My experience with the Irish language is pretty typical. I never particularly liked it in school, never was particularly interested in it, never got particularly good at it, regretted it later in life. Sound familiar? This is the experience of most Irish people. If that's you, you're the target audience for this piece. (If you belong to the other 99% of humanity, you won't get much out of this article.)

What you need to realise is that it's not too late. Sure didn't you complain that you never learned anything in school? Now that you're out you can start learning!

It's too hard, says you? Let's size up exactly how hard it is to learn Irish.

How hard is it to learn vocabulary?

About 2,000 words is enough for boring, low-flying, functional speaking; beyond that you're into literary realms, nuance, and jargon. There are about 20,000 words in Dineen's delightful dictionary.

Using spaced repetition software called Anki (we'll get into that below), anyone can learn 25-30 items a day with barely any effort. That's 10,000 a year. So in a year, you'll be able to say almost everything, and in two years you'll be distinguishing between bliteog for a stylish young lady, and sceiḋreog for a flighty girl.

The situation is even better than that, because you're not starting from zero; you probably already know that 'bag' in Irish is mála or that milk is bainne, and a huge percentage of the 20,000 words in Dineen's are the same as in English. Like if I ask you to guess the Irish for 'oboe', you could probably guess óbó.

Conclusion: in a year or two, you can learn all the vocabulary there is to know. This requires little effort, but does require consistency.

How hard is it to learn grammar?

If you master about 40 grammatical rules, you'll be saying the right thing most of the time. That's not too hard, is it? You could easily master 40 rules in three months, couldn't you?

Use effective methods but don't obsess over method

The mindset of trying to 'optimise' your learning process is a trap. It wastes more time than it saves. Yes, some methods are better than others, and we'll get into those below, but I've tried everything and found almost nothing better than just studying grammar and vocabulary, reading texts, having conversations. There's no magic shortcut, though it's understandable why a marketer might tell you otherwise. (There's plenty of resources to learn for free, by the way. Sure don't you pay for them on tax day?)

A technique as simple and old as reading a book of grammar is fine. I recommend 'Teach Yourself Irish Grammar'.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other for a year or two and you'll arrive.

Another look at how hard it is to learn

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (wikipedia) divides language abilities into six levels. Want to know which level you're at? Click here and click on the audio recordings. What ones can you understand?

The estimates on the TEG website say it'll take 1500 hours to get from zero to C2 (C2 pretty much means speaking perfectly). The typical adult from Ireland will be starting not from zero but from A2, B1, or B2, so you've only 900-1300 hours. Corroborating that with a few more sources, says the very hardest languages take 2200 hours to learn, says that estimates "range from 900 to 4,400 hours". Cambridge English talks about 1200 hours to C2. comes to similar conclusions.

What works and what doesn't

Anki is a fabulous bit of software. It works on Android, iPhone, Macbook, Windows, Linux, and on the web.

I found Duolingo to be no use at all at all. It doesn't grade you into where you want to be. It makes you memorise cards with little application to reality.

Language basically does four things, doesn't it? There's written input and output, spoken input and output. There's opportunities galore to practice each of these for free.

1. Nós is pretty easy. is slightly more advanced. Chew through 'em with a focloir. 2. An Vicipéad 3. Ros na Rún, TG4 documentaries 4. This might be tricky. Pop-ups (but Covid lmao)


There is one method that works better than anything else, that I learned to use Haitian Creole pretty damn well. But it's deceptively simple, and won't even sound like a method. It's this: be curious. When you wake up, ask yourself, "How do I say, 'I woke up' in Irish?" When you brush your teeth, how do you express that in Irish? When you read something, hear about a news story, watch a TV show, think a thought, try to translate it into Irish. When you come across something you don't know, look it up, and stick it in Anki. The magic of this method is that you find the exact thing you don't know, and target that. Locate ten thousand things you don't know (which is 25-30 per day for a year), and flip 'em into things you do know, and you're done, you can speak the language.

Verbs aren't really that hard. There's "ann-fidh" verbs and "íonn-óidh" verbs. Eleven of the "ann-fidh" verbs are a bit quare. Firinsceanach and baninscenah mnemonics