Newletter #43: January 2019

An Asturian's experience of learning Irish

Last year Sergio Fernández Redondo from Asturias in northern Spain completed Level 3 of the Certificate in Professional Irish. He recently spoke to Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir about undertaking the course and his experience of learning Irish.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, my name is Sergio and I come from Asturias, which is in the north of Spain. I have been living abroad since 2004, first in Sweden and since 2008 in Ireland. Although I studied engineering in university for most of my life I have always had a very keen interest in linguistics and languages and that is what occupies most of my spare time.

2.When did you start learning Irish?
Well obviously, living in Ireland and having a keen interest in languages you are always going to pick up a few things here and there, but it was not until 2015 that I decided to take the plunge and sign up on an actual Irish course. After that, for various reasons I fell out of education for a while, although I did try to keep up with a little Irish. Then in 2017 I joined the Civil Service. It gave me a great opportunity to continue to study Irish because they have this programme for Irish language education for their employees. It was very natural for me to join up and since then I have been studying Irish with Gaelchultúr.

3. Why did you choose to learn Irish?
Well first off, as I said I am very interested in languages and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn such a special language as Irish is one of the few remaining Celtic languages in the world. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to add something distinctive to my linguistic background. Beside my linguistic ambitions I always like to make an effort to learn as much as possible about the place where I live: the language, culture and history. It was the same when I was in Sweden. I think that it makes me feel better in my interaction with the environment in that it makes me feel more connected and more knowledgeable. It helps me to understand what is happening around me better. It also acts as a sort of homage to my hosts.

4. Are you enjoying the classes with Gaelchultúr? Did you start learning Irish with us or another organisation?
I am definitely enjoying them. My first course, the one I did in 2015, was with another group just because it was slightly cheaper (I think it was €180 compared to €200): that was the only reason, really.

5. What do you most enjoy about Gaelchultúr’s teaching approach?
I think that it all has to do with the teacher. Obviously, there are so many different teachers and it is a matter of luck that you find one that really connects with your needs. Regarding some of my past teachers, they only had experience teaching Irish to children and they used the same teaching approach while teaching adults. But I knew other teachers could be different and that it was just a matter of luck. For example, when I ended up in Gaelchultúr most of the teachers had a better understanding of my needs and my approach to language learning. They have a very academic approach to language learning and I think that they were a little bit more tuned in. I really like the courses in Gaelchultúr as they are better tuned to my linguistic approach.

6. People often say, especially Irish people, that it is difficult or challenging to learn the Irish language. What do you think of that statement?
Well, it's true: Irish is a complicated language, grammatically. In the case of Irish people, I think that there are many reasons for that. One reason, and it is one that is fading now hopefully: there has always been a very stark diglossia in this country for centuries. There was always a certain stigma attached to Irish – it is something that is ingrained in the collective psyche. As I said, luckily that is changing. You can see more interest in the language with parents taking their kids to gaelscoileanna. There are a lot of people writing things in Irish and doing podcasts in Irish also. At least that is shifting.

The second one is something I know all too well because we are also guilty of it in Spain. It is the fact that when you speak a major language you subconsciously do not have the urge to learn a new one. It kind of subconsciously makes you a bit lazy. I mean people may think, ‘I speak English, I speak Spanish, why do I need to learn another language?’. It is something on a subconscious level and it kind of hinders you a bit. But the main one is purely linguistic. English is one of the simplest Indo-European languages – grammatically, it is very simple anyway. The vocabulary is very large, which is difficult, but the grammar is relatively simple, so for a native anglophone learning a really complicated language like Irish is going to be a challenge.

7. You recently recommended a term to the terminology committee which was subsequently approved and now is available on, the national terminology database for Irish. Can you tell me a bit about the term that you recommended?
The term was Astúiris, which is a translation for ‘Asturian’, which is a glossonym for the Asturian language from in the north of Spain. I noticed that you have translations for many Spanish languages; Bascais, Catalóinis, Gailísis. I thought that it was only fair that we have our place in the lexicon. It actually came about because I am a member of an Asturian organisation called the Asturian Celtic League with the idea to promote Asturian culture and its connection with other Celtic cultures around Europe. Since I am living here, the president of the league suggested that maybe I could create a branch here. I did not really know how to go about that so I started off a Facebook group called Bráithreachas na hÉireann agus Astúirias. I did this just to test the water and to see how the people would react to that. On the page I post things that are related to the common culture between Ireland and Asturias. In addition to that I always try to post in Asturian and Irish. Obviously because of this there would be a lot of references to Asturias and Asturian when I posted in Irish I wanted to make sure that I was using official terms.

8. And how does it feel to have a word that is now officially included in the language?
Well I feel a little bit like a bard or like Shakespeare who coined so much words in the English language. It is delightful that I have actually had an impact on this vocabulary. If it happens that some Gaeilgeoir talks about Asturian it is very flattering knowing that they will do it officially thanks to my suggestion.

9. Final question, what are your plans for the coming months?
I want to pursue my linguistic ambitions. Ideally, I would like to go back to university and do something in the humanities such as linguistics, history or something like that. My fantasy would be to stay in academia.