A travel blog of Ireland, Europe, and New Zealand

Learning the Language

Dia duit all (a formal Irish greeting; means ‘God with you’. The answer is ‘Dia es muire duit’ (God and Mary with you’!)
With the support of my lovely boss Mark, I have been studying the Irish language at classes on a Monday night. I finish work at 5 then after an early tea head into town for two-hour classes. It’s a strain on the brain at the end of a working day.
The Irish language is not at all phonetic, which makes pronunciation quite a challenge. There is a tendency to add consonants to other consonants, changing the sound completely. For instance, the word ‘road’ is Bothar. Not ‘bother’, but because the d and h are combined, ‘bow-hyar’!!! Go figure…I have a colleague whose surname is Nic Giollamhichil. The first time I was to meet her, I asked a couple of Irish people of some seniority how I should pronounce her surname. They both had problems! So I asked her, and she wrote it phonetically for me – Gilla-v-heel! Who’d have thought?
The strange thing is that Irish is compulsory at primary and secondary school, and most Irish people seem to come out hating it. There has got to be something wrong with the way it is taught. Someone told me they just kept swotting verbs and stuff like that, whereas the class I am taking focuses on conversational practice – How are you? Where do you come from? Where did you go on holiday? What did you do last weekend? and that sort of thing. At least there is some meaning to it!
As well, Irish people often speak very quickly. I thought Kiwis were bad, but the Irish are faster. Sometimes you can’t even figure out what they’re saying when they speak English quickly, and my Irish tutor has on occasion got towards the end of the lesson, realised he has a lot more ‘stuff’ to get through, and turned on the speed. It’s scary in English, but utterly incomprehensible in Irish!  I have just two more classes of my nine classes to go. After that I think I’ll knock the classes on the head and try to keep up some ‘ear’ for the language by looking on YouTube, where there are several different approaches taught.
One thing you notice, once you start learning a little of the language, is that some of the English expressions you hear are actually direct transliterations of the Irish. For instance, there’s not really a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in Irish. If you’re asked “Would you like a drink?” The answer is, “I would” or “I wouldn’t” not yes or no.  So you hear that construction a lot. A standard farewell is “slan abhaile” (pronounced ‘slawn awhylya’) which means ‘safe home’, so that’s another expression you hear a lot. Then there are the purely local versions such as ‘sure, I’m just messin’ with you’ meaning ‘I’m kidding’ or ‘she was giving out’ meaning ‘she was sounding off about something’. It takes a while to get used to! On the other hand, the people at work are having to get used to expressions such as ‘puku’ and ‘kai’ so it’s not all one way!
The link below is to an example of a lovely, haunting Irish tune (that is, after skipping the ad at the start). And despite what Youtube may tell you, the clip is just 4m20s long.

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