Comasan Labhairt ann an Gàidhlig: Developing a World-Class Resource for Gaelic Learning and Teaching

Published on: Author: Jamie Kelly Leave a comment

On Tuesday 23rd April 2019, the Centre was very pleased to welcome our very own Dr Nicola Carty, who was eager to give us an update on Comasan Labhairt ann an Gàidhlig (CLAG): a project based in Celtic and Gaelic in collaboration with Gaelic Studies at the University of Aberdeen, which aims to develop a more effective framework for Gaelic-language learning in Scotland. Gillebrìde MacIlleMhaoil of Celtic and Gaelic (and Outlander fame) introduced our speaker.

Dr Carty began her studies at the University of Glasgow. She then went on to complete a Masters in linguistics at the University of Manchester, before returning to Glasgow to undertake a PhD, which she defended successfully in 2015. Dr Carty’s thesis explores the nature of Gaelic oral proficiency among adults learning Gaelic as a second language (referred to as L2 learners). Following on from this, she served as the post-doctoral research assistant for the CLAG project. She is also a consultant for the online Gaelic learning resource, LearnGaelic.Scot. A self-professed lover of languages, CLAG gave Dr Carty the opportunity to incorporate and build on her earlier research into language acquisition.

A three-year research project beginning in November 2014, CLAG was funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the Scottish Funding Council. Before CLAG, our understanding of L2 proficiency in Gaelic was somewhat limited, based mainly on the self-reported proficiency of the learners themselves. The vast majority of learners placed themselves in vague ‘intermediate’ categories, and only a small percentage considered themselves fully fluent. In 2015, Dr Emily MacEwan-Fujita referred to this group as the ‘eternal intermediate’, observing that, as things stood, not enough learners were progressing from intermediate level to fluency. CLAG aims to galvanise the transition to fluency by providing a pathway for complete learners to become Gaelic speakers.

With this in mind, the project sought to establish a more precise scale for Gaelic learner proficiency. This involved creating a spoken corpus of learners through a series of recorded communicative tasks. 96 participants were required to hold a basic conversation in Gaelic, followed by a narrative task where they were asked to piece together a story. While these stages were compulsory, participants were also given the option of a third task, where they were asked to construct an argument in Gaelic. Recordings were then graded on a scale—with A1 being the lowest and C2 being the highest—according to the categories set out by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) i.e. range of vocabulary, fluency, coherence, accuracy, interaction, pronunciation and overall proficiency.

In accordance with self-reported proficiency levels, the results demonstrated that the bulk of learners fell into the intermediate B1 and B2 categories. Perhaps more significantly, the findings indicate that the CEFR model does work for Scottish Gaelic, with markers finding that they could use all of the categories when assessing recordings. Findings were then used to create resources, including grammar and vocab charts, and a grid detailing the different levels of proficiency for the CEFR’s metrics. These were well-received by both teachers and learners, and it is to be hoped that this resource will continue to be useful in years to come.

Thanks again to Dr Nicola Carty for keeping us updated on the CLAG project. She assures us that the corpus has more applications than those that have done to date. For example, Dr Carty suggested that the recordings could be used for a phonetic analysis of pronunciation and for compiling a lexical database of Gaelic. We look forward to hearing more about CLAG in the future.

Thanks to everyone who joined us on Tuesday night. Our next event takes place on 30 April, when Barry Lewis will discuss the narratives of early British Christianity in Jocelin’s Life of St Kentigern. We hope you will join us.

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