The Office of Gaelic Affairs is launching the 'Cum Sìos' program to help learners become immersed in Gaelic language and culture.

MABOU: The Office of Gaelic Affairs (OGA) is launching a project that will help Gaelic learners engage with the language through the tradition of the Céilidh, or “house visit.”

Since 2009, the OGA’s “Bun is Bàrr” mentorship program has given learners the chance to work with older Gaelic speakers to become more fluent in the language. This year’s program, “Cum Sìos” provides additional opportunities for learners at various levels to connect with mentors.

“It’s about passing on the language and culture and sharing it in what we’d call a social learning situation. People meet and visit and maybe do things together, whether it’s making a meal together, going to the grocery store, or going for a walk,” said MacEachen.

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The phrase “Cum Sìos,” or “keep down,” dates back to when Gaelic people lived in thatched houses in Scotland. They encouraged visitors to “keep down” to a spot by the fire for a visit. Organizers believe spending time with mentors will help learners develop a deeper understanding of Gaelic culture.

“The way people greet you in their homes, the kind of humour and the mannerisms they use, those are things we learn without awareness when we’re growing up,” said MacEachen. “This is about immersing people in a Gaelic visiting experience.”

In previous programs, learners primarily worked one-on-one with Gaelic-speaking mentors. This year, the program has added a second stream that allows participants the option of visiting their mentors with the support of a facilitator. MacEachen said this may help the conversation flow more smoothly for learners, and may encourage them to visit their mentor more frequently.

“You might have learned the language at school, but when you get out and speak to people, there are all kinds of dialectal differences,” said MacEachern. “The facilitator might help with that a little bit.”

A third stream is geared toward fluent speakers who are looking for a more intensive learning experience.

“They may work on collecting information, stories and other material from the older speakers that can be transcribed and shared. It’s almost like an archival project as well,” said MacEachen.

Participants in the advanced stream will attend learning retreats to share their research with others. They may also have the opportunity to support other learners as a facilitator.

MacEachern says the program is not only beneficial to learners, but to the mentors as well.

“The thing we’ve found from doing the “Bun is Bàrr” program is that over the years, connecting in with our older Gaelic speakers seems to be very healthy in that they’re sharing their language and culture, and there are people wanting to learn that,” she said. “I think it’s very uplifting for them in many ways.”

The “Cum Sìos” program is designed for learners who already have some knowledge of Gaelic, but would like to improve their skills. The program will run from April to December, and the deadline for expressions of interest is March 30. Application forms are available by contacting: francis.maceachen@novascotia.ca or 902-945-2114.