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How to Learn the Breton Language…
if you don't know any French

A Listing prepared by by Dr. Lois Kuter (Secretary for the U.S. ICDBL)
(reprinted from Bro Nevez 65, February 1998, and augmented May 2001)

Table of Contents


One of the most frequent requests the U.S. ICDBL receives is for information about how Americans can learn Breton. There is a wealth of learning materials for the Breton language for people in Brittany who are French speakers, or who can speak or understand Breton but never had the opportunity to learn to read or write it. BUT, for those who know no French at all, the materials available to study Breton are more limited. The best way to learn Breton is to go to Brittany and enroll in an intensive immersion class, and there are many classes for adult learners throughout Brittany. Once you have some basics, perfecting your use of Breton requires some practice--simply spending some time with Breton-speakers who will welcome conversation with a beginner.

Here in the U.S. there are no (or only very rare) classes for learning Breton, and the only option open for those who want to learn Breton is to begin on your own with books. The following is intended to provide a useful listing of materials in English or the Celtic languages that can be used to begin study.

Some of the information below has been pulled from the U.S. ICDBL Guide to Breton Learning Materials as well as more recent reviews in the U.S. ICDBL newsletter, Bro Nevez. And I have added other references based on my own knowledge and listings in catalogs. There are also a growing number of resources available through the Internet, and I have listed just one which is a good place to start. Check out the Links page of the U.S. ICDBL web site as well

Basic Learning Materials in English

E Brezhoneg Pa Gari!

CD-ROM for beginners learning Breton. Warok S.A.R.L, Brest. 2000. (Notes by Mary Turner)

E Brezhoneg Pa Gari! (In Breton, when youre ready!) was created by the company Warok. Available on 2 CD-ROMs or one DVD-ROM, it represents a new, totally interactive, multimedia approach to learning the language on your own. And the best news is that you can choose whether you want to work in French or ENGLISH.

The program is divided into 15 lessons, and is built around a video-film of a love story between Yann, who works at a port-side bar in Douarnenez and Naïg, the girl of his dreams who works in a bread and candy shop. The story takes you through many real-life situations, such as buying and selling in the shop and pub, food, drink, illness, computers, clothing, and cultural and geographic information about Brittany.

Each lesson begins with a video segment. The dialog in Breton is displayed beside the video so you can follow along, and you can move the cursor over each line of dialog to see the translation in English (or French) in a window below. The video can be stopped, started, rewound or fast-forwarded as you wish, and can be enlarged to full-screen.

There are words and phrases underlined throughout the dialogs, and you can (should) click on these words to bring up a window with information about different grammatical rules of the language. The entire set of grammar lessons, as well as a mini-glossary of words used in the lessons and a larger dictionary of words and phrases, can be accessed at any time through links at the bottom of the screen.

After reviewing the video you can play a series of dialogs based on the video segment, each with a picture and a question, and three possible answers displayed. After selecting an answer to the question an appropriate response will be displayed, and you can go back and select all three answers to see the different responses. The questions, answers and responses are all read aloud.

A 'triskell' symbol at the bottom right corner of the screen allows you to access exercises, a test and a display of your results on the exercises and test for the lesson. The exercises are divided into 5 parts: Vocabulary, where you fill in puzzles using picture or written hints, and label items in a picture; Grammar, where you move words into the correct place in sentences or category columns; Pronunciation, where you can use a microphone to repeat words and phrases, comparing your vocal pattern to the native speaker's; Dictation, where you type the sentences dictated (spoken very slowly); and Cultural Knowledge, with a variety of exercises to test your knowledge of Breton geography and culture and even other Celtic languages as compared to Breton. For each of these categories (except pronunciation) you can click a button to display answers you got wrong, allowing you to correct them, and then click a button to reveal all the correct answers.

The tests are shorter and take the same format as the Vocabulary and Grammar exercises, except that you can't correct your answers after you have finished a screen. The results screen displays your 'grade' for each of the exercise and test areas, as a red, yellow or green light.

Per Denez. Brezhoneg buan hag aes.

(Omnivox, 1972). English version: Raymond Delaporte (Cork University Press, Ireland, 1977; reprinted in 1980 & 1989); Welsh version: Rita Williams (Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, Welsh University Press, Caerdydd, Wales).

This textbook, complete with two cassette tapes, exists in French, English and Welsh versions. There are 25 chapters, graded in difficulty, each containing an opening conversation accompanied by a vocabulary of words introduced in the dialogue. A set of questions follows each conversation that creates variations on the grammatical structures presented. Following this is an explanation, with examples drawn from the conversation, of the grammatical points covered. Each lesson closes with a set of exercises requiring the formulation of responses to questions and vise-versa, and substitution and transformation drills. A lexicon at the end of the book cross-references to the first lesson in which each entry was used.

The format of the textbook is visually pleasing, and a good bit of grammatical information is charted clearly and systematically. The cassette tapes that accompany the text conversations are of a generally high quality acoustically, though the dialogues are characterized by rather more traditional sex-role stereotyping than suits me. On the other hand, the droll, sometimes irreverent sketches by Nono reappearing frequently throughout the book are good fun.

An exercise book entitled Komzit ha skrivit brezhoneg with two additional cassettes, complements the main text. This is very helpful to the solo learner as a means for further practice. Also accompanying the book is a booklet of examples of sentences designed for daily study by the student so that grammatical points are not lost in the absence of regular work. this book, Brezhoneg bemdez, is also accompanied by two cassette tapes. (Lenora .A.Timm)

Roparz Hemon. Breton Grammar.

Tenth edition, Translated, adapted and revised by Michael Everson. Dublin: Everson Gunn Teoranta, 1995. 103 pages.

Translation with some adaptations for English-speakers especially in the area of pronunciation (and here's an area that may require some adaptation by American English speakers) This is a pretty straightforware and useful introduction to the basics of Breton: mutations, the article, nouns, personal pronouns, qualifying adjectives, numbers, verbs, etc.). In the bibliography to the grammar, Everson notes that he will be translating another work by Roparz Hemon: Kentelioù brezhoneg eeun-Elementary Cours in Breton (8th edition).

Ian Press. A Grammar of Modern Breton.

(New York/Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter) 1987. xii. 406 pages.

This is the first attempt at a comprehensive grammar in English of the Breton language since Hardie's long out-of-print A Handbook of Modern Breton (Armorican) (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1948). The present volume is refreshingly up to date in approach from a linguistic point of view, though the author wisely refrains from getting bogged down in debating points in modern linguistic theory, while showing that he is conversant with some of the contemporary literature in the discipline. The work falls short of being a reference grammar of the language, but that was not the author's principal aim. His aim was rather to "provide an accessible description of the literary language, sufficient to permit reading and, in conjunction with a suitable course, to permit communication with native speakers" (p. 4). The didactic and descriptive (not: not prescriptive) orientation of the grammar is evident throughout the work and it would, in my opinion, serve admirably in beginning and intermediate courses in Breton with an instructor (and preferably students) acquainted with basic principles of linguistic analysis.

The grammar consists of five chapters, each devoted to specific aspects of Breton phonology and grammar. Following an introductory chapter, Press devotes a lengthy Chapter 2 to an overview of Breton phonology. Here he synthesizes a number of descriptive studies of the Breton sound system, typically based on the characteristics of a particular subdialect, to arrive at a sort of compromise--or, perhaps, most likely--inventory of phonemes and allophones. Included in this chapter is a discussion of the complex consonant mutations, familiar to all who have dabbled in Breton or other Celtic languages. Chapter 3 on Morphology is far and away the longest chapter, covering in some detail all of the major morpheme classes of the language, with helpful examples of both regular grammatical processes and irregular formations. Chapter 4 is devoted to Breton syntax, i.e. the structure of the sentence. Here the author provides an exposition of the various sentence tyles--simple, complex, positive, negative--and touches on themes of relevance to more theoretical issues within linguistics, such as topicalization, clefting and word order. The final chapter, 5, provides a synopsis of the main word-forming processes in the language--i.e. the use of suffixes, prefixes and compounding of words to produce new words. The remaining 181 pages of the work are devoted to seven appendices, a bibliography, and a two-page thematic index. (Lenora A. Timm).

Breton-English / English-Breton Dictionaries Phrase Books

R. Delaporte. Elementary Breton-English Dictionary/Geriadurig BrezhonegSaozneg.

(Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press), 1979. 110 pages. Lesneven: Mouladuriou Hor Yezh. reedition 1990. 210 pages. 85 francs.

This is the first Breton-English dictionary published. It covers basic Breton vocabulary, as the author points out in his Forward, and is intended as a teaching aid for English speakers tackling Breton who do not have a good grasp of French. The format of the dictionary is very similar to that of Hemon's Breton-French dictionary, to the point of including an appendix of conjugations of some irregular verbs and important prepositions. The book is clearly printed and easy on the eye. (Lenora A. Timm)

Raymond Delaporte. Elementary Breton-English & English-Breton Dictionary/Geriadurig Brezhoneg-Saozneg ha Saozneg-Brezhoneg.

Lesneven: Mouladurioù Hor Yezh, 1995. 541 pages.

This takes Delaporte's Elementary Breton-English Dictionary an important step further by expanding the dictionary to include approximately 9,000 entries and adding an English-Breton version as well. The edition of this expanded work is thanks to the work of Divi Kervella and Kristian Brisson who took up the work of Delaporte who died in 1990 before the dictionary could be expanded. This is a key tool for those beginning a study of Breton. (Lois Kuter)

Remon ar Porzh (Raymond Delaporte). Geriadur Brezhoneg-Saozneg/Breton-English Dictionary.

(Lesneven: Mouladuriou Hor Yezh) Vol. 1: A-B, 1986, 215 pages; Vol. II: CH-C'H-D, 1989, 235 pages; Vol. III: E-G, 1993, 191 pages.

Those who know little or no French now have a resource to get right to Breton. We need no longer grasp through a fog of Gallicisms. The dictionary is a major piece of work. It is pleasingly meaty; single entries more often than not provide a range of meanings, context, and examples of usage, providing a cross section of Breton, basically grounded in the modern spoken language, with access to the resources developed over the centuries, and a selection of words newly-coined in this century. A simple browse through the book could teach a good bit about Brittany. The literature cited betrays, perhaps, an inclination towards the Chateauneuf-du-Faou, Pleyben area of the compiler's birth, but that is far from being a reproach. With the death of the author in December 1990, we fear for the completion of this important resource for English speakers, and hope it will be carried on. (Jay Callahan).

J. Conroy. Breton-English/English-Breton Dictionary and Phrasebook.

Hippocrene publications.

I have not seen this, but it has been described as a phrase book with a few cultural notes on Brittany included.

Breton-Breton Dictionary

Gerladur Brezhoneg /Ar Releg Kerhuon: An Here, 1994.

This is the first-ever Breton-to-Breton dictionary. This 1,000-page illustrated dictionary will includes some 10,000 words-a monumental work by a group led by Jean-Yves Lagadeg since 1987. This is a very important tool for Breton-users-one where translations to French (or some other language) can finally be eliminated. (Lois Kuter).

Other Resources for English Speakers

Per Denez. Glas evel daoulagad c'hlas na oant ket va re.

Brest: Al Liamm, 1979. Translated by J. Ian Press, Blue like blue eyes which were not my own. Lesneven: Mouladurioù Hor Yezh, 1993. 102 pages.

There is nothing like testing your knowledge of Breton by trying to read a book. A novel by Per Denez is the perfect test since it has been translated from the original Breton to English and both texts are available.

Fañch Peru, Sterenn Series. 1993-2000,

Fañch Peru has published a series of books ideal for Breton learners with short essays, tales and stories based on contemporary life in Brittany-and especially the Tregor area where he lives. While some of these books are directed specifically to younger readers, others are good for any age-learners and accomplished readers of Breton alike. Skol Vreizh has published these as part of its «Sterenn» series. (Skol Vreizh, 20 straed Kersko, 29600 Montroulez). Here are some of just the most recent: An Traoniennoù Glas, 1993; Enezenn an Eñvor. 1994; Etrezek an aber sall, 1995; 60 Pennad e brezhoneg bev, 1996; Kernigelled ar Goañv. 1997; Eñvorennoù Melen ku bihan rodellek, 1999; Va Enezenn din-me, 2000.

Youenn Gwernig. Un Dornad Plu / A Handful of Feathers.

Brest: Al Liamm, 1997.

While poetry might offer a bit more of a challenge, this anthology of work by Youenn Gwernig can also be recommended. Breton texts and English versions by the poet himself are side by side in the collection.

For Welsh Speakers

Yann Guehennec. Kembraeg evit ar Vrezhoned.

Plomelin: Preder, 1997, 160 pages.

A manual for Breton learners which takes you directly from Welsh to Breton without detouring to English.

Rita Williams Brezhoneg Buan hag Aes.

Translation of Per Denez's text (see above). Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, Welsh University Press, Caerdydd, Wales.

Rita Williams. Geriadur brezhonek-kembraek.

(Lesneven: Mouladurioù Hor Yezh), 1985. 144 pages.

A dictionary for Welsh speakers--Breton to Welsh.

(NOT SEEN. Lois Kuter)

Rhisiart Hincks. Geriadur Kembraeg-Brezhoneg (Elementary Welsh-Breton Dictionary).

Lesneven: Mouladurioù Hor Yezh. 1991. Revised edition 1997. 194 pages.

Just as those wishing to learn Breton must pass through French to get there, those wishing to learn Welsh must go through English. For Breton speakers this is a very indirect route and this dictionary allows them to go directly to Welsh from Breton. For And for Welsh speakers learning Breton, this dictionary would also be a very useful tool. Rhisiart Hincks is a professor at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. 194 pages of this elementary dictionary include some 10,500 word entries and an additional 60 pages includes pronunciation, orthography, and verb and preposition conjugations. (Lois Kuter)

For Irish Speakers

Loeiz Andouard and Éamon Ó Ciosáin. Geriadur iwerzhoneg-brezhoneg gant lavarennoù/FoclÓir gaellge-briotáinis, le samplaí.

(Lesneven: Mouladurioù Hor Yezh), 1987. 240 pages.

A Breton-Irish dictionary for learners who want to take the more direct path of learning Breton through the medium of Irish.

So how do I Find these Books?

You won't find any of these books in the major book store chains!
Here are a few suggestions to start

Schoenhof's Foreign Books
Catalog Department
76s Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
tel.: 617 547-8855
fax: 617 547-8551
AIMS International Books, Inc.
Michelle Jenkins
Purchasing Manager
7709 Hamilton Ave.
Cincinnati, OH 45231
tel.: 513 521-5590
fax: 513-5215592
Librairie Breizh
17 rue de Penhoët
B.P 2542
35036 Rennes cedex
tel: 02 99 79 01 87
fax: 02 99 79 43 52
Ar Bed Keltiek
2 rue du Roi Gradlon
29000 Quimper
tel.: 02 98 95 42 82
Ar Bed Keltiek
4 avenue Clemenceau
29200 Brest
tel.: 0298 44 05 38
Brittany Shops
24 rue des RÉguaires 
29000 Quimper 
tel 02 98 64 38 88
All five of these distributors/stores carry a wide range of books for those interested in learning the Breton language, and there are dozens more for those who are fluent in French. The last four addresses (in Brittany) also carry nearly everything in print about Brittany and carry a very wide selection of Breton music recordings.

Breton Classes on the Internet

The best way to learn Breton is to go to Brittany and enroll in an intensive immersion course, but you can also travel there via the Internet and get started on Breton studies on the Kervarker site. Lessons are provided not only in French and English, but also German and Spanish. This site is maintained by the organization called Sav-Heol and lessons use the teaching method developed by Mark Kerrain called Ni a gomz brezhoneg.