May 10, 2013 | Irish

More on Talk Irish and Pimsleur

My study strategies are driven by my pronunciation-assistance needs.

Earlier today a reader asked me why, for Irish, I wasn’t beginning with Pimsleur and whether that had to do with there being only 10 Pimsleur lessons for this language.

I admit to a little despondency over the paucity of Irish Pimsleur lessons, but in fact, I am using Pimsleur, though I am only on lesson 4. 

This Is for Beginners

This Is for Beginners

So Is This

So Is This

The reason I haven’t already finished more of the 10 lessons available has to do with what I am confronting in my grammar books. The two books I am using at the moment are Beginner’s Irish with Audio CD, by Gabriel Rosenstock, and Essential Irish Grammar by Éamonn Ó Dónaill. 

What I am finding is heavy-duty grammar with lots of word lists—tons of new vocabulary. This is creating a language emergency that necessitates something oral, besides Pimsleur, so that I can keep reading them.

Those of you who are familiar with Pimsleur will know that it isn’t super heavy on vocabulary. You learn many useful words and phrases and sentences, but it is more about patterns, and giving the user familiarity and oral fluency with different constructions. This characteristic is what makes it special, in my opinion, because it is very hard to achieve that type of thing with a teach-yourself product. Most teach-yourself products, even if they help you understand a language better, don’t do a good job of helping you deploy what you learn in speech.

Pimsleur has, in four lessons, given me an assortment of useful things to work with in my reading efforts. Like “thank you,” which is written go raibh maith agat. So now, when I see that in print, I know how to pronounce it. Guh rah MA ha git, roughly. Can you believe it? You can hear different people pronouncing it on Forvo if you like.

Looking at that phrase as a native speaker of English with zero knowledge of Irish, I would have guessed something like go rabe mythe aggut. Pimsleur saved me from that embarrassment.

However, in my grammar books I am coming across hundreds of words, and there are so many odd letter combinations that I can’t keep up. So I have temporarily focused my attention more on Talk Irish, which is vocabulary-heavy and therefore more useful for my reading efforts.

Essential Irish Grammar: These Words Aren't Going to Pronounce Themselves!

Essential Irish Grammar: These Words Aren’t Going to Pronounce Themselves!

Neither Will These (from Beginner's Irish)

Neither Will These (from Beginner’s Irish)

I feel I have much left to learn before I will be functional in terms of guessing how a random Irish word on the page should sound, but I am starting to be less shocked by each new combination!

Comments (8)

Diane • Posted on Sat, May 11, 2013 - 10:28 am EST

Thanks for answering; very interesting.  Up until near the end, though, I thought you were going to conclude that sticking with audio resources was the way to go for a bit with Irish.  That’s what worked for me with Welsh.

The problem is that if English speakers look at the written forms of Welsh words like ‘‘ynys’’ (= island) or ‘llyfrgelleodd”(=libraries) or “Cymru” (= Wales), they are (1) likely to freak out, and (2) not likely to pick up complicated pronunciation rules and word stress rules instinctively (ynys = UH-niss; Cymru = CUHM-ree).  The more someone can come to new vocabulary with those instincts already in place, the less struggle it is and the better accent and rhythm they’ll develop.

To me, that’s a good reason to stick with audio resources for as long as I can in a language, until the pronunciation and word-stress issue is gone.  I’m learning Spanish right now, and because its pronunciation is so straightforward, adding written material after SaySomethingInSpanish and Pimsleur 1 has worked.  I’m glad I held off much longer in Welsh, though.

For your project, I can understand you might want extra vocabulary early on.  Talk Irish sounds excellent.  Also, are there “learn Irish with your small children” resources available?  For Welsh, there’s stuff with audio designed to help English-speaking parents.

Looking forward to following your Irish adventures!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, May 11, 2013 - 2:10 pm EST

My problem is, if I don’t know what the real spelling is when I hear something new, my brain automatically makes up a fake temporary placeholder spelling. In other words, I can’t pronounce a word without seeing some version of it in my head.

If I invent hundreds of faux Irish spellings and then see the correct spellings later, THAT’s when I would freak out.

I can’t seem to turn off my personal auto-speller, unfortunately. So an audio lesson is never just an audio lesson for me; it actually becomes a kind of multimedia experience, like a video with improvised subtitles. I’d rather have the video include real spellings as much as possible, so I don’t have to unlearn my fake temporary spellings later.

Alex • Posted on Wed, June 05, 2013 - 2:47 pm EST

Ellen, I’m having the same problem with Pimsleur. To me, it’s just so hard not to visualize the word in some form. And it’s especially hard if I’ve already been exposed to the words in my high school French classes; I’m explicitly trying _not_ to “read” the words out of my mind, so to speak, but it’s just so hard not to.

I think I’m doing pretty well so far, but posts like these definitely evince the things that people find so hard about learning a new language. It’s a skill like any other, so yes, there is a bit of a learning curve involved (as with everything), but people’s misery about learning new tongues can be summed-up like this - seeing words written in the new language.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, June 06, 2013 - 11:37 am EST

Alex, I don’t even TRY not to see them in my mind. First of all, I like seeing them. Second of all, I think that’s the way my brain is wired, and in my opinion, there’s nothing to be done about it. I don’t mind; I think visualizing confers advantages in the long run anyway.

In a sort of comparable example from another part of my life, the way I go about writing is a little odd. It does not conform entirely to the advice given in writing guides. In the past I tried to modify my writing approach a bit, thinking it might make me more efficient, but whenever I made such an attempt, my brain would short-circuit. Therefore, I have decided on a strategy of (usually) cheerful coexistence with my brain’s idiosyncrasies. If you can’t beat ‘em…

John Burton • Posted on Wed, June 12, 2013 - 6:55 pm EST

Fascinating about having to see the written word in your mind.  From a neurocognitive point of view, and according to Pinker, and Pimmsleur if I understand it correctly, oral language is something we all share as humans.  Even with severe cognitive delays or lack of education, everyone hears and speaks fluently their native tongue.  Written language is, on the other hand, not universal; the existence of dyslexia and other disorders of “coding” (e.g., translating symbols on a page to audible phonemes).  The phonemes are the carriers of meaning and the written symbols represent meaning only via the phoneme.

Christoff • Posted on Thu, July 17, 2014 - 8:42 pm EST

I am also on lesson 4. After lesson 3 it seemed the course would be straightforward. Stage 4 is divided into 2 lessons, though this is not announced.
During lesson 4 the sequencing of the words is all but reversed to better reflect Irish syntax, but the transfer seems sudden and, for one, hard to adjust to in practice.
Lesson 4 also marks where mistakes seem to be made in the program, where we hear new words used in sentences before they are introduced individually.
I have done the same lesson for a week and will move on when I have mastered it.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, July 17, 2014 - 10:13 pm EST

It makes me feel better, Christoff, when I hear that other people take a long time on certain Pimsleur lessons. There is sometimes a LOT of repetition in my life. :)

Mike • Posted on Thu, July 02, 2015 - 2:20 am EST

The spelling, esp. the vowel combinations, is what killed me with Irish. I took a once-weekly course in DC and it was good, for a while, but it progressed too slowly, and it took me an hour or more, each way, for merely a 90 min sloooow class.

Yep, “teach” pronounced as smthg like “chak” killed me!

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