Learning a language can be a slow process. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been working at it for ages, but you don’t feel like you’ve made any progress. That’s what the last few weeks (months, even?) have felt like for me. Except then I went to the Gaelic College weekend, and somehow the language learning felt like it had caught up to me. Or maybe I had caught up to it.
Somehow the words were there, I was thinking in Gaelic, speaking in Gaelic, baking chocolate cake in Gaelic, and I wondered how that was happening, given that before the weekend I had felt so far behind in my learning. I’ve decided (at least for now, until a better explanation presents itself) that the environment had a lot to do with it.
Personally, I find it so much easier as a learner to speak a language when I’m in a supportive environment, such as the Gaelic College weekends. With so many people there speaking Gaelic most of the time, in and out of class, it’s easier to get into the mentality of all Gaelic, all the time. It sort of feels like a switch gets flipped, almost, since I end up mentally preparing myself beforehand in a way (and not by studying). I’m sure that if I had even a few weeks of real, full-on immersion, I’d be set.
By contrast, when I am removed from a Gaelic setting, I find it extremely difficult to speak the way I want to, and the way I know I can. Even the first day after the weekend at the Gaelic College, someone asked me in Gaelic how the weekend was, and all I seemed to manage was a smile, a nod, and maybe a hesitant “glé mhath” – and even that only after I had stalled with the smile-and-nod trick. Perhaps that’s part of why I felt I wasn’t making progress – I just wasn’t in the right mindset, or the right environment.
Even though it may not feel like you’re making progress, if you put yourself in the right environment where you can practice in a real, supportive way, you might be surprised at how much is there that you didn’t realize you’d picked up.