Mumford, Mairead

Name: Mairead Mumford
Location of Study: Galway, Ireland
Program of Study: National University of Ireland, Galway; International Summer School
Sponsor(s): Bruce Broillet

A brief personal bio:

I am a sophomore Medieval Studies and Irish Language and Literature major in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame. I am originally from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but my “home under the Dome” is Lewis Hall (Go Chicks!). I have studied Irish for the past four semesters, and I just completed Advanced Irish Translations. Right after my Summer Language Abroad program ends, I will begin studying at University College, Dublin, for the Fall semester of 2012.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

My SLA Grant is integral to my ability to achieve my academic and intellectual goals as an Irish Language and Literature student. Resources for Irish learners in America are not readily available because of its status as a minority language. In order to learn Irish not as a foreign language, but as a second language, I will need to spend a significant amount of time conversing with native speakers in quotidien situations. This grant will help me to take Irish out of a classroom setting and to truly get a chance to live through the language.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

As a result of my summer study abroad experience, I hope to improve my Irish language production by the equivalent of at least one year of study. I will be able to understand and respond to common questions without having to spend a significant amount of time thinking about what the question means. My sentence structure will become more natural, and I will have enough exposure that common speech patterns will begin to sound natural and I will be able to recognize mistakes because they don’t sound right, rather than because I have gone through and analyzed the grammar. I will also become more accustomed to the rich idiomatic expressions that characterize the Irish language.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to interact and bond with my host family and roommate through Irish.

2. At the end of the summer, my language production in Irish will be at a level equal to two semesters beyond my current placement.

3. At the end of the summer, when I begin my semester in Dublin, I will be able to attend academic lectures in Irish and respond to the content presented.

4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate with my friends from the program in Irish.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

My SLA Grant will fund my participation in the high-level class at the NUI Galway International Summer language school. The program has a very rigid structure that will allow for total, uninterrupted language immersion for four weeks. I will live with a local, Irish-speaking family in an Irish-speaking area. I will attend classes taught through Irish during the day and, when not in the classroom, will participate in cultural activities, such as Irish song, dance, and sports; attend lectures on Irish history and literature; and go on excursions to other Irish-speaking areas.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 21 July 2012

Today was our first day of classes. I was sorted into the ard-rang (high-level) course with eight other students, four of whom go to Notre Dame. I was quite nervous this morning because the course is taught through Irish and, although I was up for the challenge, I feared that my actual abilities would not withstand it. By the afternoon, though, I was much calmer. Now that I am re-adjusted to the structure of the language, I can focus on finding the vocabulary I need or at least circumlocuting effectively. There are three or four students who have much better Irish than I do, and I am glad to have them in the class with me. They are incredibly patient when they explain a grammatical concept from the perspective of someone whose first language is English, and I’m learning so much vocabulary just from hearing them speak. The people I speak to, even young ones like my teacher and my host parents’ son, don’t use very much slang, at least when they are around me. However, the language is quite idiomatic. Even when I understand every word in a sentence, I still often have to ask for the meaning. The most difficult part of speaking right now is getting used to the accent, since I learned a different dialect in school than the one they speak here. For example, I have always heard the word “raibh” pronounced “rev”, but here, they say “ra”. Luckily we have many resources at our disposal to facilitate our learning. We have nine students in our house, and after class we all gather in the sitting room to review what we learned that day. I can review and reinforce grammatical concepts by helping the students in the beginner classes, and the intermediate students’ teacher gives them lists of vocabulary words that are new to me. Our host dad (“fear an tí”) loves to drop in and help us with our homework. He also takes every opportunity to remind us that we can study grammar and read books to our hearts’ content in America, and that the best way to learn the language is to go down to the pubs and speak with the locals.

Reflective Journal Entry 2: 27 July 2012

I’ve been living in An Cheathrú Rua for about a week now and my Irish is already showing great improvement. Our days in class are often divided by aspects of language learning: speaking, reading, listening, and grammar. We have started reading the drama An Triail by Máiréad ní Ghráda. It is a very serious play that depicts the hardships that a young, single mother faces in 1960s Ireland and brings up questions about society’s responsibility for individuals. After several semesters of reading childrens’ books, outdated autobiographies, and newspaper articles, it is refreshing to encounter a piece of serious modern literature that would hold its own in any literary circle. We were assigned a particularly thorny translation for homework, and I was lucky to have my fear an tí to help me work through it. I’m already good at thinking outside the box to translate meaning rather than just words, but I’ve learned that it helps to rearrange the English into Hiberno-English before translating to Irish. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the vocabulary that I learned for technical terms or more modern inventions is rejected by native speakers because it is “manufactured”. Instead, the language here coexists with English in such a way that people will say “bicycle” and subject it to the various Irish grammatical mutations rather than use the more recently-coined “rothar”. After dinner, we all went down to the pub to watch the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics. I figured that this was the perfect time to gauge sentiment toward America. What I found was that, while the Irish generally like America, they see American success in the Olympics as almost unsporting, since our athletes have so many resources available to them and because we have such a large pool of athletes from which to take our competitors. My pride in my country’s success hasn’t been diminished by this, but I am a lot more sensitive to the fact that this is a reflection on America as a whole. It is also particularly applicable to those of us participating in the program here: we’ve been given the opportunity of a lifetime, and there is no reason that we shouldn’t reach our goals for language development.

Reflective Journal Entry 3: 5 August 2012

We went to Galway City this afternoon. I didn’t get much of a chance to practice my Irish because people in the city do not employ Irish on a daily basis, and even though it is compulsory to learn the language in school, the system is often called “ineffective”. The people in my mother’s generation often despise the language and refuse to speak anything but English; however, the young people do not have the same hatred for the subject. Although some see the language as useless with regards to the present culture, many of them enjoyed learning it in school and intend to help their children to learn it in the future. I spoke to one cab driver back in Dublin who didn’t have a word of Irish, but whose two-year-old granddaughter was already signed up to attend one of the primary schools where all subjects are taught through Irish. Although the language has a long way to go before it is safe from extinction, the stigma that kept people from learning it for so long is definitely beginning to fall away. One of the girls I talked to said that, while she rarely uses Irish when she’s at home, she finds that people tend to use it when they are in foreign countries because it makes them feel special and more connected with their home. The Galway Races, an annual event that takes place the last week in July, are still a major conversation topic here. The Races are similar to the Kentucky Derby, and people come from all over the country to see the horses and show off their best clothes. Although the holiday is not particularly related to the Irish language, we did catch a program on TG4, the Irish language channel, which was set during the Races.

Reflective Journal Entry 4: 10 August 2012

Along with our classes during the day, the school provides cultural events on many weeknights. So far, we’ve heard lectures about language preservation, listened to traditional music, and learned sean-nós (old-style) singing. My favorite nights, though, are the ceilis (Irish dance parties). I’ve been Irish step dancing since I was five years old, and I was really excited to see how people dance in a less-formal, non-competitive setting. When most people think of Irish dance, they picture very stiff upper bodies, high leaps and kicks, and lots of skipping around. This style, which I am accustomed to, is so different from the country style. Everyone here wears the hard reel shoes that are only worn by boys in America, and the basic step, the “skip-two-three”, is mutated into a shuffling step so that the rhythm made by the reel shoes is more pronounced. In this way, the dancers here participate in making the music that they dance to. I was curious to learn the Irish words for the steps I’d been doing all my life, since there are no standard terms in English for the moves. Here are a few of the terms I found: Luscadh = spinning Timpeall an tí = around the house (a spinning pattern used in set dances), one of the only exact translations isteach, amach = skip-two-three, back-two-three

Reflective Journal Entry 5: 12 August 2012

Today we visited Inis Oírr, one of the islands off the coast of Connemara. We were given a tour of the major archaeological sites on the island by a local historian. I was pleased to find that, even though she was speaking quickly and in an accent that was not familiar to me, I was still able to follow the lecture and have a conversation with her about the island’s demographics. The island has obviously been inhabited for quite a long time, and the respect that the people there have for their own history is made obvious by the fact that buildings from varied points in history are still standing. We were able to see an 8th century church, a beehive hut, a 16th century castle, a 19th century school, and a submerged church, all on one tiny island. Our guide mentioned that fear of the sídhe, the fairies, has historically kept people away from ancient sites. Nowadays, preservation efforts and harsh penalties for vandalism have the same effect. When I was eating dinner upon our return to An Cheathrú Rua, I realized that I had barely had any chicken, one of my staple foods at home, in the entire time I had been there. Cuisine in this part of Ireland is largely based on fish, lamb, and beef. Breakfast is a full meal here- each morning I have leite (porridge), bacon (Irish bacon, not the crispy kind), eggs, sausages, and black pudding (skip this bracket if you have a weak stomach! Think you can handle it? Read on: Black pudding is a delicious sausage made with congealed sheep’s blood. I promise that it tastes much better than it sounds). We also have at least one potato dish at every meal, and lots of vegetables.

Reflective Journal Entry 6: 17 August 2012

I can’t believe that the program is ending so soon. I’ve learned so much about both Irish and American culture in the past month, and my language skills are vastly improved. Although I have fantastic teachers in America and Notre Dame provides me with all the resources I could ask for, no amount of study could beat an immersion experience like this one. I was able to practice speaking about a huge range of subjects- everything from pop culture to travel to what I did at the pub last night- and I was able to listen to Irish spoken by the people who live through the language. This program has increased my confidence in my own language skills, as well as my commitment to reviving the Irish language itself.


Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

My SLA Grant helped me to meet and even to surpass most of the goals I set for myself last spring. By the end of the program, I was able to have complex discussions with my classmates in Irish, and I was able to communicate with my host family through Irish. My production improved dramatically, especially in terms of vocabulary. I still often communicate with the friends I made in the program through Irish, and I am maintaining my language skills by conversing with other students at UCD in Irish. I am not, however, able to attend lectures given in Irish, but I have joined my university’s Irish Language society and am attending coffee hours and even Zumba classes in Irish.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

The most important lesson that I took away from my time in the Gaeltacht was to focus on understanding the culture and language as it exists, rather than as I think it should be. This is especially important with regard to the relationship between English and Irish. As my host dad explained to me, “We were introduced to a lot of modern things – bicycles, handguns, medical terms, and the like – through English. So we used the English words for them, just like English has preserved some French and Spanish words. Later on, some language purists went back and invented words for them in Irish, but no native Irish speaker would actually use them.” The reason I study Irish is that I want to help preserve the language as it is spoken, not as a set of rules and grammar books. By adopting an attitude by which I trusted an educated native speaker’s language production over what I had read in my textbooks, I found that I was better able to understand the logic of the language. My advice for anyone preparing to learn a language abroad is to leave your inhibitions at home. You can’t learn without making mistakes, and native speakers are generally very patient if they see that you are making an effort.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I am currently studying in Dublin, and there are shockingly few opportunities to speak Irish here. I have joined the university’s Irish club, and I am reading Irish-language fiction that I purchased this summer. My language skill is now at a level that will allow me to take Old Irish when I return to Notre Dame, if the class is offered. This will be vital to my academic career: my other major is Medieval Studies, and right now there is a wealth of medieval Irish literature that has not even been transcribed, let alone translated. It is my hope to use my unique combination of qualifications to contribute to our understanding of the literary culture of medieval Ireland.