A retro cassette tape. Image from freeimages.com

Retro Corner : De-Digitising Language Learning

Yes, it escalated. I’m not only seeking old Teach Yourself language books – I’m now hunting down the retro cassette packs too. How incorrigibly 1990s of me!

Now, this is not just a case of me giving into my obsessive-compulsive collector traits. My latest second-hand drive is all part of a general strategy to wean myself off 24/7 digital connectivity. Apps and social media are excellent language learning companions, but like many, I’m beginning to feel the digital fatigue.

Duolingo (bless their hearts!) didn’t help much by adding a new level of challenge recently – diamond tournaments – which, obviously I had to spend far too much time on. My Gaelic and Norwegian may have come on in leaps and bounds lately thanks to that little carrot-and-stick, but I can almost see a phone screen when I close my eyes now.

I’m being gamified to distraction.

Yes, it’s definitely time to rebalance the digital with some offline learning. And so I’ve sourced a few of these old Teach Yourself packs, a 30-year-old Walkman, and created a little retro language corner.

A retro 1980s handheld tape player from Sony

My gloriously retro Sony tape player

Language Learning, Fast and Slow

There’s something warm and fuzzy about popping a cassette in, and forward-winding to the spot you want. I’m about to sound like a right old codger, but it’s almost more satisfying finding your way around a resource, as opposed to doing a quick click, jump and gaining instant gratification online. This contrast is another case of language learning, fast and slow, where slow can bring along a heap of easy-to-overlook joy.

What’s more, it’s cheap and easy to recreate that retro learning hygge. I’ve spotted plenty of these old TY book and cassette packs going on eBay in my recent hunts. While CD-based packs are still a bit pricier (being a bit less obsolete), you can regularly pick the cassette versions up for a steal. If you have something to play them on, there are bargains to be had.

Retro Teach Yourself book and cassette language packs from the 1990s

Retro Teach Yourself book and cassette language packs from the 1990s

Retro Happy Learning

Of course, you can always go that little bit further. After all, creating a happy learning space is all about triggering warm memories and feelings associated with studying. To that end, I have my eye on a couple of old Coomber cassette players now, the exact same models that our teachers played Tricolore French cassettes on in the early 90s.

Nostalgia, combined with sheer geekdom, can be a great motivator in language learning.

Teach Yourself Gujurati (1995) cassette

Teach Yourself Gujurati (1995) cassette

A Christmas tree decoration up close. Image from freeimages.com

Christmas Favourites : Perennial Linguaphile Picks for 2021

I’ve done a few Christmas gifts for language lovers posts in the past. Perhaps that’s more out of wishful thinking than anything else… After all, who doesn’t like making their pleas to Santa public?

But looking back, it’s a case of plus ça change. The same book series, the same piles of lovely stationery. Linguaphiles never really change. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Many of those old gift ideas are still going strong on a solid five stars. And some have since expanded to include new languages and features.

So what’s in Language Santa’s sack this year?

Dream Books

My top picks for Chrimbo books hasn’t changed much. In the absence of any fantabulous new grammar series or language courses, the set-collector in me is still captivated by a couple of ranges.

ROUTLEDGE GRAMMARS

Because honestly, you can’t beat them, can you? Many have seen updated editions recently, and a couple of new languages have come out in the Essential Grammar range (cue shrieks of excitement): Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian, and West Greenlandic. Music to the ears of anyone looking for more ‘off the beaten track’ language resources.

And I can barely contain my excitement that finally we’re getting an Icelandic Essential Grammar from Routledge. It’s due out on 21st December, just in time for Christmas. Oh my, it’s like they knew

This year also saw the addition of Intermediate Persian and Intermediate Korean to the Grammar and Workbook titles, too. Thanks, Santa Routledge.

SHORT STORIES IN…

These were an exciting addition to the language learning market when they appeared. There have been short stories collections for learners before, of course. Penguin have a great couple of titles in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

But what’s nice about these is that they’re written with key structures and high frequency vocabulary in mind. They’re also available in lots more languages, including some underserved ones like Icelandic and Turkish. What’s more, they all match. So, if you’re studying multiple languages, you’re getting similar input in both, and one isn’t being neglected over the other because of a resources mismatch.

It’s great to see that two more titles are in the pipeline for 2022: Irish Beginners and Japanese Intermediate. For our 2022 wish list, could I ask the Short Stories Santa for a Gaelic, Greek and Polish too?

TEACH YOURSELF TUTORS

If you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit of a TY fanboy. It’s a nostalgia thing – I love a bit of language learning vintage.

TY reinvigorated their range with the excellent Tutor series a couple of years back, and they’re still fresh and relevant. While there haven’t been any news ones added to the range yet (pretty please, Teach Yourself!), the fourteen titles there are already classics in polyglot circles, and again, represent a fair few languages without masses of material available for learners otherwise.

Verdict? Still solid stocking fillers (if you have quite large stockings).

Tech Toys

2020, was all about the VR. Most likely, the pandemic and rolling lockdowns had something to do with that. But VR has proven it’s not just a flash in the pan. Its user base is growing, and it’s still a fantastic immersion tool for language learning.

It wasn’t all rosy with tech, though. Two years previous, I was raving about a brilliant Chinese voice assistant crowdfunding for development on IndieGoGo. A friend of mine had even invested, and there was some really positive hype around it. Following it up to post this update, I was sad to learn that the project hit serious difficulties, leaving a lot of people disappointed. Still, with the language learning potential of general purpose voice assistants, competition was always going to stiff.

At least we still have VR. My tip for 2022? It’s still get an Oculus! Christmas is the best excuse.

Wear It With Pride

Finally, alternative items that weren’t on my radar over previous Christmas seasons include funky wearables. Maybe hiding behind this newfound sartorial daringness is the pandemic, and successive lockdowns where we all gradually felt less self-conscious about what we had on. But I really started to like more fab ‘n’ fun clothing over the past year, like these linguist t-shirts on Etsy. Amazon lists some fancy (and also quite bizarre ones) too.

I’m just sprucing up my wardrobe ready to step out at the 2022 round of polyglot events.

A fault line. Learn to love yours in language learning! Image from freeimages.com

Finding Fault : Learning from Past Performance

Going through some old files the other day, I came across a bunch of Icelandic MP3 recordings I’d made for an old 30 Day Speaking Challenge. A long time ago.

Needless to say, when I played them back, I didn’t feel too impressed. The accent, the grammatical errors, the stoppy-starty delivery. Not my finest work I tut-tutted.

But, listening on through gritted teeth, something started to happen. I found myself silently correcting the mistakes. I was almost willing handy hints for improvement back in time to that previous version of myself.

Fine to Be At Fault!

Old, imperfect language learning work is never anything to feel shame or embarrassment over. Most obviously, it shows us how far we’ve come.

But as ‘faulty’ resources, they’re actually far from useless. They give us chance to review and remedy mistakes that we were prone to in the past. Yes, they do crystallise errors. But as such, they also serve as great anti-examples of language use, as well as remind us that we no longer make them.

The same goes for non-language material, too. Some years ago, I made some ‘talking revision notes’ for a social science module I was taking with the Open University. Listening back to them, beyond the initial cringe, I ended up in a kind of mental conversation with myself: lots of “yes, but what about…” and “that’s one way to look at it, but…“. It is such a great way to interrogate past knowledge with a present outlook.

Finding Fault : A Do-Over

Something you can do, if your previous faults annoy you too much, is a do-over. Rerecord your speaking challenges. Rewrite your previous notes. Create fresh summaries of your learning material including everything you’ve learnt since. But keep both old and new handy as a testament to your progress.

If you’re tempted to delete your old recordings, or trash your old notebooks, pause to think: what can I still learn about my journey from these? Be generous to yourself – to a fault.

Icelandic horses. Image from freeimages.com.

Learning Icelandic and Norwegian Together : Close Buddies and False Friends

There are advantages and disadvantages to learning very closely related languages together. And despite the benefits generally outweighing the snags, false friends are probably the most irksome spot of that downside. Icelandic and Norwegian are one such pairing that seems really popular in polyglot circles lately.

Because of the conservatism of Icelandic, tackling the two often feels like studying contemporary and ‘historical’ Norse side by side (although we need to be careful not to fall into that trap – Icelandic is a modern language that has been developing from Old Norse as long as Norwegian has).

That closeness gives us plenty of hooks to transfer knowledge. For example, Iceland þ (th) will show up as Norwegian t where the latter has inherited the same word:

🇮🇸 þreyttur – 🇳🇴 trøtt (tired)

But elsewhere, even when there is a really transparent cognate pair, meaning and use have drifted in the sands of time.

Traps to Trip You Up

One subtle cognate slip-up occurs with semsom, the relativiser in clauses such as the book that I read. Icelandic and Norwegian agree as far as that is concerned:

🇮🇸 bókin sem ég las – 🇳🇴 boka som jeg leste

But that’s all they can agree on. Firstly, sem is not optional in Icelandic, whereas Norwegian can do as English does and simply say boka jeg leste.

What’s more, they also fall out when it comes to the other, more prepositional use, as in like a cat:

🇮🇸 eins og köttur – 🇳🇴 som en katt

That’s, like, a bit tricky.

Taking a Liking

Likewise, líkur / lik (alike) don’t always map onto each other like for like. While ‘they are alike‘ can be:

🇮🇸 þeir eru líkar – 🇳🇴 de er like

…in Icelandic, you’re more often than not going to come up against that eins again to mean ‘alike’:

🇮🇸 þeir eru eins

As eins clearly derives from the number one, it’s not hard to connect this to phrases like one and the same in English, or en og samme in Norwegian. Still, Icelandic uses eins pretty much everywhere that Norwegian uses like, so it’s another distinction to mark on the map.

Add to the fact that Icelandic uses cognate líka for also (også in Norwegian), and it has even more potential to be a confuser.

Do You Really Like It?

And like it or not, we’re not finished with like yet. It actually turns out that it really likes to mess with us. The Old Norse verb líka has ended up in both languages (just as English ended up with like from a more distant common ancestor). However, in Icelandic, líka is used in purely impersonal expressions:

🇮🇸 mér líkar það (lit. to me likes/pleases it)

…whereas in Norwegian, it works just the way like does in English, with the liker as the subject, and a direct object as the liked thing:

🇳🇴 jeg liker det (I like it)

Not only that: while expressions with líka in Icelandic do translate as like, they’re not the most colloquial way to express liking any more, and may come across as rather archaic. These days, you’re better off with a phrase using skemmtilegur (amusing, entertaining) like:

🇮🇸 mér finnst það skemmtilegt (to me finds-itself it amusing)

Admittedly, these quirks can seem less than amusing as a beginner learner, to be sure.

Crazy House

Funnily enough, it’s the realm of house and home where a little cluster of words diverges quite radically in meaning. Perhaps it’s not surprising for words relating to everyday living arrangements; as customs and practices change, old terms get repurposed and attached to ever more differing concepts. But stand by: this set seems like it went through a tumble dryer.

Norwegian rom will be familiar to English speakers as the cognate room. It meant largely the same in Old Norse – any room or internal space. But in Icelandic, it can now have the meaning bed. There’s quite an interesting theory for how that shift happened here.

Meanwhile, Norwegian seng, which means bed, is cognate with Icelandic sæng – which means duvet. And Norwegian dyne, which is duvet, materialises as Icelandic dýna – which means mattress. Utter bedroom confusion (as if deciding which side to sleep on wasn’t hard enough already).

Honorable Mentions

There are, predictably, plenty of these pitfalls between the languages – far too many for a short article. But amongst the hotchpotch of favourite falseish friends between Icelandic and Norwegian are two more favourites of mine.

Firstly, the word lag can mean layer in both languages. In Icelandic, however, it can also mean song. It’s notably a word in the title of one of Iceland’s most successful Eurovision entries, the boppy Eitt lag enn (one more song) of 1990. In Norwegian, on the other hand, it can mean teamOne more team just doesn’t sound as fun, does it?

Along similar lines, we have grein (spelt gren in some varieties of Norwegian), which means branch to both Icelanders and Norwegians. But in Icelandic, the very same word is used for an article in a newspaper. A case of a word branching out, perhaps?

Variety Show

It’s all fun and games, of course, and one of the reasons it can be so fascinating to learn languages within the same grein of a family tree. For one thing, you end up collecting juicy etymological trivia in droves (the kind of stuff you can spin out for an upbeat language blog, for instance).

But a final point for fellow dual learners concerns the variety of Norwegian you learn. If, instead of vanilla Bokmål, you study Nynorsk, or any of the traditional dialects of Norway under that umbrella, you might well come across a few more cognates and similarities to Icelandic. Bokmål, as the heir to Riksmål and the imported Dano-Norwegian of centuries past, has levelled out some of the more Norsey features of traditional norsk. Dialects often preserve these beautifully. If you’re up for exploring this further, then a good place to start is NRK’s language programme Språksnakk, which regularly answers questions on local vocab features that bear more than a passing resemblance to islenska.

Do you have similar experiences with this or any other pair of languages? Let us know your favourite drifting cognates in the comments!

A dog with big ears. Phonotactics is what governs which sounds sound 'right' together in a language. Image from freeimages.com

Phonotactics Physio : When Sounds Sound Wrong

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my ongoing linguistics adventure, it’s that there’s a fancy word for everything in science, and linguistics is no exception. Welcome, phototactics (from Greek, roughly sound arranging).

The phonotactics of a language govern how different sounds fit together within it: which can occur next to each other, which can start a word, which can end one, and so on. It’s thanks to the phonotactics of English, for example, that we don’t have words like ngrasn.

Unsurprisingly, then, it’s always fun and games when the phonotactics of your native language square up against those of your target language.

Phonotactic Fallout

Mismatched phonotactics result in the distinctive features of often stereotyped non-native accents. For instance, Spanish-speaking learners of English will often first add an e- before words beginning with sp- and st-. The reason? The phonotactics of Spanish don’t allow those combinations word-initially, so they’re anathema to Spanish ears. By contrast, cognates of English sp- and st- words in Spanish already have that e- built in: especial, especie, and even España itself.

Similarly, English learners of Modern Greek might have issues with particular clusters of sounds. The word mortal, for example, is θνητός (thnitós). When was the last time you heard an English word containing thn, at the start, middle or even end? Less alien is perhaps Greek ξ (ks), as there are plenty of English examples containing it: box, exit, exaggerate. In Greek, however, it very commonly occurs at the start of a word; ξέρω (ksero, I know), ξέχασα (ksehasa, I forgot), ξυπνώ (ksipno, I wake up). Early learners of Greek are often tempted to add a quick little schwa vowel between the sounds, like kǝsero for ‘ksero. The initial ks is so strange to English ears that we pronounce Greek borrowing ξυλόφωνο (ksylophone) as ‘zylophone’ to pander to our own phonotactics.

Phonotactics Physio

So how to cope with wildly different phonotactics in your target language?

Getting used to creating sounds unusual in your native language involves training muscle memory. Physio for phonotactics, if you will. That means practising individual words, as well as undertaking more involved speech tasks like shadowing.

It also helps to identify cases where your native language does come pretty close to the target language sound, noting that it might happen between words rather than within them. Take a couple of Polish words thrust into the topical limelight recently: szczepionka (vaccine) and szczepić (to vaccinate). That initial szcz, or /ʂt͡ʂ/ as Wiktionary so accurately puts it, simply doesn’t occur within any single word in English. The closest English gets is with broadly similar sounds across word boundaries, like wash cherries. But say that out loud a few times, concentrating on the sh_ch, and you get an idea of Polish szcz that you can transfer to your Polish pronunciation.

Tackle such words repeatedly, enlisting the help of your iTalki tutor or similar in topical chat related to them. Gradually, you will start building up a target language phonotactics  that doesn’t depend on your own native language judgements.

 

Polylogger makes tracking your study hours easy. And it can throw up some revelations! Image from freeimages.com

Polylogger Revelations

I finally boarded the Polylogger train and joined the enthusiastic activity tracking community a couple of weeks ago. And to tell the truth, it’s been a bit of a revelation.

Chances are you might well have beaten me to the best seats already. Polylogger already has a well-established, sizeable, active and very sociable fanbase on social media. In fact, it was on Twitter that I first spotted fellow language aficionados singing its praises, so it seemed timely to hop on board already. Better late than never!

Getting started was a cinch. It’s quick and easy to sign up, and the study diary tools are a piece of cake to use. When you get into the swing of things, logging – and watching those graphs grow – is real language geek fun. I love being motivated by what other people are working on, and have already spotted a couple of new resources I didn’t know about through community entries.

But to make the most of the tool, it was what I should be logging that I needed to sort out first and foremost.

That is, what counts as a study session? Just those substantial chunks of time, like hour-long iTalki sessions? Or every little thing, including the odd couple of minutes minutes here and there on casual language apps, or a brief podcast listen during breakfast?

The great #langtwt community, once again, had the answers. It should definitely include the latter. After all, those little bits and pieces all add up. So, off I went, logging my language learning life.

But what secrets did Polylogger have to reveal?

Polylogger : exposing your true habits

By far, its most scandalous exposé for me is the mismatch between what I think I focus on, and what I actually do spend most of my time on. Let’s call it delusion-busting, since I certainly had a very different idea about what I was getting up to. In my mind, I split my main language learning time equally between Greek and Polish. They’re my current active learning projects right now, and I’ve been having at least one iTalki lesson in both every week, as well as fitting in independent activities. I’d actually set Polish as my default language, assuming it was the one I was prioritising most, even attending extra group classes with my tutor.

The thing is, the Polylogger stats do not lie. Shockingly, I’ve actually been spending hours more on Greek. Pretty much twice as many, in fact. How could I not know that?

After analysing the diary stats, the reason jumped out (and was pretty easy to guess in any case). It’s back to that logging every little thing strategy. The numbers show that I naturally fall to Greek when I do my little daily pass-the-time activities like Anki, Duolingo and Glossika. In the long run, that was a massive added value for Greek, and none for Polish. Polish was certainly no poor cousin, and I was working in a couple of major sessions a week – just not the cascade of extras that Greek enjoyed.

No wonder I’ve been finding Greek easier and easier while my Polish level continues to edge along so gradually. Thanks to Polylogger, I can start to rethink my strategy and redress that bias.

Polylogger has been a revelation in itself, providing extra focus and deeper insights into my learning. Whether you’re new to the tool too, or a seasoned user, feel free to add newbie @richwestsoley to your circle!

A teddy sitting on a sofa with headphones on. Possibly listening to Audible. Image by MediaLab on FreeImages.com.

An Audible Plus Language Learning Stash

I had a nice surprise this week, although it took me a while to finally notice it. Audible subscribers have access to a whole load of material for free as part of the Audible Plus catalogue. And that includes a nice little stash of language learning resources!

I’ve sung the praises of Audible as a study buddy before, and not just for language learning. Audiobooks really helped me to smash an Old Norse literature assignment last term.

There’s naturally plenty of language learning proper on there, too. In fact, the bulk of the free-access Audible Plus material comes from the team at Innovative Language Learning, which you may well know from top-charting podcasts like GermanPod101. They were amongst the first really big language learning podcasts, and for that they’ll always have a special place in our hearts!

I Got The (Word) Power!

The highlight of their selection has to be the Word Power series, including titles in Chinese, Spanish and Russian, amongst others. The Word Power resources are like speaking frequency dictionaries, presenting common words in isolation, then in a phrase for context. While not the most interactive resources, they can form the basis of your own active techniques, including DIY mass sentence drilling. They’re also chunked into short-ish chapters, so you can spend a few, targeted minutes a day with them very easily.

Another huge plus point is that most of these series are available in a lovely, wide range of languages. I found materials in all the likely mainstream culprits like French, German and Spanish. But there is also a pleasing cache of lesser-spotted offerings like Greek, Hindi and Persian.

Other Audible Goodies

Of course, it’s only a fraction of Audible’s catalogue that is open for free access. The plus selection doesn’t include, for example, premium titles like Olly Richards’ brilliant easy readers series. On the other hand, that’s what subscribers’ monthly credits are for. I’ve very happily used a couple of mine on those (namely, Icelandic and Norwegian!).

Saying that, there are lots of other free titles, which, if not strictly language learning resources, are only a side-step away. This goes particularly for those with an interest in the countries and cultures of their target languages. Returning to Iceland, for example, Jackson Crawford’s Saga of the Volsungs – translated and narrated by the internet’s favourite silver-tongued Old Norse expert – caught my eye.

In short, it’s definitely worth checking out what’s available on Audible Plus. Even though a lot of premium content will still cost you credits or cash, there’s a treasure of freebies waiting to be trawled through.

Having a rest doesn't mean stopping your language learning entirely. Image by Aurimas Gudas, FreeImages.com

Ticking Over : A Language Skeleton Plan for Rest Times

I’ve had a rare decompression week – seven days when I cleared my calendar, took my foot off the pedal and simply chilled. Work, language lessons, everything. It’s a good habit to build in every once in a while, and for sure, many of us don’t do it enough.

But if you’re like me, doing nothing is never really an option.

For a start, languages are a form of recreation for polyglot hopefuls; we study because we enjoy them. Although there’s no denying that they take some energy, it’s a very positive kind of effort. That said, it’s vital to build in some downtime now and again. So, in order to strike a happy medium, I like to have a skeleton routine ready. Quite simply, that is just a set of daily tactics that keeps the engine ticking over while the rest of life is idling down.

Language Essentials

For me, the skeleton language plan consists mainly of those digital habits bound up in streaks. Duolingo, Anki, Glossika – that’s my core trio. They all work well as basic background tasks because, first and foremost, they aren’t particularly time-hungry. They can fit around walks, shopping trips and family visits. They’re especially easy to tick off if you are an eat-the-frog type of person!

But apps like this are also handy skeleton pals in other ways. In particular, you can adjust your use of them to switch into maintenance mode, rather than active learning. With Duo, that takes the shape of revising old topics for a week rather than tackling new ones. With Anki, I dial down the new-words-per-day setting. And with Glossika, I focus on existing repetitions, rather than new phrases.

All in all it’s a nice recipe for catching my breath while not slipping backwards.

How do you power down but keep going? What are your language learning ‘must-do’ tick-boxes? Or do you find it better to completely switch off when taking a break?

Language and music - the Eurovision 2021 stage. Photo by EBU / STIJN SMULDERS.

Language and Music : A Double Whammy Treat This Week

It’s an exciting week ahead for lovers of language and music. Firstly…

It’s Eurovision Week!

As you’ll know, my polyglot passions and love for the content are tightly intertwined, so Eurovision is a very special treat once a year. Even more so this year, since the 2020 event was cancelled due to the worsening Covid-19 situation. There will be a lot to celebrate in Rotterdam on Saturday the 22nd.

Since the free language rule was reintroduced in 1999, however, the non-English entries have dwindled. Saying that, there are still rich pickings for those eager for songs in other tongues. Italy and France are currently the top favourites to win – and both sung in the countries’ native languages. Malta, while mainly sung in English, is a vehicle for a very handy colloquial French phrase, “je me casse” (I’m outta here). And, admirably, Denmark has elected to sing in Danish this year, and what a catchy little synth bop it is, too. It has been quite a while since we last heard Danish sung at the contest!

I still keep my hand in writing about the contest, and you can follow my regular bookies’ roundup articles at esctoday.com. Have to keep on top of those odds!

The Polyglot Gathering (Online)

Appropriately, Eurovision week coincides with another jamboree of coming together in language and culture: the Polyglot Gathering. It’ll be my first, although I got great vibes from my inaugural Polyglot Conference in Slovenia too, and expect the level of linguistic revelry and ribaldry to be at least as high.

Due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, it will be quite a different gathering this year. Originally slated to take place in Teresin, Poland, it would have been the perfect opportunity to practise my Polish. Fortunately, the organisers have planned in a couple of online practice rooms for Polish learners, so I’ll still get my polski fix (as well as all the rest!).

It’s still not too late to register at the official site if it takes your fancy. I hope to see many of you there!

In Other Language News…

Oh – and bookshops are open to walk around and browse again where I am. It has been too long, friends. Absolute heaven. I hope you’ve experienced a bit of a return to the ‘good old days’ where you are, too. Long may things continue to improve!

Three books for learning Scottish Gaelic

From My Bookshelf : Gaelic Books You Might Have Missed

I’m an absolute hound for language learning books. Not least when I have a new project – the excitement of a new language is the perfect catalyst for a bookshop raid. And since starting Gaelic a couple of years ago, my little reference library has blossomed.

But it’s not the Teach Yourself and Colloquial course books that spark the real excitement (however wonderful they are, too). Rather, it’s the little gems that are a bit harder to find, the titles you only come across in either really well-stocked shops, or little specialist ones. Often they hail from much smaller publishing houses, too, so have an individuality and authentic voice all of their own.

Here are three of my favourite ‘little finds’ from my Gaelic bookshelf!

A Gaelic Alphabet (George McLennon)

When I started Gaelic, I was – like many – bamboozled by the spelling. With the benefit of a good teacher and lots of hindsight, that system seems completely logical now – perhaps much more so than its quirky English counterpart! But back at the beginning, all that talk of broad and slender consonants, and caol ri caol ‘s leathann ri leathann was utterly alien.

I came across this book long after it had finally clicked, but I’d have loved to find it at the start. McLennon systematically works through all the letters of the Gaelic alphabet, giving copious examples of how words containing them sound. There are lots of nods to the Gaelic world too, making it a true treasure if you’re just starting out on your journey.

Gaelic Verbs Systemised and Simplified (Colin Mark)

I must admit, I have a thing for verbs. When starting a new language, I always go straight for them, eager to find out how to express past, present and future. Maybe it’s the storyteller in me.

Gaelic verbs, like the spelling, might seem to operate in quite an unfamiliar way for the new learner, especially those coming from SVO languages like French, German or Spanish. This book breaks it all down, explaining the quirks from dependent forms to verbal nouns. It gave me the knowledge and confidence to create Scottish Verb Blitz, an app that I still practise with today.

Gràmar na Gàidhlig (Michel Byrne)

I’ve flagged the excellent Gràmar na Gàidhlig before in my pick of post-Duolingo resources, but it bears mentioning again as a golden Gaelic pick. Translated for English-speaking learners from a highly successful purely Gaelic version, it’s a clear and accessible reference and learning guide if you like exploring the nuts and bolts.

It is getting harder to source now, although I’ve seen copies here and there in the second-hand bookshops of Edinburgh, and you can also still buy it direct from the publisher here.

Honourable Mentions

This trio is perhaps at the forefront of my mind right now, as I’ve found myself using them a bit more often lately. But there are so many other perhaps lesser-known Gaelic resources out there, some still in print, others available second-hand.  I can’t leave out Gaelic without Groans, for instance, which is simply from a whole other world, and a cute and quirky joy to read. Then there’s An leabhar mòr (the great book), a more recent compendium of illustrated verse in the language. 

It’s a good sign of continued, thriving interest in learning the language, of course – as well as testimony to the treasure of books, large and small. If you give them a go, I hope you love these titles as much as I do.