Tag Archives: learning

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.

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).