Max is one man making Gaeilge big in Sweden
2019-06-01 13:21:35 -
Art & Culture

By Jessica Ní Mháirtín


Excited to hear about the ‘ciorcal comhrá’ in Sweden, I looked forward to hearing from Max Ortiz on a VoIP call, but upon answering the phone I hear something I didn’t expect at all.


Originally from Argentina, Max moved to Sweden with his parents at a young age during the 1970s, and over the years he grasped a tremendous knowledge of languages. He’s most confident and fluent in Spanish, Italian, English, Swedish and French, along with basic skills in other languages, too.


But what really takes me by surprise is when he first speaks on the phone to me (as Gaeilge) in a big, thick, culchie accent.


I wasn’t sure if I had the right person, as Max had mentioned he was only learning Irish for three-and-a-half years now. So for me to hear a Donegal-like accent on the phone from a Swedish national was absolutely astounding.


In the last two years, Max has taken his family on holidays to Ireland and he says he’d love his two daughters to speak Irish someday, which he has no doubt they will. The young ladies are certainly following in his footsteps already as they currently speak English, Swedish and Spanish.


It was definitely clear from our conversation how much passion he has for the Irish language: “I’ve always had an interest in Irish history and culture and from the moment I began learning Irish she has captured a special place in my heart.


“Online apps and resources are how I went about learning the language at the start and a year later I stumbled across Skype lessons for Irish learners, taught by Páraic Donoghue. He’s originally from Connemara but is now living and teaching from Canada.”


Listening to Max speak about his love for the Irish language is fascinating, and he definitely adds an element of traditional Irish folklore to his storytelling. But after I’d got over the initial admiration of how well he could pull off an Irish accent, he catches me off guard again when he says he “spoke no Irish for the first year” he was learning it.


Max listened to Raidió na Gaeltachta and watched TG4, as most Irish learners do when they’re abroad, but until he found the online lessons, he hadn’t practiced speaking the language at all, which is one thing he says he regrets.


“I did a full year of learning through listening and writing but actually speaking was different,” Max says. “I didn’t fully understand the online resources that are available to people who wish to learn the language. When I came across the Skype lessons I found that they were very practical, enjoyable and certainly clever.”


It didn’t take him long to gain confidence, and he developed the urge to provide an Irish-speaking environment for those who also shared the love of Irish language. So, he set up a local ‘ciorcal comhrá’, where a group now comes together once or twice each month to partake in different initiatives such as coffee mornings and pop-up Gaeltachts.


“The group had their first birthday during this year’s Seachtain na Gaeilge,” he says. “It’s amazing because it shows that there is definitely a growing interest in the language because all different types of people come to our group and it’s a mixture of Irish and Swedish.


“The standard of Irish definitely varies as some have fluent Irish, some just have cúpla focal, others have Irish from school and some turn up for the sake of keeping the language fresh in their minds.


“The people tend to come and go on their travels but having started the group, it’s very reassuring to know that there are people here in Sweden that are just as ambitious as me in regards to practicing and keeping the language alive.


“Maybe Stockholm might have its own Irish dialect soon,” Max added jokingly.


On a recent journey to Ireland, Max says that he was fully prepared as he keeps up with Irish current affairs, and with the conversation moving on to how frustrating it can be that the majority of the Irish population don’t speak the language fluently, he recalls a moment when he visited Dublin two years ago and spoke in Irish to a shopkeeper.


“Ba mhaith liom an ceann seo (I would like this one),” Max said as he pointed to an item he wanted to purchase. The shopkeeper was astounded: “Did you just speak Irish to me?” And with that the conversation flowed.


I reflect on the irony of visitors to Ireland having more confidence in this land’s native language than those who have grown up here.


“Every language has its difficulties,” Max replies. “I myself always mix up the masculine and feminine forms of grammar but the one thing I’d like to really stress to new learners of the language is not to be afraid to make mistakes because that’s how you learn. This stems from my own personal experience and people should know that the resources are there at your fingertips.


“I wouldn’t consider myself as ‘fluent’ in the language as I still have a lot to learn and in the next five years I would love to see myself as more comfortable with structuring sentences and faster with replying but along with that, I’d like to see the environment we’ve created for Irish speakers here in Stockholm expand and grow.”

TAGS : Irish language Sweden Gaeilge Max speaker fluent
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