First, a word of encouragement. Let's face it - the only thing humans are really good at is talking. We're
not faster than the cheetah, stronger than the elephant, or smarter than dolphins (who long ago decided
to bio-engineer technological wonders like sonar). We used to try to claim that we're the only tool-users,
but chimpanzees make straws to sip up ants, and seagulls open clams by dropping them onto highways
which they somehow trick us into building for them. We used to claim that we're the only ones who can
put our thumb and forefinger together, but how many lobsters really actually have a problem with that?
So, the only thing we're really good at, and what we naturally, instinctively, inexorably can't stop ourselves
from doing, is talking and learning more about how to talk. Yak, yak, yak, every day you learn new
names, new words, new people, new things, new pronunciations, new accents, new dialects - no matter
how old you are, you're great at it, and there's nothing you can do to stop yourself. Millions of years of
human development have seen to that. So, if you practice what is provided below, you will not fail to learn
The Irish Phonetic System Is Different
The Irish phonetic system is quite a bit different from the phonetic systems of other languages.
Therefore, for most students who set out to learn Irish, "How do you pronounce that?" is the biggest and
most frequent question. Once fully answered, students discover that Irish grammar is extremely
well-ordered (unlike English), almost like a computer program, having been nearly perfected by our poets
when they basically took on the task of creating Early Modern Irish in the 12th century. In fact, a
computerized Irish language dictionary developed with the help of our friend Barra Ó Donnabháin
(beannacht Dé ar a anam) in the mid-1990s in the U.S. was able to save extensive amounts of memory
because it incorporated the extrapolation of Irish grammatical rules.
But back to pronunciation. At Scoil Ghaeilge Ghearóid Tóibín / The Gerry Tobin Irish Language School in
Babylon, Long Island, New York, we fully and easily answer the pronunciation question by offering a
phonetics class which allows our beginning students to become masters of Irish phonetics before they
move on to learn conversation and grammar. We offer this class in our fall and spring semesters and
have had great success using the phonetic system laid out on these pages. By the time our students
finish this class, they've memorized the system, can write phonetically whatever they hear, and can
pronounce anything they read. So learn this system, memorize it, and then move forward to learn Irish.
A Note About Dialect
Just as in English pronunciation, you'll run into variations in Irish pronunciation. Imagine for a moment all
the different ways an American can say a simple word like 'Boston' - Bahstin, Bawstin, Bohstin, etc. Irish
is a living language, so there are variations and exceptions. And every human naturally pronounces
every word and sound slightly differently than every other human, unless they're making a living as an
Elvis impersonator. In other words, every human has his/her own dialect. So don't worry if you don't
sound exactly like anyone else. You're not supposed to. Also, if you've memorized this system and
somebody says to you "Your pronunciation is wrong, it should be said this way...," don't worry about it.
Either they just haven't heard another dialect's way of pronouncing it or they prefer their own.
The Set of Phonetics We Teach
In years past, we taught just about all the variations in phonetics you might hear. We've concluded that
that approach was too much, you don't need all that unless you're a specialist in linguistics. So, beginning
with our 2013-2014 school year, we're teaching one set of phonetics which is understood throughout
Ireland (and by Irish speakers worldwide). This is basically the set of phonetics used by Buntús Cainte
and our sound files for Progress In Irish. In other words, it's one single consistent set of phonetics used
by our Beginning and Intermediate teaching materials, rather than all the variations of all the dialects you
might run into. Much simpler, much easier to learn.
On the left side of this page you'll see links to vowels, 'vowel
surprises' (diphthongs), other vowel combinations, consonants, and
more. Start with vowels, memorize their pronunciation, and then
proceed through the rest one by one.
You Already Know More Irish & Its Pronunciation Than You Realize
Lastly, in our "Irish Words In English" section, you'll see over 100 Irish words which came into English 1)
directly from Irish, or 2) from Norman French which got them from ancient Gaullish, a Celtic language
closely related to Irish. So you already know more Irish and Irish pronunciation than you think.
Críoch / End
Well, that's it. Once you go through these pages and memorize their contents, you'll know a good set of
phonetics which will make you understood by Irish speakers around the world. There are variations, just
as in any living language, but you'll pick those up over time. For now, the best thing to do is to memorize
these, and then proceed through our beginning, intermediate, and advanced courses in order to learn
Mo bhuíochas le Séamas Ó Neachtain, Réamonn Ó Cléirigh, Stan Ó Faoláin, Pádraig Ó Clúmháin, Rita
Bowden, Cathal Mertens, Séamus Ó Maoláin, Barra Ó Donnabháin, Brian Ó Mealláin, Ken Nilsen, Gail Ní
Dheághaidh, Conor Ó Ceallaigh, Máire Ní Cheallaigh, William A. Kelly, agus Rosalie Marie Kelly dona
gcabhair thar na blianta chun an clár seo a chur le chéile. Buíochas áirithe do Shéamas Ó Neachtain dá
tháblaí thuas. Ar ndóigh, is liomsa aon bhotúin atá ann. - Gearóid Ó Ceallaigh