Friday, 28 December 2012

How things you learn in your youth get useful much later!

I am currently working on something I haven’t done since I was 18. It is called “text preparation” and it was the favourite tool of my English teacher, Mrs. Arnold, to help us gain an enormous vocabulary, while at the same time exposing us to various styles of written English. Mrs. Arnold was one of my most influential and respected teachers and from her I got my love for the English language and British and American literature. But this text preparation thing stands out as something we all liked to do, but invariably came with grueling exams afterwards.

The idea is simple yet effective: here’s a text, here’s a dictionary and you use the latter to look up all there is to learn from the words and constructions in the text: synonyms (Mrs. Arnold’s favorite subject!), derivatives, idioms and standing expressions, and so on. And then you are supposed to learn all this so you can answer questions about it.

Now currently I am learning Gaelic, I have completed 20 online lessons and got a vocabulary of some 600 words and expressions. Now it would be perfectly OK to continue with the next lessons, but I was missing something in the curriculum. And that was ‘the written word’, as the course that I am following is focusing on the spoken word. And it was then that Mrs. Arnold’s teaching method came to mind and that is what I now have added to my study.
All one needs is a good Gaelic-English dictionary and I found that Angus Watson’s Essential Gaelic-English Dictionary gives me everything I need: all the info, even synonyms! (Mrs. Arnold would be so pleased!). And of course a supply of texts to work out. Now that is the easy part: there are plenty of excellent sources on the Internet. BBC Naidheachdan, for instance, An Litir Beag from the same source and of course a large body of song lyrics and poetry: from Màiri Mòr nan Òran to Runrig! And then the meticulous work starts! The result? A large vocabulary, lots of insights in how the language works and ‘how to s ay things’ and the satisfaction of working with and understanding a real, living text! 

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