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How to ... reawaken your Irish: It’s all still in there somewhere

Vocabulary, grammar, poetry, Peig – accessing ‘do chuid Gaeilge’ is easier than you might think

So you learned Irish at school but you haven’t spoken it since? Well, I’ve got nuacht for you – much of that Irish may still be in your brain and there are some simple things you can do to reawaken it.

Read all about it

Vocabulary, grammar, poetry, prose, Peig – if you were educated in Ireland, chances are you spent several hours a week for 14 years studying Irish. All that knowledge doesn’t just evaporate.

A great way to nurture your dormant Irish back to life is by reading, says Máiréad Ní Loingsigh, teacher at the Department of Modern Irish in UCC.

“There are all kinds of resources online that people just didn’t have access to 30 years ago,” says Ní Loingsigh. “You can follow Irish speakers on social media or read Irish language newspapers like Or go to your local library or bookshop and get a book,” she says.


“What happens when you read is you come across vocabulary that you are already familiar with that is kind of parked somewhere in your brain. You are reminded of what you already know and you become familiar with it,” says Ní Loingsigh.

Reading reminds you of the structure of the language too; you notice the pattern of how sentences are made.

“Then, when you try to form a sentence in a different context, you will be able to draw from that to form a sentence yourself.”

If you like fashion, music, current affairs or cooking, for example, follow an Irish language social media account on that topic. “Read what you enjoy,” says Ní Loingsigh.

Tune in

Another fairly effortless way to revive your Irish is to listen to others speaking it.

“I’d recommend that learners listen regularly to news bulletins in Irish,” says Ní Loingsigh. “You will get the best speakers and they will be quite clear. Also, if you are familiar with the news, you will recognise what’s happening and be able to follow it.”

RTÉ Radio 1 has regular Irish language bulletins, or you could watch TG4. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta has podcasts on various topics, says Ní Loingsigh.

“You can download those podcasts or pick out segments from programmes to listen to.”

Go back to school

Irish college for grown-ups? It’s a thing. The organisation that runs wildly popular courses for school kids offers courses for adults too, says Ní Loingsigh.

“If you are in an area where Irish is being spoken, or you are among people who are speaking it and you have committed to doing so for an entire weekend or a week, then you have immersion immediately and that’s going to accelerate your learning,” says Ní Loingsigh. “You will speak it because you have to.”

Be fearless

Many of us don’t write or speak Irish because we are afraid of getting it wrong or recall being chastised for getting it wrong. When a language is taught with the objective of passing an exam, it can saddle learners with feelings of pressure and fear.

“I think maybe [try] putting aside the mindset we might have had in school where we were trying to be good and get everything right,” says Ní Loingsigh.

“We just have to try to be fearless. The people who are most successful at learning a language are people who aren’t afraid of making mistakes. They will have a go at using a phrase they have read or heard. You might not get it 100 per cent right but you are learning,” she says.

“You will succeed by being as fearless as possible.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance