Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Short Courses at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. It's been a mad few months regarding my course. Not being the brightest button in the box, it's been a bit of a slog for me.

However, the academic year has now finished (woo-hoo!) and I can catch up on a few entries I've been meaning to write for weeks. Here's the first, and it's dedicated to the Short Courses at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye.

Whether you don't have one word of Gaelic, or whether you're a native speaker just wanting to brush up on your grammar and literacy, there's a short course for you. There are also diverse courses such as singing, fiddle, and photography, where Gaelic isn't necessary, but practiced in a Gaelic environment.

So what can you expect from a Short Course?

Well, a lot will depend on your tutor and your fellow class mates.

Don't fret too much about what level to go in at. It's pretty obvious to go in for Gaelic 1 if you've not got any Gaelic, or Gaelic 2, 3, 4, if you're going through the stages one by one, but if you're coming in from the cold of a distance-learning course, or if you want to refresh your rusty skills, it can be a bit of a challenge to know which level to go for .

Naturally, it makes sense to discuss any concerns with the short course team before you enrol, but if you do find your class too easy/too difficult/not your style, you can normally switch to a different class during the week if there is space. A friend of mine switched twice in a week!

Lesson periods are generally 75-90 minutes long, with two sessions in the morning and two in the afternoon. There are no lessons on a Wednesday afternoon (trust me, you'll be glad of the rest) and Friday afternoon is only one session and an early finish to allow people to get home.

You won't get bored in the evening as there is always something on. Monday to Wednesday there is an hour's 'Cearcall Còmhraidh' (Gaelic conversation) which is open to all, and there are events such as quizzes and concerts. Thursday evening is the grand 'Cèilidh' where classes perform a song, sketch, or poems that they've been learning throughout the week. Nobody is put 'on the spot', it's all very much a group effort and it's a really good craic.

As for accommodation, the rooms are all private with ensuite loo and shower facilities and a kitchenette either in the room or down the corridor; basic, clean, and comfortable. You can, if you wish, camp in a tent or stay in your camper van/motorhome/caravan, but be aware that there are no 'camper's facilities' apart from WCs and payable showers in the main building, and there is nowhere to empty chemical loo waste. Camping is, however, free of charge as long as you're attending a course, but the cost of hooking up to the mains if you wish to do so is prohibitive. You're better off charging your phone and laptop during the day while you're in class if you don't have a solar panel.

As well as being a Gaelic environment in which to immerse yourself, the college also has the advantage of a *stunning* location:

For many folks, the trip to Skye is a long one. As such, a lot of people do two, three, or even four consecutive courses and stay for up to a month. You're pretty much left to your own devices at weekends, so a car would be useful - or a friend with a car. Armadale is about a mile away so there is always the possibility to get the ferry to Mallaig and the Small Isles if you wish, or just take a walk in the local area. Sadly the library is closed at weekends which is a bummer.

Is there anything not to like? Well, by the time you add on accommodation and meals it can start to get a little spendy, but no more that you'd normally spend on a week's holiday. It's possible you may end up with classmates or a tutor that you don't get along with, but that could happen anywhere on any type of course. If you're that unhappy you can switch courses.

On one or two of the advanced courses I've been on there was homework to do, which took up the whole evening after a day's lessons, and prevented me from getting to the conversation sessions and the evening socials. I've now decided that that is really not on, and have made my thoughts clear to the powers that be. Remember that YOU are paying for the course and if there is something that you don't want to do, then simply don't do it. But I would hope that the homework element of the advanced classes has now been dropped.

But let's get back to the good stuff. On top of the ability to speak Gaelic all day, every day, there is also an amazing library to lose yourself in. It's not all high-brow academic stuff in there, being a transport geek and a bit of an Anorak, I particularly enjoyed the railway and ferry books.

Above all, attending a Short Course allows you to meet up with like-minded folk. People I've met at Sabhal Mòr have become firm friends. And those friends have been absolutely invaluable, especially during the 'low' periods that we all get at times. Whether it is practical help with the genitive case, getting together on Skype for conversation practice, or support for when the going gets tough, making such wonderful friends has been the most important part of every short course I've attended. I could not imagine my Gaelic studies without them.

You might not meet anyone you like first or even second time around, but do give the Short Courses a try. You won't realise it at the time, but your 'cuid Ghàidhlig' and your confidence in using it will soar.



  1. Hello from Australia
    I'm just commenting to let you know I have, just this morning, discovered your blog, and am char charging through all your content!
    I started learning Gaelic seven days ago, learning from the free lessons on the learngaelic.net site. I am currently on the 11th lesson and am absolutely loving it!
    Thank you for your blog, it has added a personalised view to my own research into learning the language and thinking about doing a short course in Scotland.
    Kind regards
    Melissa,of Australia

  2. Thanks for sharing this information with us!! I was looking for some short term courses for myself.This blog has certainly enlightened me.