Learning any new language is difficult or at least it is for a someone like me that really didn’t have any exposure to languages other than American English and Southern English prior to 9th grade. In 9th and 10th grade a had a very basic exposure to Spanish and in 12th grade I took French but I only managed to confuse these two languages. In college, I took German and managed to learn a very basic level of it. But now I am attempting to tackle a language more or less on my own. My university like most in the United States doesn’t offer Irish so I am left with a stack of books, Rosetta Stone software, and a few helpful Irish website http://www.ranganna.com/ and http://www.clubleabhar.com/ and http://www.teg.ie/ My language acquisition skills are far from that of a polyglot and I’ve yet to find a native speaker or tutor in Dallas that can help me study.
That said, for cultural anthropologist who hopes to really understand the culture she is studying, learning the language of the people is definitely a must whenever possible. Or so all the great anthropologists before me tell me. And why wouldn’t I believe them? Just in knowing how different dialects can be and how those dialects shape the way people see the world, it only makes sense for language to have an impact far beyond superficial.
Anthropologist often find themselves in far away and remote places where learning the language means most learning through immersion, rather than learning in a classroom. Yet for some reason, choosing to learn Irish as the language I want tested in for my PhD language requirement seems to be a bumpy path to have chosen. Perhaps this is because of its precarious status as a European language which is spoken by only 1.7 million people in the Republic of Ireland according to the 2011 Census.
Most, if not all people in the area I am working speak English, but on my more idealistic, optimistic days I argue that is no reason not to learn Irish proficiently. In the Republic of Ireland, Irish or Gaeilge is considered the hearth language and on a day to day basis words of Gaeilge find their way into news papers and political titles. Even in Dublin, an observer can hear Irish spoken in pubs. That said, I am not working in Dublin, I’m working in rural County Galway and County Mayo which is definitely in the Gaeltacht region of Ireland.
But more importantly, if I hope to truly understand the people I plan to work with learning the language they speak at home and to their children seems only natural and possibly even respectful. Yet, I realize this is going to be a struggle which may prove futile.