With the release of the Duolingo course for Scottish Gaelic there seems to be a buzz in Social Media circles for our wonderful language. I therefore thought it might be a good idea to give potential new learners some thoughts on how to start their Gaelic journey.
A superb, and recently redesigned website which is many learner’s first experience of Gaelic. Has lots of beginner lessons, an excellent dictionary (which includes sound files) and an exhaustive list of Gaelic classes – there should hopefully be one near you. If not then there is always the distance courses!
As mentioned in the intro, the recent surge of interest in learning Gaelic has come about due to the release of a Scottish Gaelic course on the language app Duolingo. As with all apps like this there is a free and a premium option. Not looked into the premium option so don’t know what it costs. More than happy to deal with adverts and use the free version. I’ve done about half of it so far and I’d imagine it’s a typical language learning app i.e. very repetitive and really all about remembering phrases and less about learning underlying grammar.
For me as a grammar nerd I could never have used Duolingo as the basis of my learning. However, for those looking for something to use a gentle introduction to the language, or for something to use as a bit of practice, then it’s all good. Basically anything which brings people to Gaelic is good, no matter the flaws it may have.
After initially attending a local class I quickly opted for this option. There are a couple of main places people go.
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
This is where I went. They run several distance courses with the main beginners one being An Cùrsa Inntrigidh. This runs for 18 months. It’s a mixture of learning on our own, weekly phone calls and end of session tests (written and oral).
There is then a follow-up course called An Cùrsa Adhartais which runs for two full academic years. I personally didn’t feel the need for this second course as two years seemed an overly long commitment for a hobby. Instead at this point I moved to Teach Yourself Books and have now covered pretty much everything An Cùrsa Adhartais would have covered.
However, if you have the time and motivation then do as many courses as you can. Just bear in mind they cost around £300 per block (Earrann) and An Cùrsa Inntrigidh had 3 blocks.
Atlantic Gaelic Academy
Don’t know much about this other than it has Skype hosted classes which last three hours. That’s way too long for me, but perhaps it would work for others. The AGA though, is about more than just the language, it offers many courses and events based around Gaelic culture. It is based in Canada but some of the tutors are from Scotland as far as I am aware. Like Sabhal Mòr Ostaig you would need to factor in cost and time if this is an option you think might suit you.
Teach Yourself Books
Not sure I could have learnt solely from a book – well, I know I couldn’t because I tried. However, maybe it will work for some. For me these books are best used as an accompaniment to a course, or for use once you already have a decent grasp of the basics. Two books I would recommend are:
Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks
I have two people on Twitter who I regard as my Gaelic gurus. One is a native speaker (and author), the other is a learner, but a seriously good leaner who has themselves written several books in Gaelic. Both of them, independently of each other, recommended this as the best Teach Yourself book on the market. I bought it on their recommendations and wasn’t disappointed. Just be aware of a couple of things:
- Ignore the title. You will not read this book in 12 weeks unless you already know a lot of Gaelic. I read it in about 2 months but by then I had already completed An Cùrsa Inntrigidh before I started, and therefore already know a sizeable chunk of the content. Instead regard it more as 12 chapters, not 12 weeks.
- The book is very grammar dense. It’s kind of a bare bones look at what makes up the Gaelic language. For me that was perfect. However, I know from reading other people’s comments that it can seem a bit “dry” and tough to get into. I would say it’s maybe not a book to be your one and only source of learning – more as an aid to a course, or as a book to fill in the gaps, and extend your knowledge, after a course.
This is a book I will never stop going back to as there is always something to refresh or rediscover.
Teach Yourself Gaelic
This was the second Teach Yourself book I owned and I didn’t get too far with it. However, in revisiting it I can see that it was actually very good. One of the authors is Boyd Robertson, someone who was a key driving force behind the success of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. You can actually see this in the book. The chapters are set out like the Aonadan (units) in An Cùrsa Inntrigidh i.e. a conversation, followed by a list of the key vocab, an explanation of the grammar used and then some exercises. Again as someone who has done a fair bit of Gaelic, I now enjoy going back to this book and using the conversations for practice. As with 12 Weeks, you always pick up something when you read a book like this i.e. an idiom, a construct, a new or forgotten piece of vocabulary etc.
As with Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks, I wouldn’t necessarily advise brand new learners to use this as the only basis for their learning. Perhaps using this with 12 Weeks for more grammar depth/explanation would work. Either way it’s a very handy book to have in your collection, and one I would recommend.
There are several groups on Facebook. The one I contribute to is the Let’s Learn Scottish Gaelic group. The group has lots of links to learning resources allied to the chance to ask questions and start discussions. Like all groups it can be quiet at times, and there can be phases when conversation gets stuck at the Madainn mhath level. However, there are a few posters, such as me, on there who are happy to dig deeper into the language, as well as helping others with their queries. Overall it’s a good group and something I would recommend you joining.
Any questions please don’t hesitate to ask – even questions on Gaelic grammar!
Thanks for reading.