This page is a work in progress. Please feel free to suggest resources that have worked for you in the comments.
I first started studying Breton in 2010 primarily because I was researching folk music in Brittany and I thought it would be useful.
It’s a beautiful language that is a part of the Celtic language family that finds its home in the Northwest Peninsula of France. Finding resources for learning the language (especially for non-French speakers) has been somewhat more difficult than it has been for some of the more “popular” languages such as French, Mandarin, Italian and German, so I’ve assembled this guide to share some of the books and language learning materials I have used and found to be effective.
The Breton Language
The Breton language, brezhoneg, is an Insular Celtic language that was brought to France by migrating Britons during the early Middle Ages. It is most closely related to Cornish and more distantly to Welsh.
It is considered an ‘endangered language’ by UNESCO due to it’s dwindling numbers (the French institutions did a lot to suppress its use throughout history). But the growing popularity of bilingual schools and revival efforts, the numbers are starting to creep back up.
There are four main dialects of Breton: Gwenedeg, Kerneveg, Leoneg, and finally, Tregerieg. There are approximately 200,000 native speakers around the world, but few of them are monolingual (if any).
So why would you want to learn Breton? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I believe don’t that choosing languages for “practical” reasons is as effective for learning as choosing a language because you want to learn it. I suggest the same for you. For me, Breton was a language I desired to learn to give my academic studies a boost and because I had fallen in love with Breton culture. That alone gave me plenty of motivation to work at it. Plus, I really enjoyed attending events where it was spoken.
Hear the Breton Language
So, let’s look at a few resources you can use to help learn Breton.
How to Decide Which Breton Language Resources to Pick
Language learning texts and resources can get real expensive real quick. So rather than going at it randomly or by trial and error (which you’ll probably have to do some of anyway), I’d like to make a suggestion first.
The ability to use and understand a language is based upon four basic abilities: reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension. Depending on what your goals are, all four may not be necessary.
Let’s say, for example, you hope to take a trip to Brest in six months. What language skills will you need? Basic communication and comprehension and basic reading (street signs, etc). You probably won’t ever have to write in the language. So, in this case, you might focus on developing your speaking and listening skills. If this sounds like you, I suggest checking out the audio or audio/text resources and the online resources below.
On the other hand, maybe your goal is to read Breton literature (there is a lot of poetry available as well as the Asterix comics). In that case, learning to speak and understand the spoken language aren’t necessary and you can dedicate your energy to text. If this describes you, I suggest checking out the text and online resources below.
Ideally, you should probably develop some skill in each area, but the areas you focus on need to align with your goals regarding the language and how you plan to use it. I highly suggest picking resources based on this alone. Don’t get distracted with the temptation of shiny, new books (like me) and only buy materials you think you’ll actually use. You’ll save yourself a headache and a lot of money. Money that you can put aside for a trip to Brittany!
A Few Things To Consider Before Taking on Any Language
- What is your motivation behind learning Breton? Take a moment to write down your language learning goals. It increases the odds of you achieving them. You can also join us as part of our Clear the List goal setting linkup!
- How many hours a day are you willing to study a language? Set realistic expectations for your progress.
- How do you plan on studying Breton? Are the methods that work for you available?
- You should setup up the Breton language keyboard on both your computer and your phone. It will help you with spelling and make chat easier on Skype/HelloTalk/etc.
- Be accountable. I keep my blog to help me be more accountable and use AskMeEvery to keep track of my daily study.
- Radio Breizh – Breton Language Radio
Audio & Text Resources
- Assimil (for French speakers)
- Lang-8 // Get your writing in your target language corrected by native speakers.
- Breton Grammar
- Colloquial Breton // Yes! Colloquial has a course for Breton. 🙂
- A Beginner’s Course in Breton
- Breton-English Dictionary
- Assimil Breton Phrasebook (for French speakers)
- A Grammar of Modern Breton
- iTalki // A great site where you can find language tutors or language exchange partners.
- Speak in a Week // Another great resource from Benny Lewis that gets you speaking your target language quickly.
- Tatoeba // sentences translated from any language in Breton
- EduBreizh // An online learning portal for the Breton language (for French speakers)
- Loecsen’s Learn Breton
- International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language – US Division
One of the best ways to learn a language is to listen to music in the language. It not only helps with improving one’s accent, but it also can increase overall comprehension. Plus it’s fun to translate the lyrics of your favorite songs. Here are a few artists I enjoy.
Learning about the culture that is tied to the language you’re learning is so important – the more you love the culture, the more you’ll love the language and vice versa. Discovering a new culture also enriches your life, particularly if it’s one quite different than your own. I highly recommend it if you haven’t started already!
Here are a few books on the history of Brittany and it’s culture. You can also check out television shows or movies. I don’t suggest cartoons or films for kids because a lot of the language is often invented and you won’t get as much from it as you might from a drama geared towards an older audience. But if cartoons are your thing, go for it!
A Quick Note
If you’ve been learning Breton, I’d love to hear about your experience and some of the language learning tools you’ve found helpful. Please leave me a note in the comments! The same goes for if you have any questions. I will be more than happy to respond and I look forward to hearing from you!