New generation of Gaelic speakers

Na tha a' tachairt ann an saoghal na Gàidhlig agus na pàipearan-naidheachd / What's happening in the Gaelic world and the newspapers
Níall Beag
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Unread postby Níall Beag » Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:28 am

akerbeltz wrote:Since most of us don't have a resident native speaker, we have to find other ways of drilling ourselves intensively if we want to get to the top. And in this case, "grammar" is the equivalant of pushing weights... boring, repetitive, makes your arms hurt but there's not really an urban alternative if you want pecs to die for.

A muscle is a muscle and physical exercise builds muscle.

Language is not a muscle. Language is the connection of meaning to form of expression. Focusing on form of expression does not make that link. However, too many teachers overcompensate and say that meaning's all that matters, and don't focus on form, saying that this will follow. As you say, this is pretty firmly disproven.

I feel that the problem the meaning-first crowd have is that they're looking for big phrases with clear explicit meanings -- "I would like an apple" and that sort of stuff. You can't generalise backwards from that because neurons are not like a deck of cards -- if the word/form is more effecient somewhere else in the brain from where you first learn it, you can't just reshuffle the pack and deal them in a different order.

An effective course must be consciously ordered by grammar, yet continue to be truly meaningful to the student at all times. This means starting small and exploring various wide variations in a short space of time. Repetitive drilling explores minimal variation in a relatively long space of time, and allows you to divorce meaning from form.



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Unread postby GunChleoc » Wed Aug 19, 2009 10:17 am

I agree that when you learn a form, you also need to understand what it means, or you will never know when to use it. And then you need to practice it until it is readily available to call upon, and there are numerous strategies on how to do that.

An important aspect of language learning is the opportunity for meaningful communication, and this goes for practicing grammar forms as well - it's easier if the excercises/examples are meaningful at least in a basic way.

The same goes for tracking down and meeting up with Gaelic speakers (if I ever find one where I'm living): if you can't find a way of meaningful communication beyond just talking for the language's sake, it's bound to fizzle out. For a learner, meeting up with a native speaker of Gaelic of course is always meaningful as such - we want to practice. But what about the native speakers, what do they get out of it, unless they're language activists already?

What I did when learning Gaelic (once I got the basic pronunciation down) was to read a coursebook and a grammar book from cover to cover to get an overview, then look up the forms I needed for what I wanted to say until they stuck. This works very well with internet forum communication, but it wouldn't work on that level with a language class, and of course most students wouldn't want to go about it in such a helter skelter way as I did :tac:

So, it worked very well for me, but I don't think it would work well for most people :D
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akerbeltz
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Unread postby akerbeltz » Wed Aug 19, 2009 12:04 pm

Gah, why do people always get hung up about detail. Incidentally, it's not only about muscle, it's also about coordination.

And since Mr F had to chip in... yes of course there's not shortage of native speakers. But you cannot - unless you're selfish or lucky beyond belief, or are dating someone - assume that a native speaker in Cumbernauld is willing to talk to you for 4 hours every day.

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Unread postby Níall Beag » Wed Aug 19, 2009 1:40 pm

akerbeltz wrote:Gah, why do people always get hung up about detail.

Because the detail's important. Superficial considerations lead to superficial conclusions.
Incidentally, it's not only about muscle, it's also about coordination.

Yes, but in muscle work, the two can exist independently. I can work the muscle monotonously and it will get bigger. I can later work on my coordination independently.

But a muscle is a fixed structure in a fixed place. Mental structures are far less tangible, and they form where and when and how needed to most efficiently match the task they are required to accomplish. You can exercise a muscle without task-specific context, but a neural pathway is the result of a task-specific context. When you do repetitive grammar exercises, you learn to do repetitive grammar exercise. You need to produce meaningful language to learn to produce meaningful language.

And since Mr F had to chip in... yes of course there's not shortage of native speakers. But you cannot - unless you're selfish or lucky beyond belief, or are dating someone - assume that a native speaker in Cumbernauld is willing to talk to you for 4 hours every day.

It's amazing what you can accomplish with a pair of handcuffs, a dark basement and a taser....

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Unread postby Tearlach61 » Thu Aug 20, 2009 6:13 am

You don't have to go deep into grammar when learning Gaelic. In fact I don't even recommend it unless of course you like it. If reading a grammar from cover to cover is entertaining then by all means. But for most people it's just a cure for insomnia. For myself, when I hit the 8th chapter of TYG, I pretty much gave up on the grammar thing. All those tables. I lent the book out, it never came back and I went about a year before I bought another book that grammar in it and it didn't not really hamper my effort. I relied mostly on Taic and other online resources (akberlitz being another)

One post here adviced not losing sight of the forest for the trees and not getting lost in the details of grammar. I think that's good advice. Don't try swallow a whole set of grammar rules with all the exception in one shot. Boil it down it one rule, get comfortable with that rule, then start learning the exceptions.

Take the article. In the nominative, you can boil it down to one rule: the article 'an'does not lenite a masculine noun and the article ' a' 'does lenite a feminine noun. In the genative, its the opposite, it lenites the masculine, changing to a', it does not lenite the feminine, changing to na. There's all kinds of exceptions and reasons for them, but that's the basic rule.

an cù, a'choin
a' mhuir, na mara.

First basic rule. Get comfortable with that. Listen a lot read a lot. Soon you'll notice instances where that isn't always true. Ask your self why.
Like why do you day 'an drochaid' when drochaid is feminine? Well, the 'n' at the end of the article comes back in front of words begining with d, s or t and inhibits lenition because tongue placement is virtual the same for the three sounds.

That's just an example. Start with simple basic general rules and work out. Let the reading of grammar inform what you hear and read already.

There was a lot of stuff that I observed but didn't understand why it happened for a long time. I always give priority to what I hear, not to what I think should happen according to the grammar book.

For example, it was about 20 months after I started learning Gaelic that I had an oppurtunity to actually take a class. It was great, it was my first oppurtunity to have extended conversations with someone in Gaelic and had a very enjoyable time talking with the teacher during breaks. But I remember one question I asked the teacher. Why do we say 'Tha mi a' dol dhan taigh bheag' instead of 'dhan taigh beag', I mean taigh is masculine, beag should be unlenited. Well, it's because in a dative situation the noun and adjective are normally lenited. Why, I asked, is not taigh lenited then, why isn't taigh lenited also. Remember, I was asked question about the way I spoke already, which was based on what I hear. Well, it came back to the n at the end of dhan inhibiting lenition in the word taigh.

To be honest, I don't know how anyone internalizes that stuff by rote memory. If you're one of the many who doesn't not learn well by rote, I'd say, hey there are other methods that work. And Fionnlagh's method, for all the crap he gets on this site, is also worth a look to the prospective learner. There are people out there who have done will with his method.

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Unread postby akerbeltz » Thu Aug 20, 2009 11:52 am

You don't have to go deep into grammar when learning Gaelic.


It all depends on your end goals.

All those tables.


Presentation is a problem but with all due respect to people in anglophone countries - stop whinging. Hand a continental a declension table with 5 cases and 3 genders they'll sigh, go home, drum it into their heads and that's that. An anglophone will debate the need for the next 10 years and - sorry to point that out - set their status to san Alberta.

If tables were inherently bad, there would be no fluent adult Basque learners cause they get this on the first day of school:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nor_Nori_Nork_full_table.png

Ask your self why.


Again, depends on the person. I've tried that approach with my mother, she still cannot for the life of her figure why Cantonese works the way it does.

To be honest, I don't know how anyone internalizes that stuff by rote memory.


See my second comment. If you walk into a maths class and go "i'm bad at numbers, i'm bad at numbers" then sure, you're gonna be bad at numbers.

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Unread postby Níall Beag » Thu Aug 20, 2009 1:41 pm

Tearlach61 wrote:One post here adviced not losing sight of the forest for the trees and not getting lost in the details of grammar.

When I talked about not seeing the wood for the trees, I was saying something completely different.

Don't try swallow a whole set of grammar rules with all the exception in one shot. Boil it down it one rule, get comfortable with that rule, then start learning the exceptions.

But then I do agree with this.

Take the article. In the nominative, you can boil it down to one rule: the article 'an'does not lenite a masculine noun and the article ' a' 'does lenite a feminine noun. In the genative, its the opposite, it lenites the masculine, changing to a', it does not lenite the feminine, changing to na. There's all kinds of exceptions and reasons for them, but that's the basic rule.

No, that's four basic rules. If you argue that it's one, you might as well say that all the exceptions are part of that rule and that the whole gamut of definite forms are one rule. You're still relying on choosing a form, and I believe that people criticise the "tr*nsl*t**n habit" what they're really talking about is a habit of making conscious choices about language. Introduce choice, and you introduce a choice habit.

First basic rule. Get comfortable with that. Listen a lot read a lot. Soon you'll notice instances where that isn't always true. Ask your self why.

You can't really get comfortable with a rule if you're constantly exposed to exceptions (and I personally don't think the other forms of the article are "exceptions"), so listening and reading are just going to confuse you, so the only way to get comfortable with the meaningful use of a rule is through guided production.

Even text specifically designed for learners isn't going to work, because understanding relies on context, and if you're a beginner, how do you get that context? Guided production lets you know what you're going to say before you say it and the meaning's all there.

To be honest, I don't know how anyone internalizes that stuff by rote memory.

I'd argue that nobody actually internalises by rote. Rote gives the student a memorised reference book and allows them to act as their own teacher and guide their own production.

Other people use memorised phrases and sentences similarly as a mental reference book.

If you're one of the many who doesn't not learn well by rote, I'd say, hey there are other methods that work. And Fionnlagh's method, for all the crap he gets on this site, is also worth a look to the prospective learner. There are people out there who have done will with his method.

The problem I have with that (and I've said this many times before) is that I have heard so many people saying that they learnt a language by immersion, but under further questioning they slowly reveal that they've been looking at grammar books as they go ("but I only checked what I'd worked out for myself") or that they took other classes before ("but they didn't work because I couldn't speak a word") or that they studied other languages, sometimes closely related, before starting.

I've never seen any good evidence of immersive courses alone being sufficient for anything but a tiny minority of learners.

A lot of the stick Fionnlaigh gets here is for his adherence to the notion of "learning like children". He refuses to accept that when adults go into an immersive classroom, they make connections between the target language and their native language(s). They are (semi-)consciously relating concepts in the two. If you say "good morning" when you walk into a classroom in the morning, the students you say it to will probably assume it's "good morning", even if they can't tell yet which word is "good" and which is "morning". If you say "very good" in a positive tone of voice when one of them says "good morning" back to you, the student now knows "good" means "good". There is no avoiding this.

To develop and optimise a teaching strategy, you've got to start by knowing how the students are learning. By sticking to the line that TIP learners "learn like children do", he's forcing TIP down a road that offers no improvements to the methodology.

I'm not saying it's not useful to some people, just that it could be more useful if it was based on reality rather than myths.

Edit:
Plus, it's probably worth pointing out that TIP isn't free from drilling, and neither are communicative approach classrooms (TIP isn't CA -- it's more a variant of the Direct Method). Ùlpan has a lot of drilling too (drilling is a typical feature of the Audio-Lingual method). Can Seo (there's still a few teachers out there using photocopied Can Seo books) is almost entirely drilling (it's pure Presentation-Practice-Production in its approach). And then of course there's the "old school" of Grammar-Translation evening classes that are composed almost entirely of drilling (although given that the Direct Method is over 100 years old, it hardly seems fair that advocates of the Direct Method still refer to Grammar-Translation as "traditional").

When all is said and done, arguing against drilling is really arguing against all current teaching methods, which I'm happy to do. I don't know if all of you lot are, though....

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Unread postby Seonaidh » Thu Aug 20, 2009 9:13 pm

Such things as drilling an tables are useful, but they should really only be used to back up things. Oh dear, I give up, my English is going to pot. Dè tha mi airson ràdh...maybe something like... no let's rewind a bit.

Niall's comment about relating a second/third/owt but first language to what is kent already is very valid: there's no getting away from it. And there is much truth in the statement attributed to Bill Gates, viz: "If you can program in anything, you can program in anything", i.e. once you have mastered the logic behind programming a computer, through using one computer language, then it's relatively easy to program in any other language.

A lot of the problem with learning second etc. languages is that those doing it often have never had to stop and examine their first language, and why it does the things it does. This can lead to severe problems in places where the new language does things somewhat differently. I mean, how many folk here realise that, for instance, "It is I" is technically incorrect English? Or such ambiguities as "the Bishop of Edinburgh's festival"? Nowthen, is it a surprise that so many native English speakers seem to have great difficulty in assimilating another language?

Maybe we should start up a more light-weight topic...

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Unread postby Gordon » Tue Aug 25, 2009 9:52 pm

Thanks very much for a fantastic debate and insight into the different strategies that students prefer.

I am currently putting a framework for this course together and hope that I can get a few proof readers to read over the course.

If anyone is interested in doing this - please email me on milcuk2@yahoo.co.uk (this email address is dedicated to Gaelic and Gaelic music)

The strategy I am using is not just one but a mixture of many varied strategies but the underlying theme is to treat the language as a living and everyday language where the learner moves from basic to idiomatic through the various levels of their development.

Situational use of the language as well as roleplays and ga,es/activities will be evident - a lot of communicative activities - however, grammar and vocabulary building will form a very strong backbone to the course.

Thanks again for the wonderful debate and I aim to use this forum as an excellent source of advice and reference.

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Unread postby deardron » Thu Aug 27, 2009 11:20 pm

akerbeltz wrote:Oh and another thing - some people might groan cause it sounds like I'm always going on about this - but in your course design, you must place a lot of early focus on pronunciation and listening skills (in relation to comprehending native speakers). These issues are much more vital in Gaelic than, say, Spanish, which is a rather forgiving language for bad pronunciation.

Another reason why this is so important is that the Gaelic orthography is quite a challenge on its own, so phonetics is a trial everyone must go through.

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Unread postby akerbeltz » Fri Aug 28, 2009 12:44 am

so phonetics is a trial everyone must go through


Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr, as we say in German... I wish more people thought that way :?

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Unread postby Seonaidh » Fri Aug 28, 2009 8:30 pm

For anybody conversant with the orthography of English to claim that Gaelic orthography is "a challenge" is a bit rich! I mean, ingle, inglenook - English??? ditch, pitch, hitch, switch, rich??? all, ball, call, fall, pall, stall, shall??? Now, find a four-letter English word, reasonably common, not a proper name, ending in -eny.

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Unread postby deardron » Fri Aug 28, 2009 9:20 pm

I didn't mean English orthography is an easy one, but for a number of reasons its principle is closer to alphabets of many languages. Consider the following example: Eng. lorry, geometry - Gael. lorraidh, geoimeatras. Which orthography is then easier?

Another thing which makes Gaelic orthography difficult is dialect differences in pronunciation. AFAIK there's no such a thing "Queen's Gaelic". Such letters combinations as "dh", "ea", "eu", "oi", "inn" etc. are spelled in different ways in different parts of the Gaelic world. That's another thing that should be covered in one way or another.

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Unread postby Seonaidh » Fri Aug 28, 2009 9:47 pm

Howway man (or, in Sunderland, "Ha'way man") - One suspects that one will find there to be sundry dialects and registers of divers social usage within the realm of the English language that would put such differences as one may find within the Gaelic language into perspective.

You quoted "lorry" and "geometry". Now, imagine you've been through the old bun-sgoil and have great Gaelic and are now learning English as a second language. You think, maybe, "Y - yes, that's usually like a sort of i-sound, but sometimes it's more of an ai-sound: which is it here?" Then you think "Probably i-sound - I've come across that one before". Then you look at "lorry": the next thing you think is "Oh yes - a doubled R - that will make the O longer, won't it?" - and you end up thinking the word sounds rather like "Lowry" as in L.S. of that ilk. As for "geometry", you may well think the G is "hard" as in "get" - quite apart from perhaps rendering the T as a "tch" sound. Result? Maybe "Gyometchri".

You see, you are making the mistake of starting from an English spelling convention standpoint. Of course, if that's what you start from, it's easier to spell and pronounce English than Gaelic. But that is not the same thing as maintaining that "English orthography is easier than Gaelic orthography". It is (a) different and (b) less consistent: in my view, (b) makes English orthography more difficult to master than Gaelic orthography. But I realise that just about everybody here is intimately conversent with English orthography (or is that "conversant"?), so it is hardly surprising to see such a false assertion be promulgated.

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Unread postby Thrissel » Fri Aug 28, 2009 10:00 pm

Hmm. As one who started learning English at the age of twelve, but always had very little opportunity of having conversation in it (eg I was already reading people like Steinbeck &c in the original, when I was shocked by the discovery that "ninth" is pronounced similarly to "nine", rather than "fifth"), I daresay that Gaelic orthography is about as much of a "challenge" as the English one. Neither more nor less.