It must be about fifteen years ago now, if not more, when I saw a letter in the local newspaper asking if anyone was interested in joining a group to learn Gaelic. We’d visited Ireland so often, and so loved it over there (even considered moving if we could have found jobs) that I was immediately interested. I went along to the first meeting and there was a very nice group of people – and little did I know that some of them would become my closest friends. I was the only person there who had no Irish ancestry, and much later when I mentioned this to one of my Irish friends, she said ‘Well, your heart is green!’
At that point we met once a week and every month a teacher from Coláista na nGael would visit to give us a proper day’s lesson. I worked really hard at my Irish, but for some reason, despite the hours I put in with books and videos, and on-line courses, I made every little progress. I don’t think I have the ear for new languages – because I have tried and failed with others, German, Russian, Italian… I loved Gaelic, found it fascinating, but it would not stick in my head. I could learn vocabulary, but how to string a sentence together, or read anything more than a child’s book escaped me.
I continued to go each month to the workshop – the evening classes dropped away as everyone leads such busy lives, and loved meeting my friends, and trying my best to grapple with the exercises our teacher set us. We went away on courses in other parts of the country, held an Irish day in the Winter Gardens in Weston, went to the Irish embassy in London, and some – but not me – went to summer schools in Ireland. Then a trip was organised to Iceland – there’s a strong connection between the two countries, Irish monks visited very early in the island’s history, and the Vikings who settled there brought Irish slaves, mainly women with them.
Although I no longer have a day job, my life is very busy now, and unfortunately, over the last year I have missed quite a few of the monthly classes. I also began to flag… I’d tried so hard over such a long time, bought so many books, CDs and DVDs, worked so hard, but it just wouldn’t stick… I confess, I became disheartened. However when I mentioned this, I was so touched by the support and friendship from the group, and I suddenly thought – ‘This is no good, no good, to keep feeling defeated. I must press on, even start again and try and learn it from the beginning…’
… and this is what I’m doing. I guess most people have heard of Duolingo, the free on-line language courses in a variety of languages, real and imaginary! So I am back on Duolingo, learning how to say ‘I drink water and eat an orange’, I like wine’ ‘The man eats a fish and the woman eats a steak’ etc. Who knows whether I will make any progress this time, but never mind, I will go along to the next meeting and feel as if I’ve made an effort, and enjoy the company of my friends and our teacher.
Here’s a link to Duolingo: