Archive | January, 2012

The Boy and the Bunnet

31 Jan The Boy and the Bunnet

The Boy and the Bunnet

What a wonderful story the Boy and the Bunnet is, with its slaverin’, snochterin’ scary Urisk and beautiful Scottish music.

I’d stumbled across the website for this Scots story a while ago whilst trying to soak up as much Gaelic information as possible but didn’t follow through on it until this weekend when a free CD of the story landed in my lap.  This story of a little boy who loses his bunnet (or did the bunnet lose him?) uses a variety of Scottish instruments to represent the characters including the fiddle, cello, harp and bagpipes, and covers a wide range of traditional Scottish music styles including the jig, reel, strathspey and waltz.  It’s a magical way to not only expose children (and to be frank, many adults) to the beautiful, traditional Scottish culture around us, but to let them hear and absorb spoken Scots in all its glory.  For one of the things that has really drawn me to this story is that it’s written in two versions.  One version is written in Scots by James Robertson and music by James Ross(the one we have) and one in Gaelic – Balach na Bonaid, translated by Aonghas MacNeacail.

I’m not particularly old (she says, desperately clinging to the belief that you’re not IN your 30s till you’re 31…) but when I grew up I was taught to speak “proper” English and to consider Scots as “slang.”  “Slang” AKA “not-to-be-spoken.”  Recently I’ve come to realise how wrong that was, and wish that I could sign up to learn Scots somewhere, much as I have signed up to learn Gaelic.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m from Falkirk, live in Glasgow and my Gran does speak Scots (rather than just being really slang as I grew up believing) so I can hear and understand a fair bit of the lingo – I certainly had no problem with The Boy in the Bunnet, but I’d struggle to speak it.  I hope to encourage my children to hear, understand and, most importantly, respect not just English and Gaelic but Scottish too.

So I played the CD in the car for the children and they were enthralled!  My little boy didn’t want to leave the car to race in and play with his Leappad when we arrived home until he’d found out if the Urisk was creeping up on the boy – a miracle!  He loved trying to work out what each creature was like based on the music we could hear.  For your information, the selkie is pretty because her music is lovely and is his favourite, the craw sounds naughty and the Urisk… well, we have had to reassure him that the Urisk doesn’t live under his bed, but such is the power of the music and vocabulary in this story.  There are simply no better words in English to describe the slaverin’, snochterin’, unknown creature than you can find in Scots.  We’ve only had it for a few days but he has already asked if we can get the book (not available till March but you can preorder) in Gaelic too.  I won’t be able to read it to him, but we can listen and absorb the rich language.

This story has really sparked my imagination – I wish I was back teaching again so that I could stage a fabulous production.  I can totally see how I would do it and am itching to try it out but I think, sadly, it’ll have to wait a few years.  It was so exciting to discover that the original Scots version is being shown at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre as part of Celtic Connections this weekend (3rd and 4th of February) but sadly, even if we all go wearing our bunnets, the £31 family ticket price is beyond our reach (£13 for a single ticket) so for now we’ll settle with listening in the car.

If anyone does go this weekend, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.  And if you have a copy of the free CD that you don’t need, I’d love a spare for when ours is eventually to scratched to play.


Gaelic v Catholic education

30 Jan

Twice in the last two weeks I’ve come across the same issue surrounding the Glasgow Gaelic School and it’s an issue that has nothing to do with the pros and cons of immersion, whether Gaelic is useful or not, and whether the school is well enough equipped to deal with children with additional support needs.  The issue that has cropped up recently has been about religion – specifically, that the Gaelic school isn’t a Catholic school.

I’m proudly Church of Scotland (though I don’t profess to be an expert) so I suppose considering denominational schools has never been high on my list of priorities.  To me, a good school is one which covers a broad curriculum, covering religious and moral education as a part of that, using a wide variety of engaging strategies.  Being exposed to the culture, ethics and religious teachings of a variety of cultures – especially when we live in a multicultural society – is, to me, a good thing.  But then, I have grown up in non-denominational schools so it’s what I know.  Whilst I may have chosen to send my children to a school where the language of the classroom won’t be English as it was for me, the content of the curriculum is broadly speaking the same (there are small curricular differences in every school) so I will still have a shared experience with my children.  But why should I assume that just because I prefer a non-denominational education that every other parent will feel the same?

So how do the families I have spoken with this week feel?

One is a family with two children, both slightly younger than mine.  The mother and I are friends, and so she has followed my research and experiences with interest.  When she raised the option of Gaelic medium education with her family they were very positive about it, but the first question – as she knew it would be – was, “but what about their religious education?”  And this is a large part of her reserves about going down this route.  She knows that she can take her children to church and still provide that religious instruction for them, but her experiences of school will be different, the preparation for their first communion in primary four will be different (and I’m sure there are many other aspects that she must consider in relation to this too, these were simply the first things she mentioned to me).  Choosing to send her children there has added implications for her, if you like.

Other families have found that the decision to go for GME hasn’t been an easy one, though I suppose it rarely is.  When local schools are good, it can be hard to break from “the norm” especially when the question of religious education complicates matters. The lack of Catholic teaching at the Gaelic school becomes a consideration but, as several mothers said to me, the responsibility of their child’s religious education is their own, and one pointed out that lately, in her experience, the children do not go through their first communion as a class but at their local parish church so perhaps there isn’t the same “need” to send your child to a Catholic school.

The debate surrounding faith schools is one that can bring with it strong feelings, and I’m not looking to get bogged down in complex arguments, but I do wonder how other parents have handled this issue and whether there are parents out there who would have chosen GME but for the lack of Catholic instruction in the school.

Do we dare to dream that GME will one day be so mainstream that the powers that be would even consider opening a Catholic Gaelic school – not because I feel we need denominational education (because to be honest, I don’t) but because it means that there is a significant, accepted demand for Gaelic?

We don’t know what the future holds and in the meantime each family must make their own decision.  For me, I’m glad we have started down this path and I look forward to all the challenges, opportunities and adventures to come.

The Saturday Gaelic Club

28 Jan Glasgow Gaelic School


This morning was our first visit to Glasgow’s Saturday Gaelic Club – hopefully the first of many.  My husband finally uttered his first Gaelic words and can now introduce himself, tell you where he’s from and where he lives, ask how you’re feeling and answer the question, tell you he likes football, and he can also introduce someone else!*  Not bad for a morning’s work.  I was quite pleased because most of the work we covered today I’ve been working on with my CD so it gave me the confidence to try it out, and it also gave me something on which to build the new vocabulary.  I think we should feel particularly proud of ourselves because our one year old daughter was running around the room, distracting us, for the whole lesson as there is nowhere for the under 2s to go, sadly.

Our son was downstairs in the children’s club where they can draw pictures, play games and sing songs in Gaelic.  We were worried he would feel swamped by the language and left out as everyone already had friends, but we needn’t have worried as there were other children who have only just started and will be going to school after the summer, too. And I think children are a lot more adaptable than we give them credit for.  At the end of the day, it’s nice to know that we’re building up some friendships for him before he gets there.

The club takes place in the Glasgow Gaelic School and today was the first time our son has ever seen the building where he will be spending so much of his future.  By going at the weekends he can grow more used to the gym/assembly hall where his group plays, and he got a snack in the lunch hall.  All of this is good preparation for him, particularly as there are some concerns he may have Asperger’s/dyspraxia/something else unknown to us just now, and so he can find new places and routines more challenging.  Hopefully in August he’ll be used to the school and will be able to behave appropriately when he’s there because sadly that wasn’t the case today.

I explained to the play leader that our son has some additional challenges and that when he gets stressed or excited he will run everywhere.  I think that after a good start to his session, he became rather more challenging than I think they were prepared for though, so we’ll need to think about the best way to deal with it for next week, because as stressful as it is worrying about how he’s coping, today has been beneficial for all of us and we will be going back.  He enjoyed telling us in the car on the way home that he’d played “What’s the time Mr Wolf” in Gaelic and was able to practise some of his numbers.  He had pictures he’d drawn to bring home and put on his wall, and daddy was able to speak a little Gaelic with him for the first time which both of them enjoyed.

As for me, it was great to actually speak some Gaelic out loud rather than just holding wonderful (if limited) conversations in my head.  I’ve also met other parents in exactly my position so I can speak with them about some of the issues that crop up rather than just writing them here and sending them out into the great unknown.

There’s so much more that I could say about our 2 hours this morning (well, just under because parking is a nightmare!) but for now I’ll simply say moran taing (thank you very much) to our tutor, Josie.

*Some of this morning’s vocabulary. (Please correct me if I’ve got anything wrong – so many accents and grammar points to learn!)

Is mise….  My name is….

Cò às a tha sibh? – Where are you from?  (NOT where do you live.)

‘S ann às An Eaglais Bhric à tha mi.    I am from Falkirk

A bheil sibh a’ fuireach?   Where do you live?

Tha mi a’ fuireach ann an Glaschu.   I live in Glasgow.

Ciamar a tha sibh?   How are you?

Ha gu math – I’m good.

There was lots more but you can find most of it here.

Learning together

25 Jan

One of the challenges facing us as we enter Gaelic medium education is that we have no Gaelic speakers at home.  Whilst we’ve spoken to some parents of children in the Glasgow Gaelic School who have told us that though they have not learned the language their children are still doing well, we feel it’s important for us all, as a family, to learn as much as we can.

My son is perfectly happy to pick things up, arriving at nursery each day with a list of words he wants to understand – so far he has had a burning desire to learn “please,” “blue,” “toilet” and “sticky” – and is happy to ask when he doesn’t understand.  I am eager to learn, and try to read what I can.  I have located online beginners courses, played the children’s games on the BBC website, signed up for the Gaelic 2012 project and am awaiting the beginning of my distance learning course in about a month.  My one year old daughter will probably find the whole thing easiest of all because she won’t remember a time when there weren’t two languages floating around in her world.

It’s my husband who is going to find the whole thing hardest.

He’s always been very keen on the idea of GME, and says he wants to learn Gaelic but just doesn’t know when he’ll get the time.  Part of me wants to shake him and tell him to make the time, and another part understands that as I work 3 nights a week it will be harder for him to get out to learn it.  I think he would get a lot out of an Ùlpan course but as they generally require 2 nights a week minimum (and course fees), it probably isn’t feasible just now.  To be honest, I think a lot of his reluctance is more to do with being self conscious about using Gaelic in front of anyone else – so he won’t even try the CDs in the car, and I can understand that, but ultimately we all need to get over our nerves if we truly want to learn Gaelic.

So, even though we’re all learning Gaelic in different ways, to help us all get started  I made little cards this afternoon to stick all the way up the stairs so that we can practice numbers on the way up and colours on the way down.  Yes, it’s the frustrated teacher in me (I’m on a career break from primary teaching at the moment and clearly missing it) – everything is colourful and, of course, laminated, but hopefully it will help us start to grasp the basics.

I think we’re also going to start learning a useful phrase or two each week.  We’ve been concentrating on greetings for my son’s nursery so next week we’ll be starting with manners, because no matter where we are, manners are always appreciated.  I like the Highland Council’s Gaelic Toolkit because we can listen to native speakers rather than trying to read phonetics –  so this will be our starting point for next week.

Mas e ur toil e (please), if anyone has any other/better suggestions for how we can learn together then I’d love to hear them.

Mòran taing (many thanks)!

How doo yoo think in Gah-lick?

19 Jan

Peace reigned this afternoon as both children fell asleep in the car on the way to their grandparents.  Whilst the children sleeping is always a magical moment, it’s not one I feel I can take real advantage of when I’m in the car.  I’m limited to the CDs that are in reach and to be honest, I’m sick of listening to Alvin & The Chipmunks, Cars: The Movie, and Christmas CDs (yes, we have not been able to put the Christmas CDs away, though I’m not too bothered because they always fall asleep during Away in a Manger.  If I’m honest, for that reason alone it’s a bit of a favourite of mine).

Stuck driving through a lovely Scottish blizzard, I started running through all the different Gaelic phrases I’ve already managed to pick up.  I held mini conversations in my head in which my Gaelic was perfect and where I was even able to hold my own with my son’s new Gaelic teachers (obviously a dream then.)  Although I should probably have been giving more thought to my driving given the increasingly treacherous conditions, I was instead thinking of my son’s new Gaelic words – boo-yuh and doo.  (Gaelic speakers – don’t panic, I know that’s not how they’re spelt.)

Boo-yuh and doo.  It was at that moment I realised that through teaching myself the little Gaelic that I know, I have no idea how to spell/read/recognise pretty much any of it.  In my head, as I practise the words yellow and black, I don’t think of buidhe and dubh, I think of boo-yuh and doo.  I tried a few of my other phrases out – “kimmer a ha oo, catch a vell doh stocanin…?”* and realised the same thing was happening.

But why!?

I’m not new to language learning.  I studied French right through to first year at University, and I picked up Italian when I was there, too.  Yet, in all my years of studying language I’ve never noticed this phenomenon.  As I pondered this further (hey, it was that or listen to the Chipmunks squealing, “Bad Romance”), I think I had a Eureka moment.

When I’ve learned a language before I’ve always been sat at a desk, reading the language whilst an experienced speaker of the language taught me to read what I was seeing.  I haven’t needed phonetic pronunciation guides.  However, with Gaelic, if I’m reading it in a book or online I seek out the text with the pronunciation beside it, ignore the Gaelic and jump straight to the sounds.  When I’m in the car, I just make it up myself.  This is great for learning to hold a conversation, but I don’t think it’s going to stand up to scrutiny when my son starts to bring his reading books home.

So how do I get around this?  How do I go from my fake Gaelic to the real thing?  How do I get to the point where I can look at the Gaelic and sound it out myself?  Answers on a postcard (or as a comment if you prefer) please!

Until someone comes up with a good alternative, I think I’m going to have to go with doing my best to force myself to look at the Gaelic first, try to pronounce it and then check it again.  It could be almost like being back at school doing lasacawac (Look and Say and Cover and Write and Check)!

Good luck to any other Gaelic learners out there, and remember, if you work out how to think it properly then let me know.


* How are you, where are your socks…? (proper Gaelic to follow when I track it down).

First Day Nerves

18 Jan

Sgoil Araich Lyoncross

This week was my son’s first week at his Gaelic nursery and, so far, he loves it.  In fact, I had to drag my screaming child from the room this afternoon because he wanted me to go away for longer and let him stay.  All the way to nursery yesterday he was practising how to tell them his name and then couldn’t resist telling every member of staff who passed him on the way into the room.  “Is mise…”  (Is misha….) the whole way there.  So sweet.  He asked them to remind him how to say good morning – though it was the afternoon – and he was desperate to find out how to say, “please.”  If only he were always so eager at home…

Today was the Chinese New Year themed day so they got Chinese food at snack (apparently the noodles were nippy but the rice was good) and I was able to peek in and see him painting his own Chinese fan.  He was very proud that he can now tell me two colours – dubh (doo) for black, and buidhe (booyuh) for yellow.  He tells me that he is going to be my teacher now.

As for me, so far I’ve chickened out of using the little Gaelic I know.  So, whilst my son gets an A+, I get a definite, “must try harder,” on my report card.

On the plus side, I heard back from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic medium college on the Isle of Skye, and I have got my place on An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – the entry level distance learning course.  Soon enough I’ll get all the information through and I can pick a suitable time to do my telephone tutorial.  I’m very excited!  Maybe then I’ll summon up the courage to speak in his nursery.

Watch this space!

Cò às a tha sibh?

18 Jan

(Originally posted Fri 13th Jan 2012)

This is the “Question of the Week” on the Gaelic 2012 board on and, although my very first Question, one that I felt I could answer.  Already, from the first couple of units on my Gaelic CD course I could understand the question and knew basically how to answer, so it should be straight forward, yes?

Clearly not for me.

The question, “Cò às a tha sibh?” asks, “where are you from?” and the simple answer to this is that I’m from Falkirk – rather prettily known as An Eaglais Bhreac, or in Scots as The Speckled Kirk/Spotty Church/Egglesbrech.  However, although I have learned a few phrases I have yet to learn enough grammar to work out quite how to structure this.

I went with:  “Tha mi à An Eaglais Bhreac, ach tha mi a’ fuireach ann an Glaschu an-dràsta,” (I’m from Falkirk, but I live in Glasgow just now,” after much debate about whether it was “Tha mi à” or “Tha mi às.”  After waiting with baited breath, a kind (and far more experienced) Gaelic speaker explained that the second sentence was fine, but the first sentence should actually be “Tha mi às an Eaglais Bhric.”  I clearly need to read up on the dative case…

So far, it looks like signing up to the Gaelic 2012 project is a good thing.  It’s going to force me to move past the basics.

I may even work out how to pronounce it all!

Tìoraidh an-dràsta!