Updated: Mar 13
Did you know Irish is the national and first official language of Ireland? While English is the country’s other official (and often dominate) language, 39.8% of Ireland’s population claims to speak Irish. That’s nearly 1.8 million people, most of whom live in the most beautiful parts of the country (Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, and Cork). Outside of Ireland, there are roughly 20,500 speakers in the United States, and a small minority of speakers in England, Wales, and Australia.
Why Learn Irish?
Before we get into how to learn Irish, let’s discuss why you may want to learn it. Unlike world languages such as English, Spanish, French, or Chinese, Irish has few speakers. Unless you live in certain parts of Ireland, you likely never encounter the language. So, why learn it?
The decision to learn Irish is typically due to love—be that a love of Irish culture or an interest in connecting with your heritage. However, here are four other reasons you may not have considered.
1. Irish is an official language of the European Union. If you live and/or work in an EU country, adding Irish language skills to your CV may boost your job prospects.
2. It’s beautiful, lyrical, and opens up the world of Celtic languages. Just have a listen here.
3. You want to learn an ancient language that is still spoken. (Yes, Irish is older than English.)
4. You will help preserve a small, endangered language. As the number of Irish speakers continues to fall, learning it is more important than ever.
Whatever your reasons, don’t let the limited usefulness of the Irish language deter you from learning. Even basic Irish can greatly enhance your trip to the country and increase your appreciation for Irish literature, music, and culture overall.
How to Learn Irish for Free Online
Given the small number of speakers, you won’t find as many resources for learning Irish. Yet it’s not impossible to learn at least basic conversation or even achieve fluency, if you’re willing to do some research. Here are a few options to help you get started.
The One Minute Irish podcast covers the basics in short (just over a minute long) lessons. It won’t get you fluent, but will teach you enough to show off during your trip to Ireland.
In case you haven’t heard, Duolingo is a free app that helps you learn a language with game-like lessons. It’s great for beginners and intermediate learners. But if you want to get fluent in Irish, I recommend using it in addition to another language course.
Bitesize Irish (Free email course; Membership starts are $35 per month)
Bitesize Irish offers online language courses for learners at various levels. If you’re an absolute beginner, the free email course will teach you the basics. If you know a little Irish already or are curious about their paid courses, sign up for the free Cúrsaí Taster instead.
Future Learn (Free online courses; $44 for a certificate of completion for each)
Future Learn is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform based in the UK. You can enroll in a four-week Irish 101 course through Dublin City University, which offers a introduction to the Irish language and culture. If you want to keep learning, courses go all the way up to Irish 201.
Transparent Language (Free trial; Free subscription through some public libraries)
Transparent Language is a language learning program used by U.S. government personnel, public libraries, and universities. The interface isn't as slick as other websites, but you'll definitely learn Irish. You may be able to create a free account through you local library. If not, you can sign up for a free 14-day trial.
Rosetta Stone (Free trial)
Again, you’ve likely heard of Rosetta Stone. The language learning program focuses on immersion to help you reach fluency. You can start with a free trial before you decide if it’s the right Irish language learning method for you.
Bain sult as an bhfoghlaim!