Recommended Scottish Gaelic
Instructional Books, Videos,
Audiotapes and Dictionaries
Seo an liosta againn air a' chuspair de (here's our list on
the subject of) recommended books and tapes for learning
Scottish Gaelic. If you go to the link at the bottom of the page,
Mail Order, you'll find a list of links to recommended
mail order companies who
are likely to carry these resources, and with whom you might reliably
do business. All prices are in US$.
Folks often ask what's the best book or the best tape
to acquire for the learning of Scottish Gaelic. That's a hard
question to answer definitively, because each of
the items below has
strengths and weaknesses.
Usually, the SG learner who must work
without benefit of a teacher (which describes most of us) is going to
want to own at least two or more of these items. They compliment
each other, and one's learning will be enhanced by exploring the
different approaches and topics covered in the various courses. Some
are more heavily weighted in the grammar department, and some go
conversational Gaelic. My initial recommendation would be for the
beginner in the US first to purchase the texts most easily available
over-the-counter in the US: TEACH YOURSELF GAELIC (Robertson
and Taylor -- with the audiotapes!) and Renton and MacDonald's
SCOTTISH GAELIC-ENGLISH/ENGLISH-SCOTTISH GAELIC
DICTIONARY. They're both very reasonably priced and will get you
up and running. As to where to go from there -- read on!
Following the book reviews below are some
suggested books for starting a beginner's library.
SPEAKING OUR LANGUAGE is a massive, made-for-television
language-learning series consisting of 72
twenty-five-minute videotaped shows, supporting audiotapes and
published by Canan, the publishing arm of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the
Scottish Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Divided into Series 1
through 4, consisting of 18 twenty-five-minute shows
per series, the first
half of the series -- lessons 1 through 36 -- are currently
available in North American video format. The value of seeing
Scottish Gaelic being spoken by live people just cannot be
stressed enough. Priced at between $35.00 and $49.00 for each
two-tape, nine-episode set,
and worth every penny. The supporting audio tapes,
numbering two-or-three 90-minute tapes per series, covering the same
material as in the videos, but more compactly, are designed to be
usable without the books or videos. They are priced around $35.00 per
The great value in SOL as an approach to the language is that
gets to see as well as hear the words spoken as they would
appear and sound
in real life. The series consists primarily of dramatized
scenes, with extensive opportunity to hear
and observe Gaelic being used in real-life
situations. And the sheer largeness of the
course allows for taking
your time in learning, and for absorbing a wide
variety of Gaelic idioms.
SOL can be expensive if you purchase several of the videos.
The video lessons beyond lesson 36 are in the European
(PAL) video format, and will have to be re-recorded (converted)
into the North American video format (NTSC), which, though
doable by your local photo shop,
can add substantially to the overall cost. An alternative to
if a group of people want to purchase lessons 37-up, they can each buy
the video, then pool their funds to convert one copy of the tape(s),
from which all
members of the group can each make a copy for themselves.
Cànan does not officially approve of this approach, but as long as
receiving payment for each original tape that is acquired by any group
member, this way is ethically clean.
Both Cànan, the publisher, and the Gaelic Books Club, a major mail-order
outlet, offer bargain deals for part or all of Series One's
learning materials. These prices can be confirmed by accessing Cànan's web
site, or by e-mailing the GBC, both of which may be done from our
Mail Order web site (see next paragraph).
The only knock on SOL is that it is light in the grammar department
-- but that shortcoming is well-compensated for by the superior help
you receive in learning everyday spoken Scottish Gaelic. The
Scottish Gaelic Learners Association Gaelic Classes
use both the videos and the books as a substantial part of the
materials are available from a number of mail-order and web site
sources, including from Cànan, whose mail order and web
site addresses may be found on our
Mail Order page.
The complete book and tape set of TEACH
YOURSELF GAELIC, by Robertson and Taylor (NTC Pub.). An
unbeatable value at $26.00. Rather disorganized, but full of useful
stuff. It tries to cram too much material into its 300+ pages, and
consequently, it's hard for the new learner, working solo, to get beyond
the early lessons without becoming overwhelmed. But as a
reference book --
the kind you like to browse through to pick
up random information and useful phrases -- it's excellent. And some
learners swear by it for use in a class setting, though I've found
it a little ambitious to use in a beginning-level class. Available
over-the-counter in the USA -- Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com carry it.
Also easily special-ordered through your local bookstore.
Caution -- don't buy it without the tapes!
BUN-CHURSA GAIDHLIG, by Bill
Blacklaw (Glasgow University) Simple, clear approach to grammar.
An underrated and excellent first grammar text for the beginner..
Around $17.00. Excellent for the learner with little knowledge
of any sort of grammar in general. This is the class grammar text
in use in the
Gaelic classes offered through the Scottish Gaelic
Learners Association. Available by mail order.
CHOMHRADH (GAELIC THROUGH CONVERSATION), Books One,
Two, and Three. Conversational Gaelic course. Best pronunciation
tapes available. Catriona Parsons has a lovely speaking voice, and is
her manner is clear and precise. Virtually every word in the book is also recorded on
the three lengthy audiotapes that accompany each book. Especially helpful
to isolated learners who have no access whatever to someone who can teach
them how to pronounce Gaelic. The down-side is that few people in the
Gaelic-speaking areas (the Gaidhealtachd) of Scotland will speak so slowly
and precisely in everyday conversation as does Parsons on the tapes
you'll learn how to pronounce Gaelic, but not how it actually sounds
when someone is speaking it to you, at a normal rate of speech.
SPEAKING OUR LANGUAGE will be of the most help.
The series is shy on grammar, but when augmented by
BUN-CHURSA GAIDHLIG it's a worthy addition to your library. Available by mail
order from the Nova Scotia Gaelic College
(see our Mail Order site). The price for each of the
three book-and-tape sets can range
from $30-$45.00. Each set contains one book, and three 90 minute tapes.
EVERYDAY GAELIC by Morag MacNeill (Gairm
Pubs.) A phrasebook rather than an instructional book. It contains a
categorical listing of useful Gaelic phrases, indexed by topic, i.e.
shopping, writing, traveling, etc. Fun to browse through. Not a coursebook.
There are no explanations, beyond a cursory grammar section near the front
of the book -- it resembles the type of book you'd buy for a trip abroad,
to help you to be able to communicate with the locals. Phonetic
pronunciations are included. Around $23.00 Available by mail-order.
SCOTTISH GAELIC IN THREE MONTHS by Roibeard O Maolalaigh
(Hugo Pub.) Another useful book and tape set. Covers some important
points of grammar that the others miss. If your inclination is towards grammar,
this book is especially helpful. The UK version sells for around $15.00 --
with the two
accompanying tapes, $39.00. A US version published by DK publishing, selling for
$15.00 and $25.00 in its respective formats,
has gone in and reportedly out of print within a year
of its initial publishing in the US -- one hopes that
those issues will be sorted out soon so that the
set will be available regularly in the US.
DEALBH IS FACAL (PICTURE AND
WORD), By Heather Amery and Iain MacDhòmhnaill (Acair Pubs.). A
delightful,large format children's book. Each page is themed by
locale, activity or subject, and is full of cute pictures with
accompanying names in Gàidhlig. Approximately 1000 words covered.
Excellent vocabulary builder -- a great resource. Designed for children,
but adults will love it. Around $18.00 by
COTHROM IONNSACHAIDH by Ronald Black
(University of Edinburgh). The final word in grammar-based, instructional
texts. An excellent, comprehensive, surprisingly user-friendly college
textbook. Designed to be the coursebook for the first-year Gaelic classes
held at the University of Edinburgh. Packed with tons of useful info. The
serious Gaìdhlig learner will
find it absolutely indispensable. Depending on whom you acquire it from,
the price for the book can range from 20 dollars to nearly 40 dollars.
Worth it, an any price. There is a set of four audiotapes available, for
around 15-20 dollars extra, but they are not as useful as the tapes in
some of the above courses. They consist primarily of recitations
of word lists. Available by mail order.
STARTING A BEGINNERS LIBRARY:
To get your Gaelic learners library started, the first thing to do is to go
out to your local book store and pick up (or special order) a copy of
Teach Yourself Gaelic, with tapes. It's not perfect, but you'll be
glad you have it, later, if not sooner, and it'll give you a flavor
look and sound of Gaelic while you're waiting for your mail orders to
My next recommendation is to get yourself into the SOL series as soon as
you can, especially if you are working on your own. You can acquire SOL
lessons 1-9 on videotape in North American format for around $35.00 by mail
order (Siol Cultural Enterprises in Nova Scotia is a good source. The supporting SOL audiotapes will also be a great help, but
they're not essential at this point. Round that off with a copy of
BUN-CHURSA GAIDHLIG for answering your questions on elementary
grammar, and you'll be in good shape to get started.
When you are feeling more confident, in addition to
hopefully building your
SOL library (finances allowing), you will eventually want to acquire
As I mentioned above, the key to getting a solid grasp of Gaelic while
working on your own is to draw from a variety of texts -- they each have
much to give, and each have gaps. The more you investigate and absorb, the
more you'll benefit.
The term "Recreational Reading" is perhaps wishful thinking for the
newcomer to any language, and Gaelic is certainly no exception.
work than play in the early going, reading Gaelic will
obviously present a struggle, but also be of great benefit to the new
learner. The following are a few texts that work well for reading
especially after the learner has had a little while to accustom
him-or-herself to the language.
FEALLA-DHA NO TRI (A JOKE OR TWO [OR THREE]) by Dòmhnall
Greumach (Leabhraichean Beaga, Pub.) A silly joke book, but good practice
for the beginner with a little Gaelic already under his-or-her belt. Some
of the jokes are clever; most are real groaners.
Those of us who grew
up reading the joke and riddle books of Bennett Cerf will recognize
the same tone in this book. The jokes are short, and in idiomatic but not
impenetrable Gaelic, which makes this a good practice book for those
who already have a little Gaelic. Around $4.00.
Available by mail order.
BIOBALL NA CLOINNE (CHILDREN'S BIBLE) by Pat Alexander
NicSuain (Acair, Pub.) Whether you've been raised with the Bible
or not, it's such a
familiar document to many people, that reading a story version
of it in
simple Gaelic is easier to approach than would be many another text.
price is right, and the opportunity to read side-by-side with
Bible gives the reader a head start. You'll want to have a dictionary by
your side, but the Gaelic is not dense, and there are lots of pictures. Around $20.00. Available by mail order.
SCOTTISH GAELIC-ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Renton and MacDonald
(Hippocrene Books). A must for beginners, and the only other Scottish
Gaelic book besides TYG that you can find in
your local bookstore in the USA. Around $9.00.
The most commonly available beginner's dictionary. Barnes and Noble carries
it, as do many smaller bookstores . Easily special-ordered through your
local bookstore. Also available by mail order from Scotland
under its original title, ABAIR!
NEW ENGLISH-GAELIC DICTIONARY
by Derick S. Thomson (Gairm Pubs.)
THE MODERN GAELIC-ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Robert C. Owen (Gairm
Pubs.). These two texts, though created separately over 10 years
apart, have been recently reformatted to serve as two volumes
of the same text. Priced under $20.00 each, they are highly
recommended for the learner who desires a dictionary a little more
sophisticated than Renton and MacDonald's. Both are available by
text has an excellent explanation of how Gaelic verbs work appendixed at
the end of the book -- worth the price just for that alone.
DWELLY'S GAELIC-ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Edward Dwelly (Gairm
Pubs.; and Birlinn Pubs.), a massive work, considered the final word in
Gaelic-English dictionaries. For the serious student of
Gaelic (as well as the more committed part-time learner),
Dwelly's is an eventual must-buy. Available by mail-order -- anywhere in
price from $30.00 to $50.00 paperbound.
AN STOR-DATA BRIATHRACHAIS GAIDHLIG (THE GAELIC TERMINOLOGY
DATABASE) (Published by Clò Ostaig) Another massive work, sponsored by
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, Stòr-Data is a
recently prepared 90,000-word wordlist, organized in book-form like a
dictionary. It contains terms for scientific, industrial, medical,
political and other professional disciplines, as well as most of the words
a standard dictionary would carry. As well as quite a few you won't find
in a regular dictionary. Though it doesn't give the detail in its
definitions that a dictionary would give, its sheer variety of entries make
it a worthy companion to Dwelly's and another must-buy for the serious
learner of Gaelic. Available by mail-order -- around $40.00 paperbound.
GAELIC-ENGLISH/ENGLISH-GAELIC DICTIONARY by
(Hippocrene Books). A fun read. Really more a word-list
than a dictionary, it's especially enjoyable for just browsing
through and finding new words to play with.
It shouldn't be a first choice for dictionary, despite its
petite size, inexpensive price ($12.95), and impressive collection
of terms, because it gives only the bare necessary
information on each headword -- just gender and definition. Renton and MacDonald's
dictionary is much more comprehensive, but has far fewer
headwords. Get this one when you need to find a word quickly,
but need little in the way of background info. Like
Teach Yourself Gaelic, it's great for browsing.
Available domestically in the U.S. over the counter, online, or by special
ACQUIRING THE RIGHT DICTIONARY
Acquiring Gaelic dictionaries can operate
pretty much on a
timetable. You may
start out with Renton & MacDonald, an excellent beginners dictionary.
When you feel the need for a more
flexible dictionary, purchase as a pair the Owen Gaelic-English and
English-Gaelic. And finally, when you're ready for a truly comprehensive
dictionary, pick up Dwelly's and Stòr-data.
(And have someone put Buchanan in your Christmas stocking) --