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

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

May 12, 2017

74 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PolMicheal

Is aoibhinn liom an Ghaeilge!

May 13, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ERGCGILROY

so many language

have a lingot


[deactivated user]

    has a zillion lingots; does the same


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/learningis566050

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/xXAnimated1

    Very touching :')


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ForestPolyglot

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Xamaranth

    Je souhaite que Shannon est heureuse!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SashaTB

    soit* heureuse ^^


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SashaTB

    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".


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RonanSill

    Because it is a wish rather than a mere fact. Hence subjunctive. TB1144 is correct.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/IgnacioRui797664

    Eres una inspiración para los usuarios de Duolingo.

    You are an inspiration for Duolingo users


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/OlgaKiwi

    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!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gc.snailmail

    How can I follow Shannon on Duolingo?


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AunaBlessi

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Alexmalaho

    Трогательная история. Have a good journey, Shannon!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/fog12345

    Tá sé go hiontach, go cinnte!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Fritzdeswerwer

    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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JamesTWils

    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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/opton24

    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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/rolosrevenge

    I love it! How can I give her 1000 lingots?


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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..


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pamhsiehca

    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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Huskie5

    So So sad, tears


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jawarrior1

    J'fury Saobsequa nometane!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PeteDP
    • 1028

    Lovely story and thanks for sharing it with us. Wish you all the best with your recovery and good luck with your Irish studies.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/tim955929

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/raphael623609

    Thats very inspiring. Bravo!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RichardHyn

    Scéal iontach Shannon!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gc.snailmail

    That's so inspiring, Shannon! Duolingo emailed me this story. Best of everything always to you.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Azrielle13

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kentuckylibra

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KarenRand

    Lovely and inspiring story!!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/henryarm

    Хорошая мотивирующая история.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Grace868759

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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?


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Albert1098

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SamuelHarel_

    Vraiment inspirant!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Khaddar

    Best wishes for your recovery Vince, and good luck with the French!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Cafeconchurro

    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!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Drackard

    I wish you best luck with the French :)


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/flipface

    Well done Shannon!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SlickMints1

    Jesus bless you. Thank you for sharing.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/qrospa

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/rockerbox

    This is incredible and it's really great to see the way Duo is changing lives!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AunaBlessi

    Congratulations, Shannon, you inspire me so much!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Zibi194862

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


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Rbk32243

    It is a history very beatiful, thanks.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DK1978

    Ok, -nice story.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/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.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gc.snailmail

    Best wishes always Shannon! Blessings on you and everyone there with you. :)

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