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Learning Irish to cope with memory loss—Shannon O’Neill’s Story

HelpfulDuo
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A popular news website in Ireland, TheJournal.ie, interviewed Shannon O’Neill, a Duolingo user, who shared her inspirational story about how learning Irish truly changed her life. We were moved by her story and wanted to share it with all of you who make these courses, conversations, and experiences possible.

Here is her story:

“Being diagnosed with an illness, I sometimes explain it as, ‘I had to greet myself as a new friend’ because there are changes that you have to accept, and you need something to centre yourself around. You’re not just a sick person, you’re a person that’s getting better. You have goals, whether it’s learning a language or reading a book and it’s about having something there to ground you, celebrating the small victories, and using them on the days when you think ‘oh my god am I ever going to get better?’”

Shannon was studying Music Education in Los Angeles when she got sick in her senior year. Her viral meningitis, and although it wasn’t fatal or deadly, it seriously impacted her cognitive ability, both her short-term and long-term memory.

“It’s like the flu, it can hit you at any time,” the 22-year-old told TheJournal.ie. “It was so unexpected when I got sick. You hear about it happening other people, but suddenly that person was me, and it forced me to reform my identity.”

Shannon is a fifth generation Irish-American. The family on her father’s side were from Ireland and married into the Irish-American community in Michigan. But even though ‘O’Neill’ is her last name, she said she never felt she could claim her ancestry as her own, as she was so far removed and had never been to Ireland.

Her diagnosis sparked Shannon to reevaluate what was a priority, and took the opportunity to turn something negative into a positive. So she started learning Irish.

By working on something every day, recognising words and remembering grammar, I was improving my short-term memory. It gave me something to centre myself on so I didn’t feel so lost in my day-to-day life. Through using Duolingo everyday, her memory function started to improve, and she developed a curiosity about Irish culture.

“I became really interested in the culture that I had no idea about. I started getting books out of the library on Irish culture, politics, literature and music.”

After 462 days of learning Irish, Shannon’s completed Duolingo’s ‘skill tree’ and now describes herself as an advanced beginner/intermediary speaker of Irish.

I do struggle with the way the language visually looks differently to how it sounds. But I have to be patient with myself and give it time. She says although Duolingo isn’t an all-inclusive tool to learn a language, it does give learners a solid footing to progress their language skills further.

“Once I started learning Irish, connecting with that community, I started going on Irish language days and weekends in the learner community.

I do think it was a formative transition in my life that’s really stuck with me.”

Shannon’s also recovered from the symptoms of meningitis with minimal lasting effects. The next step for Shannon is to travel to Ireland, visiting all the Gaeltachts in the area in an attempt to improve her Irish. (...)

“One thing I have to say,” Shannon adds, “is the community of Irish learners are the friendliest and most supportive community. The people I’ve met through learning Irish are so kind and so passionate about learning the language.”


Link to full original story here

Related: Did you know Duolingo and the Irish Team got an award from the Irish president?

Interested in sharing your own story to inspire others? Click here

1 year ago

93 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/PolMicheal
PolMicheal
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Is aoibhinn liom an Ghaeilge!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ERGCGILROY

so many language

have a lingot

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JamiesFanGirl

has a zillion lingots; does the same

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Hermione256

I developed short-term memory from a brain bleed 11 years ago... I also spent one entire day in hospital speaking only French after only having taken just over a year of French in public school! I continued taking French through high school (inspired both by my hospital stay and an amazing grade 4 French teacher), won two French awards, and now use Duolingo to keep up with the language post-secondary! Thank you, Duolingo!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/learningis566050

Amazes me when people can learn French. I have a horrible time with French.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tigerplus14

It's not that hard, because it is very similar to english. The pronunciation is what gets me. What really helps is practicing every day :), it makes your brain fresh. I like to have all my skills at level 2 or higher crown level before moving on. I am taking french for May Term! Je souhaite bonne chance avec le français à tout le monde!

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/xXAnimated1

Very touching :')

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ForestPolyglot

Two words, Shannon (Wherever you may be): Bonne chance!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Xamaranth

Je souhaite que Shannon est heureuse!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TB1144
TB1144
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soit* heureuse ^^

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Xamaranth

Why soit?

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TB1144
TB1144
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Because it's subjonctive. I couldn't explain it to you properly, but for instance, when you wanna say that someone should be something, you should say "Je veux que tu SOIS mort" instead of "Je veux que tu ES mort".

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Xamaranth

Thank you!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/RonanSill
RonanSill
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Because it is a wish rather than a mere fact. Hence subjunctive. TB1144 is correct.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/learningis566050

souhaite = wish

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IgnacioRui797664
IgnacioRui797664
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Eres una inspiración para los usuarios de Duolingo.

You are an inspiration for Duolingo users

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tontonzark

Shannon if you read that message. Kinesiology can help you to recover thanks to brain intergration exercices. I was injured in a care crash and it helped me. There is also a nice methode to improve your Irish : listening to Irish music singing with and watching film in Irish. I improve my German, my English, my Italian this way and now I reach the level B2-C1. I wish the best best for you Shannon.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Cullumn
Cullumn
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really nice

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Anna814400

Shannon, I love your story. I hope you can travel to Ireland one day soon. I am now young-old, and have memory issues as well. I am working on Italian in DuoLingo, and have definitely improved my brain power doing so! And I can converse so much better with my husband's Italian family.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rolosrevenge
rolosrevenge
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I love it! How can I give her 1000 lingots?

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Alexmalaho
Alexmalaho
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Трогательная история. Have a good journey, Shannon!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FritzGraven

All the best to her on her ongoing recovery. I also tried these courses to try to slow down memory loss. It is like the young lady said it is best to take one day at a time. When I try to progress too fast I just get confused. Trying to take Dutch and German side by side. These two languages have some similarities. It is however not a good idea to take two language courses at the same time.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JamesTWils
JamesTWils
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I find it works well, but only if the languages are not closely related. Doing Dutch and German at the same time does sound awfully confusing.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/OlgaKiwi
OlgaKiwi
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wow, I work with people with MS and ofter think of new ways to improve their living standards! Now I have one more accessible and fun way to do it! thank you!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/gc.snailmail
gc.snailmail
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How can I follow Shannon on Duolingo?

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AunaBlessi

I know, I can't find a link and I wanted to also!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/pamhsiehca
pamhsiehca
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Hi Shannon, I enjoyed your story. I tried learning Irish and French because I'm learning to play recorder and penny whistle and thought it would be fun to know what the titles (sometimes lyrics) of the music pieces meant. I kept forgetting everything I learned in Irish and it wasn't sticking. I put it aside, but haven't given up. I think I'm so busy with watercolor and music that I'm not giving it proper time. I;m going to do French first because it's going smoothly, but when I pick up Irish again, I'll try a slower pace. Thanks! Pam

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mike_Duck

Good story :)

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Huskie5
Huskie5
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So So sad, tears

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Huskie5
Huskie5
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And happy

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Deus_vult_sic

God bless her.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jawarrior1

J'fury Saobsequa nometane!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/fog12345
fog12345
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Tá sé go hiontach, go cinnte!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/PeteDP
PeteDP
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Lovely story and thanks for sharing it with us. Wish you all the best with your recovery and good luck with your Irish studies.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/-Neon_Cat-

You go Shannon!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tim955929

Shannon Thanks for sharing it was good to the soul God Bless and keep learning and strengthening and healing and sharing

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/raphael623609

Thats very inspiring. Bravo!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ShunWilliams

Great story!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/opton24
opton24
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Very inspiring. I do a bit of Italian , French and German every day on Duolingo in hopes of not getting dementia like my mom and grandfather. I also folk dance which is another great way to stimulate the brain and body and to meet nice people. Spero che tu sia felice quando tu andrà in Irlanda.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/gc.snailmail
gc.snailmail
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That's so inspiring, Shannon! Duolingo emailed me this story. Best of everything always to you.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mamboze

A most inspiring story for all who want to or are learning a new language. And also, for those who have memory or other cognitive problems. Shannon shows great strength of purpose.. Best wishes to her..

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Azrielle13

wow! very informative and interesting. im thankfull to be healthy and alive and my memory. im learning spanish because my family is mexican.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/KalkedanMekonen

so much language

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AnggiBasuki

Proud of you Shannon. I started to focus learning French & Vietnamese in Duolingo also to cope my psychological abuse trauma. And it works!!! :) I feel better and I still practicing it everyday

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/kentuckylibra

Very best to you, Shannon! I've always believed that learning a language was great exercise for the brain!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CsarPuertoGmez

Congratulation My dear SHANNON,I WISH YOU THE BEST IN THE FUTURE,MY NAME IS : CESAR PUERTO GOMEZ, I m from : THE CITY OF TEGUCIGALPA HONDURAS IN CENTRO AMERICA.UP TO DAY LEARNING FFRENCH,I M SO GRATEFUL WITH DUOLINGO,DEAR MISS SHANNON,CAN YOU GET FOR ME THE:DUOLINGO E-MAIL,IS VERY URGENT FOR ME TO GET IN TOUCH WITH THE ORGANIZATION,MY BEST REGARDS TO YOU MY DEAR SHANNON. I M WAITING FOE YOUR PROMT REPLY

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/KarenRand

Lovely and inspiring story!!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Babak393361

Geat

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Grace868759

Glad you recovered! I might just take up Spanish again.

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Scarlet2906

Wow.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mykeura
mykeura
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Very cool!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SamuelHarel_

Vraiment inspirant!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rbk32243

It is a history very beatiful, thanks.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SaraMoctez

So touching!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/RichardHyn

Scéal iontach Shannon!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/flipface
flipface
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Well done Shannon!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SlickMints1

Jesus bless you. Thank you for sharing.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/qrospa

It's awesome that you're healthy again, sweet story!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rockerbox
rockerbox
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This is incredible and it's really great to see the way Duo is changing lives!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AunaBlessi

Congratulations, Shannon, you inspire me so much!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tlcoopi7

I'm also part Irish, mostly on my mom's side. My mom and aunt did got the chance to visit Ireland, I hope that I can visit Ireland someday, especially County Cork, where my Irish ancestors came from.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GiorgioYianni

In the immortal words of sir Winston Churchill:

"Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."

Thank you so much for sharing such an inspiring story!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Helle580000
Helle580000Plus
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Best wishes :-)

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/henryarm

Хорошая мотивирующая история.

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ajdjr73

DuoLINGO: Someone! Please tell me how to follow Shannon on Duolingo? Shouldn't that be a given after all the publicity you have directed at us about her generating interest?

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Albert1098

I tried but there is no any person whose name is Shannon o neil.Okay.

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Zibi194862

Thanks for the inspiration!! I wish You all the best!! :)

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/VinceMcGregor

Thanks to you I will try French (again) to combat the memory loss following a stroke - I appreciate you sharing your experiences. Good luck for your future.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Khaddar
KhaddarPlus
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Best wishes for your recovery Vince, and good luck with the French!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Cafeconchurro
Cafeconchurro
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Good luck! I have cognitive difficulties from a spinal cord injury and long-term type one diabetes, and French is one of the languages I'm reviewing as well. You can do it! Bonne chance!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/LanguageAmbrosia

Bonne chance!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Drackardd
Drackardd
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I wish you best luck with the French :)

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DK1978
DK1978
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Ok, -nice story.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Albert1098

Thank you Duo!

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/gc.snailmail
gc.snailmail
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Best wishes always Shannon! Blessings on you and everyone there with you. :)

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

I need more lingots give me some please

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JamesTWils
JamesTWils
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What do you need them for?

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

Buy stuff

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

Also I have none

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JamesTWils
JamesTWils
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What can you even buy with them? I would be happy to give you some for the information.

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

How many are you talking about

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

Thank you

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JamesTWils
JamesTWils
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It would have been any number you had wanted, up to 9,285. With that answer, it is now 0.

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

I need 15 please

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

Please

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Zibi194862

Here You go!

5 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

Thank you

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rolosrevenge
rolosrevenge
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I got too many, so take some.

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

Thank you

4 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Caleb250659

Give me a lingot

3 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JamesTWils
JamesTWils
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Give me a reason.

3 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ultanobroin

GRMA

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rsantos21

Can I have lingots

4 months ago

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