"Welcome to New York!": How can you learn Irish without physically going to the Gaeltacht?Elaine Ní Bhraonáin

Learning Irish can be an expensive business if you’re located outside of Ireland. However, thanks to developments in technology, geographical location is no longer a costly obstacle.

Here are some of the best ways to learn Irish for free and some of the measures you can use to integrate the language into your life.

1. Duolingo

Duolingo is the free language learning phone app selected by Apple as iPhone App of the Year 2013, by Google as Best of the Best for Android in 2013 and 2014. It is also the perfect way to learn Irish on the go and for free. Apparently, an average of 34 hours of Duolingo are equivalent to a full university semester of language education.

Even if you’ve only a few minutes to practice each day, this phone app allows you to spend them completing a lesson on the go before getting on with your busy schedule. Irish has quickly become one of the most popular languages offered by the site since it was introduced last August, with almost 600,000 learners to date.

The course is easily set out and accessible for complete beginners and for those just brushing up on their cúpla focail. It also offers a browser version where you can work on translating texts to practice further. Each question is linked to a discussion forum where learners can discuss wrong or right answers together and help each other learn.

More information can be found at: https://www.duolingo.com/

A sample question on Duolingo.

A sample question on Duolingo.

2. Clilstore

Clilstore is a collection of content and language integrated learning (CLIL) teaching materials that links videos and their text with suitable online dictionaries.

CLIL is a teaching concept by which learners focus on a subject already familiar to them, such as a hobby, through the medium of the second language. They essentially acquire language skills while dealing with a topic they are comfortable with.

Clilstore currently offers 90 units in Irish over a range of abilities from teaching absolute beginners the words to the Irish national anthem to radio scripts for learners nearing fluency. Each unit contains a video where the pronunciation can be heard, a copy of the audio’s text and the ability to click on a word within this text to search among the compiled online dictionaries. Learners have easy access to a means of using their reading and listening skills and a well-developed dictionary tool in the absence of a teacher.

More information can be found at: http://multidict.net/clilstore/

Search results for "faoi" on Clilstore.

Search results for "faoi" on Clilstore.

3. SpeakTalkChat

A major problem for those attempting to learn Irish is access to other speakers with whom to practice – we can’t all afford lengthy trips to the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas of Ireland).

SpeakTalkChat works along the same lines as Clilstore in that it matches users with certain hobbies and interests with others with the same interests who are also learning or fluent in that same language.

Once linked with another user, you can contact them, organize to Skype, discuss your shared interests (or any other topic you like), and all safe in the knowledge that you will be given the opportunity to brush up on your conversational skills. The service also offers groups for Irish where you can meet with other users.

More information can be found at: http://speaktalkchat.com/home?l=en

4. Social media

Many of us spend too much time on social media, so why not make good use of it and practice as much Irish as we can? Facebook offers its services through Irish and, while it may be difficult to grasp the new terminology to start off with, once you understand what a word means you are never going to forget it. Twitter is also in the process of putting together an Irish language version.

Apart from using the sites themselves through Irish, social media make it incredibly easy to connect with other Irish speakers, many of whom are willing to share their expertise and eager to use the language.

On Facebook, my recommendation would be the group “Gaeilge Amháin” (Irish only). The group is strict on its Irish-language-only policy, but if you’re willing to make the effort, many of its almost 6,000 members will be willing to answer your questions, guide you through your learning experience and act as a fantastic support group.

On Twitter, you can surround yourself with the language by following other Irish speakers. A full list of the language users was compiled by the American Irish-language tech whizz Kevin Scannell (also involved in the Irish version of Gmail among a long list of other achievements) and can be found here, along with a list of some of the best Irish language blogs.

Some of my favorite follows are Maitiú Ó Coimín (@maitiuocoimin), Derek O'Brien (@DirkVanBryn) and Logainm.ie (@logainm_ie), who provide witty, entertaining tweets and prove that Irish is a vibrant, creative language while Logainm.ie also provides great insight into Irish place names.

5. Irish language media

Even for the advanced learner, the main Irish language media outlets Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4 can be challenging (although subtitles on TG4 help).

If you’re a fan of pop music why not try Raidió Rí Rá – which mixes chart music with small easily understandable bits of entertainment news – or Deireadh Seachtaine on Dublin station FM104 every Sunday morning (Irish time).

Raidió na Life is also more accessible for the Irish language learner as many of its volunteers are learners themselves. It also plays the most diverse music selection in Dublin with its highly contrasting shows and is well worth a listen for this alone.

TG4 creates some fantastically entertaining TV which will introduce you to Ireland, not just Irish. Top of my list is the channel’s soap opera Ros na Rún – it’s the only soap I will admit to watching.

The most important thing to remember is that practice makes perfect. You may listen for hours and still barely understand anything, but by adding an hour or two of radio or TV listening to your week, in combination with a more practical learning device such as Duolingo, you should begin to see improvements and nothing is better for your pronunciation.

Irish language news website Tuairisc.ie also offers reading comprehensions, crosswords, video tasks and is a fantastic reading resource for advanced learners.

6. Use the Irish language option on your smartphone

As with Facebook, this, too, is a difficult one to begin with. There have been many times I’ve been forced to change my phone back to English for a while to carry out what should have been a simple task.

My advice would be to go through the steps it takes to change the language on your phone, and keep a note of it before you change the language to Irish. This way, you will never get lost if you need to change back to English to discover what “Inrochtaineacht” means. (Accessibility!)

Complete immersion in a language is the best way to learn, which can be incredibly difficult when you’re expected to live your life through English. By making small changes such as this, you can ensure that at least a certain percentage of your day will always utilize your Irish skills.

Take advantage of your phone to use Irish every day.

Take advantage of your phone to use Irish every day.

7. Make use of other online resources

One of the best things about Irish is the incredibly talented and future-thinking group of speakers it breeds. Far from being a dead language as others would have you believe, it has a strong force of resources online from teenage app developers creating an easy-to-use terminology app to the Irish language version of Microsoft office.

A good list of the resources and software available can be viewed at http://nascanna.com/.

8. Keep in contact with other learners and attend as many events as possible

This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but it can’t be overstated. Using the language is the only foolproof way to learn.

When I first moved to New York, I was concerned about how my level of Irish would suffer after coming from an environment where it was my majority day-to-day language. Within weeks, I found a vibrant Gaeltacht community within the city and many new friends happy to discuss terminology and grammar points with me. All it took was a bit of bravery on my part in attending events I heard about online.

Attend Irish-language events if possible – it would be incredibly rare for anybody with an interest in learning Irish not to be welcomed with open arms.

If you know somebody who also has an interest, make a pact that you will spend at least an hour a week speaking Irish with them (if not more).

Make sure to get an email address or other contact information from any other speakers you meet with and keep as many email penpals as possible. This is vital if you don’t have easy access to events and will at least remind you that you’re not alone when the Tuiseal Ginideach gets too much.

Kepp in touch with as many other speakers as you can.

Kepp in touch with as many other speakers as you can.

Do you have any suggestions on the best ways to learn Irish for free? Leave them in the comments section below.

Find more info on Seachtain na Gaeilge here.

* Originally published in 2015.