Gaeltacht Immersion After 8 Months Of Learning Irish
- Written byDonovan Nagel
- Read time4 mins
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.
Connect with me on Facebook too if you haven’t already 🙂
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Ah ok, thanks. Damn, I’d have thought that you’d be able to find at least a few people to practice with via skype before leaving. I mean, Irish is rare but it’s not that rare, at least I didn’t think so.
Go hiontach! Bím a dul go Gleann Cholm Cille achan samhradh le ocht mhbliana anuas, agus bhain mé an-sult as. Is áít álainn í agus tá muintir na háite an deas.
Super cool news Donovan. Good luck and have a great time. I’ll look forward to reading about your time.
Is cinnte go gcuirfear fáilte mhór romhat i nGleann agus go mbeidh deis den scoth agat chun “Gaeilg” a chluinstin. Tá mé i mo chónaí in aice le Ghleann Fhinne, áit ina n-eagraíonn Oideas Gael cúrsaí Gaeilge fosta. Bain sult as an chúrsa, a chara!
Cool! I wish you all the best. Enjoy your stay!!!
That. is. AWESOME.
Massive respect to you for just saying “screw it” and going for it in the biggest way possible, that’s very ballsy and something 99% of people learning a language would be too scared to do.
Have you talked to this family yet? Are they aware of your mission and what you’re doing and your website? Have you made an agreement with them that they will speak entirely and only Irish to you while you’re there? Do you have any friends there that speak Irish who you’ll be meeting with?
Also, have you really been unable to find any native speakers on language exchanges like iTalki and whatnot to talk to? That kind of surprises me because, although I obviously have no trouble finding Spanish-speakers on there, I got curious and checked out a couple of more obscure languages that I’m interested in--Thai and Tagalog--and saw that there were TONS of native speakers of both on there.
Please keep us updated, and again, congratulations on doing this. Absolutely, go for it.
I haven’t spoken to the people I’ll be staying with yet as it’s all organized by the school. I won’t know much till I arrive. I will be making them aware of my goals/mission/website etc. when I get there most definitely. Hopefully I’ll get plenty of video speaking Irish with them to put up on the site.
iTalki is great for a lot of languages but I’ve had no success with Irish. There are a few people on their who list Irish and English as their languages but they’re either inactive on the site or have an intermediate level (they were probably taught in school so they list Irish as fluent even though they might not actually know it that well). I’ve tried contacting one or two people on there without a response.
One really good place I’ve found online is a Facebook group called Gaeilge Amhain. A few people have added me to Skype through there but just haven’t been online when I am.
Anyway, I’m sure that I’ll meet dozens of Irish speakers at Oideas Gael that I’ll be able to keep in touch with and hopefully there’ll be some in Korea too ;)
Maith an fear, a Donovan. Tá Glean Cholm Chille ina áit aoibheann, agus táim cinnte go mbeidh tú in ann an-chuid Gaeilge breise a fhoghlaim i rith do chuid ama ann.
That sounds like a ton of fun Donovan, congrats on being able to put it together before heading to Korea!!
This is terrific news Donovan and undoubtedly the best way to activate all that Irish you’ve been working so hard on over the last 8 months. I hope you have great craic immersing in a real Irish-speaking community and look forward to reading all about your grand adventure in Gleann Cholm Cille! :)