Language Update

Would you believe me if I said that in thirty hours, I’d spoken six languages?

Mind you, “spoken” is a bit of an overstatement when it comes to the last. Okay, so, four of the previous five (Gaelic, Hebrew, Welsh, German) have the CH sound, all pronounced without any questions or comments, and so does the sixth (Greek), and yet apparently it’s too difficult to pronounce. But that’s an old gripe. In my opinion, Australian or not, if you’re teaching a language with the CH sound, you can jolly well pronounce the CH sound! It’s not that hard! (And if it is, feel free to choke).

Anyway… Rather than rant about stupid Australian language teachers with dodgy accents (two of the languages), I’ll try and calm myself by detailing my abilities in each language.

ENGLISH (English) – no change, as far as I can tell, to my ability to speak English. Self-rating: C2

DEUTSCH (German) – as I mentioned at New Years’, my German abilities have shot through the floor in the last two and a bit years. Don’t get me wrong, I can still handle a basic conversation, but now I have an obvious accent and a more hesitant vocabulary. As for the grammar – I don’t know that I’d really remember much at all. Self-rating: B1

FRANÇAIS (French) – well, I’m probably not up to the standard I was when I did the Year 12/ DELF B1 exam eighteen months ago, but I don’t feel like I’ve lost much. If there’s any of my languages (other than English) which presents itself in my life regularly, it would be French. I’m not sure why, since I live in one of the Germanest areas of Australia, but I think a lot more people have studied French. It seems to be a pretty popular language at the moment. Self-rating: A2-B1

ESPAÑOL (Spanish) – I can still understand it. I could probably form a sentence or write a paragraph, but to be honest, I haven’t really wanted to since I stopped learning it two and a bit years ago. I’m not even sure why I learnt this language in the first place. Probably something about it being a global language and the only other option at the school being Indonesian. I never got particularly good at Spanish, anyway. Self-rating: A1-A2

GÀIDHLIG (Gaelic) – the only language with which I feel I’m progressing well. I’m not quite making the same leaps and bounds as I perhaps did last year, but we’ve got on to some much trickier stuff and I have less time in the week to devote to it. Self-rating: B1

GAEILGE (Irish) – I only learnt this for about two months before I realised two things: (a) there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to pronounce this language, and (b) Irish people can be really racist to non-Irish. Which resulted in me leaving the classes and never looking back. Ah, well, the more I know of Gaelic, the more I understand of Irish. I’d probably be a solid A2 when it comes to reading and hearing this language.

עברית (Hebrew) – after struggling last year with oh-so-much rote grammar and definitely not memorising lists and lists of vocab words, I realised that basically the only thing I’d achieved was the ability to read the alphabet and a basic understanding of Hebrew tense roots. And that first was rendered almost useless whenever I was presented with anything in cursive. Two weeks in Israel gave me the sound of the language for the first time, as well as a handful of phrases, some useful vocabulary, and two songs. I’ve now enrolled in an evening class at WEA for Modern Hebrew, so I’m actually excited about learning the language now. Self-rating: A1

KOINH (Greek) – all the gripes about rote grammar and vocab list memorisation apply to this, with the notable exception that I haven’t been able to escape to somewhere that teaches it like an actual language. I mean a modern language. You know, with speaking. As it is, I dread the lessons, which are both painful and dull, and got syllabus shock for the first time when going through it in the class yesterday. There is going to be so much homework for this, especially considering we don’t really seem to do any actual learning in class. Or speaking of the language. It’s all syntax, and most of that is just common sense. Yes, we’re reading 1 John, but it’s all, “Let’s challenge ourselves and try to translate directly!” Yeah, right, the only good part about the class is the bit where I get to read Greek out loud. Listening to a couple of the others try, not so much, but that’s the only fun bit, is reading it. I’m so busy this term, I’m strongly considering dropping it, since it’s the only non-mandatory subject I have at uni. And the homework is insane. Self-rating: A0?

CYMRAEG (Welsh) – this was just for a bit of fun when I saw the week-long intensive listed on the WEA catalogue website. In hindsight, it’s probably not the best idea in the world to do a language intensive in the first week of lectures, since I’m so exhausted and actually beginning to dread going again tonight, but overall it’s been fun. Welsh is such a fun and cool language. It has such a cute sound and in terms of vocab and grammar, it’s fairly straightforward. We learnt about mutations yesterday, which was all sort of fun and I’ve been looking forwards to. Gaelic only has one sort of mutation (lenition/aspiration), while Welsh has three (softening, nasalisation, and aspiration). Only problems are (a) the teacher’s actually Australian, although living in Wales for the last 12 years, and speaks Welsh with the most Australian accent I can possibly imagine someone speaking Welsh. Her blàs isn’t there! I don’t know how someone can live in Wales for that long and not pick up the blàs. And (b) speaking Gaelic gives me a distinct advantage when it comes to grammar, while being about 40 years younger than my classmates gives me an advantage when it comes to vocab. Let’s just say that after three days, the gap is widening. Self-rating: A1

Well, it’s a bit of a depressing, gripey list, but there you have it. I even managed to curb my complains about Greek in general and the Welsh teacher and other students in particular.


Film: Lip-Service

About: With Year 12 exams starting next week here in South Australia, it seems an appropriate time to post this short film about Irish-language Leaving Cert. exams in Dublin. Hopefully language students aren’t really this bad!

Language: Irish

Subtitles: no

Year: 2010

Time: 15 minutes

Film: Fionn

About: Wouldn’t it be weird if your computer talked to you? Wouldn’t it be even weirder if it developed multiple personalities and a psychopathic god-complex? Wouldn’t it be even weirder if there were a ten-minute short film in Irish made by a group of students from Toronto?

Language: Irish (some English)

Subtitles: English (only on Irish dialogue)

Year: 2015

Time: 13 minutes

This is a series of posts showing you some of the films and documentaries I’ve been watching in the past months.

Film: Fluent Dysphasia

About: After a night at the pub, a man is knocked on the head and wakes up speaking “gibberish”…

Language: Irish (some English)

Subtitles: English (only on Irish dialogue)

Year: 2005

Time: 16 minutes

This is a series of posts showing you some of the films and documentaries I’ve been watching in the past months.

Film: Fíorghael

About: This is the film for everyone out there who hears a language you can’t understand and thinks someone’s talking about you behind your back.

Language: Irish (some English)

Subtitles: English (only on Irish dialogue)

Year: 2005

Time: 10 minutes

This is a series of posts showing you some of the films and documentaries I’ve been watching in the past months.

Film: Yu Ming is Ainm Dom

About: Yu Ming spins a globe to choose which country to go to. When his finger lands on Ireland, he learns all he can about the country, including the official language, in order to move there. However, when he arrives in Dublin, he finds that he can’t understand anyone and no-one can understand him.

Language: Irish (some English)

Subtitles: English (only on Irish dialogue)

Year: 2003

Time: 14 minutes

This is a series of posts showing you some of the films and documentaries I’ve been watching in the past months.

Spelling Things in Gaelic – Part 2

This is part two of a series about how things are spelt in Gaelic. In the first part, I included a discussion I’d had recently on YouTube, as well as explaining the main differences between Irish and Gaelic spelling. In this part, I’m going to teach you the Gaelic alphabet and how to pronounce it, as well as a few other rules for phonetics which are good to remember. Gaelic spelling is actually very straightforward once you’ve learnt a few things about it, and once you know how letters (or certain combinations) are pronounced and why, they’re always pronounced that way (unlike in English).

Gaelic, like English, uses the Latin alphabet, and, like English, is has five vowels: A, E, I, O, and U. These five vowels are divided into two groups: “broad” vowels (A, O, and U), and “slender” vowels (E and I).

This is perhaps the most important thing to remember about Gaelic spelling and pronunciation, and I’ll explain that more in a minute. It should be noted that Irish spelling considers AE together to be a “broad” vowel, which leads to some spellings which would be considered “incorrect” in Scotland, such as “Gaeltacht” (spelt “Gaidhealtachd” in Scotland – see part one to find out why that extra -dh- is in there).

Gaelic, unlike English, has only twelve consonants: B, C, D, F, G, L, M, N, P, R, S, and T, for a total of seventeen letters in the alphabet. Gaelic also uses H for spelling, but it isn’t always considered a consonant as it was only added to the spelling quite recently, after the invention of the printing press. Prior to that, a dot above a consonant indicated “lenition” or “softening”; this couldn’t be done on European-made presses, so H was used after the consonant instead.

Every consonant in Gaelic can be pronounced four ways: broad or slender, lenited (or “soft”) and unlenited (or “hard”). Lingual consonants (L, N, R) don’t lenite. I have highlighted the sounds which simply don’t occur (or don’t occur much) in (Australian) English.

BA = /b/ as the B in “web”; but a little bit closer to /p/; ㅂ in Korean
BI = /b/ as the B in “web”; but a little bit closer to /p/; ㅂ in Korean
BHA = /v/ as the V in “voice”; sometimes /w/ as the W in “war”
BHI = /v/ as the V in “voice”

CA = /k/ as the C in “cat”; sometimes as /kh/ or /ç/
CI = /k’/ like the K in “kill” but with more air, as though surrounded by Hs; an ejective
CHA = /x/ as the CH in “loch”
CHI = /x/ or /ç/ as the CH in “ich” (southern German)

DA = /d/ as the D in “dog”
DI = /d͡ʒ/ as the J in “joy” or the DG in “edge”
DHA = /ɢ/ as the GH in “ugh”
DHI = /j/ as the Y is “yes”

FA = /f/ as the F in “full”
FI = /f/ as the F in “full”
FHA = usually silent; sometimes /h/ as the H in “ham”
FHI = /j/ as the Y in “yes”

GA = /g/ as the G in “get”
GE = /g/ as the G in “get”
GHA = /ɢ/ as the GH in “ugh”
GHI = /j/ as the Y in “yes”

LA = /ɫ/ – this sound does not exist in English
LI = /l/ as the L in “left”

MA = /m/ as the M in “man”
MI = /m/ as the M in “minute”
MHA = /v/ as the V in “voice”; sometimes /w/ as the W in “war”
MHI = /v/ as the V in “voice”

NA = /n/ as the N in “no”
NI = /n/ as the N in “knee”; sometimes /ŋ/ as the NG in “sing”, only at the end of a word

PA = /p/ as the P in “pat”
PI = /p/ as the P in “pin”
PHA = /φ/ as the PH in “phone”
PHI = /φ/ as the PH in “phone”

RA = /ɹ/ as the R in “red”
RI = /ɾ/ as the TT in “better”

SA = /s/ as the S in “see”
SI = /ʃ/ as the SH in “she”
SHA = /h/ as the H in “ham”
SHI = /h/ as the H in “him”

TA = /t/ as the T in “tap”
TI = /t͡ʃ/ as the T in “nature”
THA = /h/ as the H in “ham”
THI = /h/ as the H in “him”

One of the most important rules of Gaelic spelling is that you can’t have a broad and a slender vowel on either side of a consonant or consonant cluster. Very often, some of the vowels you see in a word might simply be telling you how to pronounce the consonant, rather than existing as vowels themselves.

For the most part, vowels with accents are pronounced just the same as those without accents, but simply longer. Again, I’ve highlighted the ones which don’t occur (much) in (Australian) English.

A = /æ/ as the A in “cat”
À = /ɑː / as the A in “father”

E = /ɛ/ as the E in “pet”
È = /ɛ: / as the E in “bed”

I = /ɪ/ as the I in “sit”
Ì = // as the I in “piece”

O = /ɔ/ as the O in “not”
Ò = /ɔ: / is the same as the previous, just longer

U = /ʉ/ is as below, just shorter
Ù = /ʉ: / as the U in “cute”

If you come across a collection of vowels where one has an accent, you should pronounce the one with the accent and either ignore or just barely pronounce the others. Otherwise, pronounce each vowel separately except for a few diphthongs. The last three of these sounds are not found in Australian English, although the tricky bit of the first of these three is covered above.

AOI, UI, UIDH, or UITH = usually /aɪ/ as in “eye”, but sometimes /wiː / or /iː /, depending on the dialect

AO = /əː / as the IR in “bird” or the UR in “burn”

A or O before NN, LL, MH, and M = /aʊ/ as the German AU, or as the  OW in “now”

EÒ = /jɔ: / as the Ò above but with a Y- at the beginning.

EU = usually /e: / as the E in “bed” but longer (“ay” as in “mate” in Welsh, Scottish, and northern English dialects, or “ee” as in “See” in German), but sometimes /ɪæ/ as the EA in “fear”, depending on the dialect

AIDH, AITH, or AIGH = /ɤɪ/, or somewhere between /aɪ/ as in “eye” and or /oɪ/ as in “boy”; except -aidh as a future verb ending, in which case it’s always /i:/

Although not technically diphthongs:

T and D = /ʃt/ as the -SHED in “rushed”, only when at the end of a word and following another consonant

CHD = /xk/, like the CH in “loch” but harder, and with a very hard click-like /k/ at the end. This sound is spelt CHT in Irish

Two final notes on pronunciation are:

Use an epenthetic vowel after L, R, N, or M: insert a schwa (or “uh” sound) after one of these letters when it comes immediately before another consonant. It makes things much easier to pronounce.

The emphasis is almost always on the first syllable. I know of only three exceptions: two used to be two separate words, and one is a name.

I think that’s pretty much everything you need to know to pronounce a word in Gaelic with slightly more accuracy than the average person. I’ve covered consonants (broad, slender, and lenited), vowels (normal and accented), and diphthongs. Let’s try it out with a few words below:

samhradh (summer)

math (good)

Alba (Scotland)

fhathast (already)

ceòl (music)

clann (children)

Hopefully, you came up with something like /’saʊɹæɢ/, /mɑːh/, /’æləbæ/, /’æhæʃt/, /kjɔ:ɫ/, and /kɫaʊn/.