Handy Tech for Irish speakers and Learners

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Just as a follow up on my last post on big tech companies and the Irish language I thought I’d write a short post highlighting some handy tech tools available to learners and speakers alike, just in case some of you might be interested (or have some spare time).

I’ll start with the best Irish language learning app I’ve ever come across, Duolingo.

Duolingo offers a competitive semi-game based learning experience and you can learn loads of different languages with it. It does not ‘do’ grammar, but rather breaks the language up into learning topics, which the user enters and begins a 20 question lesson. Basically the user has to do both-way translation, word ordering and listening activities on a specific topic. It might sound simple but it is very effective and the only thing that it lacks is speaking activities, but then you can always go find someone to practise with in real life or on Skype. I could not praise this app any more, to be fair, as it starts with the simple things, making it ideal for beginners, then thoroughly works its way through more complicated vocabulary and sentence structures, teaching you grammar without you even realising it. Its game based learning, with 3 lives per 20 questions, acts as a perfect incentive for you to really concentrate during that section. The sections themselves are short enough, only taking between 5 and 15 minutes to complete and you can choose how many you want to do each day, or simply not do them each day but whenever you have a chance. So, for anyone with beginners, intermediate or up to advanced levels of Irish, who wants to improve or perfect their spelling, sentence structure, grammar and listening skills in a really fun way, Duolingo comes highly recommended.

For people who need help with vocabulary and not just words like in a dictionary there are two fantastic online tools available. Focloir.ie is both a dictionary and a corpus with sections on phrasal verbs related to the word searched for, expressions and examples of use in context which really helps for informal language. Focal.ie on the other hand, is the go-to terminology dictionary to really help you with specific language, like for example scientific language, and newer terminology. The fact that it functions in both Irish and English means that it is really great for translators who need specific terminology or for those who need to write emails in a specific professional context.

Another great tool, this time to practise your listening and speaking skills is the text-to-speech synthesiser developed in Cólaiste na Trionáide, (TCD) by Dr. Ailbhe Ní Chásaide, Abair.ie This is one of the fundamental tools in language technology and it has and will have very important usages in the very near future, for example in allowing blind people to read text or even public signage. Or we could even imagine 10 years in the future being to lazy to read an article on the internet and instead just clicking a button or asking the computer to read the text for us. This is text-to-speech technology and it will become very important, mark my words 😉

In any case, the Irish version began a long time ago, as this technology requires a huge corpus of words and naturally someone to say and record each one individually. Recording fragments and full sentences is also very important in making the flow of the digital speech more natural. As you can imagine, accents and dialects are very important in this technology as people may say words differently in different parts of the country, in every language, so abair.ie started off with an accent from Gaoth Dobhair in the Donegal Gaeltacht. It has since added a Conemara accent and is currently developing a Corce Dhuibhne corpus.

It really is a great way to hear how words and sentences are pronounced correctly in each different dialect and is a great tool to help a learner to grasp basic pronunciation as well as helping more advanced learners get to grips with the different dialects. So go ahead and have some fun!

Moving on to social networks and operating systems, many, at least the most commonly used ones, offer Irish as an interface language. Windows, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla and others let you manage your digital life as gaeilge, which is great recognition for such a small language that has to compete with a behemoth. The content you deal with though, can be in any language you like, be it English, Spanish, French or Hindi, because being bi or multilingual is cool and something we enjoy and promote here at Diaga Language!

So if you have any more suggestions or tips about great new technology available as gaeilge, just let us know. In the mean time though, bainigí sult astu!

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9 thoughts on “Handy Tech for Irish speakers and Learners”

  1. Thanks for this, from a learner (first-gen American of Irish parentage) hard at it for decades in Los Angeles. I am halfway into the French (level 12/25) after a year of nearly daily practice on Duolingo. I have yet to start the Irish as with previous training, I am not sure if Duo has ironed out the glitches; the Irish is in beta, and I find even with their longer established French it’s often full of glitches, with a rather unreliable robot voice which can confound learners. Duo is a good and nagging motivator, with algorithms linked to specific areas one needs to improve over time. But it demands you go at its pace (testing out of lessons is possible, but I have started French as a rank beginner), the sentences are often odd, and you need to supplement its bare-bones approach with other resources. The discussion threads for each exercise are useful, however. I am waiting to finish French before trying Italian and maybe Irish, but many learners appear to be doing different languages simultaneously. Curious if this tends to help or hinder the process…

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    1. Thanks for the comment! And I agree with the thrust of your argument. It’s a handy tool but it has its limitations and I would only recommend it as one tool of many in language learning. Personally, I have used it on my phone and didn’t have any problems with glitches, maybe it depends on your device. I have to agree with what you said about the funny sentences but at the end of the day I think even though some might not make sense, they’re just there to practise a grammatical structure and so they have their purpose. Reading, or actually attending a language course are both necessary for actual language acquisition and Duolingo really compliments that nicely! Enjoy your language learning journey, that’s one of the key things really!

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  2. It’s worth noting that Duoligo’s Irish course doesn’t have the best pronunciation, for some reason they picked someone with an anglicised pronunciation, who among other things misses Broad vs Slender distinctions.

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    1. Grma Daithi!
      While I’m sure that’s extremely important for those with a flawless understanding of one dialectical pronunciation, for a learner up to even a higher intermediate level, it’s irrelevant. In any case, duolingo should only every be used as 1 tool of many to learn a language, reading writing, doing a proper course or indeed speaking with gaeilgoirí (from one of the gaeltachtaí I’d stress because some of the Irish I’ve heard in different cities is shocking, nevermind broad and slender distinction!) should all accompany any online resource! It’ll also fix the pronunciation heard on duolingo 😉

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      1. I agree it would be nice to have the various Gaeltacht dialects available, but for the beginning they could pick a speaker from Connemara since a lot of material is based on those dialects and many of the people you will hear on the Radio and TV will be from there. You dont need to develop a rich Blas of one particular dialect, but you do need an ability to correctly pronounce the Phonemes right or you mispronouncing words to the point of not being understood. I still struggle with words I “know” how to pronounce ,but since I learned them wrong in school, (often missing the slender/broad distinction) I still often mispronounce those words I learned in school, while doing a much better job at words Ive learned since school. Getting pronunciation right from the beginning can really help boost ones confidence, there is nothing more likely to make you switch to English than when you go in to a shop and say a grammatically perfect sentence that gets misunderstood because you’ve mispronounced the words. The lack of a standard pronunciation I think plays a large part in most courses skipping over this part of the Language, a vital part.

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      2. While I agree with lots of that, I don’t believe pronunciation to be that important for a learner, especially at the beginning. Getting a basic grasp is all that is need and the rest will come from expose from listening to radio or speaking to others. Also, pronunciation is one part of language that cannot be standardised and that is the way it should be, at the end of the day, languages are living and evolving constructs and will shift and change over the generations. I can’t help but wonder what Irish speakers a century ago in different parts of the country thought of the Connemara accent. They may have thought it was a redneck accent and not very well pronounced and as such I must get off the bandwagon of trying to imitate a specific accent from a rural part of the country. That, however, is an argument for another day 😉

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  3. It’s worth noting that Duoligo’s Irish course doesn’t have the best pronunciation, for some reason they picked someone with an anglicised pronunciation, who among other things misses Broad vs Slender distinctions. If I was doing a course in French or Italian I wouldn’t expect the teacher to have a strong Cork accent and pronunciation. I am not sure why they didnt got for a native pronunciation, missed opportunity really.

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