By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
Q: When did you first become interested in languages?
A: As far back as I can remember. I was around four years old when my mother used to speak to me in foreign languages. Her favorite language was German and she would say to me every night “Gute Nacht”, “Ich liebe dich” and ”Schlaft gut”. And my grandmother would often speak French to me, her favorite language. My family knew the value of learning foreign languages to mold my character. When I was ten, when I did a History project about my own genealogy, I realized I had Welsh and Gaelic-speaking ancestors and started becoming interested in these languages. I wish I had started even earlier as these are my favorite languages. I now speak all the major insular Celtic languages, Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, and Welsh, and I can read and understand Manx and Cornish as well.
Q: You have travelled to a number of countries. In which country did you have the most rewarding experience?
A: Although I’m Scottish, I was brought up in London, England. Back in those days, we had to travel mostly by bus or train. First I went to Edinburgh and the Lowlands, then I visited the Highlands by bus. The following year I visited several Gaelic-speaking areas like Skye and Lewis. That’s when I first heard Gaelic spoken by native speakers around me. It was as if the language of my forefathers were resurrecting before me. Ever since that day, I thought I should live in the Highlands, which is why I moved here a few years ago.
Q: Which of the languages that you have studied was the most difficult?
A: Old Irish is the most difficult language I ever tried to learn. Even though I already had a good background in Latin and Ancient Greek, the language is very difficult. The verb system is very complicated. It makes Vedic Sanskrit look like child’s play and it’s considerably different from Classical Irish. I only know of one or two scholars in America, a few others in the British Isles who managed to master Old Irish, plus a handful of others in Austria and Germany who mastered it completely after many years of diligent and exclusive study, but I hope more people will be interested in this complex but beautiful ancient language.
Q: Do you have a special method you use to learn foreign languages?
A: I studied mostly with private teachers and tutors. They were responsible for my classical education. After I had acquired a good knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek, the modern Romance languages became much easier. I mastered French and Italian, and I can read in many other Romance languages. So I think we should always go to the roots and study etymology and the earliest manifestations of the language. This helps 100% in learning any more complicated foreign language.
Q: How important were classical languages like Latin and Ancient Greek in your life and overall language learning?
A: Very important indeed! From the age of fifteen and onwards, my education had become mostly Latin, Ancient Greek, and French. My greatest teacher, Mr. Zinn, used to say that people are influenced by classical writers like Plato, even if they don’t realize it. The Greeks and Romans gave us almost everything. When we go back to the source, we can start reinterpreting ideas for ourselves. That’s why I think Classics is important for our lives.
Q: Who is your favorite author? Do you prefer ancient or modern literature? Why?
A: Herodotus, the Father of History. He was interested in every aspect of every culture of the known world. He also quite often gives more than one version or explanation of an event, when it’s not certain, unlike his scoffing “successor”, Thucydides. I like some ancient literature, Western and Eastern, some medieval, and some modern.
Q: You have learned a number of Celtic languages. Do you think the British and Irish governments should do more to promote the learning of these languages?
A: Yes, indeed I do. The Scottish, Welsh, Cornish and Manx governments are doing more now than before, but not enough. The Irish government is in danger of doing less than before. In Scotland I also would like more support given to the separate non-Celtic language of Lowland Scots.
Q: Do you have any advice for the next generation of language students and philologists?
A: As a memory aid for learning vocabulary, just try thinking of a similar word in English or another language, but with a related meaning.
John Priest tutors Latin, along with Classical and Celtic languages, for Carmenta Latin Tutors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
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