The other day, when I was cleaning off some bookshelves, I came across the very first fiction book I ever read in Irish.
It was a little 45-page novella written for adult learners, entitled “An Tobar” (“The Well”), by Ruaidhrí Ó Báille. A friend in Donegal sent it to me early in my second year of learning Irish.
How well I remember sitting at the dining table night after night, with my dictionary next to me, laboriously working my way through that little book!
A week’s labor condensed to 30 minutes
The first time I read An Tobar it took me about a week, carefully working through a few pages a night. Even then, there were some idioms I just didn’t get. I was able to follow the story, but there were a lot of gaps.
Just for fun, I opened it to the first page and started to read. By the time I got to the second page, I realized that I was reading it easily, without mentally translating, as if I were reading English. I read the entire novella in about 30 minutes.
Just what I needed
OK, granted that I’ve been studying Irish for about nine years now, it shouldn’t come as that big a surprise that I can read a book written for advanced beginners.
What surprised me was the ease with which I read it, given that, the last time I’d opened that book, I had such a struggle to make sense of it.
I don’t mind saying that I’ve been going through a bit of a “crisis of faith” with Irish recently, due to my still rather weak conversational skills (we all have our difficult areas. Due partially to my inherent shyness, and partially to an inappropriate attachment to perfectionism, conversation is most definitely mine).
This tangible evidence of just how far I’ve come with the language was like a shot in the arm. It put things back into perspective for me: Yeah, I still have areas in which I struggle, but I’ve also made tremendous progress.
Taking a reality trip
As I’ve mentioned before, language learning is like a journey. When you’re in the midst of that journey, especially while you’re struggling with aspects of it, it’s easy to get too focused on where you are and to forget how far you’ve come.
That’s why, every now and then, it really is important to take a look back at what you’ve already done.
It’s especially important if you feel like you’ve reached a plateau and find yourself getting discouraged. Whether you’ve been studying for 10 years or for 10 weeks, at various points in your learning you’re going to feel as if you’ve ground to a halt.
That’s when you pull out some of the earliest things you’ve learned. Those first lessons? Remember how you never thought you’d get them all down? You can do most, if not all, of that stuff now without having to think much about it, can’t you? Progress.
Those audio recordings? Remember when even the beginning lessons sounded like so much gobbledygook? A lot easier to understand now, aren’t they? More progress.
Take a look around you. How many things do you see that you now know the Irish name for? How many of those words did you know six months ago? A year ago? Yet more progress.
It’s really hard to tell just how just far you’ve come without occasionally looking back at your starting point. And without knowing how far you’ve come, it can be hard to appreciate where you are.
Enjoy the ride!
Keep plugging away on your language journey, and don’t forget to pat yourself on the back from time to time for how much you’ve already accomplished! This is an amazing journey you’ve undertaken, and you should be proud of yourself!
I know I am.