed to spine-breaking and pages falling out if flimsy pulp paperbacks or too expensive and recondite in university- press hardcovers for the budget buyer or beginning reader. LGI in its attractive fonts and practical design fills a need for an explanation of the language aimed at foreign learners. LGI does not describe the history of Irish. It does not offer exercises. Neither does it serve as a phrasebook or a workbook per se. Donna Wong, an American professor who learned Irish at universities here, gives rather the first in-depth grammatical survey of the language meant for international students by an adult learner from outside of Ireland. Her approach is very academic. She organizes her main text by grammatical classifications. She recalls that she knew no technical linguistics or grammar when she began studying Modern Irish. I'd add that certainly she progressed rapidly and far! By courses, intensive tutors, visits to the Gaeltachtaí, and her own diligent study, she found herself "grappling with grammar until the fascination of what's difficult resolved into the elation of what made sense." (8) Dissatisfied with texts that taught her college-level learners too much or too little grammar, she made her own handouts and then this book, appealing to the intelligent newcomer rather than a linguist or a dilettante.

Having enjoyed her memorable chapter on Irish folklore in the recent "Cambridge History of Irish Literature" (also reviewed by me), I recognize in LGI Dr Wong's continued determination to energize what most of her scholarly predecessors often deadened. (What's up with her 'Táin Rúttapaca Cuailnge,' a creative and health- conscious retelling of the "Táin Bó Cualinge' according to the jacket blurb? [Dr. Wong, if you see this, tell me, as others out there on the Net I know also want to know!]) Welcome wit enlivens what as an instructor she knows may frustrate those who are-- as she once was-- a student, likely Americans with no daily connection to Irish outside classroom and textbook. (I add that LGI's published by Dublin-based Cois Life, a fine source for mostly Irish-language books, but is not likely to be stocked by foreign bookstores. Cois Life does have an internet store for mail order. [Here it is, bloggees-- 800 lb. elephant on the Web big ol' Amazon will delete such links, hmmm: http://www.coislife.ie ])

Does LGI make easy sense on the page? I'm not a linguist, but I do have a doctorate in English lit. Yet LGI at first overwhelmed me. She intends this book for those "with no prior knowledge of Modern Irish and minimal knowledge of English grammar" (9) as well as a reference for instructors and advance students. It does focus on grammar as the way into the language; compared with a purportedly introductory "self-tutor" such as Michael Ó Siadhail's formidable "Learning Irish," LGI takes its time with grammar and provides many more examples for each section. It's also written with far more awareness of its intended use in the classroom. LI teaches the Conamara "central" dialect in its Cois Fharraige form. LGI uses the "caighdean" standard Irish as taught in schools; dialectal differences diminish as only a few arise, largely in footnotes. Unlike LI, LGI's layout's much easier on the eye (although the pages are numbered in magenta- colored squares that are hard to read). Boldface, italics, and wide margins with readable type combined with the spiral binding result in this far more (than LI) reader- friendly text.

Part One shows spelling, how to consult three common dictionaries of Irish (a useful entry that no other comparable book offers), pre-verbal particles, verbs, and regular verbs. Terms such as "Syncopating Polysyllabics with Final -igh, Imperfect and Conditional" comprise subsections. Honestly, such terms once understood are not difficult, but the attention to this manner of presentation does show Dr Wong's predilection for an organization unlike other Irish-language textbooks. LGI does not present gradually longer conversations or vocabulary lists or sentences to translate. It's meant to supplement such introductory texts. The eleven irregular verbs and the substantive vs. copula follow. These last two categories challenge many English-speaking students. Dr Wong's careful chart comparing "is" to "bí" is the best I've seen to explain crucial contrasts for the "to be" verbs. Part Two explores the Copula, Verbal Nouns, Definite Articles, and Nouns (genitive, plurals, five declensions, irregular, mutations). Again Dr Wong presents many more examples than other books do, demonstrating the depth of LGI that may discourage some but encourage others.

Part Three looks at adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, independent vs. dependent clauses, "if" and "if not," syntax, numbers, interrogatives, lookalikes, and ends with footnotes. This variety proves her classroom testing of the contents-- numbering in Irish I find one of its most difficult aspects, and she takes pains to list in great detail all sorts of ways to number--even fractions such as 6/7 or 1.11-- a feature other books ignore. Lookalikes such as the three uses of "a" or the four types of "an" finally get detailed-- other books merely define each use but fail to clearly distinguish confusing instances of the same "particle" -- LGI tells you the differences and gives multiple examples of each use. Glossaries or dictionaries merely enumerate them. Too much information for casual learners, but LGI does meet a previously unfulfilled need for a non-technical, student-directed reference where non-fluent Irish learners can look up answers in a grammar not written entirely "as Gaeilge" (in Irish itself). This book pays back its purchase and I recommend it. )