Having spent the last week at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on a level 3 summer course, I’m finally for the off to get some proper holiday in, walking in the hills (fog and rain permitting). I originally booked myself in for the level 4 course, but couldn’t do so because I couldn’t get my pussycat into the local cattery for then (sigh). So level 3 it was, which was partly new stuff that I’d not yet learned on An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, and partly revision. It was a little slow for my liking, but the tutor – the extravert and idiosyncratic Muriel Fisher, who lives and teaches Gaelic in Arizona (!) and has quite a thing for soft toys as teaching aids (!!) – was trying to make it fun, and of course keep a disparate group together. By next year, though, I’ll have gone through two more Earannan on ACI and will be taking a summer course at a far higher level (unless I’ve had it off on the lottery, in which case I’ll move up here and take the degree!).
This last week there’ve been courses in levels 1, 3, 5 and 7, and the mix of folk on them is quite amazing. There are a good few Scots, as you’d figure, but there were an awful lot of English accents, including mine, some Sasannaich living in Scotland, some in England, one from as far south as Bristol. There were a couple of Welsh folk, which isn’t unexpected given that Welsh is also a Celtic language, albeit on a different branch from Irish and Scots Gaelic, but surprisingly there were a few Yanks. In my group there was a young woman, Joanne, from Minneapolis, over here for two months to learn Gaelic as part of her PhD in Theatre Studies or somesuch. Even though she’d got State funding for this, I’m still impressed that she’d come all this way. She, though, is positively a tourist compared to Megan, another young woman who studied Gaelic for two years in Colorado (strange enough in itself), then sold up her house and moved to Skye to take the full degree course here, and aims to become a teacher of Gaelic in primary schools – now that’s what I call dedication to the Gaelic cause.
It would be an interesting research project for someone at SMO with time on their hands, to collate the reasons SMO students – full- or part-time, short course, distance course – students have for learning the lingo. Some will be obvious – Scots natives learning their ‘mother tongue’ , exiles rediscovering their ancestral roots, linguaphiles looking for a new challenge – but some, such as Joanne’s, will be completely unexpected.
Anyway, for all that the distance learning course is good, there’s absolutely nothing to beat face to face tuition of a language, particularly one as strange, to English native speakers, as Gaelic. It forces you to listen and speak in real time, and although stressful at first this builds up your confidence immensely. I certainly look forward to the next F2F session up here, which will be the distance course summer school in November.
 A linguist I know told me that the real mother tongue of the Scots was Pictish, but this was supplanted by Irish invaders who brought old Irish with them, which then mutated into Scots Gaelic. He says he has much fun ribbing the more nationalistic Scots about Gaelic being a colonial language ;-). See the Wikipedia entry on Scots Gaelic for its history.