As I sit here watching the Tour de France on TG4, the Irish-language TV channel beaming its television rays from the west of Ireland, I have no idea in the world what they’re talking about. Obviously it has to do with the Tour de France it, but other than that they could just as well be selling Lycra on TV instead of trying to cover as much French ground as possible.
Now, I don’t mind my non-existing knowledge anymore of the Irish language. When I just moved to Ireland in 2002 though, I signed up for Irish language classes in the local library, hoping to do something about that non-existence of what is in my belief, a very beautiful language. Suffice it to say that I was one of the very few non-nationals taking the classes and that the other 30 or so people present were all of Irish decent and were already and quite capable of speaking a few words of Irish Gaelic. “So much for Irish for beginners” I thought. A lot of Irish but very little for beginners… Not one for giving up, I thought I’d be able to stick with it and finish the 10-week course but no such luck.
The teacher, upon seeing me entering his classroom again, must’ve thought: “Oh dear Lord, the Belgian eejit is back!” for he was constantly under my attack of continuous questions during classes.
“Sir, how do you spell that?”
“Sir, can you repeat that?”
“Sir, I’m terribly sorry, but how do you write that?”
I was indeed beginning to feel like a right eejit, for everyone must’ve felt I was holding up classes simply because I wanted to be a bit Irish, and immerse myself in the Irish culture. Surely nothing could be wrong with that?
Irish Gaelic was pronounced an official language in Europe in 2007, so maybe that’s why the language is rather looked upon as “dead” and “not taught right in schools.” For that reason I can understand Irish mammies and daddies wanting to help their kids with the Irish language they get in schools, but to broadcast the library classes as “Irish for Beginners”, now that I thought was a little bit over the top. So I quit the classes, not feeling good about holding them up while everyone else was already miles ahead in Irish Gaelic and where I was still at the very beginning of learning the alphabet. I’m not really the tape-book-kinda-girl who learns much from that sort of language learning. No, I want to live in it and see it being used in daily life, so now I learn on the go. If I see an Irish word that interests me, I take out my little Oxford Dictionary and look it up. Sure, I might not get the pronunciation right, but at least I am doing something about it. Because nothing is as difficult in Ireland as trying to learn, or even teach, Irish Gaelic. I’m quite sure many will agree with me on this.
Not all Irish is lost on me though, I am not that much of an eejit. I can say “bothar”… which sounds like “bo–har.” And “slainte” which sounds like “sjlansja” in my West-Flemish dialect. Or “céad mile fáilte” which sounds like “kee-ad mile faolsja” in my native dialect. The latter actually could be translated to “I fell a thousand times.” Ouch, that hurt! That almost sounds as good as my West-Flemish dialect being turned into English… “I had a lucky streak” would become “I fell with my bum in the butter.” I just cannot get enough of the saying of falling with my bum in the butter!
Oh, the quirks and joys of languages, they always keep me busy. I still have the notes I took 8 years and 8 months ago in my first Irish Gaelic classes, I keep them as proof that I really was trying to be a bit Irish, even when I hadn’t earned that right yet. A native Irish speaker of Inish Mór, one of the Aran Islands, told me in 2004 that I should forget I am from Belgium, and that instead I’m a real Irish girl at heart and soul. That was the nicest compliment I’ve ever received in my life, so one day I will return to learning Irish, with or without the library.
In the meantime, I keep on enjoying everything in Irish, even the Tour de France in Gaelic, whatever they’re selling on TV!
“Language is the archives of history” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)
“I speak two languages, Body and English.” (Mae West)
“Language is the dress of thought.” (Samuel Johnson)
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