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Deusan Bond: "I’ve been told to my face by Scots that Gaelic “should die.” That view is very poisonous to language growth and will discourage some potential learners."

People who learn Scottish Gaelic now can use a very good course made up by enthusiasts in the Duolingo platform. Also, many of the learners might know Deusan (Jason) Bond who teaches Scottish Gaelic in YouTube and Facebook platforms. We talked about Scottish Gaelic and its teaching. The Lithuanian version of this interview was printed out in magazine "Kultūros barai".

Mindaugas Peleckis
2021 m. Balandžio 07 d., 10:24
Skaityta: 2878 k.
Deusan (Jason) Bond. Photo from the personal archive of Deusan Bond.
Deusan (Jason) Bond. Photo from the personal archive of Deusan Bond.
You are teaching Scottish Gaelic in YouTube and Facebook platforms and via your site Gaelic with Jason. How did you decide to teach Gàidhlig?
 
When I graduated from high school, I went on to complete a 4 year degree in Celtic Studies in Nova Scotia, Canada. One of my degree requirements was a year of either Irish or Scottish Gaelic. I chose the Scottish variant in order to connect more with the local community and culture in Nova Scotia.
 
I fell in love with the sound and rhythm of the language from the first day and took as many classes as I could. In addition to the language, I studied literature, history, and culture. I came to deeply appreciate the Celtic nations, especially Ireland and Scotland, and wanted to 1) continue improving my Gàidhlig and 2) share it with others. It was an easy decision to complete another 2 year Bachelors degree in Education with a focus on Gaelic language.
 
 
Tell me more about yourself, your linguistic, and Scottish background. Were you born there? Do you live in Scotland?
 
I didn’t have much interest in languages until I started studying Gaelic. Like many Americans, I learned French in middle school. I also took a year of German in high school, after returning from living in Berlin, Germany for 2 years. I enjoyed German quite a bit but wasn’t planning to study any language in the future.
 
In terms of heritage, I am aware of my Nordic, German, Italian, English, and Irish ancestries. I do not have a blood connection to Scotland or the Gaelic community that I know of. I was born in Maine, USA and my paternal grandmother was from Italy. 
 
I lived in Scotland from 2012-2016 when I worked as the Teacher of Gaelic for Islay High School. The Isle of Islay is in the southern Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. 
 
 
Do you teach Gàidhlig only on Youtube or also in person?
 
When I lived in Scotland, I was a classroom teacher in a public high school. Since returning to the US, I have been teaching exclusively online since Gaelic learners here are usually far apart. My online teaching consists of private 1-to-1 lessons, the 25 week Online Gaelic Intensive Distance Learning course for the University of Dundee (Scotland), videos on Youtube, and online video courses on my website.
 
How many languages do you know fluently or have a good command of? Are you currently learning any languages? What are your dream languages to learn?
 
I’m fluent in three languages: Gaelic, German, and English. I have survival/travel phrases in Thai, Vietnamese, Swedish, Finnish, French, and Spanish. I took a year of Welsh in university, although that has gotten very rusty since I haven’t used it since.
 
I’m not actively studying anything at the moment since my Gaelic work has been in demand. I would like to get back to learning Swedish at some point. It was a dream to learn because I already have English and German. Plus, it’s phonetic! 
 
The first of my dream languages to master is Italian, specifically from Milan. Making Italian part of my life is a way to honor my grandmother. Plus, I’d like to travel Italy someday and connect with people there in their own language.
 
My second dream language is Finnish. It captured my heart when I was a teenager. There’s something very special in it to me and it’s hard to describe because words can’t fully explain it. I have this same deep feeling about Gaelic. They’re both in my heart.
 
 
What is the situation of Gàidhlig right now? Could it still be considered endangered? What is being done to keep it alive and well? Are there more initiatives, new grammars, dictionaries, etc? Are there films one could find in Gàidhlig?
 
It would be easy to spend a few hours talking about this question. I can only share my experiences.
 
Gaelic is very much endangered - there was a report that came out fairly recently that claimed it could be “dead” within 10 years if drastic changes weren’t made. I don’t agree with the permanence of the word “dead” at all. Look at Hebrew; it was “dead” for over 2000 years and then brought back as a language of modern day life. Perhaps “sleeping” is a better term to use. 
 
Why is Gaelic endangered? There are many reasons. One is that some Scots see Gaelic as ‘backwards’ and ‘useless’ in modern life. I’ve been told to my face by Scots that Gaelic “should die.” That view is very poisonous to language growth and will discourage some potential learners.
 
An important part of the issue is the recent governmental focus on teaching Gaelic in primary and high schools across Scotland. During my time teaching in Scotland, there just simply were not enough teachers to fill classrooms. That being said, I don’t agree that teaching Gaelic as a school subject will have much of a positive impact overall. There are several reasons:
 
1) When a language is taught in a school, it’s often perceived as something that’s just for school; an academic requirement instead of a valuable part of life. Most of my students saw Gaelic that way, despite my best efforts in the classroom. It was just another school subject to them.
 
2) Based on my conversations with colleagues and other Gaelic teachers across the country, it seems that the teaching approach taken in Scotland is very traditional with an emphasis on conscious grammar instruction. Since communication is not the priority of the curriculum, students don’t get nearly enough time to develop their communication skills. Despite years of study, most students don’t acquire much language, the accuracy of their output is usually low, and their confidence is often just as low. “I don’t know Gaelic” is a common response when native/fluent speakers try to engage these students in conversation.
 
3) Innovative teaching methods are not supported. As mentioned above, language teaching is done traditionally and any deviation from it is looked upon with skepticism and suspicion. My efforts to provide a more creative, communication-focused experience for my students were actively sabotaged by my administrators. A language teaching colleague once told me that students in Scotland “should have the same experience” no matter which school they go to - of doing worksheets, ineffective pair taks, and memorizing lists of words to past quizzes and exams.
 
4) The goal of Gaelic courses in Scottish high schools is high exam scores, not communicative ability. The standardized national exam judges which students are “competent” in Gaelic, even if their language skills are very weak in reality! As mentioned above, many Gaelic learners give up in a conversation - even those who got top marks on the exam.
 
In short, Gaelic taught in schools doesn’t guarantee competent (or even willing) speakers. In many cases, it’s very much the opposite. In my eyes, that isn’t very helpful to language revitalization. I feel the key to Gaelic becoming stronger in Scotland lies in communities, not schools.
 
Also part of the picture is that English seems to have become the Lingua Franca of the day. If people want to feel linguistically accepted and part of a group, they will go along with what the majority speak: English. The communities where Gaelic would have been the dominant language have changed significantly over the last 40 years. There is another social aspect to Gaelic’s weakening in Scotland: politeness. Gaelic speakers will switch to English if around non-Gaelic speakers. 
 
That being said, there are many passionate, dedicated people who are learning Gaelic in evening classes and bringing into their everyday lives. I think that real change will come from these learners, who are members of living communities, rather than schools. 
 
 
Are there more initiatives, new grammars, dictionaries, etc? Are there films one could find in Gàidhlig?
 
I’m not sure about the current initiatives; I lost touch with that back in 2016 when I left the country. The established dictionaries are consistently used and recommended to new learners. As for films, I am aware of two: Seachd, a full length feature film from Scotland, and Faire Chaluim MhicLeòid (The Wake of Calum MacLeod) from Nova Scotia. I heard about additional films being made in Nova Scotia over the last few years but am not sure of the details.
 
Thank you for your questions, Mindaugas. 
 
Tapadh leat, Deusan.
 

Faire Chaluim MhicLeoid / The Wake of Calum MacLeod from Marc Almon on Vimeo.

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