Tá beagán Gailge agam

I love languages, I’m fascinated by them, so I’ve been really interested to read various posts about people learning Icelandic, which is a pretty difficult language to learn! I was interested in their posts for a couple of reasons, I went to Iceland recently and fell in love with the country and the people and the culture! Also I am just as I said very interested in language and languages.

Beautiful Iceland

Alas, my interest does not match my ability. Je peux parler français, je peux lire français… but only because I learnt it from the age of eleven until I was twenty, and visited the country many times and had some French friends… I am a bit rusty now, but I think I could become more fluent again, especially with reading.

At secondary school in our second year we had to chooses a second subject, between German, Spanish, Latin and domestic science (cookery and sewing) I chose German and passionately wanted to learn it… but I was put in Latin… with a teacher who was old when she taught my aunty nearly thirty years previously. Two weeks after starting Latin I was away from school for six weeks with glandular fever… I never made up what I had missed and although I worked harder at Latin than any other subject (and even being quite clever) I used to get 11% or 8% in exams. In my last year dear old Miss Eddy finally retired and was replaced by young dynamic Mrs Stanton from New Zealand who was a wonderful teacher. My results leaped to 56% but too late – the miserable old bag who was our head teacher said I couldn’t take the final exam…. so I never got a certificate for all my efforts (which had a huge impact alter when wanting to go to University… but more of that another time!)

Nothing daunted with wanting to learn German, I tried to teach myself… and visited Germany… and then at eighteen fell in love… with a German! He was gorgeous,  a bit like a better looking Jon Voight… but this was the days before the internet, mobile phones… any of the brilliant modern devices which enable you to keep in touch with distant friends. So our romance died…

The next love of my life was Ukrainian… so Ukrainian and Russian went onto my list. (I have to tell you here, I made as little progress with either German or Russian as I did with Latin and dear Miss Eddy!) Having finished my student life I worked at Manchester Airport; I was a bing-bong girl, you know, the soothing voice which tells you you’re about to miss your flight? I worked on the information desk and met people from every nation in the world. We had a list of set announcements in about ten modern languages which I learnt perfectly… so I had a couple of dozen words of Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, and of course I had my French which I was still pretty good at… and surprisingly my tiny bits of German returned and I was able to direct people and answer simple questions without resorting to the list.

I moved from the airport to teaching and most of my students were Chinese… I did note even attempt that although I was fascinated by the idea of a tonal language and read hugely about it, and attended a course on the language – not to learn it but to learn about it.

Since then, throughout my busy life, that interest has continued: I started evening classes, in Italian, in Russian… I bought a course of BBC Spanish lessons (so I could speak to Raul Malo in his own language… some hope!) I bought a teach yourself Dutch book and cd to I could chatter to my dear friend Elly and her husband Kees… However enthusiastic I am, however hard I work I know at the end of the day, I just have a poor ear… and a poor memory for aural sounds. My reading is always better than my listening which is always better than my speaking…. completely the wrong way round for a a language learner.

Yes, my dear, I think you should learn Dutch…
You… want to learn Dutch?
You learn Dutch? (whatever the Dutch for LOL is!)

Nothing daunted however, for the last four years I have been learning Irish Gaelic… Dia dhuit! Is mise Lois, tá mé go maith! Tá beagán Gailge agam! Why? Why a am I doing something I am so patently bad at and will never get very good at? The same reason I play my guitar – because I enjoy it! I have loads of friends through my Gaelic, I have been to lots of lovely places because of it (including Iceland!)

Sin é mo chara, Trish, is ainm dí!

So… sláinte agus ádh mór ort!


  1. Jeremy Nathan Marks

    I share your love of languages. I feel like a number of things have to coalesce to make the “education” truly happen. I’ve been working to make French more a part of my research for my degree (and beyond) and I want to expand the Spanish I studied when I was younger. I’m working on both because they are related and if you understand the grammatical structure of one Romance language you have a good entry point into all of them.

    I studied Hebrew growing up (Hebrew School and a bit at University) but circumstances never came together to make it a distinct part of my day-to-day life. I feel like Spanish and French will achieve that place because they are such a part of what I’m interested in and my love of poetry and literature, so I feel like that integreation is already happening.

    I certainly wish you luck with Irish. I get the impression you love it so I think that should probably do the trick. Also, can you get Irish language television where you live? I would think that is a great immersion strategy.


    1. Lois

      Good luck with the Spanish and french, Jeremy! Yes I do love Gaelic but i am truly terrible at it! never mind, it’s not for an exam or for any reason other than to enjoy! yes, we can get programmes on the BBC iplayer in Gaelic… and also receive radio stations…. so I should listen more!
      Hebrew must be quite a difficult language, having to cope with a different script too; I did struggle a bit in my feeble attempts at Russian because of that!


      1. Jeremy Nathan Marks

        I was introduced to Hebrew very early, so the alphabet is quite familiar. But I also was introduced to it through religious study, so it was a rarefied version. And I have always rebelled against religion (not very original of me) so I did not come at Hebrew with the zeal I bring to French and Spanish. However, Hebrew as a language continues to interest me.


    1. Lois

      I was so poor at it, I didn’t even manage the roots! Since the amazing Mrs Stanton, however, I have occasionally picked up my Latin primer and had another go, and in a backwards sort of way, my knowledge of french and tiny bit of Italian has helped me grasp it better.


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