Olan Suddeth

Dad. Computer geek.
Homebrewer. Disney nut.
Would-be crafty guy.

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Gaining Fulfillment from Learning Irish

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I was always a fairly academically minded young man; I enjoyed learning, enjoyed reading about new concepts, new ideas. It comes as no surpise, then, that school itself is something that I likewise enjoyed. Once upon a time, I assumed that I would one day hold a Doctorate (or at least a Master's). I figured that I would get my degree, then after working for a while, I would perhaps start working on post graduate stuff.

I'm sure that you are shocked to discover that a guy who has worked two jobs while raising nine kids over the past twenty plus years has not, in fact, found the time (let alone the money) to pursue any further education.

2019 was not a great year for me on a personal level. I don't think it extended to a full midlife crisis, but I did deal with feelings of failure due to not reaching various goals, of feeling listless, of being stuck in neutral. It seems like most of my effort is devoted to surviving as opposed to achieving, and that is not the most fulfilling take on things.

Please don't get the impression that I am ungrateful. I have an amazing, talented, loving wife. I have been blessed with a large family full of remarkable children. My wife and youngest child could have both died in 2019, or Kalani could be like some that were born around the same time - we know several families whose children have yet to leave the hospital, many of which will never be fully normal. We have the necessities. We have big birthdays, Christmas is wonderful. We got to take a relaxing, fun trip to the beach last fall. I have a good life.

But I do miss challenging myself, broadening my mind, learning new things.

Today's post is for to tell you that for the past week, I have been scratching that itch just a bit - I have decided to learn Irish. If you'd like to take this opportunity to laugh, I'll understand completely. I think that Donna understood my desire to learn and challenge myself, but even she was a little bemused at my choice here.

Why Irish? Why not Spanish, which I would have a lot of opportunity to use? Why not another Latin language, that would have some common roots with English and be easier to learn? Why Irish - a fairly unpopular language, and one known to be difficult to pick up, especially given that I don't have anyone to speak it with?

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how I came to this point, although I think that I can thank my wife for it, at least to some degree. Back in the fall, she had expressed an interest for us to go see Celtic Woman in concert. If you are unfamiliar with them, this is an all-female Irish musical group; they do an interesting mix of older traditional songs, covers of various love songs, as well as original music - with a lot of traditional Celtic instruments and such throughout. While most of their work is in English, there is a fair amount of Irish thrown in there (including some songs that are completely in Irish).

I've had a soft spot for Celtic music for a long time, so I started listening to their work, and found myself drawn to the Irish lyrics - even though I was utterly clueless as to what they meant. The language is so very different than what I am accustomed to hearing, but strikes me as... musical? Poetic?

I found myself reading a bit on Celtic culture, on Ireland and Scotland... and at some point, this idea started to grow. After all, I've always found languages to be interesting - even though I can only speak a handful of German words and a very few Spanish phrases (thanks, high school).

At some point, I stumbled across a free language app called Duolingo, and the rest was history.

If any real language teachers or enthusiasts are reading this, you can stop cringing now - I am well aware that Duolingo is not going to magically transform me into a fluent Irish speaker (despite what their marketing might like you to believe). The only real way to do that is to actually speak the langauge in real world situations (and to make the inevitable mistakes along the way). I have already seen some shortcomings (such as how it will insist on one answer only, even if there are multiple translations that are equally valid).

That said, I have found this little app to be an incredible tool. It walks you through a variety of exercises, teaching basic terms and vocabulary, allowing you to hear the language spoken, to read it, to write it. Everything is done in bite sized lessons, with a lot of video game style achievements, badges, etc, to help encourage you to spend those few minutes a day practicing.

A week into the process, I can recognize around two hundred Irish words. That sounds like a nice accomplishment, but keep in mind that a fluent speaker of a language can do the same with roughly ten thousand words - and that fluency goes far beyond the total number of words you might know. Even so, it's rewarding to see steady progress.

I've done a little reading on the subject, and to supplement, I'm listening to both Irish language radio and some YouTube educational videos while I drive back and forth to work. While that's not "real" immersion, it does expose me to Irish being spoken by native speakers... even if I can only pick out a half dozen words, chief among them being "agus" (Irish for "and"). And me parroting the Irish YouTube guy (aka "shadowing") is definitely valuable.

An interesting little spinoff to all of this is that my boys are also showing interest in languages. Silas (age eight) is pretty serious right now about learning Spanish (which I can at least help him a little with). Noah (age twelve) is working a little on some German. Jonah (age ten) is considering trying French. All of them have the Duolingo app on their tablets. We won't be able to talk to one another, but maybe they will keep working to broaden their own horizons.

So... here I am. I'm still a mid-forties guy who needs to do a better job focusing on and achieving some goals in life. But I am finding it to be surprisingly fulfilling to challenge myself like this, to learn something new - even if it doesn't have much practical use.

Bíodh lá maith agat, folks.

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