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Language learning frustrations, plans, and points to investigate
goofy
kass_rants
I have now done five straight days of Irish practice.  One hour a day, Monday through Friday.  This is the same amount of time I spent in Japanese class every week before I went to Japan, so it's definitely a goodly amount.  It's a... I don't know if "collegiate" is the right descriptive word, but it's much more than the one hour a week you get with most Irish night classes, which is what I'd call a "hobby" amount.  I'm not criticizing anyone who only has the time, interest or inclination to take one hour of Irish a week.  One hour is better than no hours.  But the problem is that if you only do one hour, when you meet for class the following week, you spend about half an hour rehashing the stuff you've forgotten since the week before.  So you only really go forward a half-hour per week.  That's fine if you just want to get a taste of a language.  But my goal since I was a child has been to speak Irish in my home.  So I'm a little nuts about pushing myself.

I don't have regrets because I don't play that game.  But it is a shame that I was in Ireland for six weeks, four of them at Oideas Gael, and I never learned to speak Irish.  My Irish language comprehension was very high.  At the end, I could understand college-educated-level political discussions that my fluent friends were having in the pub.  But I could only say, "I agree" or similar.  And I felt like an undereducated ass (although they didn't treat me that way at all!).  I was just about to leave my first husband and there was a lot of shit in my head.  And I was lonely and it's easier to make friends in English.  So I spoke English.  I mean, some of my best friends there were fluent Irish speakers and I spoke English to them!  I really missed a golden opportunity there.

[WARNING: Oh my god, peeps!  Am I rambling this morning  Better get comfortable. This is gonna be a long one.  Might want to navigate away while you still have a weekend left.]

So anyway...  my goal is to get my Irish ability as good as I can get it here and then spend as long as I can next summer at Oideas Gael immersed in the language.  I estimate my current Irish level as A2+ moving into B1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (more info for the hopelessly curious here).  Fluency is called C2.  It takes about 1200 hours to get from zero to C2.  The overall goal of these Skype conversation lessons is to get me speaking Irish.  You can study grammar and you can practice writing and reading anywhere and anytime.  But if you're going to be immersed in a language, you have to speak it.  And in Ireland, it's really easy NOT to speak it because everyone speaks English and is more than willing to speak English to you if you're struggling.

But the point is the struggle.  You LEARN from the struggle.  But I want to be able to express myself a little better than a two-year old before I get there so my struggle won't be so obvious nor will I be tempted to just speak English.

So I've crunched some numbers...

[You can take the woman out of the analytical professions, but you can't take the penchant for analyzing every bloody detail out of the woman. =) ]
Beware! There be math here.Collapse )
Oideas Gael is very laid back.  They're not one of those places that ban English because they know very well that their success is based on people being able to go at their own pace.  So one thing I'm going to do is to ask if I can be placed in a house with people above my level so it's a stretch for me.

You all are aware of the fact that I like to push myself, right?  ;)

I spoke to the head of Oideas Gael, my old buddy Liam, on email on Friday.  He suggested that I do 3-4 weeks of Irish and then take a break and do something else, but still speak Irish:  go to Belfast or Derry with friends, go on a hill-walking course, whatever.  That way, he said, my brain won't get friend with classes.  Good ol' Liam.  He was a teacher and a school principal in his life before Oideas Gael and he's been running Oideas Gael since 1984 so he well knows the point at which people burn out.  =)

As luck (or Liam's skill in planning) would have it, there are precisely three weeks of language classes in June before the non-language classes like tapestry weaving and and exploring the environment start.  So I could do three weeks of language classes and then do something else very easily.

What I think I prefer to do, however, is stick it out through four weeks of pure language classes and then do Cruinneas sa Ghaeilge ("Accuracy in Irish") in the fifth week. Cruinneas will probably still be over my head at that point, but I will be getting close to that 500-600-hour point and it will be a very good stretch. They only run it twice a year, so the timing is really good that it runs right at the point when I need to take a break from Irish. So basically I'll be throwing myself in the fire and seeing if I burn up or rise from the flames. I've seen people do the Cruinneas class before and it is amazing the change that comes over them by the end of the week, so I'm really looking forward to getting pushed into the deep end.

Hill Walking starts the same week as the Cruinneas class, so if I lose my nerve or am too burned out on going to class, I could just go Hill-Walking with some fluent speakers instead.  But I really want to do the Cruinneas class before I take a break.  I think it will be a nice way to end things with a bang.

So then I could either take two weeks doing Hill Walking or I could go somewhere else.  I'd prefer to stay in the language since that's why I'm going, so if I go anywhere else, I'd like to do it with fluent friends.  So that's kinda unplanable at this point.  Luckily Oideas Gael is crazily flexible and as long as I let them know my plans a week in advance, they will rearrange things for me.  They'll even let me leave the majority of my stuff there.  =)

Liam also confirmed that my old pals, Tony and Brendan, who led the hill-walking course back in 1996 are still doing it.  Here's a pic of us back then:
005

Regardless of what I do for those weeks, the last week in July is the Irish Language and Culture Summer School.  This is a special week where there are only Irish classes in the morning and students so painting or archeology or hill-walking or singing or dancing in the afternoons.  So it is a very low-stress way to get back into taking language classes because the language classes are only in the mornings.

Then I could go back to language classes or do Hill-Walking or something else in August.  Or I could go home early.  But I really have this feeling that if I go home before the language is firmly planted in my head -- before I get through the fluency barrier -- that I will quickly go back to square one at home.  Everyone says you lose a language if you don't use it.  But I'm hear to tell you that it's been 25 years since I used Japanese in my daily life and I can still speak it and comprehend it.  My vocabulary sucks.  But I still dream in Japanese sometimes.  I have this concept about fluency being a one-way barrier that, once you're through it, you don't ever come all the way back out.  I have no idea if there's any scientific basis for that.  It's just my experience of languages and fluency.

(First person who asks who is going to feed my husband or press his shirts while I'm gone gets to die the painful death reserved for sexist bastards.  *twinkle*)

Anyway... All this is moot if I can't save the dosh to do it.  But frankly, the classes and accommodations are pretty cheap.  It's the airfare that's expensive.  I figure, if I'm paying the airfare, might as well stay as long as I can and "finish the job".  =)  I don't want to spend the next three or four summers going back to Oideas Gael and only getting back the Irish I lost in the intervening year.

So I'm going to try to do this.  We shall see if my best-laid plans come to fruition or not.

In a related story...

My Irish teacher is making me a little nuts.  Understand this:  he's not a native speaker.  He's never even been to Ireland.  I wouldn't call him "fluent" but rather proficient.  But anyone with more speaking ability than you can help you to speak.  And our classes are conversation only.  I don't want someone quoting me stuff out of a grammar book;  I need practice speaking and thinking in Irish.

Our first couple of lessons, he talked a lot.  I don't blame him because I wasn't saying much.  But listening is not what I want to do.  So I started preparing things to say in the conversation.  I would look up some vocabulary and some grammar and then tell him what I did yesterday or what I was planning to do tomorrow or whatever.  This works particularly well.  I struggle to tell him something and he asks questions and helps me along.

But sometimes... ugh!  It's so obvious he's never been around fluent Irish speakers for any length of time.  Sometimes he takes time out to correct my pronunciation.  The problem is that he is correcting something that isn't wrong, just different from what he's used to.  Here's a good example.  I said I had been planning to go to Ireland for a fortnight.  There is a word in Irish for fortnight.  It's coicís.  This is said "KER-keesh".  I know this because it is said over and over again by native speakers on the "Now You're Talking" tapes.  He clearly doesn't understand me, so I assume he just doesn't know this word.  So I say, "dhá sheachtain" -- two weeks.  I pronounce this "yeah HOCK-tin".  He says (in English), "What is this "yeah" you're saying?  What are you trying to say?"  I stay in Irish and pronounce it in the standard "book" way:  "xah HOCK-tin".  He still isn't getting it.  So I start counting weeks:  one week... TWO weeks...  And he says, "Oh, you're trying to say dhá."  And I say, "Yes.  But I pronounce it like a Donegaler:  "yeah".

Now, if he was taught only book Irish or if his teachers were from Kerry or something, I could forgive him this.  But he told me before (and he reiterated at this point) that one of his teachers was a native speaker from Donegal and the other was a non-native who learned how to speak in Donegal.  So the mere idea that he's never heard two pronounced "yeah" is beyond credulity!  I mean, that's how people say two in Donegal.  Stand at any bar for no more than five minutes and someone will say, "Dhá phionta, le do thoil [Yeah finta, ledohell] (Two pints please)."  It is not an exaggeration that I have heard this A LOT.  =)

And then he went on to tell me coicís is pronounced "ker-KEESH".  This is patently ridiculous because that's just not how Irish works.  The stress isn't on the second syllable, like, ever.  And the fact that this is the way the word is said over and over again on every Irish language tape I've ever listened to makes me wonder if he isn't making this pronunciation up.

Then he didn't like my use of the words "ar feadh" to mean "for (a period of time)".  Clearly he's never heard this used.  But it's in my friggin' beginners' book how to say, "I went to Galway for a fortnight" so it IS the right construction for what I was trying to say.  And I was saying it exactly like the native speakers on the tape.  So it really frustrates me that when I'm trying to speak, he's stopping me with corrections that are WRONG.

(I have taught A LOT of conversation classes, most of them in English for Japanese students.  The first rule is not to stop a student to correct their grammar or pronunciation.  Encourage them to get the words out.  At the end of the lesson, you can give them corrections.  But it is vitally important to both their confidence and the flow of the language that you let them get their words out without interruption.  Grrr!)

My solution to this problem was basically to ignore him and just go on with my story.  I mean, I'm not going to argue with you.  Your purpose here is to get me to speak.  I don't mind the occasional grammar correction.  But when a person who doesn't speak that much better than me corrects me because he's never heard a construction I'm using... that just ain't right.

But... there is no one else.  And he's a nice guy and we laugh about my funny way of saying things.  He kinda goes, "I've never heard that" and I just keep talking.  So it's fine.

But it IS really frustrating when you don't know much because you hold onto what you do know tightly and with both hands.  I know if I spoke better, I wouldn't get this upset about something small.  But I KNOW this to be correct.  And I don't know much.  So I'm protecting what I do know.

And I'm not saying dhá in no screwy southern Irish way for NOBODY.  =)

More on the Ulster accent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulster_Irish Irish-American comedian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Des_BishopDes Bishop said in his program on learning Irish, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Name_of_the_Fada, that Ulster/Donegal Irish was soft and felt like someone was petting you.  We (yes WE) drop all that ACH nonsense.  We don't hock up loogies.  We say, "ah" instead.  And we change other harsh endings to "Oooo".  Because it's nicer.  =)

There's actually a legend that Adam and Eve spoke Irish in the Garden of Eden.  (Yeah, I know.  Just roll with it for a minute, okay?)  Eve spoke Ulster Irish because it was the sweetest.  And Adam spoke Connacht Irish because it was the most correct.  God spoke Munster Irish (book Irish or the language of the government) because it had the most authority.  And the Devil spoke "Leinster Irish" (which is English because they don't speak Irish in Leinster).

Anyway... Irish is always going to be wrapped up in politicial divisions and politics.  You would think I'd care more about speaking Connacht Irish because my great-greats were from Galway and Roscommon.  But my first Irish teacher got her Irish in Donegal and my first Irish language experience was in Donegal and I just... I think it's beautiful.  When the Donegal character, John Joe, has a scene on Ros na Rún, I could watch it 15 times in a row!  And half the reason I like Scúp I think is because the Ulster accent gets used about half the time.  I'll even sit through silly episode of the slapstick comedy C.U. Burn because it's Donegal!

I don't know.  I think accents and dialects are important.  One shouldn't try to normalize a language or say the other accents are less educated or "wrong" (quothe she who got her first job on the radio at age 15 because she didn't have any accent!).  It's because of my "bad" (said my Tokyo friend's mother!) Kyoto accent that I got to party with some off-duty Geisha one night in Gion.  And a bunch of business men from Osaka took me out for drinks in Paris because they couldn't believe an American spoke Kansai-ben (the accent of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe region).

So yeah.  Thingie...

[Wow this is long.  Don't say I didn't warn you!]

In other news, I came across a very interesting piece of information while watching an Irish language program called "The Story of Irish (Scéal na Gaeilge)".  We all know that Oliver Cromwell was pretty much Hitler to the Irish and wanted to wipe them off the face of the earth (no, not just the Catholic priests).  But what I didn't know was that something like 100,000 Irish men, women and children were sold into slavery in the West Indies in the 17th century.  Matter of fact, there were more Irish slaves here at that time than African slaves.  And because of this, there were Irish-speaking communities on many of our neighbouring islands up until the early 20th century.  It is said that most people on Montserrat, Black and White, spoke Irish until 1900.

Isn't that fascinating!  Imagine coming to the Caribbean and hearing Irish spoken!

I wrote about this phenomenon here: http://serialpolyglot.com/the-irish-language-in-the-west-indies/ And I asked a research librarian friend of mine if he would so a lit search for me on the subject.  No response yet.  But I'm hot on the trail of this.

I came downstairs this morning to some blood on the floor.  I couldn't find a wound on any of the dogs, so I assume they caught a critter (when you live with the french doors wide open all day, things walk in and get stuck inside at night -- crabs, geckos, mice...) and it either managed to get away or they killed and ate it.  I doubt they killed and ate it because (A) I heard no ruckus from downstairs last night and I'm a very light sleeper (and, trust me, greyhounds are only graceful when they run) and (B) whenever they've killed anything before, they just kinda dropped it when it stopped squeaking, proclaimed it a rotten excuse for a squeaky toy, and left it there.  So either I have a wounded mouse in the house or someone heals really fast.

Speak of doggies, Mistress of all She Surveys is yelling at me to do something.  So I better be a good monkey and go figure out what Her Majesty wants.

(If you stuck it out to the end, you really should get a prize!)