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An Interview with iHateIrish director Robin Rynhart

OpenLanguage has teamed up with the Ireland-based iHateIrish team to bring Irish language content to our ever-expanding suite of languages. Available now under the “Other Languages” section, Irish is not simply another accent of English but rather is its own language with a distinct and rich history.

Here is an interview with iHateIrish director Robin Rynhart about this exciting new addition to OpenLanguage.

I think many people aren’t even aware that Irish is its own language. What’s the history of this language? Is it related to English?

Irish was the native language of Ireland for centuries, its origins dating back to the Ogham stone inscriptions of the fourth Century AD. Early recordings of Irish appearing in the marginalia of Latin manuscripts of 5th century Christians. It wasn’t until the 17th century under English rule that Irish began to decline. So for most of its existence Irish remained relatively independent of English and other outside languages.

In more recent times some English words are accepted as part of spoken Irish. Modern technology vocabulary for example. But in general you can consider Irish to be unrelated to English.

How many people in Ireland still speak Irish today? How, when, and where is it used?

According to the latest Census figures approximately 90,000 people consider themselves Irish speakers in normal everyday circumstances. This figure has begun to increase in recent years, largely down to increasing numbers of middle class Irish sending their children to Irish speaking primary and secondary schools. Also the government has increased the proportion or marks given to oral Irish in the state exams. (Learning Irish is compulsory in Ireland up to the end of secondary education).

In practice though, it is rare to hear Irish spoken. Irish speakers tend to speak in Irish to other known Irish speakers, and in English to everyone else. Even in the Gaeltacht areas of parts of the west of Ireland and middle class areas of Dublin.

That said, everyone educated in Ireland will have spent 14 years learning Irish, and will retain a smattering of Irish. iHateIrish hopes to improve that smattering of Irish into a good basic level of conversational Irish for all those who didn’t achieve that the first time around.

Are you a native Irish speaker? What is your background with the language?

My own background in Irish is probably the most typical for an Irish person learning Irish through the state system.

At an early age , (the end of primary school) I was told I had a natural talent for Irish, and that one day I would be fluent. Secondary school filled my head with the harsh reality of needing to acquire skills that would get me a job, and learning Irish got sidelined. I then began to dislike the subject as I saw it as an impediment to me learning other “more important” subjects. And along with most of my peers, I left secondary school without being able to hold a decent conversation in Irish.

I did however develop a love for languages and have since achieved fluency in French, Italian, and Chinese. Its my happy experience in succeeding in these languages that inspired me to try to influence how Irish is learned. I rely on my team to provide the Irish expertise needed.

How did you become interested in teaching Irish? What’s your history of teaching it?

My own experience in learning other languages showed me that if you focus on reducing the barriers to gaining a foothold of the spoken language that you can bring a language to life very quickly. Improving fluency in that language is then much easier. Despite the improvements in how Irish is taught nowadays, I can see my own children struggle with Irish in much the same way I did. Yes, they do well in their Irish tests, and are as good as any in their classes. They have a good amount of vocabulary, and enjoy the subject. But they can’t speak a word of it in real life situations. I want to do something to change the outcome for them. All of our lessons are based in the real world of children growing up and living in Ireland. From getting your breakfast in the morning to chit chat in the school playground the short conversations allow the parents as well as the kids to have some simple conversations together in Irish.

Your lessons are called ‘iHateIrish”. Why did you decide to name it this?

On a superficial level, it’s just a name that is meant to be easy to remember, a name that kids can relate to as they like to be a bit rebellious. On another level its also meant to be a little anti-establishment, as we want all those who are currently involved in teaching Irish to understand that this is a new approach and in general we need to lower the barrier spoken Irish, particularly for all those kids who find it a challenge.

Similarly we believe the majority of kids learning Irish don’t really see the value in learning Irish, until they achieve a level where they can communicate well. And this does not happen for many under the current system. We believe we can make Irish much more accessible for everyone. Maybe we can make it cool.

Finally, the “i” in iHateIrish is supposed to imply that this is available on portable devices, which of course it is.

Some people do hate learning Irish, some people do find it a nuisance to have to learn a language that they don’t see as useful in their career. The fact of the matter is that learning Irish is compulsory, but if we learn it as a spoken language first, we can improve our exam results significantly, and reduce the pain of learning it significantly, and have the benefit of having exercised that part of our brain. So it makes sense for everyone to learn Irish in the most efficient manner available.

Who is on the “iHateIrish” team? Where are you guys located?

We have Jeff, our guru, who has just recently been working on the next Irish dictionary for the Royal Irish Academy. He keeps us on the straight and narrow in terms of the “quality” of our Irish. We focus heavily on the spoken word, which sometimes ventures into divergent opinions. Jeff gets the last word with the direction of the language and what colloquialisms are acceptable or not.

Our two presenters Sinéad and Connor. Not only do they provide the energy and fun to our lessons, but also as fluent Irish speakers they make sure we are giving our learners the most up-to-date and commonly used spoken Irish. Sinéad has been giving grinds in oral and written Irish for several years now to students taking the state exams, so she is also familiar with the parts of the language that students struggle with and how to explain it in simple terms.

Elle is our graphic artist, responsible for images of our main dialogue characters.

We have some people in the background who work with schools to ensure that our lessons work for them, and so the students can make the best use of them.

And finally myself. My expertise is in making sure that everything we do is focused on making it easier for our learners to get speaking Irish. So I have a significant input in lesson creation, recording, editing, course structure etc. not to mention sales and marketing.

We are based in the Nexus Innovation Centre on the University of Limerick campus , here in Limerick in the mid-west of Ireland.

Why did you guys decide to pursue the OpenLanguage radio-lesson style format?

Openlanguage is at the vanguard of this learning approach. It has the best learning platform available across all devices. It allows us to apply some structure to our course content and for the learners to keep track of their progress and have a sense of achievement as they get through the lessons. And my daughter says its the most fun to use. She especially loves the exercises section, which seem more like games to her. No other platform could offer advanced tools such as the speech pronunciation accuracy tool which gives you a score, depending on how good your pronunciation is.

And for the adult learners its great to be able to listen to the podcasts while on the go.

What are your favorite aspects of the Irish language? What makes the language special?

This is a tricky question for me. Like any language, there are some expressions which only make sense to Irish people. A great deal of our Irishness is encapsulated in the language. That is not to say an Irish person is any less Irish for not being able to speak the language, those same aspects of Irishness exist outside the language too. But there is a certain beauty, conciseness and quality to Irish expressions which unite us as a people in our shared consciousness, sense of humour or identity.

I’m not a Gaelgoer, (Irish fanatic), my own Irish is in fact mediocre, I have at times hated Irish as a subject at school, and I have at times thought of Irish as somewhat of a romantic notion. And I certainly protest against those who say its a prerequisite to being Irish, it most certainly is not. But, it does unite us as a people, it does have qualities that no other language has, and it can, does and probably will continue, to enrich our modern culture as time progresses.

How would do you think Irish-speakers would respond to a foreign visitor who can speak some Irish?

I’m sure that any Irish speaker would be delighted, to hear that Irish was surviving across the waves. And that someone thought enough of their homeland to take the trouble to learn to speak a few words. You would certainly get your 100 thousand welcomes. I hope iHateIrish succeeds in making it easier for this to happen.

Anything you’d like to tell the potential iHateIrish students out there?

There are other good tools out there to help you learn Irish, use them.
But with Openlanguage and iHateIrish you can add a backbone to your learning. A structure to the quickest possible route to using Irish as a language,… for talking to people. You won’t get bogged down, or fed up, and you’ll know that your Irish is the Irish of the young people of today’s Ireland.

New Feature – Progress Page

 

OpenLanguage lessons are engaging and accessible and effectively teach you real language that you can immediately use in the real world. But with so many thousands of lessons, how do you keep track of what you’ve studied, how well you’ve learned those lessons, and what level your skills have progressed to?

The new OpenLanguage progress feature has been created to help you keep track of all of these things. With easy-to-read info-graphics, this new feature will bring greater structure and coherence to your learning plan, whether you’ve been studying with OpenLanguage for two hours or two years.

Placement Test

We’ve created placement tests for all of our languages to allow you to accurately gauge just what level your skills are at from the get-go. Your score will guide you into what level lessons to study and serve as a benchmark as your studies progress.

Daily Activity

With your ability level established via the placement test, you can get straight into studying. And as you learn with our fantastic lessons and “mark them as studied”, the progress page will keep track of it all in an easy-to-read infographic. This way, you will be able to quickly and easily keep track of just how many lessons you’ve studied.

Progress Test

Deciding when to move on to a higher level of lessons is better not left to guesswork – by taking our new progress tests, you will know exactly when it will be appropriate for you to level-up. When you pass the test, your progress page will update your level and keep track of your new activities within the new difficulty. If your abilities aren’t quite yet there, the progress test will recommend you to continue studying at that level to make sure you don’t miss important vocabulary and grammar. Available in all levels in all languages, these tests will allow you to progress at the pace that’s right for you.

With all of these new features, you will not only be able to track your progress for yourself, but you will also be able to use it as documentation of your studies and abilities for employers and schools. So get studying with OpenLanguage and check it out now!

Language Profile: Why Learn Portuguese?

In celebration of the World Cup in Brazil, OpenLanguage has recently launched our new Brazilian Portuguese channel: “Língua da Gente” which means “language of the people”. Made in conjunction with the University of Texas in Austin and renowned Portuguese professor Orlando Kelm, Língua da Gente is an exciting new addition to OpenLanguage.

 

So why Portuguese?

Portuguese is part of the Ibero-Romance language family and is very closely related to Spanish. Though originally the national language of the 10 million residents of Portugal, Portuguese was brought throughout the world with Portugal’s colonial expansion and now is the 6th most-spoken language in the world with 260 million speakers.

Today, Portuguese is dominated by Brazil. With over 200 million people, Brazil is by far the largest home of Portuguese speakers. Due to Brazil’s large population, Brazilian Portuguese is the most spoken language in South America, not Spanish. Brazilian Portuguese is quite different from Portuguese Portuguese due to centuries of influence from African and indigenous South American languages which has resulted in a more lilting and arguably sweeter accent than the more rapid-fire and almost Russian-sounding Portuguese accent. With Brazil’s population and cultural influence, Brazilian Portuguese has in fact become the dominant dialect over the original Portuguese dialect.

The Lusophone world, the name of the Portuguese-speaking world, extends far beyond just Portugal and Brazil. There are nearly 50 million Portuguese speakers in Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in Mozambique and Angola. The Portuguese spoken in these countries has been greatly influenced by Brazilian Portuguese and thus is very similar. These two former Portuguese colonies today comprise two of the most vibrant economies in Africa with blistering GDP growth rates and great future economic promise.

The Lusophone world also extends to Asia. East Timor, up until recently known for its protracted struggle for independence, is now the politically stable home of 1.2 million Portuguese speakers and is posting some of the highest GDP growth rates in the world. And if you already have money to spend, Macau, the former Portuguese enclave in Southern China, is now the gambling capital of the world with more gambling-related revenue than even Las Vegas.

The economic incentive of learning Portuguese vis-a-vis the rise of Brazil is at this point well-discussed. But looking beyond professional opportunities, Brazil is one of the greatest cultural producers in the world. Sometimes viewed as the South American version of the United States, Brazil is a melting pot of immigrants from around the world with large African, European, Asian, and Middle Eastern populations. While often known for the modern metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, modern Brazilian history stretches back to the year 1500 and has left a plethora beautiful preserved colonial towns throughout the country.

All of this coupled with the nation’s varied topography of rainforest, plains, mountains, and of course beautiful beaches creates a culturally rich and vibrant destination that one could spend a lifestyle exploring without seeing everything.

Whether for work or for play, learning Portuguese will enrich your life. So check out the free complimentary OpenLanguage Portuguese channel Língua da Gente course and get studying today!

OpenLanguage Podcast Host Spotlight: Q&A with Jason Bigman

Lesson hosts are the heart and soul of OpenLanguage. They bring language expertise, life stories and charisma to the learning experience. Today, we introduce Jason Bigman, host for OpenLanguage Japanese, Spanish, and English.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I am a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Aside from my obvious passion for languages, I also love good design, dumplings from various global culinary traditions, writing, and dry climates.

Q: You are quite the language nerd. Besides English and Japanese, what other languages do you speak?
A: If we go with “speak” meaning I can have conversations that involve original sentences that I’m coming up with on the fly, I can also speak Spanish, Mandarin, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Arabic.

Q: Why do you keep studying different languages?
A: I love the experience of a learning a language well enough that new worlds open up, both in terms of how to express ideas and describe the world around me but also the cultures and people of communities where that language is spoken. We live in an interconnected, globalized world and being able to personally connect with people from hugely varied geographic and linguistic backgrounds never gets old to me.

Q: What is your strategy when it comes to learning a new language?
A: One of the biggest factors to successful language learning is making sure that you’re studying a language that you truly care about, whether it be for personal or professional reasons. If you have the internal motivation, then the rest comes easily. I also tend to speak aloud to myself when I’m alone to practice speaking languages for which I don’t have regular conversation opportunities. I promise I’m not crazy.

Q: What’s your favorite OpenLanguage lesson that you’ve recorded so far?
A: I really enjoy recording Japanese lessons where my co-host Wakako and I get to delve into the complex relationship between the Japanese language and Japanese culture. The lesson “My Mom Buys Me Gifts” has some good examples of this.

Q: Any thoughts or suggestions for fellow OpenLanguage learners?
A: Keep studying! Take lots of notes and go back to lessons that you’ve already done to reinforce what you’ve previously learned. With words that are hard to remember or complex grammar patterns, try to come up with your own personal tricks or methods of comprehending them. You have to make your learning process your own.

OpenLanguage: a option for home-schoolers

At OpenLanguage we are committed to facilitating language learning in every form it might take. While many of our students pursue learning a language in their free time, we have teachers and students using OpenLanguage in both tradition schools and home-schooling environments. With the popularity of home-schooling growing, especially in the United States in recent years, we at OpenLanguage see this as a particularly important moment to provide innovative resources for teachers and parents to use with their young-ones .

So, in order to help facilitate home-schoolers we’d like to introduce our ‘Friends and Family’ subscription plan, and extend our academic rates to all parents using the service for home-schooling their children—just $50 per student per month!

Using our Friends and Family plan, as well as the Open Academy, parents and teachers will be able to join students in their language study process as well monitor their children’s progress. This is a decided advantage over the traditional classroom where the teacher spends a majority of the time inputting the information and trying to discover individual difficulties. This is what we term the ‘Flipped Classroom’ model. In the Flipped Classroom model, all the ‘inputting’ is done before the class and teachers can use their time most effectively to help students through their difficulties as well as practice newly learned concepts. By embracing this new model of learning and teaching we believe OpenLanguage can greatly improve the pace of language learning, whether you’re a casual learner, in a traditional school, or home-schooling.

The Flipped Classroom focuses on giving students the tools they need to expose themselves to language lessons before they make it to the classroom, thus giving the teacher the ability to help students practice the newly learned information and provide corrective feedback, instead of wasting valuable time talking at students! With our OpenLanguage lessons, not only do they receive the lesson audio, guided by two of our bilingual hosts, but they also have the opportunity to use our review tools to solidify their grasp of the vocabulary and grammar, in addition to expansion sentences building on the lesson dialogue.

Finally, before ever making it to the class the students will then complete exercises designed to gauge their comprehension of the lesson. The teacher or parent can review this prior to class, giving them a powerful understanding of each student’s strengths and weaknesses. With this new approach OpenLanguage believes students and teachers will be more likely to see rapid improvement in language acquisition by facilitating the input portion of the learning process thereby increasing the value of class-time.

The OpenLanguage Learner’s Series: conversation with a reluctant polyglot 

Today OpenLanguage co-founder Jenny interviews Orlando Kelm, Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at University of Texas, Austin.

Though his profession is teaching Hispanic languages, Orlando also found he was passionate about learning Asian languages such as Japanese and Chinese. Jenny talks to Orlando about whether he is one of those blessed with a language brain or is there anything else at work to produce a successful language learner? They delve into the learning methodology for different languages, how to stay motivated when motivation is running low and whether ‘polyglots’ should be role models for language learners. They also explore whether a few key learning trends such as mobile learning and Flipped Classroom are a fad or the future of learning.