Friday, August 17, 2012

Frustrations with learning Gaelic

I enjoy learning Gaelic greatly; 'tis a beautiful language and not as difficult as people make out (I think this is true of all languages). But learning a minority language outside its spoken home is difficult, and despite a certain kind of 'wealth', Gaelic is poorly resources in many ways.

To illustrate, let me explain my current level and frustrations. I have a pretty decent grasp of Gaelic grammar, and I can read not too badly. I can easily work my way through one of Ruaridh's Litreachan do Luchd-Ionnsachaidh, and with a bit of effort, I can read standard Gaelic texts. I sometimes get held up by vocabulary, but that is just a matter of dictionary work, and sometimes idiomatic phrases are difficult to figure out, but it's okay.

The great difficulty I have is listening and speaking, of course. And the 'wealth' of bbc resources don't exactly help. It's frustrating that iplayer is not available outside the UK, though of course there are ways around this. But then there is the second frustration that even if one can access iplayer for BBC Alba, a large portion of Gaelic programs are not available online anyway. Ironically, I was doing an old SQA paper for one of the lower levels, and it had an 'interview' text with a Gaelic speaker in Italy who kept up by watching Gaelic televison on the internet - not just a made up text but a virtual impossibility.

So 'Letters to Learners' is still the best thing going, text + audio for over 50hrs of listening. But then one is just listening to a single speaker, which isn't ideal. This is the great frustration - a need for more comprehensible input, more exposure to spoken Gaelic.

There are at least, now, some half-decent courses for self-study, but they are not particularly up to date. Teach Yourself Gaelic is still a standard, but hasn't changed much  for many years; Colloquial Scottish Gaelic isn't bad. Gaelic in 12 weeks is more of an intense primer in Gaelic grammar than a course.

I had a great year studying with the Atlantic Gaelic Academy. So there are at least some better distance options emerging. SMO courses remain prohibitively expensive for those outside the UK.

So those are my current frustrations. I mean, to be expected for anyone studying a minority language outside its homeland, but still frustrating. I think part of my frustration is that there is a wealth of fluent material for Gaelic speakers on the BBC sites, and there's a lot of basic learner stuff, but the 'intermediate' field is more like a wasteland. Bridging the gap is difficult.


Ancestral Gael said...

Have you tried accessing Gaelic via Skype?

Seumas Macdonald said...

I have, it was not as helpful as I had hoped.

The Gaelic classes I take through the AGA are 3hrs/week via skype, which is excellent.