Its speakers number in the tens of thousands. There are no monolingual speakers left alive. So why learn Gaelic?by Cal Flyn / June 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
The first time I try to learn Gaelic, I go with my mum. We enrol on a week-long immersion course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye. Beginners I, our course is called, and it assumes no knowledge.
We start from the very beginning: consulting notes at every corner, fearing the spotlight, feeling every syllable strange in our mouths. The teacher stands to write a question on the board and we regard it solemnly. “Dè an t-ainm a th’ort?” Together we pick the sentence apart and put it together again, wondering at its strangeness: what is the name that is on you?
I learn to put the names on us, with a certain amount of panache. “Is mise Cal,” I wobble, earning appreciative nods from around the room. “Agus seo Fiona. Tha i na—” I explain, with a confidential air, “—mo mhàthair.”
We’ve never been the sort of family in which I address my parents by their first names, but it feels nice to be suddenly peers: sitting beside each other in class and sleeping in twin beds. Together we rattle through the basics. “It is windy,” we inform each other in halting syllables. Or: “I have one sister.” Sometimes these statements are true; more often they aren’t—the facts manipulated to generate the simplest or most adventurous language. “I don’t like soup,” I announce to the class on Friday. “But I like making soup.” “Liar,” says Mum, out of the corner of her mouth, as the teacher observes us good-humouredly from the front of the room. When not teaching immersion courses, he tells us, he is the Gaelic voice of Daddy Pig on BBC Alba’s version of P…