Four Tips for Learning Celtic Languages with Dyslexia

Hi! My name is Freya and I'm a Celtic student and I am dyslexic. I want to share some tips and software that I have found helpful while learning different Celtic languages. In my degree I've been able to take courses in modern Scottish Gaelic and Old Irish but I think my coping strategies should work just as well in any language. I've been learning languages since I was very wee so some of this advice is more about attitudes to language learning than things you can do, and of course it should go without saying that this is what has worked for me so it might not work for everyone! Hopefully these tips will be useful to everyone not just disabled students.

My first bit of advice is nothing particularly new: use the language you are learning as much as possible.

For me this means finding ways to speak Gaelic as much as possible because I find speaking the easiest way to use language (when I don't have brain-fog!). Try to find a way of using language that is low resistance and enjoyable, if you find reading easier then do that. I think a good way to work this out is what would you choose to do in your main language at the end of the day after a long week? Whatever this is try to find a way to do that in the language you want to learn at other times. Also if you need a break, take one and never worry about it!

If you find speaking the easiest way to practice think about asking a friend to help you notice mistakes - but make sure you set boundaries around this, some days you just need to use your language and forget about mistakes! If someone can understand you that is the most important thing, if your grammar isn't 100% perfect or you miss-spell when writing it really doesn't matter!

My second tip is to use screen readers and text to speech software. 

This is great for getting through readings and having a bit of a break from screens. However, the best use I have found for text to speech software is an extra spelling check and this was recommended to me by the student services at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. I 100% rely on the red underlines in word to tell me where the mistakes are, but I often struggle to pick the right correction just based on the words. I find it much easier to spot out of place words when I can hear the text. For Gaelic I use the Ceitidh voice (this is free for all students in Scotland). Texthelp, who make Read&Write, have just launched an Irish text to speech however this is not a free resource but might be something available through a university.  Microsoft word does have some proofing tools in Celtic languages and there are exciting projects developing digital tools like the speech to text project at the University of Edinburgh. If you are at a university, try asking your disability service what they can offer in the way of software, proofreading or even scribes and if they are struggling maybe reach out to anywhere that uses immersion teaching as they are more likely to know about resources.

My third tip is to be strategic about language learning. 

This mainly applies if you are learning a language in an environment where grades matter. If you know you want a language as part of your degree, start learning as soon as possible. This can mean doing some self-study before starting a beginners course, or if it is accessible to you taking evening or summer courses. If your degree has a year where you only need to pass, or if you can take electives that won't be counted towards a final grade these are really great times to start learning a language because some of the pressure and risk is taken away. 

I knew that I wanted to take Old Irish for my third and fourth year (the two years that determine what kind of degree you get in most Scottish universities), so I took modern Gaelic in second year as a third subject meaning I had to pass the course to get the credit rather than needing a specific grade to move on. This has been really helpful as there is enough similarity in vocabulary between modern Gaelic and Old Irish as well as grammar that I felt prepared for my classes. This is another way to be strategic - if you want to learn a medieval language try learning some of the same modern language first - it will also help connect the written words to how they sound which is something I struggle with. 

I know this tip is a bit cynical however formal language education is not set up for disabled students and or those with learning difficulties. The reality is it takes us longer to become fluent users of a language and we get graded on how well we can spell words, or read aloud and our comprehension of texts, and how good our grammar is when we write; so unless this changes we need to be strategic about our learning. Outside of education mistakes don't (or shouldn't) matter as much as long as you can be understood, so if feasible try to not stress about mistakes (my attitude when writing in English is f*** it! spell check is there for a reason and if I get stuck I ask someone to check over what I've written).

My final tip is also something you will have heard before but practice makes 'perfect' (although there isn't really such a thing as perfect language use.) 

Although it is great to practice by using a language in a 'real' setting (not a class or homework), I've found it takes me a while to learn new vocabulary and that I need more than just speaking practice to make things like spelling stick. Unfortunately I haven't found a better strategy than to just keep recognizing and writing out the word over and over until I get it right. So to do this I make Quizlet flashcards. They have a great learn function that has multiple choice for recognizing words and also it asks you to write the word out - if you get it wrong it asks you to copy the word out before moving on which I find really helpful. There are flashcards that other people have made, but I would recommend making your own for two reasons. 1 - it helps start the memorization process and 2 - how you lay out factors like case, gender and number need to make sense to you. I'll link a set I made for some prepositional pronouns in Gaelic.

Something similar I do specifically for Old Irish is to have an excel spreed sheet with full paradigms of words written out. We were mainly taught one or two nouns and verbs for each type but I find it very hard to work out alternative forms so I've use a mixture of grammar books, glossaries and eDIL to have all the different forms of words easily accessible and searchable. Making digital flashcards might cover this for you, but I like to have both. I use the flashcards for memorizing and learning words and the spreed sheet as a reference tool.

If you want somewhere similar to start Memrise is a great option and it is more accessible than duolingo as you can make as many mistakes as you need to without having to wait to keep going (some duolingo courses are also available on memrise...). Like quizlet there are community courses, to access these you need to log in from a web browser but once you add the course it will appear in the mobile app. Memrise won't ask you to repeat misspelt words but if there is a ready made course that works for you it is a good place to start. There are existing beginners courses in all Cetlic languages on memrise, as well as some medieval languages - these are community created courses so there might be mistakes in them.

These are just things that work for me and I know that everyone is different so I hope that some of these tips are useful for you. If you have any of your own please share them in a comment!

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