So yesterday I finished my last suite of lessons in the Duolingo Irish course. The technical term for my achievement is a shit tonne: I have completed a shit tonne of lessons. Every module has five levels; each level has several–often numerous–lessons. Jaysus Mary and Joseph it was a grind at times. But for someone looking for a self-directed way to being learning a language, Duolingo is a good tool.
Many people have asked me why I decided to (once again) try to learn Irish. The first reason was happenstance: Himself came home after visiting his (English) father in Ireland, replete with some Irish language learning materials. Then he discovered there was a Duolingo course and off he went. I followed a few months later.
But I had other reasons too. Irish is my ancestral language: my paternal Nana was a bilingual school teacher in Free State era Galway. But like many who emigrated, she gave none of her (eight) children the language. Perhaps my favourite moment of the Duolingo journey was coming across dún an doras in a lesson–Nana used to say that fairly frequently. It means shut the door. Learning Irish makes me feel a bit closer to Nana, who was just a fucking awesome person.
Finally, the way the Crown™ industrialized the suppression of the language makes me keen to try and help re-assert the language. This is decolonization: the process of unravelling the legacies of 8 centuries of occupation. Most of the arguments against Irish in Ireland are directly from the occupation and oppression toolkit: not practical, uncouth, savage. Well then, savage me the fuck up.
As a bonus, Irish is a beautiful language: it’s sounds gorgeous when spoken or sung. There’s a reason an Irish accident gets people laid.
Some things worth noting
Duolingo has been the main strategy in my self-regulated Irish language study, but it’s not the only one. Duolingo uses gamification, which is especially important in the free version: you need to achieve a certain level of success/accuracy to have access to more than a couple of lessons at a time. This isn’t a terrible incentivation, but there’s a better solution: pay the USD60 (or so) for a one year paid Plus subscription. You can then determine your own pace for progressing through the lessons–even if you find some topics (verbal nouns are evil) particularly vexing.
Another important tip: try to do most of your work using a computer and its browser: in addition to the lessons, there are ‘tip’ – which are really more fleshed out and complete lesson and study guides. I only use the app now when I’m on a long overseas flight (Plus members can download their entire course onto their tablet/phone and then it synchronizes when you’re next online).
In addition to Duolingo I have acquired a range of printed materials, though I haven’t made much progress through any of them–and that’s OK. I’ve also participated in a series of massive open online courses (MOOCs) on Irish delivered through FutureLearn and Dublin City University. The MOOCs haven’t exactly elevated my language competencies very much, but they use a different approach compared to Duolingo. And they’ve had some interesting cultural pieces to flesh out some of the why bits of Irish.
Our pre-Covid19 plans had been to travel to Ireland in Irish summer 2021 and do an immersion course. We’ll have to see what’s happening in terms of international travel at that time. But from my Québec immersion experiences of years gone by, being immersed in a language wires the brain much more quickly and deeply than studying books and recordings.