As part of the Gaelic in the Landscape project, we sent some of our Gaelic volunteers on further language training during the summer. Our volunteer, John (Iain) tells us how he’s found learning Gaelic during lockdown.
It was just over a year ago that I started to learn Gaelic. I joined a night class for beginners in Stirling (Sruighlea), run by the Council. Our teacher was from Lismore and the other students were all young and lively. I had always been interested in Scottish history and culture, knew a little about sìthean, a’ chailleach, and Dannsa nan Tunnag, but the real reason pushing me to learn Gaelic was that Alzheimer’s Society say that keeping your mind active is likely to reduce your risk of dementia. One of their examples is learning a new language.
My fellow students introduced me to Duolingo and I devoured it within a few months. I still chuckle when I recall phrases like “chan eil drathais orm” (“I don’t have underpants on”) and, little wonder, “tha mo thòn rèoite” (“my buttocks are frozen”)! By Christmas, as well as knowing Tha Bodach na Nollaig a’ tighinn a-nochd (Santa’s Coming Tonight), I was smitten with the language. I was uttering such sentiments as “tha gaol agam air Gàidhlig” (“I love Gaelic”) and “cleachd i no caill i” (“use it or lose it”)!
The last night class with the Council was just a week before we were all told to stay at home. Fuirich aig an taigh! I spent a lot of time in our garden. The weather was fine and I felt more aware and closer to nature in the stillness, devoid of traffic noise. We were helped through May by a wonderful online singing workshop with Linda Macleod, organised by Callander’s Landscape. The theme was “Oràin Ghàidhlig” (Gaelic Songs), with a focus on Port à beul (mouth music) and òran-luaidh (waulking songs). The song I remember best is Fac’ thu na fèidh? (Have you seen the deer?) and I still sing it around the house sometimes!
By June, this was the longest time I had ever stayed in one place without going anywhere and I had been reflecting on what was important in my life. Family came tops. We were meeting regularly in the garden. Surprisingly, Gaelic came up as important too. I looked up courses by Distance Learning and narrowed it down to two providers. Cùrsaichean Goirid (Short Courses) offered by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and a Beginners Conversation Course by GaelicCourses. Then, in true Brando fashion, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse: sponsorship on further Gaelic learning from Callander’s Landscape, where I am a volunteer. I gratefully accepted and booked up both courses. Especially given the lockdown situation, I couldn’t help but think of the Gaelic saying: “Cha do dhùin doras nach do dh’ fhosgail doras” (“No door closes without opening another door”).
The three day Gaelic 4 course with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in July covered various language structures and was backed up by extensive useful notes. The course was conducted partially in Gaelic with loads of group discussions. Meanwhile, my learning with GaelicCourses lasted three months from July – September and helped me with pronunciation (in Gaelic, fuaimneachadh, pronounced foo-am-n-ya-ch-ug) which I had struggled with, as well as my listening and reading skills. Although both courses were completely different, they both benefitted me greatly.
Most recently in October, I enjoyed attending Calum Maclean’s online talk on wild swimming. It was interesting to learn the meaning of Gaelic place-names around Callander, like Loch Lùbnaig (loch of the place of the bends). He also told the story of the each-uisge (kelpie) from Loch Venachar (horned loch) that I remembered from the Callander’s Landscape comic which I had shown my grandchildren earlier in the year.
I realise that having a garden helped me a lot during Lockdown and makes me more fortunate than many, but I also do not know how I would have coped without Gaelic.
Dè mud dheidhinn? A bheil thu airson Gàidhlig ionnsachadh?
Thank you to Bòrd na Gàidhlig for funding this project through their Taic Freumhan Coimhearsnachd programme.