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 post).
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!
This 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.
UPDATE: See the results of my Gaeltacht trip here.
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.
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