Saturday, 4 April 2015

Beag air Bheag - Little by Little

Image property of BBC

Most Gaelic learners have heard of 'Beag air Bheag le Iain Urchardan' by now. If you haven't, let me tell you about it.

No matter what your level of Gaelic, from beginning to advanced, if you are a learner and you have access to BBC services, you need to be listening to this fantastic radio programme.

At the end of last year, a series of 10 x 30 minute episodes ran on BBC Radio Nan Gàidheal. I found out about it roughly half way through the series. Sadly there was was no Podcast to download, but happily the past episodes were available for 4 weeks via iPlayer Radio. I don't have broadband, I rely on tethering my mobile phone for internet reception. I became so hooked on 'Beag air Bheag' I ended up increasing my data allowance as I was listening every morning.

I was very pleased when Series One was repeated directly after it ended, so I could start again with episode one and keep up a constant supply of episodes via iPlayer. It was just a pain that I relied on mobile phone reception (3G or 4G) to keep connected. There is no Radio nan Gàidheal radio reception in the South of England!

I'm guessing the series was a Pilot to gauge reaction. All my learner friends were full of praise for the programme and it was lauded during class-phone sessions and at weekend school at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

To my utter delight, Series Two was quickly announced. I can only guess that we weren't alone in our enthusiasm.

Even better news was that Series Two would be bigger and better in every way.

For a start, there are 15 episodes planned (count them, FIFTEEN!) and they are now a whole hour long, not just 30 minutes. But the best news of all? You can download them as a Podcast. No more relying on a mobile phone signal or being tied to the internet for the 90% (my guess) of listeners who listen outwith the Radio Nan Gàidheal signal area. Right now (early April 2015) we are on the cusp of episode three which will be broadcast this week.

If you're just setting out in Gaelic you may worry a little that you don't understand a single word, as the entire programme (bar a few technical words that few people know and some of the Grammar Points) is delivered in Gaelic. However, owing to the fact that Ian Urchardan, the presenter, speaks slowly and clearly, you are very quickly able to pick out the words that you DO know. Just to pick out a few words will help you commit them to memory. You'll also end up hearing the same unfamiliar words week in and week out. Eventually you get to know the word but not its meaning. For example, for weeks I heard an expression that sounded like 'Grass cainch' and wondered what it was. Every week I heard 'Grass cainch'. Hmm.

Weeks later I discovered that the word used was actually 'gnàthas-cainnte', meaning idiom, saying, or expression. Gaelic has a lot of 'gnàthas-cainnte' indeed, and thanks to repeatedly listening to Beag air Bheag I knew the word before its meaning, which of course makes it 100 times easier to remember than a dry vocabulary list on a page.

The 'Oisean a' Ghràmair' section I find particularly useful, and now there is a Podcast I can repeat this section over and over again. When settled in one place I can study the pages on the website at and make notes.

Right now, at my self-assessed 'upper intermediate' stage after two years, I reckon on understanding about 55 per cent of what is said (there is some 'native speaker' stuff for advanced learners too). A beginner may start off only understanding five per cent, but I reckon that this beginner understanding five per cent of episode one will probably end up understanding 10 per cent of episode 15. I'm hoping that I end up understanding 60 per cent of episode 15.

So if you don't completely understand what's going on, keep listening (daily is good, on your commute to work) and keep absorbing the sounds. It's all going in and even if you don't realise it you ARE picking it up...beag air bheag.

No comments:

Post a Comment