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.

Only kidding...

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 wasn't around when I first got interested in the language, or I didn't know it was around.


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 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. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

What's this blog all about then?

In a word, procrastination. It's something else to distract me while I should be here studying Scottish Gaelic, or Gàidhlig to those of us in the know, and those of us who have the smug skill of knowing how to do accents on a UK keyboard.

But seriously folks...

If you are interested in Scottish Gaelic, your first port of call should be the fantastic online resource

On the 'beginners' page, the first question you click on might just be:

'How long will it take me to become fluent in Gaelic?' You'll get this answer:

"This depends on how much time you are able to spend learning the language; your level of immersion in Gaelic; and the learning style you have chosen."

Let me paraphrase this answer for you: 

"It'll take years and years and years of hard graft, sweat, tears, and frustration."

One question not on the 'Beginners' page at, yet it's the most important one in my opinion, and the question that EVERYONE will want answered is: 

'Is learning Gaelic difficult?'

Now, I could be all PC and give an answer that politely skirts around the issue and cites learning style, location, hours spent, and so on. However, I will surmise the answer into just one word: 


I've been on my Gaelic journey for two years now and can still barely string a sentence together. In contrast, I learnt Dutch (admittedly by immersion) in about 12 weeks. 

Yet I'm still here, and, maybe in a Masochistic way (or is it Sadistic? I can never remember which is which, which one day may prove problematic) I am still ASOLUTELY LOVING learning Gaelic. 

My love of Gaelic is not unconditional. I swear and curse at it, hate it sometimes, throw my hands up in despair, walk away from it, then like a sorrowful lover I return before you can say 'Genetive Case' and start soothing myself in the sheer poetry and deliciousness of it all. 

This blog is mainly aimed at being my sounding post during those many frustrating days. There are even good days I may share too. The last 'Good Day' was when I was up in Skye and bumped into the LOVELY Iain Urchardan. Everybody loves Iain. I had my first ever five minute conversation completely in Gaelic. It was probably very bad both in terms of grammar and vocabulary, and Iain is of course an expert in pitching his level of pronounciation and grammar to the student, but either way I came away from that walking on a cloud. 

That's enough procrastination for one day. Best I get on with a bit of course work. Tìoraidh an-dràsta, bye for now.