Monday, 26 January 2015
The Path to Learning
So you want to learn Scottish Gaelic? Bravo!
Right, that's enough about you, let's talk about me.
I don't pretend to be any kind of authority on the subject, but what I can do is give you a few honest answers and pointers along the way.
If you're interested in learning the language, then your first point of call can only be one wonderful place:
Go and take a look. It's brilliant. You'll find all the info you need on courses and stuff, and in the meantime you can whet your appetite by trying to learn yourself using some of the FREE resources on offer through the website. Start off with the LearnGaelic Beginner's course you can do on your own computer, free of charge. I've just visited one of the lessons and who is the voice? Yup, it's the lovely Iain Urachadan.
You can also look at clips from the hugely successful TV programme 'Speaking Our Language'. Speaking Our Language (or, more to the point, Rhoda MacDonald the presenter) will be your friend throughout your journey of learning Gaelic, just like Iain Urchardan. You may not know these names now, but you will soon see them all over media if you stick with it.
My Gaelic Journey? Well, I'm glad you asked, thank you. Either learngaelic.net wasn't around when I first got interested in the language, or I didn't know it was around.
HOW NOT TO DO IT
Like many people I know, I thought I could reach fluency within three months with minimal financial outlay.
Like many of my fellow learners, I was enticed (on a CalMac ferry, if you must know) by a shiny shrink-wrapped course on the bookshelf in the Coffee Cabin called 'Scottish Gaelic in Twelve Weeks'. You got a book and some CDs. What more could you need?
Now, I'd better explain here and now that I'm not very academic. There are those clever people who ARE academic, and their approach to learning a language is what I personally refer to as 'scientific'. These people learn vocab and grammar, put the two together, and make a sentence. I don't. I listen and mimic and quite often talk gibberish. But to my mind, listening and speaking is the way to go. Hey, it worked for me when learning English after popping out of the womb, and it worked too when I learned Dutch as an adult trialling a Total Immersion Program.
'Gaelic in 12 Weeks' is nothing like an intuitive, natural course. I know that what I am about to write will come back to haunt me some time in the future. No doubt the clever chap who wrote the course will end up marking one of my exam papers in the future and say; "Aha! This paper belongs to that Sassanach Dip-brain who dissed my 12 Week course!' and promptly award a Fail. But...
Wading through Scottish Gaelic in Twelve Weeks is drier than eating an entire box of Shredded Wheat. Toasted. Mixed with sand. With no liquid whatsoever. In the desert.
No doubt somebody, somewhere, has had the willpower to actually complete the whole course on their own. Maybe they even did it in 12 weeks. I imagine that that person had either nothing better to do in their life whatsoever and could devote every atom of time and willpower to doing it, OR it was the kind of person who doesn't drink, eats only grains and lentils, and has the willpower to get up every morning at 5.30am (including at the weekend) in order to complete their study before a delicious breakfast of Toasted Organic Wholemeal Sandal with a dandelion juice chaser.
This person is not me. I managed - just - to wade myself through one chapter in a month. It was a struggle of magnificent fortitude. I would open the book and cry. I'd listen to the voacb on the CDs and wince. A better plan of action was needed.
Once you've dabbled with the Beginner Pages on learngaelic.net or maybe even done a short course or two, you may decide to take your learning on to a more structured level. Enter Scotland's Gaelic College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO).
Just like Iain Urchardan and Rhoda MacDonald, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is something that nobody outwith the Gaelic-speaking community has ever heard of, and everyone within the Gaelic-speaking community knows as well and holds as dear as an old friend or neighbour.
Serious learners end up at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, either doing Short Courses in the school holidays, part-time distance-learning courses (An Cùrsa Inntrigidh/An Cùrsa Adhartais), and some even take the plunge and do THE be-all and end-all Gaelic language course, An Cùrsa Comais.
I'll tell you what I did after the unsuccessful Ryvita-esque 'Gaelic in 12 Weeks' dabble next time.