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Looking Back on Island Voices

Series 1 of the Island Voices videos first came out on DVD in 2007. The project has grown a lot since then in various ways. Everything is now online (instead of DVD); Series 2 (Outdoors, Generations, Enterprise) added greatly to the number of videos created by project staff; and community members and groups have got involved in creating learning materials themselves. Perhaps the one thing that hasn’t changed is that the greatest emphasis is still placed on trying to base any recordings that come out of the project on real island life. That can still be seen even in the latest series “Sgeulachdan Thormoid” and “Saoghal Thormoid”, in which the project recorded stories and conversations from Norman Maclean in his final years, after he’d settled back in Uist.

Support for learners

Island Voices started (with help from the European Union) as a scheme for giving simple support in using new technology to learners and teachers. So, from the start the project has been about developing skills in community members in creating and sharing learning materials. As there generally tends to be more material for beginners (particularly in Gaelic) than there is for people who want to progress on to fluency, the project placed an emphasis on more advanced materials – with a mixture of documentary clips and interviews with community members speaking naturally. That’s the kind of material available in Series 1 and 2, with additional support available through Clilstore which gives you an online transcript alongside the film itself.

Made by the community

After those series, the project changed its way of working. It wasn’t project staff who created the new materials, but community members themselves. You can see examples on the “Bonnie Prince Charlie” or “The Great War” pages – series that were created in collaboration with Stòras Uibhist and Comann Eachdraidh Uibhist a Tuath – in which people like Tommy MacDonald, Mary Morrison and others made their own recordings for sharing on the project website. In this way the project obtained new stories at a level even closer to the community, and new people got a chance to get involved in the work and to develop skills.

Social media and other languages

The project started online on WordPress (for a central website) and YouTube (for the films). But then the Facebook page was added, to help with sharing information about what was happening in the project and in the community. There is also a Twitter account, and overall there are well over 3,000 followers now, who are spread across the world. From the beginning the project worked bilingually with English and Gaelic. But as things have grown and developed, other languages have appeared, such as Irish, Welsh, Basque and others. Once people start learning a new language, they may naturally develop an interest in bilingualism, and how you can use different languages together.

Norman Maclean

Perhaps Norman Maclean was among the quickest to appreciate this, and he was also one of the readiest people to record Gaelic stories and other materials. After returning to Uist he did some pieces for Series 2 to begin with. He also got involved in the Storytellers and Great War pages. But his “pièces de résistance” were the series he made towards the end of his life. The project was very fortunate to get the opportunity to record his voice while he still had the ability to tell his own stories in his own style (“Sgeulachdan Thormoid”), and then to relate his thoughts and memories of Gaelic life in Glasgow and the Islands in a collection of long conversations (“Saoghal Thormoid”). All these recordings are now available on the website under the title “Dìleab Thormoid”. There can be no doubt that this is a very special resource that will keep advanced learners and other researchers very busy in the years to come.

Natural spoken language

Although Island Voices was established for the benefit of learners, it has always sought to capture and curate the natural language of people in the community. Emphasis was placed on Gaelic – or English – as it is spoken, though there is also written support for those who wish it or may find it useful. In this way project users get a taste not just of the languages and how they are really used today, but also of the local island way of life in the multilingual, multicultural world in which we all live.

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