Languages are the key to a better understanding of Cultures or at least, that is how I see it. The language we speak shapes our ideas, and therefore learning another language provides us with a wider vision of the world. As Charlemagne said: “To have another language is to have another soul”, which I, as a language (Hindi, Irish and Welsh) learner, think is very true.
I am a 37-year-old daughter of a French mother and a Spanish father, but born in Colombia, so I have grown up in a bilingual environment. I have always felt it was enriching to have two cultures. As a teenager, I was in an International secondary school where I was rubbing shoulders with more than 70 nationalities (some of my school mates were children of Diplomats as the school was at the border with Switzerland, 10 minutes from Geneva).
When I was 14 years old, my parents sent me to Galway, Ireland for a linguistic holiday. I fell in love with Ireland: its Culture, its people, its music… That experience has changed my whole life. The following year, I was in Gorey, County Wexford, and my love for this country deepened. That is when I promised myself to finish my studies and go and live in Ireland. And that is what I have done at 23, when I left everything behind to realize my Irish dream.
After 2 years, I left to go volunteering in India, and after my project, I came back to France and found a job in Switzerland.
During these years, I have missed Ireland so much, there was not a single day I was not thinking about the Emerald Isle. In that period I joined an Irish dancing group (Set dancing) in Geneva (Switzerland), started Irish Tap Dancing classes in another school, and became a Committee member of the Geneva Irish Association. That was my own little way to cope with the need to be in Ireland…even though I was going there every single month.
At that time I have also decided to stop postponing a project I had: learning Irish. There was no class in France or Switzerland, so I have booked a course in a school in Donegal (Glencolmcille). To start with, I wanted to understand the place names, as I knew they were very descriptive, and had very often a wonderful meaning, as Gaeilge.
Immersed in the Gaeltacht, there could not have been a more Irish place for me! I was in heaven! The school was surrounded by beauty; we had classes for 4 hours in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, and at the breaks, we were all trying to say things we had learnt in our new language, being able to use the few words to practice immediately after the class with the locals. There is a book shop inside the school and the staff was speaking to us in Irish for our benefit. It makes Irish such a living language, whereas in Dublin we don’t hear it much spoken. At night, there were sessions of Irish dancing or Irish singing.
People were from all backgrounds, Irish people who started it, Irish people who had wanted to forget about that “school subject” for years and now wanted to get back to it or giving it another go; people who had Irish and who wanted to improve, or people who were fluent but just wanted to put their language to use. I remember that man, Declan, who lived in Singapour with his family and had come back for the class, in order not to lose his “heritage”.
I have loved this course so much that I went back the year after and the two following years, where I have seen again some people, all so welcoming. It was like a catch up between old friends, and that is what feels so good in Ireland.
One day I heard about Irish classes in Geneva. My colleague Cormac’s girlfriend had arrived from Inis Meáin to Geneva and was prepared to give free Gaeilge classes in the basement of an Irish pub, which of course I was the first to join!
Aoife was a brilliant teacher, she made some grammar rules look simple, we could practice Irish every week in the class (when you do not live in the country it is difficult to find someone to practice), and she was telling us about the life on Inis Meáin!
Now I am finally back to Ireland, I attended a class at Gael Linn last year, and even dragged my partner along.
He always said he was not good at languages but gave it a try. Verdict? He absolutely loved it. He is Welsh and enjoyed discovering the similarities and differences with the Welsh language.
When the classes finished, I have bought the program “Rosetta Stone-Irish” and now I try to practice a little every day. But between a really busy job and the fact that I am also learning other languages, it is sometimes difficult to find the time.
However, I try to keep in touch with the language because I still feel it is a wonderful one and by learning it I feel I am doing my part.
Let’s not forget Irish people were forbidden to speak their own language for 700 years. Now we have the right, let’s use it and be grateful for it!
As I said, my partner is Welsh and we had been on a road trip to Wales recently. As I love Celtic countries, I had obviously fallen for Welsh culture too.
My partner was teaching me a few words and I enjoyed reading the signs of place names (once again) and understanding the meaning.
I had joined the Welsh society and saw some Welsh classes advertised. My partner has a little bit of the language but is not fluent.
So I thought it would be good to start classes together: for him to have stronger feeling of Welsh identity – because I feel the language is definitely a plus in order to feel part of a place – and for me, because I wanted to discover the language which is my mother-in-law’s mother tongue and my sisters-in-law are totally bilingual too.
That was something we could share, practice together. It felt like a totally new adventure and I enjoyed every second of it.
Sometimes I finish work, feel exhausted before going to a language class, but in the end, I always feel much better after the class… energized.
So I definitely think learning languages is good for your health!
Author: Laura Abecasis
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