A new year is considered by some an ideal time to start learning a new language.
Typical choices might include French, Spanish, Italian, German or Arabic.
But for an increasing number of Nova Scotians, it might even be Scottish Gaelic. The language is enjoying a revival, especially among those yearning to get in touch with their ancestral roots, or those who are simply passionate about Gaelic music and its culture.
“One of the reasons for this (resurgence) in my opinion is the recognition that the language could die. People are now asking ‘How do we go about keeping it alive,’” explained Beaver Bank resident Norma MacLean, chairwoman of the Gaelic Language Society of Halifax.
“And it’s more than people my age, retired seniors with the time and opportunity to devote to it. It’s more than boomers driving this. In the classes I’ve been to there are university students coming.”
Cape Bretons are leading the charge. Dartmouth resident Shay MacMullin (originally from Cape Breton) started learning Gaelic in 2007. She now teaches Scottish Gaelic classes for the Gaelic Language Society of Halifax and is introducing her children to the language.
“Learning Gaelic was something I’ve always wanted to do,” MacMullin said. “I felt Gaelic should have been my first language, and it might have been if not for the schools and government involvement in putting a stop to Gaelic.”
MacMullin said despite the myths, learning Scottish Gaelic actually isn’t that difficult. She said her determination meant she was able to speak in a “conversationally competent” manner fairly quickly.
“In the beginning there is no English, no translation, books, or note taking of any kind,” she said. “Once you have conversational fluency you bring books into it and expand your learning opportunities.”
The society’s language classes are designed to facilitate conversation in the comfort of people’s homes. Like a young child learning his or her first language, students are taught to listen to and speak the language before reading and eventually writing.
“It’s ingrained in people’s brains that Gaelic is a very hard language to learn. If anybody did what I did they’d be speaking Gaelic,” she said. “The biggest negatives to overcome are the idea that I’m too old, it’s too hard, or I need a book to learn from.”
The Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia reports that 30 per cent of Nova Scotians claim Scottish Gaelic heritage, and the province is the only region outside Scotland where the Gaelic language and culture are part of everyday community life.
MacMullin, who runs a small Gaelic library out of her house, said local social gatherings, language classes, and the presence since 2007 of Nova Scotia’s Office of Gaelic Affairs are making a difference.
"The language needs to be in the home first, then institutions and schools. If it's not being passed down generation to generation it won't last in its true form," she said.
The next 10-week session of Scottish Gaelic classes being offered by the Gaelic Language Society of Halifax begin next month. Deadline for registration and payment ($115) is Jan. 3, 2012.
Dartmouth classes begin Jan. 16, Halifax classes begin Jan. 18. Everyone regardless of ability is invited to attend.
Visit www.halifaxgaelic.ca to learn more about the society. Contact MacLean at email@example.com for registration information.