We got news of our placing request today

28 Apr

…and we got in!  Although we had been pretty confident about that, as the end of April approached I was starting to get a little bit concerned.  So, the Monster is off to visit the school with his nursery on Tuesday. Exciting times!

Now, I really must get my head round the dative case…

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How do you expose yourself to more Gaelic?

3 Apr

We are now almost 3 months in to learning Gaelic as a family.  My husband and I have covered lots of basic vocabulary and there’s been some grammar thrown in along the way.  We can hold a simple conversation, though we can only meet people once as there’s a limit to how often we can tell them where we’re from and where we live at the moment.  I look forward to the day we can use our Gaelic in a natural setting, and though that seems like a lifetime away I do believe it will happen one day.

There are two important things that I think we need to really help our Gaelic to grow.

  • Firstly, we need to find/make more time to practise with each other rather than cramming the night before.  At the moment we’ve been getting away with it because there’s a limit to the questions we can be asked, but each week that gets harder and harder.
  • Secondly, we need to hear Gaelic spoken fluently, naturally.

Making the time is a matter of prioritising.  In the same way that we can make sure there’s time for Desperate Housewives, we need to make sure we’re giving some time to Gaelic, even if it means “sacrificing” ironing time and having to wear crushed clothes sometimes.  (Oh, the hardship!)  I think I’ll make that suggestion to Gaelic Medium Dad…

It’s hearing natural Gaelic that’s a bit trickier.  As I work at night it’s difficult for us to get out to Gaelic community events, (and I think we’re still at a very self conscious stage so a bit too shy to try it out), so I think we’re going to have to go with BBC Alba at the moment.  My husband happily watched football on BBC Alba this weekend, listening for numbers he could recognise and hearing “An Eaglais Bhreac” (Falkirk) spoken naturally.  However, as great as it is to hear the flow of the language, and to be able to pick out random words, it’s difficult to hold your attention when almost everything is going over your head, so we’ve started watching the children’s programmes.  We can all pick out “Is mise” and “cluich an-diugh” on the Abadas, and learned “ga iarraidh” from Igam Ogam.  I think we’ve found our intellectual level.

Are there any simple programmes you can suggest that we watch?  We’d watch Speaking our Language but we’d need to start at/near the beginning, and sadly, Dotaman is no longer being shown.

In fact, maybe that’s what we need – to get Donnie MacLeod, Anna Murray and Dotaman back on our screens!

Do you have to learn Gaelic if your children are in GME?

19 Mar

At the recent Gaelic school facilitation day, I was struck by the idea that some people aren’t sure if learning Gaelic is a necessary part of sending your child to a GME school.  I suppose it struck me as unusual because I had never really pondered the question.  I’m sending my children to a Gaelic school so I want to learn the language too.  Whether it’s necessary or not to learn it had never really crossed my mind.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is the reason for choosing a Gaelic Medium Education for your children.  There are so many benefits including being bilingual, supporting a minority language – our minority language – and also the possibility that your local Gaelic school/unit has an excellent reputation.  But there are also cons to weigh up – if your child has additional support needs will they be met appropriately, will you cope with the homework, will the other children in the class stay so far away that it’s not easy for them to meet up out of school?  Certainly, deciding on the Gaelic school was a big decision for us but as part of that decision making process we had to consider our ability to prioritise the time to learn a new language.

In order to give my children the best support at school my husband and I want to be able to understand at least the basics of the work they’re doing.  We accept that it’s unlikely that we will ever achieve the fluency that our children will have, but it would be great to be able to share their reading books and school work with them, and follow their school concerts or assemblies.  For that to happen, we need to apply a little elbow grease.

However, learning a new language is easier said than done.  The time we can commit to it is limited because my husband works during the day whilst I care for the children, and then this is reversed three nights a week when I go out to work.  Ùlpan courses sound really effective but neither of us can go out twice a week for them, and the same applies to local beginners classes that I have found listed online.  Fortunately for us, I have begun An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, the course with a weekly phone tutorial and, though it is early days, so far it seems to be really good.  We all listen to the course work CDs in the car, I don’t need to leave the house for tutorials, and it helps to reinforce what we are learning as a family at the Saturday Gaelic Club.  Could I hold my own in a conversation with a native speaker?  No.  Not yet, anyway.  But it’s a start.

Of course, very few of these courses are free, and when finances are tight (as they are for us) the cost of courses is a major consideration.  I’m fortunate that I qualify for ILA funding but I have no idea how I’m going to pay for next term, which starts after the summer.  I’m sure we’re not the only family with those concerns, and this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are a number of issues that each family needs to address in order to start learning Gaelic.  So if your family is facing these or other/more obstacles, is it fair to be judged for choosing Gaelic medium education but not Gaelic family learning?

Maybe we need to turn this issue on its head.  What does deciding not to learn Gaelic mean?  Will it mean, for instance, that homework, when not bilingual, becomes harder and harder to support them with?  Of course, homework should be a consolidation of what they’ve already learned but children often forget what they were asked to do, or don’t understand how something is worded in English, never mind Gaelic.  However, with a good support network of other parents I’m told that this is not an insurmountable challenge.  In fact, I believe there’s even a live homework help at night on www.gaelic4parents.com and I suppose we could see it as an extra opportunity to really share our children’s learning with them.  Every cloud has a silver lining, and all that.

For me, I wonder what it would suggest to my children if I didn’t make the effort.  How do I answer them if they ask me why it is important that they learn a new language and explore our heritage, but not me?  If I can put my hand on my heart and say that I have made an effort to learn, and am continuing to, is that a sufficient response, because surely there cannot be an expectation that as adult learners without the benefit of immersion that we must learn Gaelic to fluency in order to have our children qualify for GME?  Certainly, the school has never made me feel that it is a requirement.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer to this question that will fit everyone.  I’m sure that the school prefer families to learn Gaelic but they are well equipped to deal with supporting those families who, for whatever reason, are not in a position to do so.  Each family must make a decision based on their own circumstances and no one should be judged for whatever their decision may be.  For us, who knows what the future holds, but we have started out learning Gaelic as a family and I hope that that continues.

Am I ready to be a student again?

10 Feb

I’ve finally had word that the course I’ve enrolled on – An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – is about to start.  In fact, I’ve already completed induction task one.  It was challenging but I managed to get through it.  The task?  To log into the university email system and send them a message.  I’m now awaiting my next few tasks.  I get the feeling they’re going to get tougher.

I honestly never thought I’d be enrolled in a university again.  I spent six years studying in my twenties and that was plenty loads, thank you very much.  And yet I’m really excited about this (though in fairness, I haven’t started yet so maybe I’m being a bit premature).  I’m looking forward to learning a new language, to adding to the tiny bit of vocabulary I’ve already picked up, to sharing this education with my children.

But I have to admit to being a little nervous, too.  Not helped by the UHI Student News title: Event to explore why Scots love sex and the supernatural.  Am I going to be just a touch too old (and clearly prudish) for this?  Thank goodness it’s all done over the telephone – I can pretend to be young, hip and glamorous.  Who’s going to know!?

It’s not just the student life though.  I worry about being able to cope with the coursework.  I love languages and have enjoyed the little bit I’ve learned to date, but I have been able to plod along at my own pace.  What if I can’t pronounce the new vocabulary?  What if the other students have more time to prepare than me?  What if the other students are all better than me?

I’ve also got to get over my two big fears – fear of actually speaking Gaelic in public, and fear of using a telephone.  Yes, I have a crippling phone fear yet I’ve signed up to do a course which involves an hour a week on the telephone.  Maybe not the smartest move but what doesn’t kill you and all that…

In the meantime I await my next induction tasks, I cross my fingers that the other students in my tutorial group/phone call are lovely and that my tutor is friendly & supportive, and I keep plugging away with a wee bit of new vocab each week.  This week my son has learned two new phrases:

Gabh mo leisgeul (gav mo layskal) = excuse me

Tha mi duilich (ha me doolich) = I’m sorry.  (An important one to learn after a cheeky day at nursery.)

Now I just need to learn to say, “I don’t understand,” in Gaelic and I’m all set for An Cùrsa Inntrigidh starting in a week.

Gaelic for Toddlers: pàrant is pàisde

7 Feb

More and more, in the last few weeks, I have wished that there were a pàrant is pàisde AKA Gaelic parent and toddlers for my daughter to attend.  My son’s Gaelic nursery kindly gave me details of one in the west end of Glasgow but we can’t make it because we wouldn’t be able to drop off & pick up my son from nursery.  They also gave me details of a local playgroup but, though it may be a little handier, it’s still not practical.

I’m seriously tempted to set up something informal – just tea & biscuits at my house (for the adults, I’m sure I could drum up something more appropriate for a few wee kids) with some other mums I capture meet at my son’s nursery and at the Saturday Gaelic club, and just see how it pans out.  Yes, this means that I’d need to tidy up, a skill I still need to hone, but it would be much more flexible and relaxed than turning up as the new girl to yet another club.  I’ve joined a couple of clubs with my daughter recently and been feeling so out of my depth that I really don’t need to add to it, so maybe that would be the solution.

The difficult question to answer is: what do I actually want out of a pàrant is pàisde?  Whilst an abundance of toys and activities for my daughter would be lovely, I don’t think that’s a crucial part of what I’m looking for (though a few would be good).  In essence, I’m looking for a simple place to go with my daughter where she can play with other children who may one day be in her class and where we can practise some simple songs and phrases to use about the house. I want a place to chat with people who perhaps already have children in the school – not just about school issues, but to know that I could would be great.   I want somewhere to try out this new, alien vocabulary with people who are in the same boat. I want to make some friends who understand this journey we are on.

A quick look on Netmums flagged up a Pàrant ‘s Pàisde in Kilmarnock.  It sounds right up my street, except that sadly, it is nowhere near my street so I can’t pop along.  It describes itself like this:

“The toddlers group is a relaxed, informal group where parents can chat over a cup of tea/coffee and find out more about benefits of a bilingual education and the children can play, take part in craft activities and learn some Gaelic songs and nursery rhymes.  Why not come along and find out more about this fantastic opportunity?”

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it!?

But at the end of the day, none of this matters if I’m the only one who feels a need for something like this.  It would be a very lonely (though tasty) biscuit if I’m the only one sitting eating.  I suppose I should put my feelers out and try to guage interest.  Or maybe just stick with the original plan to capture people at the gates.  Wait, did I just say that out loud…….?

If you (or anyone you know) would be interested in a pàrant is pàisde (or anything like it) then I’d love to hear from you – I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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.