June 2, 2013 | Irish

From Flashcard Exchange to Focló to Forvo!

Why do all these websites begin with an "f"?

I was going to return to my grammar books today, but I have a study system going now, and I want to see how it plays out. Here are the steps:

1. Go to and pick a set of Irish flashcards that look promising. A Sample Irish Flashcard Reading 'Ar Bith' A Sample Irish Flashcard Reading ‘Ar Bith’

Criteria for picking them are things like the number of cards in the set (I try to find sets with at least 40 cards) and its title (for example, I just don’t think “Irish Land Law - Registration of Title” is quite what I’m looking for). There are currently 544 sets of Irish flashcards (!) that have been posted by different people around the world, so I have plenty to choose from.

Once I pick a set, then I start going through the cards. I am getting better at using keystrokes to navigate the site, so I don’t have to mouseclick as much, thus making things easier on my right forearm and hand. I can move around easily just using the arrow keys on the bottom right of the keyboard. Up and down arrows flip the cards, right and left arrows move me between cards.

2. When I get to a word I don’t know how to pronounce (which happens frequently), I go to the Focló website.

Focló for English-to-Irish Help

Focló for English-to-Irish Help

As I have mentioned previously, this is an English-to-Irish dictionary that, while still in progress and under construction, contains a great deal of valuable information. There I type in the English translation and hope that the dictionary will cough up the Irish equivalent.

Like for ar bith in the flashcard shown above, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it, so I typed in the English translation “any” at Focló and got what you see in the next image below.

When the dictionary can produce the Irish translation, which is often, it generally has pronunciations as well, for the three main Irish dialects. I click a little M for “Munster,” because that is the dialect I am focusing on, and listen to the pronunciation. The Munster dialect is spoken in the south of Ireland.

Sometimes I am amazed by the Munster pronunciation and click on one of the others to compare. The little C stands for the Connacht dialect, which is spoken in the west of Ireland.

The little U stands for the Ulster dialect, spoken in the north of Ireland—for example, in Donegal and Belfast.

Focló Translations and Pronunciations for 'Any'

Focló Translations and Pronunciations for ‘Any’

Sometimes the word just isn’t in Focló yet. When I looked up “sun” the other day, for instance, I couldn’t find it. But as you can see from the image at left, when the information is there, it is really there. Those little red C M U letters are where I can hear the audio for the different dialects. In addition, the website often offers up numerous examples of usage, as in this case of “any.” 

For many words, there are multiple pronunciations offered up for multiple related words and phrases. If I see a bunch of pronunciations available, I quiz myself on each before I go back to my flashcards, even if they are not the original word or phrase I was searching for.

My Irish pronunciation continues to be lame. I am making lots of mistakes. That’s why this is so helpful. I am getting really into it!

3. If the word I am looking for is not in Focló, though, then I move on to the third step, which is to go to Forvo, where I search for the word in Irish. It is helpful for me to have to type it in in Irish. That way I reinforce the spelling. My Irish spelling is not good.

Typing in Irish words has become significantly easier since I buckled down last week and finally made a concerted effort to memorize the Mac keystrokes for the acute accent, which is used frequently in Irish. Those are the accents that slant upwards towards the right, as in é or á.

Forvo Information on 'Ar Bith,' or 'Any'

Forvo Information on ‘Ar Bith,’ or ‘Any’

Ridiculous as it may sound, I have often throughout this project resorted to using the tedious edit/special characters menu option on my browser. Incredibly tedious. I just couldn’t seem to remember the keystrokes for different diacritical marks. But anyway, now at least I know that one accent mark. For you Mac-using, accent-needing types, hold down the Option key, press e, release both, and then type the letter you want.

Easier than pie!

The whole three-step process is a little slow, but out of it I get a review of Irish vocabulary, Irish pronunciation, and Irish spelling. It’s great! And truly, just what I need right now.

I think for other languages whose pronunciation is initially unintuitive, a similar combination of resources could be similarly productive. Finding them can be hard, but the older the Internet gets, the more such things are becoming available to resourceful and persistent seekers of language skills.

It is my intention, one of these days, to put together a full list of keystrokes for diacritics and foreign characters. It would at the very least benefit me, but perhaps also someone else along the way.

Comments (2)

Diane • Posted on Mon, June 03, 2013 - 6:58 am EST

There may be a utility available that you can install to help with Irish diacritics.  The one for Welsh that I use is called To Bach (‘little roof,’ the literal translation of the Welsh term for the circumflex!).  It’s a little clunky in combination with US keyboards, but better than nothing for producing characters that are rare in other languages, like ŵ. 

On a completely other note:  Irish is the first minority language of your project, and the only endangered language, right?  I hope you’ll get a chance to talk to someone about the issues and complexities and emotional baggage that raises.  Welsh is ‘bigger’ and more secure in its native country than Irish, and yet there’s continual ongoing discussion about its status and use and teaching.  Learning about these issues is inherent in learning the language.

Many of the issues have nothing to do with ‘official’ status, but personal choices.  Examples:
- What do you do in a public meeting where 19 people speak Welsh fluently and 1 person doesn’t?  In a pub chat among friends where it’s 3 speakers and one non-speaker?
- What language do kids speak on the playground with each other?
- Who chooses to try to learn the language, and who doesn’t?  What role does language ability play in getting a good job?  How good are the teaching methods for people who do want to learn the language, and do people come away from language study feeling more competent . . . or bitter / confused / depressed?
- How comfortable are native speakers with learners? 
- What do people do to identify others who speak Irish?  When an Irish speaker walks up to the cash register in a shop, in what language are the first words from his mouth?  What about the first words from the cashier’s mouth?  Do the answers vary by where you are, and exactly how?  What are the emotional and practical considerations at play? 

I could go on and on.  Every bullet point there is guaranteed to set off hours of discussion among Welsh speakers and learners, and I bet a lot of them have resonance with Irish speakers and learners, too.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, June 06, 2013 - 11:14 am EST

Thank you for the utility tip. I will look.

Yes, you are correct about the Irish. Totally different situation for the language learner. One benefit of its status is that Irish speakers are INCREDIBLY helpful about questions from those of us who are trying to acquire skills.

I am exploring many of the questions you list above (all of yours good ones, by the way!) and will try to comment on at least some of them in coming days. The Irish Language Forum has been an interesting source of information on such issues.

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