Gaelic? In Australia?

Twice recently I have encountered people who are surprised at the amount of Gaelic there is in Australia. It isn’t something I’ve thought much about, since I was raised in the Australian school system being taught that the first hundred years or so of European settlers were from the British Isles – and after all, there are only a few hundred Gaelic-speakers for all that.

At a fiddle workshop weekend run by musicians from Scotland, one of the tutors was mulling over the rediculousness of using Italian words when English ones should suffice. In particular, he said, Why should we say ‘arco’ when we could say ‘with the bow’? And why couldn’t we use the Gaelic? “We should all learn the Gaelic terms,” he said, but he didn’t know how to speak it. “Does anyone know how to say ‘with the bow’ in Gaelic?”

I thought he was asking the room at large – I learnt later he was addressing it mostly to one of the workshop graduates who had learnt Gaelic at school – and after a few seconds of awkward silence, I said, “It would be ‘leis a’ bhogha’, wouldn’t it?”

“It could be. What does that mean?”

“Literally ‘with the bow’. I don’t know if that’s a fiddle bow or just a rain-bow…”

“Do you yourself have the Gaelic?”

“Yes,” I nodded, a little embarrassed by the whole thing, and we moved on with the workshop.

A little later, one of the facilitators was telling us about the organisation. “We’re based in Scotland,” she explained. “Have any of you been to Scotland?”

About half of us put up our hands, me a little timidly. After all, I was a few days shy of my second birthday last time I was in Scotland. I can’t remember anything of it. To all practical intents and purposes, I haven’t been to Scotland.

But she looked straight at me and asked, “You’ll have been to the Highlands, haven’t you?”

Again, technically, I have, and I said as much, before gabbling out some excuse about having been a toddler when we came back to Australia.

Later in the day, the same facilitator caught up with me over morning tea and asked how I came to speak Gaelic.

The truth is, I don’t really have a sensible answer – about how I came to speak it or why. I told her a story about how my grandmother, who grew up in New Zealand, probably spoke it. I told her about how, as a teenager, I started spending more time with the Gaelic-speaking community in Adelaide than I had previously, I learnt to hold a basic conversation with them. I explained that, because I had been exposed to Gaelic for the first two years of my life, learning it as a teenager felt more like remembering something I already knew than it did the hard task of learning German when I started at a German-medium school for high school. I told her about how excited I’d been to move to Melbourne, where there are more than half a dozen Gaelic-speakers, and how I’d joined the Gaelic choir. I mentioned that Australia, like Canada, used older spellings and had a few different words. And I commented how, when I was doing the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig course, you could guarantee that every written assignment would come back with the word “‘n-uair” highlighted and the correction “nuair”, even though the former is how it was spelt in Scotland 30 years ago.

“Oh, so you did spend time at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig?” she asked. She seemed relieved to finally have a reasonable explanation about how I spoke Gaelic. I’d been to the immersion language centre on Skye.

“No,” I told her, “It was a correspondence course I did when I was in Year 12.”

According to the 2011 census, there are around 720 household speakers of Gaelic in Australia. Most of the Gaelic-speakers I know are the only speaker in their households, and so wouldn’t answer Gaelic on the census. According to Comunn Gàidhlig Astràilia, there are Gaelic classes in every capital city, and learners’ groups in a number of regional centres as well.

Just a few days ago, someone posted a question on the FaceBook group Luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic Learners). Feeling curious, he asked,

“This may be a stupid question, but how come Gaelic is popular in Australia? I can understand having courses in Scotland (obviously) and Nova Scotia but if anyone ever asked me where they might be able to find a course, I would never have thought of Australia…”

There were a lot of responses. Ideas from non-Australian learners. Ideas from new Australian learners. Comparisons to other parts of the world with either lots of Scottish settlers or historic Gaelic where classes and groups no longer exist.

“Gàidhlig was briefl a major language in the early days of European invasion. There was even a newspaper called An Teachdaire Gaidhealach published in the 1850s which was 85% Gàidhlig.” – Prenna Ello.

“I suppose Scottish people have always had a presence in Australia, in numbers, and Gaelic has always been part of that – “Taladh ar Slanuighear” was written by a priest moving from Muideart to Australia in the 1850s, and he’s buried in Geelong. Recently I sang with Còisir Gàidhlig Bhioctòiria at the 150th anniversary of a church in outer Melbourne that was built by Gaelic-speakers.” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

“My ancestors came from Skye to New South Wales in 1838. They could onl speak Gaelic and they attended the first foreign language church service in Sydney to offer thanks for their safe arrival. As the family historian I travel to Skye each year to immerse myself in Gaidhlig language and the wonderful culture of my forebears.” – Rachel Heath.

“My own family came out much more recently (I’m first generation, although there was some time spent in Dunedin/ NZ a few generations ago), but there’s always someone at Sgoil Nàiseanta who’s just started learning because he’s done some family history and discovered that his Gaelic-speaking family moved out in eighteen-whatever and continued using the language until his grandparents’ generation.” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

“My mother and her family moved to Australia from Scotland in the 60s. Part of my desire to learn Gaelic is because of my family’s connection.” – Kiah Bergman.

“The British Isles were always favoured for immigration, so there’s always been a constant flow of Scottish immigrants, presumably with an average representation of Gaelic-speakers.” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

“So Gaelic societies in Australia are not a new thing and are often 100+ years old, with recent immigrants from Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland, and “Australian-as-they-come” people with Gaelic-speking heritage who are re-connecting to the language, and – the most confusing part for me – a lot of completely non-Scottish-heritage-whatsoever people who are learning it.” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

“According to the 2011 census around 8.3% of the Australian population claim Scottish ancestry, which is the fourth biggest ancestry group represented in the figures. Not sure how this compares to other countries but it might be a factor. My question is why isn’t Gàidhlig *more* popular?” – Prenna Ello.

“Interestingly enough, hubby did some online training at work and one of the questions at the end of completing it had a drop down for identifing all languages spoken at home. Scots Gaelic was on it! So he picked it. I have never seen this on anything in Scotland and here it was in Adelaide.” – Ash Kane.

“I’m told Gaelic used to be offered with the School of Languages into the 90s so maybe it was once more widespread in Adelaide than we think…” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

“Gaelic was one of the languages on the SBS radio service until 2003.” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

It was great bouncing around all those fantastic ideas an anecdotes, but there was another side of the story represented:

“Because Australia has immigrants from around the world and, not all the Scottish went to New Zealand.” – Simon Hogan.

“But I’m sure there are Scottish immigrants all over and you don’t see so many courses.” – Tom Morrison.

“Maybe it’s like Nova Scotia and there was a dense population of speakers in one or more areas.” – Fo Gish.

“The 2011 census had around 720 primary-language-at-home speakers of Scottish Gaelic listed, which is only around half as many as Nova Scotia I think – it’s just that Australia (even if it’s just the eastern states) is a lot bigger than that, even bearing in mind that Australia and New Zealand did get a lot of refugees from the Clearances. Gaelic was more spread-out here to begin with, so it’s not as well-known about as Nova Scotia.” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

“Lotta Scottish in Appalachia, US, no Gaelic.” – Gwyn Fae.

“Lots of Scottish in South Australia, not historic Gaelic (a few learners these days but mostly recent immigrants). Most of the Scottish “founding settlers” in SA were from the lowlands from what I vaguely recall from primary school history lessons. Might be a similar sort of thing? Eastern states were taking immigrants at the right time to get a lot of people from the highlands & islands.” – Raghnaid NicGaraidh.

“Until the early 1900’s, there was a Gaelic speaking community in North Carolina. Many Gaels settled in the mountains because they were reminded of the highlands of Scotland.” – John Grimaldi.

So what did Australia do differently?

We weren’t the only place to get Gaelic-speaking early settlement, but it wasn’t as dense as in Nova Scotia.

Gaelic stuck around in Australia for a while, like North Carolina, slowly dying until the early 1900s.

Australain-born Gael numbers have always been supplemented by newer immigrants from the UK – but they didn’t always come to the same places.

Gaelic societies were set up in Australia – but also in New Zealand, where many of them have ceased to be Gaelic societies and become generic “Caledonian” societies.

There are up to 1000 Gaelic-speakers in Australia today, with around 200 in Melbourne and many more in Sydney, where there is a native speakers social group, regular learners’ conversation groups, and it’s even taught at one of the universities.

All around Australia, there are Gaelic classes, Gaelic learners, and Gaelic speakers.

I suppose, reviewing the evidence, I can see why someone from Scotland or elsewhere would have such a hard time understanding that there are so many Gaelic-speakers in Australia. It doesn’t make sense for it to have stuck around so long. We shouldn’t have the numbers we do – even though they seem small to me – with two Gaelic choirs, an annual national live-in weekend, our own quirks of vocabulary and spelling, and courses and classes run every week of the year by locals to teach and preserve the language.

It probably shouldn’t be possible for a teenager to learn enough Gaelic for a conversation without ever leaving Australia.

Sgoil Nàiseanta 2017 Enrolment Form

/\ By the way – next month, 14th-16th, Brisbane.

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Minority Languages, Dying Languages, and Learning Them

Huh? Why? Why would you do that?

When I first started learning Gaelic, that was the reaction from speakers and people with some connection to the language alike. “It’s a dead language. There are too many dialects, you won’t be able to talk to anyone, whichever you learn. It’s not a real language. It’s useless, there’s no point to it. Everyone speaks English – that’s a good language. Gaelic’s dying. It’s not fit for the modern world.”

Okay, probably you don’t care about that, and I never got all of those arguments from the same person at one time. But Loving Languages posted today about endangered languages, about why we don’t care about them, not really, and about a Bashkir woman he met who is resigned to the language not being passed on. He also linked two articles others have written about why we should just let languages die quietly.

In Malik’s post, in the very first paragraph, he said:

“When Ned Madrell died on the Isle of Man in 1974, he also took the ancient Manx language to the grave.”

What’s interesting to me about that statement is that, by the time Ned Madrell died, there were already significant numbers of non-native speakers and in fact, just ten months after Malik wrote that article in late 2000, the Manx-medium primary school was opened, and today there are around a hundred children and young people who are regarded as native speakers.

Both of the articles seemed to be saying, “Well the culture argument is defunct because keeping a language alive artificially doesn’t preserve the culture – the closest thing is going to be the culture of similar groups.”

Richard’s point, on the other hand, is not necessarily that the culture is preserved pristinely by learning a language, but that one’s view of the world is widened by knowing these languages, and one’s ability to connect with others is the likewise expanded.

The idea of keeping “Gaelic culture” intact as if it were pre-Clearances is clearly ridiculous. The world isn’t the same as it was in the 17th century – and the fact that there are words in Gaelic for “global warming” and “spoilers” doesn’t mean that “Gaelic culture” is dead – quite the opposite, in fact.

Actually, there are neopagans who try to “revive” “Gaelic culture” from ancient texts and remnant traditions, and it gets a bit strange when you consider that they’re trying to revive a religion that hasn’t been practiced for 1500 years, sometimes without much care for the living culture. But more on that later.

But knowing the language can change how I see things. As an English-speaker, you have clear ideas about colours. There’s blue and there’s green. There’s red and there’s pink, there’s orange and yellow. In Gaelic, it’s different. There’s blue-green, and green-grey; pink doesn’t exist, because it’s obviously just “light red”, and orange and yellow are the same colour. There’s a word for orange-red, as well.

One can understand how the Gaels of the past saw the world, because of what there is in the language. There are a couple of ways of saying “I hope”, but none are quite so clear-cut. My favourite, and the main one used in parts of Ireland, is “le cobhar Dè” – “with the help of God”. In Gaelic, you don’t have a “lightbulb moment”, you have a “mionaid rathad Dhamascuis”, a “Damascus Road moment”. Wednesday and Friday aren’t just sounds to denote days, they’re “the first fast” and “the fast”, and Thursday is “the day between the fast”, because Christian observance pervaded the culture for so many years.

Languages aren’t something you speak, to a Gael, they’re something you have – inasmuch as a Gael ever “has” anything, considering the closest he can come is to have something at him, or with him, or to him. An older Gael I know, let’s call her Sìne, replied once when someone asked her, “A bheil Gàidhlig agaibh?” (“Do you speak Gaelic?”; or rather, “Is Gaelic at you?”), “Chan eil – is Gàidhlig a th’ unnam”. No, the Gaelic is in her. To her, the language is deeper than just something she speaks, it’s in her and part of her. The phrase she used to describe the language is the same phrase used to describe nationality or life calling.

“Why would you learn Gaelic? It’s a pointless language.”

Sìne sometimes shares memories of her childhood, with Gaelic pervading everything. But at the same time, she also recalls how she had to speak English at school, from the moment she started at the age of four without a word of it. Gaelic was frowned-upon. It wasn’t until after she graduated that it became an option as a Highers subject, but it still wasn’t to be spoken in any of the other classes.

There’s an elderly man, let’s call him Donnchadh, who rang in while I was presenting a programme for Scottish Radio, very excited about hearing me speaking some Gaelic on-air. “Cha do chuala mi a’ Ghàidhlig ‘o chionn fhad’ – ‘o chionn ‘s marbh mo mhathair!” He hadn’t heard Gaelic in such a long time, since his mother died. “Tha mi an dòchas gun cluinnidh mi mòran Gàidhlig ‘n uair a bhitheas tu ann,” he told me earnestly, before clamming up. He was reluctant to speak any more Gaelic with me, because he didn’t think he knew it well enough. His parents were foster-parents when he was a child, and the government had paid them extra to not use Gaelic in the house, let they taint the foster children, who had come from the Lowlands.

I think it’s probably rare for languages to just die by chance. Perhaps there are some out there that where honestly let go by their speakers because they preferred another. Majority languages can be pushy, offer a better life, and the speakers of those majority languages don’t do it maliciously.

In the case of Gaelic, that wasn’t the case. I’m more proficient in it now than I was when I got those comments with which I opened the post, and my ability to speak Gaelic isn’t so obviously a decision (you must bear in mind that it’s a language with a lot of native partial-speakers, so not being fluent doesn’t preclude having spoken it from childhood). The reactions I get now are different. The older Gaels I meet are usually sort of pleased that someone young speaks the language, particularly as it’s so rare for that to be the case outside Scotland.

But I still get a lot of “But how? But why?” The older native demographic have a very hard time understanding why anyone would learn a language they were conditioned from their childhood to believe was backwards and dying… even if it’s so deeply a part of them and they love it for the memories in it.

Things are swinging around now. The language hasn’t been actively suppressed for several generations. My parents’ generation are ambivalent. They aren’t against the language, as so many in my grandparents’ generation are. They just don’t really care. It doesn’t affect them. Their parents spoke it – they don’t. My father remembers hearing it from children at the village school, but the response he heard when it was mentioned was, “Oh, that? No, it’s a dying language.” It’s not as important as French or German.

And now, the government is supporting the language. People are for it. Not everyone – there’s still a lot of the anti-Gaelic sentiment going around, as those conversations when I first started learning the language will show. But, by and large, it isn’t a dying language, it isn’t a useless language, it’s part of us, and we can bring it with us into the modern world.

Not all endangered languages have that support, or even that mentality. It’s sad that Aboriginal languages are dead, you see, but they’re stone age languages (even if we won’t say that out loud) – they can’t cope with the modern world. Better for the Aboriginals to learn English.

Well, that’s the same sort of rhetoric that went down about Gaelic not so long ago. Actually, I’ve been interested recently in an article I found from Scotland in the 1850s about Gaels and “the slovenly and stupid Celtic race” and how everyone would be better off without them. What struck me was that, if “Celt” and “Gael” had been replaced by “Aborigine” and “Black”, it could so easily have been published in Australia at the same time.

“Bashkir is a village language”, I imagine the woman Richard spoke to thinking. “It’s dying anyway. It’s my language, but I speak Russian – what do I care if my children speak only Russian and not Bashkir? That’s just the way things are.”

Maybe. Should we care if languages die? Languages die all the time, and we can’t do much to stop it. Great and mighty languages have died – Demotic, Phoenecian, Latin. If we can’t stop languages so big as those dying, why should we care about the village languages? It would probably make things easier if everyone spoke the same language, anyway.

I could go on about how diversity is good – that seems to be a word bandied about a lot. We’re enriched by the sum of our parts, and all that. I’ve already said that different languages have different ways of seeing the world. I could have proved that with a major language, like German perhaps. But when it comes down to it… why?

Why would you do that? Why would you learn Gaelic?

Why would you learn any endangered or dying language?

Sometimes there’s no sensible answer. I never really had a sensible reason for learning Gaelic. I still don’t, not really. Paul from LangFocus talks about being “bitten by a love for a language” and I suppose that’s the best explanation I have.

No language doesn’t mean something to someone. And no language has nothing to offer.

Adelaide French School

A bilingual French-English school will be starting in Adelaide with the first Reception intake next year. Apparently they’ve been plotting it for up to two years, but with sheer dozens of submarine-builders arriving from France in the next few years, it’s being launched at exactly the right time for it to seem like an economically-wise initiative. Check out their website or visit their FaceBook page.

Une école bilingue française-anglaise commencera à Adélaïde avec la classe première du Reception (Grande section) l’année prochaine. C’est dit qu’ ils ont prévu l’école jusqu’à deux ans, mais beaucoup des constructeurs du sous-marin arrivera de France au cours des prochaines années et donc c’est le bon moment pour annoncer l’école comme un investissement économique. Regarde leur site-oueb ou visite leur page FaceBook.

Some (Mis)Adventures with Korean

This is written partially in response to a challenge issued by Loving Language about telling our language stories. It was also inspired by his most recent post regarding language preconceptions (the first anecdote, anyway).

Before I begin, it is important to note that I am not Korean. My ancestry comes entirely from north-western Europe, and I do not – in any way, shape or form – resemble a Korean person.

-=-=-=-

When I was about twelve, my family went to South Korea for my uncle’s (wi sukbu) wedding. Most of my mother’s extended family was there, and one night, we went out to dinner with the soon-to-be-in-laws – Uncles First to Third Brother and their wives and children.

After dinner, the children left the hotel’s dining room to sit and play in the lounging area. We had a range of ages, but for the most part we all had “doubles”, new cousins of our age and gender. One of the pairs were two little girls of about three, my cousin (imo’s daughter), who – as is crucial to the story – was adopted from China.

At one point in the evening, Hyon-Ji wandered away from where she and Peng-Peng were playing near the wall of glass which passed as a window in the hotel. I can’t remember what for – perhaps to talk to one of her sisters – but we definitely had clear view of both of them.

While Peng-Peng was by the window, ostensibly by herself to any onlookers, a Korean woman came up to her and started addressing her in Korean – I presume to ask where her parents were. Peng-Peng just looked back at her in confusion.

Sensing a situation, I went over to try to do something about it. Unfortunately, Peng-Peng and I do not look like we’re related.

“She is Korean.”

“No, Australian. Hoju. My sa-chon.”

“She look Korean.”

“She’s from China originally. Jungguk. She’s Australian, though.”

“Australia?”

“Yes, hoju. She’s my sa-chon.”

The thing is, Peng-Peng doesn’t – and didn’t – look Korean, either. But I suppose she didn’t look like she belonged with all the white Australians in the room, especially given she had been playing with a quite obviously Korean girl.

-=-=-=-

About a year later, I had started high school back in Australia and International Day was swiftly approaching – the day when the student body (hailing for more than sixty countries) got together with other people from that country in order to represent that country in a big festival on the oval.

At that point, with my weeks in Korea fresh in my memory, I talked about it a lot with my friends – one from China, one Chinese-Australian, one Vietnamese-Australian, one Indian-Australian, one French-Australian, and me, whatever I am. For the purposes of several discussions we’d had about westerners being unable to tell different nationalities of Asian apart, westerners being unable to use chopsticks, and my strange obsession with bulgogi, let’s just say I’d played up the “Korean relatives” thing a bit.

Anyway, in home group, discussion about going along to country meetings and representing countries reigned supreme. It turned out that we had a Korean in the class – one of the boys to whom I’d never payed much attention.

“I’m not actually Korean,” he pointed out, “But my parents are from Korea.”

“That’s Korean enough to go to the meeting,” Thuy-Anh informed him. “I’m going to the Vietnam one. Rachel’s Korean.”

The boy – Andrew or Anthony or something – was rightfully confused about that statement. “No, she’s not. She’s Australian.”

“Yes, she is,” another of my friends insisted. “Her family’s Korean.”

“Actually,” I pointed out – and it should have been just as obvious as Albert thought it was – “I’m not Korean. I just have Korean relatives.”

As it turned out, I went along to the Great Britain meeting and ended up dressing in tartan on the day.

-=-=-=-

Several years passed, and for some reason, I didn’t lose what little Korean I’d managed to gain in the lessons my family had taken before we’d visited. If you’re going to learn a second language, I don’t recommend you start with something as different to your own as English and Korean, because I was eleven, it was the first language I’d seriously tried to learn, and I didn’t learn much.

I know as much Korean today as I did when I visited Korea – which means I can read the alphabet and know a handful of phrases. Some of my sister’s friends took advantage of this a couple of times, writing down things in Korean and getting me to read them out before collapsing into giggles – they knew full well that I was just reading the sounds without any comprehension of what it meant.

When I was sixteen, I volunteered as a bunkhouse leader at a local youth camp. Two years in a row, I had the same girl in my bunkhouse – a Korean who called herself Amy (I knew several Korean Amies at that point). She told me towards the end of the first camp in my bunkhouse that her real name was Su-Mi, and I dutifully wrote out my own name in Hangul for her – Le-i-chel (yes, I need to do something about my name.)

At her second camp in my bunkhouse, there were several Korean boys she knew in another bunkhouse who were – if we’re being honest – very much our problem campers, constantly getting into mischief. Almost every time we were near them, Su-Mi would sidle up to me and whisper, “Rachel, he said a bad word in Korean!”

Things came to a head on the second-to-last day of camp, when they were making nuisances of themselves at dinner, talking to each other loudly in Korean, safely assured that quiet Su-Mi was the only one who could understand them. (Which was true – although her little voice in my ear assured me that what they were saying was rude).

My table ran out of water, and I leant across the aisle in the dining room and tapped one of the boys on the shoulder.

“Mul ojuseyo?”

The two boys went so pale! “You speak Korean?”

The answer is ‘no, not really’, but I didn’t let that stop me. “Nye, gulochyo.”

Silently, they handed the jug of water over.

Su-Mi didn’t tell me they were swearing for the rest of the camp.

-=-=-=-

It’s been eight years since we were in Korea, and a lot has changed. When we first came back, there was just one Korean restaurant in Adelaide, and no-one had heard of Korea, kimchi, bulgogi or bibimbap.

Somewhere along the line, K-pop became the newest fad in Australia, and suddenly every teenage girl around was an officinado of Korean culture, music, and kimchi. A lot of Korean takeaway shops opened. I stopped talking about Korea – and bulgogi – quite so much, because I didn’t want to look like I was just following the latest fad.

But I’m still a massive fan of bulgogi – even though I don’t really like kimchi – and given that I’ve overfilled myself on ₩2000 of actual, genuine bulgogi with rice and lettuce and banchan sitting on the floor of a hole-in-the-wall establishment somewhere in the back-streets of downtown Daejon, I have a limited tolerance for the rice-and-meat-in-a-plastic-box combination that Korean takeaway shops in Adelaide try to pass off as “bulgogi” (or, even worse, with the English translation of “beef teriyaki”).

So sometimes there’s nothing for it but to visit one of the local Happy-Go-Lucky Marts and buy a bag of thinly-sliced beef and a jar of bulgogi sauce (yes, yes, I know, dear sister, that this creates sub-standard bulgogi and I should make the sauce myself) and make myself banchan and peel myself lettuce and eat Korean food the proper way.

With thin metal chopsticks, not with round wooden throw-away ones.

I’m planning a massive bulgogi (with banchan! with banchan, I tell you!) feast for the next weekend and made one of those trips into my favourite Happy-Go-Lucky Mart this afternoon.

It may be my favourite, but I only go in once or twice a year, and there’s always someone different in there. You know that feeling when you walk into a shop and you know you don’t belong? It wasn’t very full – there was only one other customer – but eyes followed me, thinking, “What is this white woman doing here? Should I ask her if she’s lost?”

I didn’t want much – just beef, bulgogi sauce, savoury pancake mix and puffed rice honey sticks (ssal-gwa-ja) – but there weren’t any rice sticks and I had trouble finding the pancake mix. I toyed with the idea over going over the counter and asking “do you have any pancake mix?”, but I didn’t know the word for “pancake” and asking “pancake mix issoyo?” is just confusing, because in Korea, pancakes are savoury and have vegetables in them, but in Australia, they’re sweet (in Korea, “hotcake”).

I eventually found the pancake mix and made my way over to the cash register to pay. The interaction was silent – they never know what to make of me – and as the man handed over my shopping, I bowed and murmured, “Kumsumnida.”

With K-pop and all things Korea so popular, I wonder every time why they’re so surprised every time.

“How do you speak Korean?”

“I was in Korea once when I was a child. My uncle lives in Daejon.”

“This is very good! Very good!”

“Chonun hanguk-olul haji malhanda.” (Officially the longest sentence I know, and probably wrong).

“Very good! Very good Korean! Here, is free!” He handed me a packet of squid-flavoured two-minute noodles, “Free for speak very good Korean!”

“Kumsumnida, kumsumnida!” More bowing as I leave. “Annyonghi kyeseyo! Kumsumnida!”

“Annyonghi kaseyo!”

-=-=-=-

When we were in Korea, free things came to us because we had small blond(e) children with us. Here in Australia, I get free things because I know a handful of phrases in Korean.

The area where I grew up – at the time, almost entirely Italian – is now the largest concentration of Koreans in the state. It’s a little sad that a white “local” knowing a few greetings in Korean is such a rarity that it warrants such excitement.

I can’t stand K-pop, just for the record.

More Fruitless Thinking About Languages

Why is it that I have more e-mails in my inbox in Welsh than I do in Gaelic? And I have none in German, French, or Hebrew. Even from my Hebrew teacher, whom I e-mailed in Hebrew but who replied in English.

InboxAh, anyway. Chan eil fìos agam gun robh mi ag ràdh mu dheidhinn anns mo bhlog seo, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on the blog, ach cha d’fhuair mi nòtaichean math às am measadh Mòdal a Trì agus chan eil mi a’ dhèanam h n Cùrsa Adhartais a-nis. Tha mi an dòchas gun tòiseach mi an cùrsa a-rithist ann an September (le cobhair Dè!).

Meanwhile, I’m no longer studying Greek (such a relief!) but I’m doing modern Hebrew at WEA, which is fun, because at least 50% of it is talking; but also a little odd, because with a year of Biblical Hebrew under my belt, I’m definitely ahead of the class. It’s useful practicing the talking, but most of the time, it’s more like I’m being reminded of stuff I already know than actually learning at this point. But still fun!

Le weekend passé, j’ai parlé un peu de français à la homeschool bush dance. “Ah, Rachelle, comment ça va?”

“Euh… Bien, merci…”

“Parles-tu beaucoup du français maintenant?”

“Euh… Non… Non, je ne parle rien du français. Mais… mais hier… hier j’ai cherché au YouTube pour le vidéo du OuestJet, le vidéo du Poisson d’Avril du OuestJet… c’était très drôle.”

Yes, you may wince in horror at my French abilities there.

Nous avons parlé un petit peu en français et puis, ma famille est arrivée. Ma maman ne peut parler du français et ma soeur peut entender un peu. Ma pére a dis EN ANGLAIS qu’il AVAIT parlé du français bien. Et donc, je ne peut pas parler en plus en français.

Jeudi j’ai entendu mon amie parlent en français avec son père. Elle a étudié le français avec le même professeur mais l’année avant moi et elle parle COURAMMENT. C’est déprimant.

C’est évident: je dois pratique le français en plus. En quelque sorte. Je ne sais pas quoi.

Und auch muss ich Deutsch üben. Ich hab’ das schon gesagt. Ach jetzt sprech’ ich immer noch kein Deutsch. Jemals.

So what now? Nothing can change, really, since I’m barely keeping up with schoolwork as it is. My New Years’ Resolution for this year was to stop running after every shiny new language that caught my eye and focus on ones I already knew. Well, that worked, since I did a Welsh intensive in February. I’m still eyeing off a couple of new languages for next year, such as Kaurna… and a friend has suggested we might do WEA Farsi together next year. At least I’d be able to speak Gaelic, Welsh and Hebrew with her, though.

That’s probably enough fruitless musing about my linguistic failings. I’ve a lecturer pestering me about an essay…