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just out of interest ...

Having "completed" SG, I decided to revisit Italian, which I had a bash at a long time ago on Duo, I think through another e-address, and just out of interest I decided to try the wee placement test. Hah! All done with tiles, and a modicum of common sense, and immediately I'm about half way through the first chunk, several lessons unlocked. If I'd had to type direct a single word of all that I'd have been scuppered at the first sentence. Gotta laugh.

February 14, 2020



Enjoy your reunion with the language, nicdhaibhidh. Sounds like it's off to a good start. I'm sure Linda will be along soon to encourage you further in your adventures with her beloved Italian.


And by heck, the exercises are short compared with Gaelic. I just did two, and forgot to notice just how short they were, but they felt like about half the length. XPs are harder gained with SG, it seems - but actually that's no bad thing, I reckon.


You want XP? Sign up for German. (Yes I know.) But even I can generate XP like a mill-race on that one.


First, knowing that you've been trilingual (English, German and I assume French) for many decades, how much of an advantage does that give you in terms of learning another one? Is it just that you have more hooks for possibly hanging new words on (I notice quite a lot of Gaelic words have French connections), or do you think that part of your brain actually works better?

Second, given that the Gaelic tree doesn't go very far into the language, with limited vocabulary and grammar covered, how do you feel that moving on to another language might affect your retention of what you have already learned? I had a look at the German tree and (like you in Italian) tested out to half way up the tree on the initial placement test. However it only filled in the first Crown level for each skill, leaving me the choice to go back and do the rest. The tree seems very slow, with the first couple of skills doing nothing but an endless perm on "Der Mann, die Frau, der Jungling und das Mädchen" and "Brot und Wasser" till I was about demented. I also found that I could take the last skill the placement test opened for me to gold with no sweat, and indeed I could do it typing, without the word bank. But my German is very limited (a few lessons at the Goethe Institut in about 1975, lots and lots of German music, and a fair number of trips to Germany) and I know it. That's why I thought I needed some refresher, but so far all it's good for is generating a lot of XP in no time flat. I have actually stopped going to the German tree because I found that stirring up the language in my brain was interfering with my recall of Gaelic words, while the Duolingo tree had done nothing for me but teach me the word for a supermarket (which doesn't feature heavily in Mahler Lieder).

Oh, and I've already forgotten the German for supermarket. Mòr-bhùth. That'll be it.


German for supermaket is Lidl. Only kidding supermarkt


Morag, i know you didn't ask me .. but I am really trilingual and speak Spanish to a level that is sufficient to write technical instructions, deal with clients, daily life and and sort of WhatsApp. It just isn't good enough for bureaucrats and the fine points of subjontivo. So that means I had zero effort doing the Italian tree or Catalan from Spanish. Portuguese was a bit harder but I'm now well beyond and my Brazilian friend says I have improved much except for my pronunciation. Why do I bore you with all this.. because it helped ZERO for Russian or Gaelic. In fact, Gaelic spelling looks every bit as illogical as English and figuring it out will probably take more than my lifetime. But then I might just be thick


I'm always interested in a reply like that. Mainly because despite an A in Higher French and an ability to sing in German better than I sing in English, I have been functionally monoglot all my life. I can get through a simple conversation in French or German, but not understand broadcast media or fast speech. So I've never known what it is to have a real conversation, or even real understanding, of a language other than English.

The strange thing is, Gaelic spelling seems to be coming to me without me really thinking about it. I can do bliadhnaichean or peathraichean or plèanaichean without thinking about it. Maybe I've seen that plural ending often enough in the past for it to have sunk in. I also have an ability to look at a word and know if it's spelled right, once I've seen it written a few times. So this helps.

I think living in a sort of low-level hum of Gaelic helps. Place names help a lot. Garbh, abhainn, allt, sròn, liath, gorm, glas, buidhe, beinn, mòr, beag, dùn, baile, all that and more is all around. The rocks/islets in the bay are the eileans, the luch and the clach. (The other one is the spoig but I don't know what that means. Not the cat to go with the mouse, obviously. I just looked it up and it means "spike".) Stuff like "Poileas" is written on all the cop cars. The sign as you drive into town reads "Fàilte gu Glaschu". When I was a kid the Radio Times had quite detailed listings for the Gaelic programmes and although I couldn't understand them I remember looking at them. So there is a level of familiarity.

I'm trying to get as much input as I can. I watch BBC Alba, especially the kiddie cartoons and the subtitled documentaries. I'm also looking at Can Seo (blast from the past, there) and these new "Gaelic with Jason" podcasts. I'm kind of hoping my brain sorts it out.


And you got a better Higher French than I did!!


Yes, well, we'd soon see who would get by on the other side of La Manche and who would be stuttering and tongue-tied, wouldn't we?

We had a fantastic French teacher, RIP Miss Elspeth Cowan, who was also my form mistress, but so much of the work was written and there was relatively little chance for oral work. (Not that she didn't try - I remember some crazy debate about the relative merits of mini and maxi skirts, and trying to sell the idea that if you fell off a falaise, your maxi skirt would act like a parachute and save you.)

But basically the Scottish accent doesn't do French naturally in my experience. I was so self-conscious about how awful I sounded I wouldn't open my mouth on a bet. And it wasn't so hard just to work out the written work and get it right.

In contrast I realised that I naturally speak German with a passable accent without having to try terribly hard. It can be a disadvantage, because my carefully-thought-out sentence can be met with a torrent of fast German I can't understand. But I'm not self-conscious trying to speak it. I have a theory that if they made German the first-choice modern language in Scottish schools they'd get on a lot better. (Of course German was available in our school but if you were going for science subjects with music on the side there was no chance to fit it in.)


Oddly enough, one of my Argyll schools offered French, German and Spanish, and come choice time at the end of S2 if the choice was F and G there were 3 x F and 2 x G classes, but if it was F and S, then it was 3 x S and 2 x F. Spanish was far and away the "least unpopular", because that was the one they could vaguely conceive of using when they went oan thur hoalidays to the Costa. As far as the little dears were concerned, foreign languages were only for possible use on holiday and there was no way they were going to France or Germany for that. Ho hum - I'm so-o-o-o sad to be retired ….. When I was at school, German was against science in the choices, I didn't really want to do it, but I was so utterly hopeless at anything scientific that I had to, and it was a struggle, indeed my lightbulb moment didn't come until years later at training college, trying to learn to teach something I really still didn't get. Most of my life French was far and away my first FL, now, they're about eeksy-peeksy, and I do use German considerably more than French these days.


I didn't realise that. I had you pegged as primarily a German teacher. (I became obsessed with German opera and lieder when I was about 16, and somehow it just came naturally. But I have the weirdest vocabulary and some of my grammar choices are the wrong side of the 100 years war.)

I spent ten weeks a year ago cruising from Portugal to South America (yes, all of it, pretty much) and I have to say Spanish in particular would have come in handy. If I'd known about Duolingo at the time I might have given it a shot. (I had a friend at school who actually did a PhD in Portuguese.)

But I'm always absolutely shamed by the English skills on display in pretty much every foreign country I have ever been to. Waiters, ticket clerks in railway stations, random passers-by - it's ridiculous. And a vet student I met in Patagonia, who could converse easily about esoteric sheep diseases in English. I'm generally not considered to be an idiot but I can barely imagine being able to do that in another language. (Just last October, silly me went up to an information window in Frankfurt Flughafen Bahnhof and politely asked about the next train to Würzburg, in German. Predictably, I didn't follow the rapid-fire torrent of German I got in reply. I bet if I'd just asked in English I'd have understood his reply perfectly.)

If I ever crack the Gaelic thing I'll try to get a bit more up to speed with the German, if I can stand the boredom of that German tree long enough to learn something.


I noticed I had no trouble understanding the Scots dialect that many English friends had trouble with. My native language is Dutch but i nearly forgot it after years of German and endless years of French in Belgium and France. Equally, some Scots who loved to go skiing in Austria told me they understood the Dutch better than the Germans. Yes there are many common words. I suppose some if them were absorbed into Gaelic.

The most curious similarity I found was between the days of the week in Catalan and Gaelic. Go figure.


Really? I have no idea what the Catalan is for the days of the week.

I spotted Diluain (Lundi) and Dimàirt (Mardi), and Disathairne and Didòmhnaich are obvious, but for the other three I got nothing.


A Mhòrag, I find that Gaelic is so different from the other two learned languages that they are of virtually no help (barring, perhaps, eaglais and a couple of others). Aurally, I'm largely lost. If I hear a word I don't know in French or German I can make a fair fist at working out how to spell it so I can look it up. Gaelic? Not in a month of Làithean na Sàbaid. I recognised as much as I did in Italian on the back of French, I suspect, with a deal of logic applied to the selection of words on offer. Barring a few words of vocab, including mòr-bhùth, I didn't encounter anything I've not encountered previously, but it gave the little grey cells a jiggle and I might revisit An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, which, being from SMO, is vastly more meaty. And I imagine it has developed and improved since I did it. Viel Spaß beim weiteren Lernen.


I found quite a lot of the words to be already familiar, from various sources. And I had some idea of the grammar from a book I read some of when I was about fourteen. It's amazing what sticks. (And Diluain and Dimairt are cognate to French, and salach, and muir and some others.) Sometimes I can figure out the spelling.

I'm currently binge-watching kiddie 'toons dubbed into Gaelic on BBC Alba. I would really like to be able to follow broadcast output properly rather than picking up some words and the occasional phrase. (And ball-coise. Always with the ball-coise.)


Actually, sometimes I'm quite baffled. I thought compared to a Germanic a Gaelic language must be totally different. But these rare cases like asal=Esel, lèine=Hemd (made from Leinen) amuse me. The history behind words is fascinating.


Yes, spotted those ones. And one I always wonder about when trundling up into Argyll is the village of Arrochar, which purportedly means a "ploughgate", i.e. the amount of land an ox can plough in a certain amount of time - and I therefore think that it could be related to Acker. I so agree about the history of words, and Gaelic placenames, if they can be deciphered are hugely informative. My "pet" one is Ballachulish - gibberish in English, but Baile a' Chaolais - nae problem, we get the geography lesson, since we're learned baile and caol, the town on the narrows. And a nice wee association with the Brahan Seer, to boot.


Auchencruive, presumably the field of the trees.


Actually, thinking about it, you taught languages in the islands for a while, didn't you? Was the school bilingual in Gaelic? How did that fit in with the modern languages teaching if it was? And if you lived in a Gaelic-speaking community and you've done An Cùrsa Inntrigidh in the past, forgive me, but are you getting any new material at all from the Gaelic Duolingo? I'd have thought it would have been very basic for you.


I did, well remembered, PT "Languages other than English", briefly, rather than "just" ML. So Gaelic was taught, and there was a Gaelic-medium unit in one of the feeder primaries, but the secondary wasn't Gaelic medium, and very few pupils did the first language version of S-Grades and such, there were a few who spoke it at home, certainly, and did that. It was not really a Gaelic speaking community, though the language was spoken by a few, and the Gaelic choirs were active, though not what they had been. I was even in one, and went to the Mòd. They have improved a great deal in the last few years, judging by Mòd results, one of them was taken for a while, with great success, after she came back to the island to work, by one of those who, as I recall, did the native speakers' S and H Grades (her French was pretty ok too, as I recall). As to this course, there wasn't really anything in it that was entirely new, a few bits of vocab (I don't recall much emphasis on nicking underpants in An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, for example), but it has served as a useful reminder, and will maybe kick me into revisiting ACI, it was eons ago that it did it, and it's all long forgotten. I have more trouble remembering when to stick an accent on a vowel in Gaelic than I ever did in French!


You must surely know quite a bit. And I'm sure basic familiarity with linguistics must help too. I did all the basic grammar stuff at primary school and Latin to O Grade, but I can't remember a quarter of the terminology.

Oddly enough, I read the early chapters of a teach-yourself-Gaelic book when I was about fourteen, and it's quite startling how much actually stuck. It's slightly surreal, the difference between my recall of the new words I'm currently trying to get into my long-term memory, and of the words that have been there all along and I'm dredging out. Also, I remember having a lot of trouble with accents in French because I never quite twigged how the sound of the vowel reflected the accent. (In contrast in German I almost never get an umlaut wrong if I know how the word is pronounced.) With the Gaelic I'm catching on to the accents better than I did in French I think.

Of course until now all my language learning, such as it was, was hand-written. I am finding typing gets it into my head a lot more quickly, partly because it's less effort, and partly because the visual appearance of the words is uniform and lets me compare what I just produced, visually, with the appearance of the word when it occurred in an earlier question.

I have signed up to an actual beginner's Gaelic class in Penicuik starting next month so we'll see how that goes. It's an odd thing. I don't feel wildly jealous when I see German people speaking German or French people speaking French, although I'd like to be better at it, but I do feel wildly jealous when I see Scottish people speaking fluent Gaelic. I get this "that is my language and it was stolen from me" thing.


In terms of unrealistic placement tests, the one I took in Gaelic for Glossika takes some beating. It was aural sentence recognition. The sentences were said by a male voice, quite fast, and at the first hearing I could not have told you anything at all about what he had said. But you were allowed to replay the clip any number of times, and you didn't have to free-translate - it was multiple choice, pick from four. Every single time until the last couple of questions, I found I could figure out which was the right pick, usually because I could spot a single word which either was or wasn't there in a crucial position, or occasionally just from the sentence structure. I got placed well into A2, which is frankly ridiculous. (I actually asked to delete my account with the intention of returning later, as I can't cope with that and Duolingo at the same time.)


Yours were all tiles? Weird. When I did placement tests I had an assortment of question types, including translate from English. I don't know if doing them on the app or the website makes a difference, or if they differ by language. I didn't test out of Italian.


I think they probably differ by language, even just having looked at three, there are similarities, but likewise differences - length of exercises, option for oral answers being the two obvious ones. and, of course, the differences between the web and app versions.


I don't honestly remember. I did the Gaelic one at the beginning just to see and completely flunked out. I don't think I got very far into it. I did the German one and got almost all the questions right, but I can't remember now what they were. Might have been all tiles.

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