Mac-talla Gaelic Supplement No. 7
Shunpiking Magazine, No. 50, Summer, 2008
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
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.
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.
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
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
*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.
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
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
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.
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!