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Articles from Finlay MacLeod
Total Immersion Plus - Making Great Strides


Centrefold
Mac-talla Gaelic Supplement No. 7
Shunpiking Magazine, No. 50, Summer, 2008
www.shunpiking.com

Mommy, she's talking French to that little baby and the poor baby can't understand a word she's saying!" Thus spoke my indignant niece upon hearing my wife speaking to our infant son in 'her' native tongue.

My niece can be forgiven for her temporary lapse in logic because firstly, that was a long time ago and she was only five years old and secondly, because it seems that we sometimes miss the point that "if you want someone to speak a language, you must speak to them in that language."

That wisdom lies at the Centre of TIP (total Immersion Plus) Methodology that Finlay MacLeod brought with him when he visited Nova Scotia on several occasions over the last few years. Finlay is Chief executive Officer of Comhairle Nan Sgoiltean Araich and he has been invaluable in assisting our Nova Scotian TIP instructors gain proficiency in this fast-growing programme.          

-Hector MacNeil

Total Immersion Plus
By David Desveaux*

During the last several years, an initiative has been under way in Nova Scotia to revive the Gaelic language through an educational methodology known as Total Immersion Plus (TIP). At a growing number of locations across the province, people of all ages are gathering to participate in Gaelic immersion programmes using TIP. The rationale is for students to learn, repeat, and internalize everyday Gaelic expressions through instruction and interaction with Gaelic speakers, and to do so largely without the use of the English language. The use of this methodology in Nova Scotia began when Jim Watson, manager of interpretation at the Highland Village Museum, came into contact with its Scottish developer, Finlay MacLeod, who has been visiting the island regularly since the late 1970s.

MacLeod was involved in the Gaelic language pre-school initiative in Scotland, in which students were instructed exclusively in Gaelic. Through this experience, MacLeod and other adult Gaelic speakers observed that children were able to functionally converse in the language after an average of six to eight weeks of full-day immersion. By comparison, only about one per cent of adult learners became fluent speakers through the traditional method of learning via English instruction, books and translation. In addition, while successful adult learners could read or translate Gaelic, many had difficulty in synthesizing basic sentences for casual Gaelic conversation.

Observing the success rate of pre-school children, MacLeod naturally wondered why such success had rarely been achieved with adult learners, and concluded that the pre-school children had the advantage of what he calls a "learning imperative." In other words, he says, "there has to be a need to learn, which is hurt by translation." This need is created by the pre-school immersion environment but is usually absent in the traditionally academic and artificial confines of the adult learning environment. As MacLeod says, "you have to create an environment that becomes a natural learning environment." In the Gaelic pre-school environment, children learned what MacLeod calls a "social language" through the association of words and sentences with people and objects, and through the repetition of such associations in an interactive social context. The result is almost always a functional fluency in the Gaelic language.

But the problem confronting many young Gaelic speakers in both Scotland and Nova Scotia is the fact that so many of their parents do not speak the language, which creates a barrier to children's acquiring Gaelic outside of their schools and a corresponding barrier to the perpetuation of the language.

"Children do not pass down a language", MacLeod says. "You need adults to do that."

It was the remarkable success rate of young Gaelic learners, juxtaposed with the problems presented by the historical decline of the Gaelic language, which drove MacLeod to develop the Total Immersion Plus methodology for adults in Scotland. Contrary to some expectations, adults learned even faster than children through the total immersion process which, in turn, has helped to build a Gaelic language community in Scotland that includes organizations dedicated to swimming, fishing, cooking, karate and a variety of other activities, all done in Gaelic. While the revival of the Gaelic language in Scotland still faces challenges, and is far from complete, MacLeod believes that the building of a Gaelic language community through TIP will be indispensable to the growth and continuation of the language.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Kathleen Reddy is an instructor with Sgoil Ghàidhlig an Ard-Bhaile, a community organization at the forefront of the growth of the language in Halifax, offering TIP courses three nights per week and day-long workshops every few weeks. The organization has offered summer immersion weeks and recently, a six-week immersion program, as well as learning opportunities for children. About  individuals who come from various backgrounds and age groups attend sessions regularly.

"We're definitely seeing success," Reddy says. "We're seeing people that have come very far in a very short time." And, while Gaelic in Halifax - and throughout Nova Scotia - has yet to reach its potential as a revived language, Reddy remains optimistic about the future of the Gaelic language and community here. "It's very exciting," she asserts. "It's still in its early stages of what it's going to look like."

Shamus MacDonald of Comhairle na Ghàidhlig (the Nova Scotia Gaelic Council) agrees, and is equally emphatic about the positive role played by the use of the TIP method throughout the province.

"I personally think that it's one of the most important things to happen to Gaelic Nova Scotia in the past few decades," he says.

MacDonald was one of approximately 40 attendees at a public meeting in Port Hawkesbury sponsored by the Gaelic Council in December of 2005. At this time, Gaelic Council members, TIP instructors, several members of government, and people from throughout the province's Gaelic-speaking community voted unanimously to establish an organization whose sole mandate is to support and enhance the use of the TIP methodology in Nova Scotia, and to advise government on the needs of language learners. The resulting organization - on which MacDonald also sits - is known as Forthais, Innleachd, Oideachas, Seibhisean (Fioss). In English, that's Information, Strategy, Tutorial, Services; the acronym, "Fios", is the Gaelic word for "knowledge.")

Fios acts in an advisory capacity to the Gaelic Activities Program (gap) at the Office of Gaelic Affairs, through the latter of which funding has been provided for TIP in communities like Sydney, Antigonish, New Glasgow and Halifax. Frances MacEachen manages this funding for the gap, through which she has had the opportunity to observe the same successes seen by MacLeod in Scotland, and by Reddy, MacDonald and others in Nova Scotia. "But much work needs to be done", MacEachen says, "to bring speakers to fluency and to build on what has really been a grassroots response to this exciting new methodology." Moreover, she points out, "there needs to be investment in planning methodology, intensive immersion opportunities for motivated learners, tutor training and development and support for community volunteers in organizing the classes - in short the development of a community-based learning system."

While funding is always a pressing issue when it comes to the growth of the TIP program and the Gaelic language, MacEachen is cognizant of the tremendous resources that already exist in the form of many committed individuals and community groups throughout the province. The Office of Gaelic Affairs has consistently found enthusiasm for the TIP program and the Gaelic language among young and middle-aged persons, and an equal enthusiasm among older individuals, particularly native speakers who feel vindicated in the enthusiasm that is now greeting the revival of the language that was repressed and stigmatized in their youth.

"For these reasons," MacEachen says, "I think TIP can not only teach people Gaelic, but restore cultural pride and autonomy."

Indeed it is doing so on both sides of the Atlantic, thanks in no small part to the efforts of people like MacLeod, Reddy, MacDonald, MacEachen and so many others. And, as both MacLeod and MacEachen pointed out to Mac-talla, other minority language communities - especially Native Americans, Hawaiians and the Maori of New Zealand - have made the same achievements through the very same methodology that underpins the TIP program. Much like these communities, the Nova Scotia Gaelic community has boundless human resources and organizational capacity whose potential, we hope, has only begun to emerge.

*David Desveaux is a TIP student in Sydney, NS. He holds degrees from Cape Breton University and Dalhousie University, and has worked as a teaching assistant as well in the research and service sectors.

A student's perspective

I went to my first TIP class about a year ago. I really wondered how we'd get along without books and "homework" sheets, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway. I couldn't be more excited and grateful that I did. I've been given the chance to reclaim my language, teach it to my children, and to speak it every day.

Right away, the first night, I had a few phrases. And every class after, I've kept building and building.

When I go to class, I feel like I've come "home" in some sense. The people are wonderful, the method fun, and the results so rewarding.

We have so much fun and many laughs, and take part in many aspects of the culture. I feel very lucky to have found and learned through TIP - I've learned so much!!

- Shay MacMullin

A teacher's perspective
By Hector MacNeil

My first opportunity to teach using the TIP method came during the Gaelic Immersion week at the Gaelic College. Pretty well every year I've done a couple of hands-on workshops during the Immersion - gardening, woodworking, baking, nature walks. Other years we've been a fairly goal-oriented group. We'd bake the oatcakes, perhaps we'd make a birdhouse, or we'd plant some seeds. We'd speak Gaelic, of course, and we'd learn and practice using new vocabulary and phrasing, but it was always a challenge to balance language learning with completing the task at hand. After attending one of the TIP training sessions, I felt confident enough to slow the pace and concentrate on language, language, language. And it worked. People were happy with the workshop and they felt that the time was well spent. While I usually get a small group for my workshops, I had fifteen that year, and I doubt I would have had enough hammers to go around. "Success," as they say, "has its price."

Will TIP prove to be the panacea for Gaelic rejuvenation? Most of us are, by nature, suspect of anything that claims to be a cure all and as Finlay MacLeod points out, the first-level TIP methodology brings people to functional oral fluency in the language. It is a really a first step - albeit a huge one - in the process of becoming highly fluent in the spoken and the written word. Panacea or not, however, TIP has forever changed the way we approach Gaelic instruction. "If you want someone to speak a language, you must speak to them in that language."

But first of all, prepare, prepare, prepare, and, oh, don't forget props - lots and lots and lots of props.

And while you're talking, remember to repeat, repeat, repeat, and try to get your students to speak, speak, speak, and, well, you get the idea. See you in the workshop. Maybe we'll make a birdhouse - or not.

A student's perspective

I first began learning Gàidhlig with the organization Sgoil-Ghàidhlig an Ard-Bhaile in February 2007. I remember seeing the ad in the paper for the classes, and I couldn't get to the phone quick enough to find out more! I have always had an interest in the language ever since I was a kid. I was informed that the classes employ the Gàidhlig aig baile (Gaelic in the Home/community), which is essentially immersion. I was a bit nervous... but Kathleen Reddy (now my tutor) stated that if one is truly interested in becoming fluent in a language they must do immersion at some point.

Since then I have attained a modest level of 'conversational fluency' and can understand much of what is being said by fluent speakers, but as they say, you never stop learning. Gàidhlig is by far the best thing I've ever become involved with. I now have knowledge of a language which is the Keystone to all areas of the culture I love so much. I have even learned five or so Orain Luaidh..... or Milling songs.

For anyone who is interested in the Language or the Culture, I would strongly recommend you check out a Gàidhlig aig Baile class near you... you have everything to gain!                    

- Patrick Bennett


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