Building a Foundation for Understanding Irish Gaelic

Without a doubt, one of the most challenging parts of learning Irish is understanding Irish speakers in person, on TV, or on radio. This can be especially hard for those who live outside of Ireland. However, there is a method of study which can gradually help students over time that one can use with the language journals mentioned in my first blog (Learning Irish: the First Steps).  But to begin using this technique one must always remember that it works best if you try and use it every day or often as you can. 

The foundation for this practice is to have a basic groundwork in Irish, even a small one will work. If you only know a couple of verbs, adjectives, or nouns, this is sufficient. To begin this process, you can listen to Irish radio at or watch Irish Gaelic television at, however, I would suggest watching TG4 (mostly children’s shows) first since it is a little bit easier to interpret. During this time, it is suggested to focus on only one grammatical concept and try to only listen for that.  If you have trouble recognizing the verb Bí (to be) in the following forms, for example, try and ONLY listen for these conjugations to improve your eye for detail. It will also point you to other areas that need to be addressed:

Tá mé                           Bhí mé                           Beidh mé 

I am                               I was                              I will be

Tá tú                              Bhí tú                            Beidh tú

You are                          You were                       You will be

Tá sé/sí                         Bhí sé/sí                        Beidh sé sí

He/she is                       He/she was                    He/she will be


Once you have recognized the verb being used in several forms try and isolate the usages you have trouble with the most. So for example, if you’re skilled at the present tense and weak at listening for the future tense, focus only on the future tense. Now, once you do this and get a foothold on identifying this tense you can move onto your next weak subject. Later on you can listen for larger grammatical concepts, such as partial or complete sentences.

The second step is to record how well you think you did on a scale from 1-10.  For this you could use another journal or some other way of recording and keeping your evaluations for the future. Carefully organize categories and subcategories and score them.  This way you can see how you have improved overtime, and you can earn a sense of achievement as well.  After all, when we take responsibility for our education, whether it is for a degree or just a language on the side we can drastically improve our understanding of Irish speakers in person, on TV, or on radio.

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Tags: Gaeilge, Gaelic, Irish Language

Comment by Fran Reddy on August 22, 2014 at 1:34pm

I have no background at all in Gaeilge and find it is never pronounced as it appears! I love to find the pronunciations so I know that I'm saying the words properly.  Someday when I have time, I'd like to learn it intensively.

Comment by David Joyce on August 22, 2014 at 2:48pm

Yes,this is true! Irish is full of diphthongs, consonants which have two different sounds depending on the vowels that surround it, hard guttural sounds, and sounds that belong to different dialects :}.

However, on the other hand, once you get used to them, I found them much easier to remember than you might expect.

Comment by Ron Redmond on August 24, 2014 at 7:51am
Thanks David. One of these days I'd like to learn a bit. Great share!
Comment by David Joyce on August 24, 2014 at 10:19pm

No problem:]. I have more blogs planned! At the moment, alot of my time is being spent into making an educational Gaeilge app game so I may not be able to post them as quickly as last time.

Comment by Kelly O'Rourke on August 27, 2014 at 4:34am

Thank you, David.  Very helpful!

Comment by Jean Sullivan Cardinal on September 6, 2014 at 5:57pm

Thank you!

Comment by Ron Redmond on December 8, 2014 at 11:39am

How's that app coming along?


Comment by David Joyce on December 8, 2014 at 2:52pm

Hello Ron,

It's done actually :} Here is the link:

Thanks for reminding me,


Comment by Ron Redmond on December 11, 2014 at 12:32pm

Nice! thank you.



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