Language Is More Than Just Input And Output

Gleann Cholm Cille Gaeltacht

Here’s a quick update on what’s been happening on my trip to the Gaeltacht (one of the areas of Ireland where the Irish language is spoken) so far.

I’ve been in Gleann Cholm Cille, Co. Donegal for a week now and spent the first three days hiking the hills and enjoying the gorgeous landscape here while getting to know the other students and faculty at Oideas Gael.

Apart from stepping in the bog and all the midgies this place is fantastic :)

My own course started on Sunday and will go till Friday with classes going through the day and cultural activities such as traditional dancing, singing (in Irish) and most importantly, plenty of drinking in the evenings.

This particular course that I’m on attracts some really interesting people from all over Ireland and the rest of the world. You’d never expect to see so many people from places like Russia, Japan, Italy and even Australia of all places here taking such a keen interest in Irish! 😉 It’s a real eye-opener into just how alive the language actually is.

Plenty of high profile people come here to do this course as well and I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time this week with one of my favourite actresses from Irish television (in fact one of my favourite characters from Rásaí na Gaillamhe – a show that I’ve been using as a learning tool for the last few months) and the Minister for Tourism last week who were both here for the same course.

I’ll write up a detailed review of the school I’m at when the week’s over and I’m putting together some video footage that’ll hopefully pursuade other learners to venture out here as well.

Keep checking back for that!


Language is much more than just input and output

I’ve been confronted by something crucially important over the last few days.

If you’re an experienced language learner then you’ve no doubt been in that frustrating situation where you feel like you’re at a very high level, you head off on a trip somewhere to use the language and then when a native speaker asks you a basic question it throws you completely off guard making you feel like you actually don’t know as much as you thought you did.

It might be something as simple as how are you? – you know it perfectly well and you know how to answer it but you seem to forget everything for a brief moment – er… um… I’m good… emm… er… and you?

When I first arrived here in the Gaeltacht last week I had a delayed response to pretty much everything that was said to me in a target language that I was supposed to be quite good at by now.

Here I was understanding television shows and reading books yet a simple greeting had me stumped!

Talk about massive blow to the ego.

Now, as frustrating as it was it actually wasn’t an entirely new experience for me – I’ve been in a similar situation several times before with other languages but this time I decided to pay close attention to it.

It was worse with Irish because with other languages I’ve always had people in Australia or online to practice with in the early stages but all this Gaeilge practice is very new to me so it’s a giant struggle.

It’s all part of the process of turning a very strong passive knowledge into an active skill.


Exchange is a vital aspect overlooked

Without other human beings you can’t beat the fluency mark.

It’s bad news for people who like to fly solo but you can never really claim to be properly fluent in a language until you’re managing to exchange discourse with another person or people.

I can hear you all saying well duh! but hear me out for a second :)

We use language to get a desired outcome, whether it be requesting something, expressing thoughts or feelings, making a demand, etc. and although you can theoretically learn a language in isolation (sometimes with minority, endangered or dead languages you have no choice after all), there eventually comes a time where fluency will only come when you’re face-to-face with another speaker.

Here’s an analogy for you:

You can practice throwing a baseball up in the air and catching it with your mitt, and you can practice throwing the ball on your own.

But it doesn’t prepare you for when you’re playing catch with another person and the ball’s flying toward you; it’s faster and it’s unpredictable. You might have taught yourself how to throw the ball but it doesn’t completely prepare you for when the other person’s moving around and you have to throw it accurately.

No professional baseball player ever became a pro just by tossing the ball to himself in the backyard.

I know it’s not a great analogy and it sounds like simple common sense (you might be thinking no shit!) but I don’t believe a lot of people fully understand this until they’ve been in the situation themselves.

Only by having unpredictable questions and statements thrown at us again and again, having to think on our feet and respond appropriately does our competency change dramatically (not to mention the benefits of error correction and so on that come as well).

I’m happy to say that all of the passive knowledge I’ve built up over the last 8 months is activating rapidly but to really get to the level that I want I’ll need to spend more time here in the Gaeltacht.

I’ll be heading to another Gaeltacht area on Saturday for two days before I head off to Dublin and then back home to Australia (then immediately off to South Korea *phew*).

Keep checking back as I’ll have some video (with a 9 month progress video to come), a detailed review of the course to share and plenty to say on the Irish language itself (since I received quite a few messages and emails asking me about it).

Oh and if we’re not friends on Facebook then we should be! Click here :)


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Gaeltacht Immersion After 8 Months Of Learning Irish

Gleann Cholm Cille

I have some really exciting news to share with you so read on!

Without doubt, the toughest challenge learning a language like Irish (Gaeilge) for people living outside of Ireland is finding native speakers to practice with.

As I already mentioned here, there’s an abundance of learning material available for Irish. However it’s still a minority and endangered language meaning that there are major challenges to overcome which aren’t really an issue for more mainstream languages (I talked about some of these challenges in this guest post at The Everyday Language Learner).

Even though I went from absolutely no knowledge of the language to a competency level that I’m quite happy with by learning on my own at home (here are my progress videos at 3 months and 6 months), one thing that has really frustrated me over the last 8 months is how difficult it is to find native speakers to chat with, both in person and online.

I talked about this issue here.

As I’m only weeks away from being completely immersed in the South Korean culture and language (I’ll be talking a lot more about Korean in the months to come), I felt as though the last 8 months of intensive Irish study was coming to a really anticlimactic and disappointing end.

My comprehension is fantastic but I’ve barely been able to practice the language and truly activate it. My speaking skills are really lagging behind.

For that reason I’d be a bit hesitant to tell people that I speak Irish as I haven’t really had the chance to prove it to myself. I need some solid practice.

Well, I have a few weeks to spare so…


I’m heading to the Gaeltacht!

Gleann Cholm Cille DonegalThis is one of the boldest, last-minute holiday plans I’ve ever made (I wouldn’t advise booking a flight to the other side of the world at the last minute in high season).

I’ll be heading to Ireland from Australia early next week to catch the last week-long Irish immersion course at Oideas Gael, which is located in a seaside village called Gleann Cholm Cille (a Gaeltacht/Irish-speaking area) in the northwest of the country.

Over the last month I’ve been trying desperately to arrange a stay with friends in the Kerry Gaeltacht as my heart’s always been set on learning the Munster dialect but unfortunately I wasn’t able to arrange it in time.

As a plan B I’m now heading to an area where they speak the Ulster variety of Irish. I’ve heard excellent feedback about the quality of this course and people attend from all over Ireland and abroad so it should be a great mix and a píosa craic (bit of fun).

I stayed in a village called Killybegs a few years ago which is very close to Gleann Cholm Cille so I’m already familiar with the region. The scenery’s gorgeous and I vowed to come back so I’m really looking forward to it.

The last year has been really tough for me and I’ve been home working without a proper break since I got home from Turkey last September. I haven’t really had a chance to relax properly and catch my breath.

As well as bringing my Irish up a step or two, this trip is a well-deserved holiday before I start work in South Korea early next month.


The Oideas Gael course and my plans for the two weeks ahead

I’ll be arriving in Gleann Cholm Cille a few days before my course actually starts and using that time to unwind, take in the scenery and practice with the locals as much as possible.

The journey from Australia to Ireland is a 30 hour nightmare and I’ll be taking a 4-5 hour bus ride from Dublin to Donegal as soon as I get in so I’m sure I’ll be exhausted when I arrive.

I’ve arranged to stay in a B&B (bed and breakfast) for the duration of the course which means I’ll actually be living with a native speaker family. It’s a slightly more expensive option but I wanted to ensure maximum opportunity to hear and use the language while I’m there.

The course takes a communicative approach focused on conversation which is perfect and I intend to limit my use of English while the course is on. Because I want to get the most out of my time there I want to ensure that I’m speaking Irish almost exclusively and limiting English to certain times.

Apparently there are some good social outings that take place in the evenings which will be a good opportunity to meet like-minded Irish learners and listen to some traditional music (as a novice fiddle player myself I’m a huge fan of Irish trad music).

Depending on time and internet availabilty I’ll do my best to post updates every couple of days so be sure to check back here occasionally.

Connect with me on Facebook too if you haven’t already :)


This was written by .

Do you use StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest or Digg? A quick upvotelikepin or digg will make my day! Thanks :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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