Post-Program Reflection

1. I noticed over my month in Donegal that confidence in language acquisition comes and goes in waves. Although my competency in Irish was growing constantly, and some days I surprised myself by having conversations in Irish in which I could say everything I wanted to, there were other days in which I felt I could say nothing at all. As a result, I’ve come to think of persistence as the key to language acquisition. Every piece of extra time and effort I put in was rewarded, although not always right after I made the effort.

To a certain extent I did meet the goals I laid out for myself at the beginning of the summer. I am able to converse in Irish, with a limited but expanding vocabulary. When I listen to Irish language radio or watch Irish language television, I am normally able to understand what is being discussed. I can and do read in Irish, albeit slowly. What makes the goals I laid out for this summer significant, though, is that in order to preserve the progress that I made in them, I have to continue speaking, reading, writing, and listening in Irish. Now that the summer is over, what I did is less important in my language acquisition process than what I will continue to do.

2. My summer in Gleann Cholm Cille and Gleann Fhinne was as much a cultural learning experience as it was a language learning experience. I am currently studying abroad in Dublin, so I’ve had a chance to compare the relatively small rural communities where I lived in Donegal to the large international city I live in now. If I hadn’t gone to Oideas Gael, I wouldn’t have been able to compare the two communities. In addition, instructors and other students in Donegal gave me a lot of information about how to take advantage of Irish language learning resources in Dublin.

If I could give future SLA awardees advice, I would recommend that when they research programs, they consider the cultural lessons each program will teach them as well as its language learning resources. In my case, choosing to study in a small community that I might never otherwise have visited allowed me to learn about Irish culture in a deeper way than I otherwise would have.

3. I feel very fortunate to have gone from my time studying in Donegal directly to my semester abroad in Dublin because of the continuity it allows in my study of the Irish language. Because of the improvement I made over the summer in Donegal, I was able to enroll in an Irish class at University College Dublin where I’ll be reading a novel and working on my grammar and conversational skills. My hope is that my time in Donegal will be a springboard from which I can go forward to engage deeply in Irish language and culture for the rest of my time in college and beyond.

“Will you get?”: Why this is difficult to read in Irish

I thought it might be nice, since this is one of my last blog posts, to give a little bit of an idea of what it’s like to sit down and learn Irish. I’m going to be talking largely about phonetics, the part of Irish which most often makes native English speakers raise their hands to the heavens in despair. It’s also the part of Irish which often makes native English speakers smile when they realize they finally understand it.


We’ll talk about my current favorite word in Irish: bhfaighidh. Bhfaighidh, as we all knew logically from our first glance at the word (or maybe because my teacher kindly explained it to me), is pronounced “wee.” It means “will get” in the future tense, but only if you are asking a question—“Will you get?”—or using a negative—“I won’t get.” If you want to use plain old “I will get,” you’re looking for gheobhaidh, which is pronounced “yo-wee.”


I had seen bhfaighidh before I came to the Gaeltacht, but I never felt comfortable using it. I wasn’t sure how to say it—my approximation would have been “why-gig,” and I knew that couldn’t be right. In retrospect, though, the pronunciation of bhfaighidh makes perfect sense and is an example of how consistent Irish phonetics are.


First, I should explain the bhf. In Irish, some words modify others by placing an urú on the second word. An urú is when a new letter or letters are placed in front of a word. The letters placed are specific to the letter that begins the word, and after they are placed, you pronounce them instead of the first letter of the word that’s being modified. Bh is the set of letters that modifies f, so it replaces the sound of f in pronunciation. In Irish, bh is pronounced like a w when it is followed by an a, o, or u. That is why “bhfa” becomes “w.”


After the beginning of the word, it gets simpler. In Irish, “ai” is pronounced “ee.” In the Ulster dialect, which is what they speak in Donegal, “gh” and “idh” at the ends of words are normally not pronounced. Even though “aigh” is not at the end of bhfaighidh, it is at the end of the root of the word, faigh. That’s it: Bhf+ai+gh+idh = wee. Everything has been pronounced as it should be.


It can be hard to get the old English rules out of my head sometimes. Reading out loud in Irish brings me back to the first grade, when I sounded out words one letter cluster at a time. Back then, I couldn’t believe anyone would be so silly as to give “th” and “sh” their assigned sounds. Now, it feels natural. It’s pretty amazing all of the different ways humankind has invented to write the same sounds. I still have a lot of Irish phonetics left to learn, and a lot about Irish in general, but it’s fun to sit down and learn about it. If you’re reading this, I hope you had fun, too.

History and Tradition in the Bluestack Mountains

One of the things that has most set my time in Glenn Fhinne apart from my time in Glenn Cholm Cille is the opportunity I had to hear about the rich history and folklore of the area. Most of the Irish language songs I discussed in class this week were from the area—and when I say from the area, I mean within about ten miles. One of the highlights was a moving song by a woman in the early 1900s longing for the home of her youth. According to our teacher, the home of her youth was about five miles from her home at the time she wrote the song.


On a more serious note, we had the opportunity after class one afternoon to drive out to the Bluestack Mountains and hear about the history of the people who had lived there. The area that we went hiking in currently has only a few houses, but a hundred years ago, it was home to seven extended families, all Irish-speaking. The first school wasn’t founded there until the early twentieth century. When the school was finally created, it offered not only primary education for the families’ children, but also night classes in English targeted at older teenagers and young adults in their twenties. The schoolmaster realized that many of the young adults would need to emigrate to England or the United States in order make a living, and that their lives would be difficult without English.


In spite of the emigration, though, the area seems to have contained a strong Gaeltacht community for quite some time. During the twentieth century, linguists traveled to the Bluestack Mountains to record stories and songs in a language that they didn’t understand. In one story we were told about the area, there was a woman living there who didn’t speak English as late as 1944. Today, a person who speaks Irish and not English would be more or less unheard of.


I’m grateful that we got a chance to travel to the Bluestack Mountains and to hear about them, because it gave me a chance to put the language in perspective. As an Irish language learner, I often hear concern from people about the small number of people who speak the language. Our trip to the Bluestack Mountains helped me to put the changes that have taken place in Irish speaking communities over the last hundred years into perspective.

Gaelscoileanna: A Meeting of Politics and Irish language

Well, we’re half a week past Glenn Cholm Cille, and even though I miss it, Glenn Fhinne has turned out to be just as lovely (Don’t believe me? See picture below!). Because Glenn Fhinne is more remote than Glenn Cholm Cille, the family that I’m staying with gives me every meal. As a result, I’ve gotten to know them pretty well these past few days, and they are wonderful. Our new teachers are also great, and my Irish classes have gotten more intense as I moved up a level to challenge myself this last week.


One thing that makes Irish different from the languages I’ve learned before is that because Irish is a minority language, it’s impossible to study it without also learning about the politics that influence it. I came across an example of a sociopolitical issue surrounding the Irish language this week on an Irish language news website ( in the form of an article on the increase in the number of students in Ireland being educated through the Irish language.


According to the article, as many as 55,000 students in primary and secondary schools are now receiving an immersive Irish language education. What may surprise you, though, is that many of the Irish language schools these students are attending are not national schools (what we would call public schools) in Irish speaking areas, but Gaelscoileanna, Irish language immersion schools, in English-speaking regions.


Although Gaelscoileanna undoubtedly help increase the influence of the Irish language, many people in Ireland see them as negative, because Gaelscoileanna tend to be built in wealthier areas. In addition, admission to Gaelscoileanna is competitive, and some people believe that children with wealthier, better educated parents have a better chance of admission. In short, while those who support Gaelscoileanna say that they are a great help in preserving the Irish language, many people see them as furthering a class divide in Irish society. After reading the Tuairisc article, I wanted to hear firsthand what someone from this Gaeltacht might think about the Gaelscoileanna. Luckily, it turned out that one of the Oideas Gael teachers who grew up in an Irish speaking part of Donegal had actually attended a Gaelscoil in Letterkenny as a teenager. To protect his privacy, I’ll call him Aodhán for the remainder of this post.


Aodhán was familiar with the controversy surrounding Gaelscoilenna, but he said that when he began attending secondary school ten years ago, there was no such concern. Aodhán attended a Gaelscoil in an English-speaking area for secondary school because there was no Irish language secondary school in his town. According to Aodhán, Irish language secondary schools in Gaeltacht areas are relatively rare. This is because many Gaeltacht areas don’t have the population to sustain a high school. For example, there are currently 72 students enrolled in the primary school in Glenn Fhinne. There isn’t enough money to fund a secondary national school for 72 students, because the government would need to pay salaries for around fifteen teachers in order to teach all of the subjects required in the Irish education system.


Aodhán was able to get to Letterkenny because his mother was working there. Most of the students from his primary national school went to one of the two English language secondary schools nearer to his home. As a result, Aodhán said, many of them didn’t have a chance to develop their Irish as they got older. When Aodhán went to the Gaelscoil, it had nothing to do with class divide. It was simply the only place where he could learn his own language.


Nevertheless, Aodhán acknowledged that there are issues with the Gaelscoileanna. The mix of native Irish and native English speakers in them sometimes results in what can be jokingly called “Gaelscoil dialect,” a way of speaking Irish that doesn’t reflect the way native speakers actually use the language. He thought that his use of his native dialect might be weaker because of his education there. In addition, he agreed that Gaelscoileanna are generally built in more affluent areas. He suggests that this might be because new schools in general tend to be built in wealthier areas, a problem we also have in the United States.


I am not from Ireland, and I don’t think that I have a right to an opinion or a conclusion on this issue. Still, I think that it’s worth learning about the political issues surrounding the Irish language, because ultimately politics have a lot to do with whether or not it can survive.


A beautiful afternoon in Glenn Fhinne: Who says it always rains in Ireland?


A poster of Irish phrases in the primary school classroom we’re using for our Oideas Gael course.





Festivities Blooming in Glenn Cholm Cille

Today marks the end of my last week in Glenn Cholm Cille and the beginning of my time in Glenn Fhinne, a town in the heart of the Bluestack Mountains. Some of the Oideas Gael language courses are moving there for a few weeks as their expanded offering of cultural classes (in harp, weaving, tapestry, hillwalking, and the like) takes over their facilities in Glenn Cholm Cille. Also set to take over Glenn Cholm Cille in the next few weeks is the 2016 Glencolmcille Agricultural Show, which I was lucky enough to discuss with a local in Glenn Cholm Cille. In order to protect his privacy, I’ll call him Toby in this blog post.


Although my time in the Glenn didn’t overlap with any festivals, it very well could have. The upcoming agricultural show is one of three this summer that I know of, the first being a stonemasonry festival that took place before I got there, and the last being a family festival that will take place in the second week of August (see picture below). However, according to Toby, the agricultural show is the festival that means the most to the community.


The basis of the agricultural show is a number of contests comparing livestock and other entries. According to Toby, most of the festival will take place on the town’s GAA football pitch. The thing that makes the festival so special, though, is that it’s huge—the list of winners from last year’s show that is posted on the Glenn’s website is 31 pages long. Toby estimates that thousands of people come to town for the show, among them people who grew up in the Glenn but have moved to other places to work. The agricultural show is an excuse for people to come home, and everybody does.


Glenn Cholm Cille is a tiny town. Like I said when I first got here, it sometimes seems like something out of a movie. But during my time here, I’ve come to realize that in spite of its size, the town has a lot going on. I think that events like the agricultural show are part of what makes the town feel like it’s thriving: people may leave for a while, but they always come back. I hope that one day, I’ll be lucky enough to come back, too.

More information on the agricultural show:

Feile Sign

This sign for a festival later in the summer is at the start of the main road in Glenn Cholm Cille. The sign reads “Festival”, an alternative spelling for the town’s name, and “2016, 6th-13th August” in Irish.

Texting Slang “as Gaeilge”

Sometimes, when I learn a new lesson for the first time, it feels like I’ll never remember it. But because I’m speaking all day in Irish, I have to use what I learn, and I’ve found some lessons coming in handy over and over again.


One topic that has come up a few times is the use of abbreviations in Irish text messaging. It seemed strange to me at first, but I suppose it’s logical that Irish speakers would find text abbreviations useful just as much as English speakers would. Some of these are common—I’ve received an email containing “GRMA” (short for Go raibh maith agat, which translates as “thank you”) from a teacher before. Others seem to be used only among younger people, or barely at all. My favorite example of this category of texting slang is “NASAA,” which a young Irish speaker told me means “Níl ach saol amháin agat”—the equivalent of You Only Live Once.


Although my teacher this week didn’t know exactly what NASAA meant when I first asked her, she made a pretty good guess. She also took some time at the end of class one afternoon to teach us other, more common text abbreviations, including how to say in shorthand “Okay,” “No problem,” and “Where are you?” In fact, all of my teachers have been pretty knowledgeable about putting the language to use online. They have to be, because a lot of people learn their Irish on the internet. Many of the adults taking classes here live in countries or in regions where no Irish classes are offered, and have learned most of their Irish through programs like Duolingo. From what I’ve seen, the result of that has been that those invested in teaching the language have worked hard to make online resources for learning the language better and more accessible. Since the language is widely used online, it makes sense to have a set of abbreviations for messaging.


I think that my newfound knowledge of Irish text messaging reflects the way that my vocabulary has been getting richer in general since I’ve been here. Before I came here, one of the biggest problems I ran into when trying to communicate in Irish was that even if I knew how a sentence should be constructed grammatically, I just didn’t have the words to say what I wanted to say. At Oideas Gael, the teachers encourage us to speak and teach us vocabulary for a variety of situations. So far, I’ve practiced renting an apartment, describing a job, and, yes, text messaging, to name a few.



There was no picture with my last post due to technical difficulties with my phone. Luckily, a friend got this shot of me looking at the Glenn. Wellies are a must! But we usually get a few hours of sun a day. Just of screen: The famous Glenn Cholm Cille burger and chips van.

A Week Flies by in Gleann Cholm Cille

Gleann Cholm Cille is a small town in Donegal County in the Northwest of Ireland. Rising up around it on three sides are small mountains (or large hills, depending on who you ask), and on its last border is the sea. When I first arrived last Saturday, it felt like I had entered the alternate reality where American movies about Ireland take place: after all, the sheep outnumber the people here ten to one, every local person I’ve talked to has been beyond friendly, and a short walk up a hill will take you to the ruin of an old watchtower. Soon enough, though, Sunday came and I was plunged into the intense environment of Oideas Gael.


Oideas Gael is an immersive learning experience. Many of the people who come here are adult learners who are only able to come for one week, and they want to make the most of their time. As a result, we have classes every morning and afternoon, and activities in the evening. As you might imagine, the intensity was frightening at first. Even when I could understand the questions that professors and other students were asking me, sometimes it would take me so long to formulate an answer that they would repeat the question in English. By Tuesday of my first week, I questioned how much my ability to speak Irish could really improve.


Then, slowly, things started to turn around. At first it was just a few questions that I found myself able to answer, and then I could have simple conversations. As a rule, Irish speakers are bilingual, and most assume that Americans don’t have Irish, so for my first few days in the Gaeltacht I conducted my business in shops and restaurants in English. Finally, at the end of the week, the shopkeeper asked me what I would like in Irish, and I have spoken to her in Irish ever since.


Every day here feels like a week, and I’m not sure that anything I write could fully encompass all I feel I’ve learned already. The Irish teachers are so generous with their time and eager to share the language. Even some locals I meet in the street seem to know that I’m a learner, and slow down their speech for my friends and I when they ask, “An bhfuil sibh na Meiriceánaigh?” At the beginning of each week we have the opportunity to change our class level, and this week I moved up two levels, from a class which was being taught through English to one taught entirely in Irish. Today is Tuesday, and sometimes I feel my head starting to spin from concentrating so hard on trying to understand what I hear. This time, though, I’m confident that by the end of the week I’ll have improved more than I ever thought possible.


Entry 1

When I took my first Irish Literature course Freshman Year, I had no idea as to how much it would affect my course of study and to the degree it would influence me as a person.  This past week, I have lived and learned in one of the most beautiful places I have been in my life – the small town of Gleann Cholm Cille in Co. Donegal.  When the bus I was on pulled into the town I could not believe the beauty that surrounded me (and therefore the lack of buildings I have grown accustomed to growing up in Southern California).  It was truly breath-taking.  I spent the first couple of days in town meeting locals, exploring some of the town and its spectacular views, and making myself familiar with my new home for the next couple weeks.

I was nervous to begin classes on Monday because I had been out of practice with speaking the Irish language since school had ended.  To my relief though, after the first day of being immersed in the language and working through some of the vocabulary I had forgotten, I was able to relax a little and truly enjoy learning Irish again.  It is incredible being surrounded by people all day who have such a great and particular interest in common and really are here to learn this beautiful language.  I could hardly believe it when I walked into the shops, restaurants, and even the Church and heard the Irish language being used outside of an academic environment.  I am so excited to continue learning Irish here and cannot wait to see what the next three weeks have in store.