Monday, 20 July 2015

We Need to Talk - and the Solution is Simple

Learning Gaelic can be challenging enough if you live in Scotland. However, if you live outwith Scotland, it can be even more of an uphill - and satisfying - struggle.

My Study Buddy 'C' recently sent me this link to a recent BBC News story:

'Cothroman a dhìth gus Gàidhlig a bhruidhinn' is the title of the piece, 'Lack of opportunities to speak Gaelic'.

Results of a recent survey show that one of the biggest challenges facing Gaelic learners is the ability to use their language skills outwith the classroom. Some of the students surveyed NEVER get the chance to practice.

You only have to look at my earlier blog entry 'Why Won't You Talk to Me?' to see the real life challenges faced by a real Gaelic learner when in the Outer Hebrides.

Before we look at my simple and all-pleasing solution to the problem, I need to have a minor rant about additional challenges for us Non-Scots who chose to pump our money into the country and learn its language.

For starters, take that survey. If it is the recent survey that took place earlier this year, then it only concerned itself with Gaelic Learners that reside in Scotland. Despite the fact that many Gaelic Learners are in England, Wales, Germany, the USA, and Canada, our views were not courted.  Just so you know, the results are only applicable to Scottish Learners, so the chances we have outside Scotland are even slimmer or non-existant.

To add insult to injury, the fees paid by Gaelic Students in England, Wales, the USA, and Canada can be over three times higher than those paid by Scottish students. When I last looked, for me to do An Cùrsa Comais at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig would have set me back £7,500 in fees compared to £2,200 for a Scottish resident. That's fair enough I guess (thank you, David Cameron and all those who voted for him) and the same fees apply to those resident in Wales, Northern Ireland, the US, and Canada. However, were I to live 25 miles away in Calais, I'd be paying the £2,200 along with all the German, Polish, and other EU Students. I thought that the UK was in the EU? Not when it comes to tuition fees. So not only are the English, Welsh, and Northern Irish charged three times the amount of someone living South of the Irish border or East of the English channel, but our views counted for nothing in the Gaelic Learning Survey. Well Gee Thanks Eddy, that really makes us feel valued for taking such an active interest in Gaelic and Scotland and overcoming all the associated hurdles and barriers!

Rant over.

I have to be grateful that at least those of us in 'Rest of UK' have access to the wonderful BBC resources, such as the podcasts of 'Beag air Bheag' on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, and iPlayer programmes from BBC Alba. These resources help massively.

Back to the 'Lack of Opportunity' bit. I had an idea a while ago that I mentioned to folks at my college but nobody really took any notice. I'll mention it again now.

On one hand you have Gaelic learners in Scotland and around the world with little or no opportunity to practice their language skills.

On the other hand, we have a diminishing number of native Gaelic speakers whom at one time were monolingual and had to learn English as a second language. These people speak with old dialects and rich vocabularies that are crying out to be saved. These people are the Older Gentlefolk of the Highlands and Islands. Despite the enviable sense of community in these areas, there must still be times when these retired men and women feel a little lonely and isolated. And all but a few of them will have a telephone.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

Surely it cannot be that difficult to marry up Gaelic Learners with patient older folk who would love to receive a weekly half-hour phone call from their 'Caraid Cànan' in Berlin, London, or Pitlochry?

Being down here in the South East of England I don't really know how to go about setting up something like that. Surely it can't be that difficult? It's an idea anyway. It's now out there, so let's hope that somehow it grows legs.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Coffee and Craic - what next?

It was with great sadness that I read on Facebook that Coffee and Craic, the Gaelic Cafe in Glasgow, has closed:

A short while ago I blogged about the place, saying how valuable and welcome it was to me as a Gaelic learner, and no doubt countless others too.

However, as we all know, love and support does not a business grow. Footfall and money is what is needed. It appears that the location of the cafe did not encourage enough footfall to make it commerically viable. Also, let's be honest, the Gaelic speaking and learning community isn't huge. It is also spread out across the world. It was a great place for this guy in Kent to meet his Gaelic-learning buddies from the USA, but that's not enough to keep a business running, sadly.

With no money to keep a team of staff on, poor Sarah ended up having to reduce the opening hours, and if a family crisis cropped up then the cafe had to close. Thus the ever-decreasing circle took effect until such a time that, for the moment at least, Coffee and Craic remains closed. I'm so sad about it.


I'm not privvy to Inside Information, but I would hope that lessons have been learned. According to the notice on Facebook, new City Centre premises are being sought to help increase the footfall, and therefore the sustainability, of Coffee and Craic. Its former location was handy for the Gaelic school, but it seemed that many folks, myself included, travelled there specially from outwith Glasgow, and the trek from the city centre to the West End was a bit of a drag.

My thoughts now turn to the new, city centre Coffee and Craic. I was prepared to travel from Kent on the train for a couple of days hanging out with the likes of 'Gàidhlig gun Bheurla' with Àdhamh, especially if I could catch a 'Togaibh Fonn' session as well. However, we all know that travel and accommodation are only really affordable if you pay in advance and book the non-refundable option. You're looking at at least £100 for a trip to Glasgow for many people, even if you book anti-social trains and stay at the Ibis Budget. However, that's more than worth it for sessions with the likes of Àdhamh. Glasgow is a LOT easier to reach than Sabhal Mòr Ostaig for the great majority of people. However, I didn't book these trips as it couldn't be guaranteed that the cafe would be open.

Coffee and Craic, for some of us, was not just a cafe. It was a destination in itself, the very reason I'd figure Glasgow into my trips to Scotland. For this reason alone, the new incarnation has simply got to be reliable and be open when advertised without short-notice closure. This is way too much to ask of one woman, and I hope the management have realised this.

In my ideal world, Coffee and Craic would also have rooms upstairs for out-of-town guests to sleep over, to save having to stay in a hotel. There is no facility (to my knowledge) for us learners to stay in a Gaelic environment other than a short course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig or the occasional summer week on Uist. If the new Coffee and Craic is a reliable centre that hosts affordable weekends/midweek breaks where the likes of us learners can chill and socialise in a Gaelic-speaking environment, then I'd definitely help CrowdFund that!

Whatever happens, I wish the team well and offer my full support. I just don't want to lose this wonderful resource.