Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby alasdair_maolchriosd » Sun Dec 23, 2012 7:32 am

I have to agree with the previous post (even though it was over a year ago). With regard to (2), I've found Gàidhlig to be harder than most languages to understand when spoken. I've see 'speech training' drills, and they're essential, but what about 'ear training'? Shouldn't there be materials specifically designed to help learners hear those distinctions which are important in G. but not in English? The natural tendency is to interpret the input in terms of your native phonology, and then inevitably reproduce it that way. Just a thought.

Edit: Gabh mo lethsgeul, it was Akerbeltz' post at the bottom of p1 that this was a reply to.



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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby GunChleoc » Mon Dec 24, 2012 3:28 pm

With speech training, you should learn what sounds there are and how they work, so then you will know what ko keep an ear out for. I guess the next step is to listen to the radio a lot when you don't have access to native speakers, so your brain gets used to the sounds, eventually, things will start clicking. I sometimes still have difficulty with a few sounds to distinguish them when listening, but I still understand what is said. What makes understanding difficult at first is that the first sound of a word can change, or in case of f even disappear, but in time you will get used to it.
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby akerbeltz » Tue Dec 25, 2012 1:11 pm

I used to put equal focus on ear and speech but have dropped ear training more and more, at least in the sense of individual sounds. My first clue was when I had people come up to me and tell me that the most important lasting bit of learning they took away was awareness (when it comes to comprehension), funnily enough. In the sense that before it was just this wall of Gaelic and they didn't know what bits they needed to listen out for and which were less important.

What I hadn't quite banked on was that teaching just production seems to have pretty much the same effect but involves less frustration (i.e. less stuff to cover and you avoid the inability of most to hear some of the sound differences, like the difference between ɤ and ɯ or the L sounds). Fortunately, unlike in a language like Cantonese, in Gaelic context almost always provides enough clues to the exact meaning even if you missed bits of the phonology.

The only thing which I've retained big time in terms of ear training and which students find really useful is training them to listen selectively i.e. I run play or read a piece of advanced Gaelic at normal speed and they're under strict instruction to ONLY listen out for words they understand and to ignore everything else. Then, based on those isolated words and phrases, I ask them to make an educated guess as to what they just heard. That exercise is really key because virtually all Gaelic learners make the mistake of trying to understand the bits they didn't understand, tr*nsl*t* the sentence, ponder their answer and then try and construct a sentence. Which is a doomed daisy chain of thoughts in a conversation. So I drill people in "listen and discard anything you don't get immediately, make an educated guess, come out with a response, watch the speakers feedback and move on" as it's the only way to sustain a conversation above your skill level which, initially, is almost always the case. Once that penny drops, they get a lot better - at least that's our subjective take, I've never had a chance to test it.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby GunChleoc » Wed Dec 26, 2012 3:03 pm

That's the exact listening strategy they try to show you how to teach when you do the Cambridge CELTA training (English as a foreign language for Adults). So, there must be something to it. And just think what you do when having a conversation in your native language: You don't always understand every single word, because of distraction, lack of concentration or outside noise, but you still use the keywords that you did get to fill in the missing pieces quite naturally.
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby poor_mouse » Mon Mar 18, 2013 6:07 pm

Bha mi ag èisteachd 's a' leughadh naidheachdan an-seo, ach chan eil sthuth ùr air a' nochdadh ann (tha an rud mu dheireadh bhon 15 Am Màrt 2013).
Am beilear e ag ùrachadh gach latha no nas ainneimhe?

Faodaidh mi ag èisteachd rudan eile gu dearbh (agus bi mi a' dèanamh mar sin), ach bu mhath leam beagan a thuigsinn cuideachd :) :naire:
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Thrissel » Mon Mar 18, 2013 8:32 pm

San fharsaingeachd, ùraichidh iad sin gach latha o Dhiluain gu Dihaoine, ach dìochuimhnichidh iad sin a dhèanamh glè thric.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby poor_mouse » Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:15 am

Mòran taing! Tha mi n' deagh dhòchas... :D
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Àdhamh Ó Broin » Tue Nov 19, 2013 8:22 pm

Àdhamh Ó Broin wrote:After you've got a hold of basic conversational Gaelic, stop thinking of yourself as 'a learner'; think of yourself as a fledgeling Gaelic speaker. If you spend the whole time thinking of yourself as a learner, it can be difficult to ever leave that mindset. There is no-one, as the cliché goes, who is not 'a learner of Gaelic' on some level, native or otherwise, but it is essential -if you decide its more than just a wee social and a bit of fun- to be learning to accept the idea that Gaelic is something that belongs to you,


Níall Beag wrote:I can state quite categorically that it is not essential. I am not a Gaelic speaker. I am not a Spanish speaker. I am not a French speaker. I am a learner of all of them, and I am very glad to say that I will never leave that mindset. The moment I believe I am a "speaker" of a language, I believe that what I say is correct, and I stop learning


Thighearna! 'S fhada bhon sin gu dearbh lol

So would you say then that you are not a speaker of English? Just a learner? I am not a learner of English, I am a speaker. I am also not a learner of Scottish Gaelic. I speak it to the same ability as most native speakers I've met with the exception of certain old people, so to describe myself as a learner is just silly. That does not mean that I don't consider myself to be learning, I pick up several new words / idioms every few weeks, but the rate has slowed dramatically over the last year and a half especially.

There is no advantage whatsoever to being a perpetual learner. I've tried to teach far too many of them and got nowhere because they can't ever conceive of themselves as speakers, they are constantly thinking about what they need to do to "make it" :roll: Sack that. Adopt the mindset that the language already belongs to you and that all you need to do is train your brain to accept it. It can be done. I've done it. I can't remember the last time I had to think out anything in Gaelic, let alone tr*nsl*t* from English. There's not a second''s length between thought and speech. That's called being a speaker and it's a great place to be and I wouldn't swap it to go back to struggling to think in Gaelic for all the fish in the Minch!

If you have children, whether they're going to Gaelic medium or not, they make the perfect conversation partners, because they don't judge you, they're naturally patient (maybe I've got good kids :P ) and even if there's no sense in which Gaelic is part of your cultural identity and you just enjoy learning languages, it will do your child no harm whatsoever to have Gaelic spoken around the house.


Níall Beag wrote:It will do your kids no harm except that it will teach them bad Gaelic. If you want your kids to learn Gaelic, the last thing you should be doing is exposing them to a bunch of learner errors because they will naturally take it on as though it were correct.


So you believe that people should not begin to speak Gaelic to their children as soon as possible and that they should "wait" until their skills are sharp? The vast majority of learners will, under that regime, never speak Gaelic to their children. I would not have started until my daughter was about four and me four years into learning. I still had to correct certain vowel sounds right up until the end of last year, although that was because they were non-Mid-Argyll sounds and I suppose therefore at a rather esoteric level of learning. My daughter has grown with me. Her Gaelic is astoundingly good and better than that of anyone she comes into contact with at school. That was achieved by never thinking twice about what I was saying, just going and going and going until we moved forward together. From there, I corrected her mistakes as I corrected my own.

This morning, she corrected the fact that for some reason I addressed my son "A Lachlainn" instead of "A Lachainn" (Argyll). That's how sharp her ear is and how complete her knowledge of our dialect is. That was achieved by sheer bloody-mindedness and "faking it til you can make it" but more than anything, over time and intense exposure to Gaelic, day in, day out, hour in, hour out.

She would never say "well" or "so" or "really". There's just no need. Gaelic has a word for it, as they say.

The mindset of the learner dictates constantly that their Gaelic isn't good enough, but as long as you're moving forward and looking to constantly improve until you hit a plain (which you will if you go far enough), the mindset of the speaker finds a point at which you level out and simply augment with new idiom that with which you are already confident. Speakers use language because it's natural and normal to do so, they don't think about the fact that they are "using this particular language" and that's the point that we all should be aiming for and the point at which Gaelic itself sees genuine lasting benefit. Once you can get through all day, every day feeling completely at ease speaking a language and never that there's a fundamental "lack", you are a fluent speaker. From then, just add idiom, as you would in English, as you go along!
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Ceid » Tue Nov 19, 2013 10:24 pm

Tha mi ag aontachadh riut, Àdhamh!

Kids aquire language differently than adults. Their brains learn faster and can pick up much more things passively, and thus can aquire more information about a language in vastly shorter amounts of time. With more information in their heads, they can better and more quickly make intuitive comparisons to determine what are better word choices or mre coherent grammar than adults would. I live in a city where many of my English-speaking grade school student have parents who speak Spanish as a first langauge and may have never learned very fluent English. But as long as the kids are exposed to English daily, even without intensive instruction and correction, they learn perfectly fine English. They hear it, they absorb it and their brains figure it out. It's pretty cool actually. I even got to see this happen with a mother and son up in Cape Breton where they, both beginners, were taking seperate beginner's Gaelic classes and by the end of the first week, the son was teaching his mom things, even though he had not really learned much more in the classes than her. He was just picking up more from what he was hearing spoken around him and assimilating it faster. This is how kids are awesome. They're basically language-aquisition machines!

As for calling oneself a speaker: I'm an isolated learner, but I have been calling myself a speaker for some time now. I make plenty of mistakes. I don't have the greatest vocabulary. My pronuncation isn't amazing, and it's even pretty awful on a bad day.Tha mi coma! Calling myself a speaker has made me far more comfortable with Gaelic and given me more incentive to use it. As a mere "learner" I didn't feel I had much right to go around using it. As a "speaker" I know I have these skills--they still need work but I definitely possess them. I'm sure many SMO students and Scottish speakers would sniff at what I consider "passing fluency"--in fact I know some do because they have. Yet I can think to a modest degree in Gaelic. I've had dreams in Gaelic. I often don't consciously register the change when I go from reading or listening to Gaelic than back to English or vice versa. Sometimes when I try to speak another language, like German or French which I had studied long before Gaelic, Gaelic comes out instead. Hell, sometimes i stop myself midsentecen when I'm speaking English because I just realized I was actually speaking Gaelic--and I don't even get in much practice speaking Gaelic with others (seriously, it's been a few months since the last time). Gaelic has become a very important, very natural part of my perspective on the world and that is something no one else can measure or judge. Yet if I keep calling myself simply a learner, it seems I'm seeing my efforts as inferior and am inviting others to measure and judge my ability. I just can't be bothered with that anymore. Yes, there are people who are convinced I'll never really speak "real" Gaelic and who see me as an outsider, who will always see me as an outsider and who even seem to relish reminding me that I am an outsider to them. But that is no longer my problem. It was for the first 4-5 years, but no more. I don't feel like I need anyone's permission anymore. And besides, sometimes I think I need remind more judgemental folks that I may be several generations removed from Scotland but there's still plenty of very Scottish blood in me--with a very Scottish temper to match. Don't tell me I can't, because I absolutely will and in my own way!

Part of what make this so very personal for me is my effort to learn Gaelic mirrors the last Gaelic speakers in my family who clung to it despite how American society was stripping it away from them. I truly doubt my last Gaelic-speaking American-born ancestors spoke Gaelic as it had been spoken back in Scotland. But it was theirs and they fought to keep it. Now I'm the first person in my family to speak more Gaelic than a spattering of words in almost 100 years and no, it's not like the Gaelic of SMO students or native speakers in Scotland and sure, there's plenty of room for improvement. So what? Ach tha a' Ghàidhlig agam 's bidh mi mòr aiste!

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Àdhamh Ó Broin » Wed Nov 20, 2013 12:01 am

A ghràidh, na gabh thusa dragh! Tha a' Ghàidhlig a th' aig a' chuid as motha de dh'oileanaich às an t-Sabhail Mhór truagh air fad ;)
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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Níall Beag » Thu Nov 21, 2013 12:20 pm

Àdhamh Ó Broin wrote:
Àdhamh Ó Broin wrote:After you've got a hold of basic conversational Gaelic, stop thinking of yourself as 'a learner'; think of yourself as a fledgeling Gaelic speaker. If you spend the whole time thinking of yourself as a learner, it can be difficult to ever leave that mindset. There is no-one, as the cliché goes, who is not 'a learner of Gaelic' on some level, native or otherwise, but it is essential -if you decide its more than just a wee social and a bit of fun- to be learning to accept the idea that Gaelic is something that belongs to you,


Níall Beag wrote:I can state quite categorically that it is not essential. I am not a Gaelic speaker. I am not a Spanish speaker. I am not a French speaker. I am a learner of all of them, and I am very glad to say that I will never leave that mindset. The moment I believe I am a "speaker" of a language, I believe that what I say is correct, and I stop learning


Thighearna! 'S fhada bhon sin gu dearbh lol

So would you say then that you are not a speaker of English? Just a learner?

Of course not. I am a native speaker of English, because I have been hearing it since birth (and some would say before that) and speaking it since my first word. And crucially I learned it from exposure to native speakers who had learned it in turn from exposure to native speakers. OK, so I didn't acquire every structure and variation of English, but nobody does; I am a native speaker of an English.

I am not a learner of English, I am a speaker. I am also not a learner of Scottish Gaelic. I speak it to the same ability as most native speakers I've met with the exception of certain old people, so to describe myself as a learner is just silly.

That's a non-sequitur. Being a native isn't a question of ability, it's a question of fact. If you learned as an infant and kept the language up to adulthood, you are a native; if you didn't, you aren't.

If it wasn't a minority language, and it wasn't a local language, would you still say it? If your Spanish was as good as your Gaelic, would that make you a native speaker? If you called yourself one, would you not get slapped for it? A couple of years ago (before I left Edinburgh) I could hold down a conversation with a Spanish person who would have no idea that I wasn't Spanish, and often believed I was winding them up when I told them I was Scottish. The phrase I heard more than anything was "hablas perfecto... pero perfecto." Never once did anyone say "nativo" -- because you cannot become native.
There is no advantage whatsoever to being a perpetual learner. I've tried to teach far too many of them and got nowhere because they can't ever conceive of themselves as speakers, they are constantly thinking about what they need to do to "make it" :roll: Sack that.

That's not what I'm saying at all though. My point is that you will never "make it" -- you always have to make do with what you can. Aim to be native-like even if you'll never. As the saying goes: Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.

Adopt the mindset that the language already belongs to you and that all you need to do is train your brain to accept it. It can be done. I've done it. I can't remember the last time I had to think out anything in Gaelic, let alone tr*nsl*t* from English. There's not a second''s length between thought and speech. That's called being a speaker and it's a great place to be and I wouldn't swap it to go back to struggling to think in Gaelic for all the fish in the Minch!

Maybe it works for you, but it didn't work for me, and it didn't work for the majority of learners I've met -- of Gaelic or Spanish or any other language.

There is a danger (and most of us succumb to it) that once you claim to "speak" a learned language that your ego prevents you from acknowledging mistakes. I have had arguments with Spanish learners who declare what they say to be right, even though it does not occur in any of the grammar books (which are pretty extensive and inclusive) and simply dismiss any criticism with the claim that this is how they speak where they learned. "It's dialect, you know," and all that. These people are closed to the possibility that it's a mistake, because that challenges their self-identity as a "Spanish speaker".

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Níall Beag » Thu Nov 21, 2013 12:34 pm

Ceid wrote:Kids aquire language differently than adults. Their brains learn faster and can pick up much more things passively, and thus can aquire more information about a language in vastly shorter amounts of time. With more information in their heads, they can better and more quickly make intuitive comparisons to determine what are better word choices or mre coherent grammar than adults would. I live in a city where many of my English-speaking grade school student have parents who speak Spanish as a first langauge and may have never learned very fluent English. But as long as the kids are exposed to English daily, even without intensive instruction and correction, they learn perfectly fine English.

The difference is that you're talking about kids immersed in a native environment. The parents don't need to speak English to the children because the kids pick it up elsewhere. If you're not in a Gaelic-speaking area, the vast majority of input is going to be parental language. Kids can only learn what's presented to them.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Àdhamh Ó Broin » Thu Nov 21, 2013 1:15 pm

Níall Beag wrote:Of course not. I am a native speaker of English, because I have been hearing it since birth (and some would say before that) and speaking it since my first word. And crucially I learned it from exposure to native speakers who had learned it in turn from exposure to native speakers. OK, so I didn't acquire every structure and variation of English, but nobody does; I am a native speaker of an English

That's a non-sequitur. Being a native isn't a question of ability, it's a question of fact. If you learned as an infant and kept the language up to adulthood, you are a native; if you didn't, you aren't.

If it wasn't a minority language, and it wasn't a local language, would you still say it? If your Spanish was as good as your Gaelic, would that make you a native speaker? If you called yourself one, would you not get slapped for it? A couple of years ago (before I left Edinburgh) I could hold down a conversation with a Spanish person who would have no idea that I wasn't Spanish, and often believed I was winding them up when I told them I was Scottish. The phrase I heard more than anything was "hablas perfecto... pero perfecto." Never once did anyone say "nativo" -- because you cannot become native.


I'm afraid I'm going to ignore the rest of what was said in the same manner that you ignored what I said. Not once did I claim to be a native speaker.

What I said was that I do not class myself as a learner of Gaelic, I class myself as a speaker. That does not mean I class myself as a native. Where exactly did you get that impression from a bhalaich? You expended about ten minutes there giving me a good going-over for something I didn't say :priob:

My point is that while not being a "learner", that does not mean I am not learning, just as I am still learning about English and Lowland Scots.

And I also don't believe that to be native you have to learn from native speakers. Would you say that Roy Wentworth's two kids aren't native Ross-shire Gaelic speakers because they learned from an Englishman? Their mum didn't have Gaelic either until Roy came on the scene, so neither parent was native and yet Diorbhail speaks perfect Ross-shire dialect.

It is the same with my kids. When do my offspring become native Gaelic speakers? The hundredth generation? Or are they actually native speakers now, because they were brought up with me never speaking a word of English to them since birth. They have never breathed air and Gaelic not in their ears, every day, every hour. Since they could speak, they have been battering out a mixture of Mid-Argyll Gaelic and Glaswegian-tinged English from their mother.

Gabh mo leisgeul a charaid, ach tha 'd a' cheart cho tùsach mar luchd-labhairt na Gáidhlig 's a tha duine sam bith ás na h-Eileanan Siar agas fada nas dilse na neart dhiucha!

And if you're worried about me teaching them bad habits, why not listen to my Gaelic and get me sorted on anything you think is missing :P

You'll maybe notice the improvement between May 2012 with Robbie MacVicar and the October 2012 with Coinneach mór. I did a huge amount to perfect the dialect during that summer....

I was proud to be a Gaelic learner, but even prouder to be a speaker with a new generation of native Mid-Argyll speaking children :D

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby Níall Beag » Thu Nov 21, 2013 8:51 pm

Àdhamh Ó Broin wrote:I'm afraid I'm going to ignore the rest of what was said in the same manner that you ignored what I said. Not once did I claim to be a native speaker.

What I said was that I do not class myself as a learner of Gaelic, I class myself as a speaker. That does not mean I class myself as a native. Where exactly did you get that impression from a bhalaich? You expended about ten minutes there giving me a good going-over for something I didn't say :priob:

True. You didn't say "native", you said "more native than..." and I didn't catch the rest of it because there was a lot of people talking at the time. I was kind of stunned by that.

My point is that while not being a "learner", that does not mean I am not learning, just as I am still learning about English and Lowland Scots.

But there's a huge difference there: whenever you or me learns something new about English, it is not a "correction" to our English - it's an acceptable variation. The reason I define myself as a learner is that I need to keep open to being wrong, which I never am in English.

And I also don't believe that to be native you have to learn from native speakers. Would you say that Roy Wentworth's two kids aren't native Ross-shire Gaelic speakers because they learned from an Englishman? Their mum didn't have Gaelic either until Roy came on the scene, so neither parent was native and yet Diorbhail speaks perfect Ross-shire dialect.

That's a thorny issue, and I tend to use the term "native non-native" to describe such cases. What they speak is their native language, but it may not be a native model of Gaelic -- non-native Gaelic as a native language. I amn't competent to assess Geri's level, just as I amn't competent to assess Callum MacLean (Ruaraidh's son)'s level. But I wouldn't want to use either as a native informant for a corpus study of native Gaelic, because they're not part of a natural intergenerational transmission -- I cannot trust that anything they do isn't a learner error inherited from their parents.

Gabh mo leisgeul a charaid, ach tha 'd a' cheart cho tùsach mar luchd-labhairt na Gáidhlig 's a tha duine sam bith ás na h-Eileanan Siar agas fada nas dilse na neart dhiucha!

...and there's where ego investment and pride surface, which is exactly the reason I don't refer to myself as a speaker.

And if you're worried about me teaching them bad habits, why not listen to my Gaelic and get me sorted on anything you think is missing :P

You already know your Gaelic's better than mine. That doesn't invalidate anything I've said.

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Re: Top tips for new Gaelic learners?

Unread postby An Gobaire » Fri Nov 22, 2013 12:19 am

Niall's definition of "native speaker" is this I guess [*from thefreedictionary.com]:

native speaker
a person who has spoken a particular language ever since he was able to speak at all.

In the case of Gaelic, some people we think of as Gaels would not be classed as native speakers, using the definition above. For example, someone whose first language was Gaelic, but who moved to an english speaking area at a young age, and who doesn't have the ability to speak it as an adult or much older person. Saying that, I have met such people who are semi-native, and they still have the instinct for the language, and the accent / pronunciation, so it seems that the first 4-5 years are critical.

Therefore, Adhamh would not be a native speaker of Gaelic, however, if his children have been speaking Gaelic ever since they were able to speak at all, then they would be. Doesn't matter that Adhamh or his wife are not native Gaelic speakers.

What is most important is one's ability and fluency in the language (not the same thing), and for the best speakers, this comes through getting the most exposure to the language, as spoken by native speakers or near-native speakers, as well as using it the most over one's whole lifetime.

This is why the term "near-native speaker" is used for very advanced learners. Learners after a long period of time may have spent most of their life learning the language and being completely immersed or immersing themselves in it to such an extent that they have reached a near-native level, which means that their ability may surpass that of native speakers who have not had enough exposure to the language since they first started speaking it to keep their native ability. This is particularly common in the case of an endangered minority language such as Gaelic.

There is also another fact to consider. Definitions of the word native include:


2. Being such by birth or origin: a native Scot.

3. Being one's own because of the place or circumstances of one's birth: our native land.

If you are from an area where Gaelic is the native language, even though a majority in that area no longer speak the native language of the area, and you then learn that language to near-native level...why can't you think of yourself as a native speaker of that language? Especially, when all around you, are people speaking a language that is "foreign" to that area. Foreign in the sense of non-native to that area. 2. Not being such by origin.
Dèan buil cheart de na fhuair thu!