Éasca Péasca: Student Stories in Learning Irish

Éasca Péasca: Student Stories
By Michael (Mícheál) O’Brien

Is mise Mícheál agus ón t-ám a bhí mé i mo leanbh, bhí mé ag iarradh Gaeilge a fhoghlaim. Bhí an smaoineamh seo ag rith trí mo cheann i gconaí nuair a bhím ag fás suas. Ba aisling é do m’athair, uair amháin le linn a óige. Bhí dúil mór aige íarracht a dhéanamh eolas a chur ar an nGaeilge. Mar sin bhailigh sé leabhair agus téip, ach níor chabhraigh siad leis a sprioc a bhaint amach. O’Brien an sloinne atá orainn. Is Meiriceanach muid, ach bhí an-fonn orainn lenár bhfreamhacha a athcheangal. Is é mo thuairim gur fheidir linn athcheangal a dhéanamh leis trí theanga ár n-athaireacha. Is cuimhín liom go soineanta conas ar éistimis le ceoltóirí agus grúpaí a chan as Gaeilge mar Eithne agus Clannad. Ba fios agam i gconaí go raibh mé ag iarradh go raibh Gaeilge agam.

My name is Michael O’Brien and I’m a graduate student of Linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh. I’ve always had a fondness and affinity for languages. Since first being exposed to the odd German and Russian word in childhood (an experience I have thanks to my now late immigrant Grandmother Nina Jones—who grew up in post-war Germany to German and Russian parents), I began my own language journey.

In middle school, I began learning German, and in high school I started taking personal lessons in Russian. My grandmother had started to take ill, and I wanted to learn as much Russian (her first language) as I could, as a way of reconnecting with that part of my history.

I received my dual BA in German and Russian in 2016, and shortly after began a graduate program in Slavic studies, continuing to focus on Russian literature, film, and culture to become a Russian instructor. I added Polish as an additional Slavic language.

I soon realized that my desire to focus on language teaching and language acquisition made my previous graduate institution an ill fit, and soon found myself back in Pittsburgh, wondering how I might pivot. I then applied to the master’s program in applied linguistics at my alma mater, and began studying linguistics as a way of complementing what I knew about my languages (German, Russian, and Polish). Nó faoi dheireadh, finally, I would have the opportunity and access to study Irish!

D’fhíoraigh mo bhrionglóid! Being able to enroll in Irish classes was a dream come true. Irish is so poetic, and it requires a different state of mind. But I felt like finally, having met Marie, I could go further and move quicker to really get a feel of Irish and how it works as a system. Suddenly all the songs I listened to growing up were starting to make sense and I could understand them on more than an intuitive level.

I always felt so discouraged trying to find the lyrics, to try to work through them, only to be met with the beast of Irish spelling (even post reforms!). I’m starting to understand forms and idioms and turns of phrases. You see, language reflects culture and a way of viewing the world. I feel like my eyes have been opened finally to a world that I always wanted to be a part of.

I know that it might be cringe and I know that back home there’s a mistrust of Americans who too quickly claim ownership of Irish identity. Yet all my life I’ve wanted nothing more than to connect with this culture that I inherited through my forefathers. I wish I could have been closer to it all, and I want to reclaim my Irish heritage. Being able to learn Irish and work with Marie and my classmates has been among the most rewarding experiences of my life.

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