Language lessons

The whirlwind trip to Thurso for the Mod was successful for my daughter and her clarsach duet partner. They won the duet competition for their age group, gaining a trophy and the coveted gold badge, above. The wording round the top says, 'The Gaelic Association', and below, 'Our Language and Music', and at the foot, 'Royal National Mod' (the Queen is the patron).

The pieces the girls played were Crodh Chailein (Colin's Cattle) and Tha 'Bhuaidh aig an Fhigheadair (The Weaver's Triumph).

As a family we do not speak Gaelic. My husband and I both hail from the east coast of Scotland, where Norse is the greater linguistic influence in local dialects of Scots. Our children have learned several European languages at school, and our son has made inroads into Mandarin Chinese, but Gaelic hasn't featured in their schooling. There is Gaelic-medium state schooling in Edinburgh, but it's not a route that we chose.

At the Mod we had the unsettling feeling of being foreigners in our own country. We found ourselves deciphering signs and making (very) small inroads into understanding Gaelic. There were some sweeteners in this process - literally:

Mint Mod sweets, saying 'Caithness Mod'.

Easy readers, such as 'Spot's Snowy Day':

That quintessential English children's book, 'The Tale of Benjamin Bunny':

I even came across a personable young lady selling my husband the idea of taking Gaelic evening classes one day...


  1. Now we are living here in the land where gaelic is spoken everyday, I feel very much a foreigner. People will be chatting away to each other, but will immediately revert to English if they know a non gaelic speaker is around. Walking around the supermarket you hear a strange mix of the two languages - even in the same sentence! My husband is almost fluent, having been a learner for several years, but i only have a smattering. We are thinking of giving James a few sessions at the croilegan (nursery) but I struggle to square this with my home-ed plans.
    Well done to your daughter though - a gold medal! xx

  2. That would be a challenge~
    I am wondering if YOU would understand ME! The Texas drawl makes it hard for those in the northeastern part of the US to decipher my speech! I LOVED hearing the people talk when we visited Scotland last winter! Although lots of people think I am from Alabama instead of Texas! Must be that SOuthern Belle thing!

  3. I love Beatrix Potter books. I've read all of them.

  4. Congratulations!

    I'm impressed by anyone who learns of their past including their language. Gaelic must be a particularly difficult language to learn, I'm thinking.

  5. I agree with EG WOW - it looks really difficult!

  6. There's nothing worse than a language barrier to make you feel like a foreigner in your own country! I felt that way at Thanksgiving dinner the other night when my Sweetheart and I got toasted at Cranium because we didn't know enough English language music and more recent popular actors! We did just fine spelling backwards and answering trivia, but humming songs and guessing actors way!

  7. I have some Irish in my background, so I got it into my head as a teenager that I'd like to learn to speak Gaelic. My school counselor told me it was a dead language. Yeah. Dead. Right. He really wasn't the best counselor. I have other stories to prove that. Anyway, not sure who would have been around to teach it, so it was more of a dream that got put on the backburner.

  8. I know nothing about Gaelic language...

  9. Wish I'd been able to go to the Mod myself. My son's in the Gaelic-medium school here in Edinburgh and I'm SO glad we did go down this route. That said, Gaelic's in my cultural background anyway ... Neither of my maternal grandparents spoke a word of English till they went to school, and although they didn't pass Gaelic on to my mother, I did Higher Gaelic in school and then went on to do a degree in it. I'm from the north myself and half of Lewis is probably related to me in one way or another! Use it or lose the language, though ... That was in the '90s and I'm now struggling to help my boy with his homework, I've forgotten that much of it!

    It's a pig of language to learn initially, mainly because of the fiendishly horrible spelling system. Once you're past though it's okay. I also did German at university and found Gaelic a lot easier - bar the spelling, that is.

    And big congrats to your daughter for the clarsach prize! Crodh Chailein ... I used to play that on the pipes back in my pipe band competition days :-)

  10. Well done to both for winning. I am so glad to see Gaelic laive and kicking. The last I heard was that it was taught in shcools in the north and west. It's great to hear there's a Gaelic medium school in Edinburgh.

  11. Just out of you know how Bheniamian is pronounced? I'm guessing 'venyaman' but just curious...our son is Benyamin (the Hebrew spelling of Benjamin) but as I have many roots in the British Isles, it would be serendipitous to find out the pronunciation may similar :)


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