Your opinions on why people (especially youth) don't want to learn Irish?
I'm 21 now, but when I was in school I absolutely hated learning Irish, and i think that's the same with most students at the moment. What do you guys think the country is doing wrong when it comes to teaching the language and what do you guys think they/we need to do? It might be pen to paper is holding us back and we need to be more oral. Or people don't see the purpose and it's not really that functional/useful. Maybe it has this big old farmer reputation around it and does it really sound cool or modern. I think these points are relevant but I want to know what you guys think.
Given that only about 9% of the people taking the Irish course here are from Ireland, your viewpoint from your schooldays would be a useful point of comparison. (I’m one of the many non-Irish people here who’d never had Irish in school, so I can’t comment on it.) If you’d also taken other language courses during your schooldays — French? Spanish? German? I don’t know what’s offered there — how would you compare your instruction in Irish to your instruction in that other language? If learning the other language was less hated by you than learning Irish was, what were the differences in their instruction? For example, was instruction in the other language more orally focused? Did you and your classmates view the other language as being more functional/useful than Irish?
People find other languages more useful here, and generally prefer them because a lot of Irish people don't want to be in Ireland, and want to move away. I would say people put in more effort into other languages, though unfortunately even these languages are thought wrong here. I know Swedish people who could speak fluent English in 3 years, and most Irish people can't speak Irish after 14 years. I believe our government still doesn't realize that their plan on bringing back the language doesn't work and they need to change the plan. It's common when irish people leave school, that they then want to learn the language, so its clear that the education system needs work here :/ If you're not from Ireland and you have any questions or you're curious about anything you can ask me.
Even in primary and secondary school, a lot of pupils state that they don’t want to be in Ireland and want to move away? Which other languages do pupils put more effort into than they do Irish?
Most kids in National School are extremely impressionable - they "hate Irish" not because it is useless, but because everyone else "hates Irish". They often "hate maths" too, (the vast majority of them think that's useless too) but instead of resenting all the time that they spent learning maths at school, 97% of adults simply forget everything except basic arithmetic.
Very few National Schools in Ireland provide any language education besides Irish and English. And unfortunately, that means that progress in Irish usually can't be compared to other languages, and in those schools that do teach a 3rd language, that language will be taught by a specialist language teacher, whereas Irish will be taught by the regular class teacher.
At the end of Secondary School, age 17 or 18, about 50,000 students sit the Leaving Certificate every year, and about half of the study French, about 15% study German, 10% Spanish and 5% Italian, and 2% or 3% whose mother tongue is another European language are entitled to sit an exam in that "non-curricular language" and gain points in it. About 90% of them take Irish, with slightly less than half of those at the Higher level.
These statistics are from the State Examinations Commission
On the other end of the language learning spectrum, I found this PDF document on the situation in Luxembourg, where Lëtzebuergesch, French, and German are mandatory courses for all pupils, not to mention optional languages like English, Portuguese, and Italian. This sentence in the document grabbed my attention:
Today [in 2008], the number of hours dedicated to foreign language teaching during the compulsory school years (primary and secondary education combined) accounts for on average 38% of the complete syllabus taught.
Can you imagine any school system in an English-speaking country dedicating even half of that average percentage of hours of the syllabus on non-English language teaching?
I wonder if Luxembourg’s approach to teaching Lëtzebuergesch (a brief overview of which is in the document) could be adapted to teaching Irish in Ireland?
Wow. That's quite a document, especially it's description of the resurgence of Lëtzebuergesch in the last 20-30 years.
Very thought provoking.
Aha. Would it be safe to presume that specialist Irish language teachers are seldom found in national schools? Does the same scarcity also exist in secondary schools?
(In the States, the availability of language courses other than English is largely determined by locality. My village’s primary school [nine classes/forms/grades] only offers English, so it only has specialist language teachers for English; the regional secondary school [four classes/forms/grades] also has specialist language teachers for Spanish and French.)
In National schools (ages 4 to 12) classes typically stay with the same teacher in the same classroom all day - the teacher is responsible for teaching all of the subjects. In theory, teachers all need a good standard of Irish to get certified as teachers, but unless they are using it consistently outside the classroom, within a few years of becoming teachers, they may end up with a fairly perfunctory grasp of the language, and the schoolwork will just be following the textbook to cover the course. Because the class tends to stay together all day, the schedule can be a bit flexible - this can be good if a teacher wants keep the momentum going if a class is going well, but it can also make it easier to skimp a little on classes and just teach the bare minimum.
In Secondary schools (ages 12 to 18), classes typically stay together for the core subjects (English, Irish, Maths), but teachers typically concentrate on one or two subjects, so the Irish teacher will teach Irish to a number of different classes, the English teacher will teach English to different classes, etc. For optional classes, such as languages, science, history, art, etc, classes split up. Because of this, the timetable has to be more rigid - 45 minute or 1 hour classes with a few minutes between classes to get to the right classroom. But these "specialist" language teachers are trying to teach from a foundation that is supposed to exist, but often doesn't. French and German is taught from scratch, and the choice of material is often more engaging than what is taught in Irish classes (Peig, anyone?)
Irish students typically take 7 subjects, sometimes 8, all the way to the Leaving Certificate - the 3 core subjects and 4 or 5 optional subjects. The Leaving Cerificate exams take place at the beginning of June, 2 papers per day, with 2 papers each for the core subjects and one for each of the others, so students sit 10 papers over a 3 week period, and admission to 3rd level education depends on the results. The exams are set and corrected nationally - all students get the same papers, and their own teachers do not get to correct their papers.
Heys, i was just wondering where you got the figure 9% of the people taking the Irish course on Duolingo are Irish. I could really use it for a project I'm doing but I don't think this counts as a reliable source..:P
I find Irish a very difficult language to learn, it's quite frustrating and you have to have real motivation to learn it.
heys! I was just wondering how you are learning Irish? is it just through duolingo?
Generally children disconnect from a subject (language or otherwise) if a) they find it boring, b) they don't see the point or c) they think it's too hard. Perhaps it's taught in manner that isn't engaging or children don't see it as an essential living language. I mean, I know people who grew up with parents who spoke another language who have deep regret they didn't pick up their parents language, but have told me at the time, no one else around them spoke it, so their child selves didn't feel compelled to learn it. The more people around a child that use a language in real situations, the more convincing it is that it is socially useful.
Irish is also quite a challenging language, so the 'it's too hard' reason may come in to play. I didn't get that far with Irish, but it does seem more challenging than your average language, and I've studied a fair number. (In addition to the ones on my profile here, I've done some Latin, Ancient Greek and Japanese).
In relation to school I heard countless arguments about Irish being less useful than a European language and also harder from peers. I personally found it harder in school because our teacher just taught us rote sentences and didn't really explain conjugating verbs or anything. I could only answer set questions therefore and couldn't attempt a conversation. I also found French easier because of it's similarity to English in places and I needed to get good grades so I chose it for my GCSE (I'm from NI).
Later in my life I took Japanese classes and I had a very good teacher, she made us act out things like introducing ourselves and brought in props etc. So that we had a lot of fun and a lot of practice. I think that an involving approach is much easier to follow.
Now, I'm Dutch. I've lived in the Netherlands all of my life and went through Dutch education (still going through it).
I can't comment for Irish schools, but I can comment on my own language experiences, and I've had a couple, especially if you include programming languages in the mix.
Even though I'm Dutch, I'm pretty fluent in English (to the point that even Britons sometimes confuse me for one of their own). I learnt barely any of this in school though.
I have had English in school, certainly. The same goes for French and German, but other than asking my way to the baker and being able to ask for a ham-sandwich, I don't really speak those languages.
The same could be true for English, had it not been a language I learnt as I used it. That's the thing for me, when I learn a language, it's serving a purpose. This goes for English, but is also true for all of the programming languages I've learnt so far (C, C++, C#, Java, Javascipt, Bash script, DOS Batch files, and the X86, ARM and ATMEL AVR assembly languages).
What I see in peers who've gone though bilingual secondary schools is that they are mastering the English language at an even better level than I do.
I don't think learning a language is something that, should be done for the sake of language learning.
It's much more effective when it's a means to an end. Even when that purpose, like in my case with Irish is just to relax and have fun.
I think that if the Irish government did the following, Irish would bounce back really quickly:
1) Make all secondary schools (or the Irish equivalent) bilingual at the very least. (Irish on Monday and Tuesday, English on Thursday and Friday, and either alternate the Wednesdays, or make the Wednesday morning Irish and the afternoon in English).
2) Provide financial incentives for the Irish language in the workplace and at sport clubs, such as subsidies to make communication with customers in Irish cheaper than communication in English.
3) Make communication with the government more efficient, and maybe cheaper when done in Irish.
4) Make Irish heard on regular TV and Radio channels, rather than stuffing the language away onto its own channels (like RnG and TG4)
I know that this could be difficult with equal treatment regulations and all, as well as maybe being considered illegal government support. It would however give people a reason to use the language.
For better or worse, it's too late to rely on increasing the amount of Irish on Television, because the widespread availability of the likes of Sky and BBC/ITV, which can't be required to provide any programming in Irish, means that people who don't want to deal with Irish just switch channels. At least TG4 means that people who do want to deal with Irish have that option available to them.
It would be great to see a bit more natural bi-lingualism on chat-shows or life-style shows, but the attitude is that that's rude, because it excludes the English-only speakers. Up to the mid 80's there was a bit more of that, with shows like Trom agus Éadrom freely mixing English and Irish.
What's wrong with subtitles?
I don't see (unless it's a show for kids) how you'd exclude the English speaking majority by giving them subtitles. Or do you really dub everything on television, like they do on German TV?
As for radio, I do see how that can be considered rude, but then again, it is your own language. In Belgium you also hear French or Dutch from time to time in the opposite language region radio. They don't seem to have a lot of trouble with that.
I know my opinion could do with a little more nuance, but so what? It's just my opinion. :D
How do you subtitle a live chat show?
98% of everything that is broadcast on the main TV channels in Ireland and in the UK is in English (lots of American imports), though since The Killing and Borgen were such big hits, there are more subtitled shows available these days.
TG4 uses English subtitles extensively. These are hard subtitles - you can't turn them off if you don't want/need them.
For live interviews there are two options.
If the interview has been planned long in advance, there is the option of creating a bit of lag on the video and audio stream, that then provides the translators (yes, that's intentionally plural) with a couple of seconds to make their translations.
In the case of a live press conference or something of that sort, there will be interpreters on site, who'll have the presenter give a summary in Dutch. This is also what happens with recorded interviews, in case of a technical malfunction.
But here's another thought for you. Why, if Irish shows have to have subtitles in English, can't the English shows do subtitles in Irish?
And don't say cost. We're trying to be idealists here and therefore we don't really care about cost. :p
English shows don't have subtitles in Irish because there isn't any demand for it - at this stage of the game, the only people who might have better Irish than English are kids who are too young to read subtitles anyway.
As for the chatshow scenario, I'd like to see the guest and host switch into Irish on occasion, and maybe summarize what people missed when they're finished - the message should be yes, you're missing out, but even if the hosts were up to it, I'm not sure there are enough guests who could pull it off.
I'm not from Ireland, so I can't say too much about the situation there. But thinking in general terms about when languages succeed...
First, the most important thing is learning in the home. Children learn or fail to learn language long before they reach school, let alone organised school lessons. Unfortunately, this isn't an option for most people in Irish, but there should be encouragement for those who can speak Irish around their children to do so.
Second, in terms of school-age learning, what matters most is how cool the language is. Children are status-and-fashion-obsessed: they'll do what cool people do. Irish doesn't have a lot of coolness on its side inherently (it's not English, with its billionaires and movie industries). A lot of it will come down to how children themselves treat the language, which sadly is hard to dictate from above. But what would help most is having as much content as possible in Irish, from people they care about - Irish pop music, Irish TV... but not just media product IN Irish (that alone can lead to it being ghettoised), but also just recognisable people who also speak Irish. A few interviews in Irish with a star like Saoirse Ronan would do more to make the language interesting for kids than any number of documentaries about sheep-shearing techniques or artisanal pottery. An English-language rock star singing one song in Irish, or even just slipping in some lines in Irish into an English song, would do more to make the language sexy than any number of traditional Irish folk songs. [that doesn't mean that 'tradition' side of the appeal should be dropped, just that it shouldn't be the only thing. I think a language is like a subscription TV channel - it doesn't necessarily need to have the most popular shows, but it needs to have at least one show that appeals to every possible viewer.] Now obviously, there's only so much that can be done. But if the government were serious about popularising Irish, it could encourage (including paying) Irish (and Irish-heritage) stars to talk about, and in, Irish occasionally. There also has to be fiction in Irish. Not Literature, fiction. Not Nobel winning novels... the Hunger Games, Twilight, stuff that makes 14-year-olds want to pick up a book. And give tax breaks to authors/publishers who publish in Irish six months before they publish in English!
Third, as well as there being media to consume, there has to be a vibrant culture of speaking Irish. Obviously this is what the gaeltachts are for... but they're also exclusionary and intimidating. There needs to be Irish in ordinary life. Again, this is outside what governments normally do, but not beyond what they could do if they actually cared. Projects might include, say, giving tax breaks to pubs that have Irish-language nights (you can drink half price if nobody catches you talking English), to Irish-only coffee shops (not so much to sell coffee, but to provide one place on the high street where you can go and speak/hear Irish), to Irish comedy nights, even, at the extreme end, to professional Irish speakers (who get paid to go around Dublin talking in Irish loudly - the more people hear Irish, the more natural it will seem to them to speak it). It also should include online projects, particularly message boards in Irish. These are all things individuals can put into action... but if individuals were doing this sort of thing a lot, the language wouldn't be in the state it is, so a government that wanted to promote the language would need to step in and nudge people in these directions, not only with propaganda but also with cash. The thing is, though, it actually wouldn't cost all that much money, relative to the overall budget... motivating relatively few people can have a disproportional effect.
[Combine the last two points! Pay (/guilt) an Irish speaking celebrity to turn up to a pub and speak Irish to people once a month...]
But fourth, and maybe most important: stop worrying about the quality of the language. For one thing, all languages change - Irish will become more like English and lose some of its unique character, the same way that all other languages will. The trick isn't preventing this (holding back the tides), but making that new Irish interesting in its own right, so that it's change rather than just loss. But more importantly: you won't have good Irish until you have bad Irish. If you give people a binary choice, speak perfect 19th century Irish or else you may as well speak English, almost everybody will speak English. If you encourage people to speak some sort of language that is sort of Irish, even if its got a lot of English in it, there's a chance that they actually will. And then what you'll find is that when people do something, they like to do it well. If kids were commonly speaking pidgin Irish, a significant minority of them would decide they wanted to speak better Irish - they'd read Irish literature and learn from the example, they'd show off to older, better speakers and get corrected... and they'd show off to one another about speaking better Irish. But this only happens with a foundation of actually speaking something vaguely Irish. If you look at all the people around the world listening to rap and taking 'Business English' courses... they're not learning English by reading Austen and Dickens, or Cormac McCarthy. They're learning english that's useful to them and appealing to them, and that traditional grammarians would vomit on. But a significant number of these new learners DO go on to read English literature, or at least to perfect their accents and watch highbrow English films and TV shows. They do this at least in part because when you can do something, you often come to take pride in how well you can do it - whereas when you feel you cannot do something, being told you have to do it perfectly just makes you hate the thought of doing it at all.
Of course, this applies to other things we learn at school as well: educational practice is in most cases so malapposite that you have to wonder if teachers and education departments are even really trying. And in particular, language learning is appalling in the UK, and I imagine it's more or less the same in Ireland. Irish teaching is often said to be behind the level of foreign language teaching. But when foreign language teaching itself can teach children French or German for 5, 6, 7, sometimes even 8 years, and still produce people who in most cases would struggle to make it through a five minute conversation in France or Germany... that doesn't bode well for the hopes of Irish.
Fundamentally, children - unless with extreme motivation (as in some parts of the world where learning English or another European language may be easily seen as key to their entire life plans) - do not learn languages in schools. They learn languages in the outside world, and if you want to teach them, then you have to teach them in the outside world. Language learning in school can then be a useful adjunct to the real educational process - a place for teachers to explain a puzzling issue, to give helpful mnemonics for things the kids haven't quite mastered, for kids to show off their abilities, for technical vocabulary to be taught that they might not have encountered in daily conversations, and for more 'grammatically correct' registers to be taught that might be appropriate to job applications, interviews and so forth, and a place for teachers to point kids in the direction of resources they might find interesting, like books and TV and music. Teachers can't teach languages... but they can help children to learn languages. But then again... given how useless 'English Language' classes are in England, for students who already speak English, I guess there's little hope for that either!
...err... sorry, that was a rather longer rant than I'd intended!
EDIT: except that I wanted to add two small thoughts. One is that I remember talking to a distant relative of mine, a young woman just out of school, who had learnt Irish and used it daily, even though her family didn't, and did her recreational reading in Irish too (though I've no idea how grammatically correct she was, nor how bad her pronounciation...) But it wasn't because the school was great. In fact, her brother, similar age, same school, hated Irish and couldn't speak a word. But at some point the girl and her little clique of friends had learnt enough from their Irish lessons that they decided to talk in Irish amongst each other as a laugh, and then because they liked being able to say thing to one another that the other children - and their parents! - couldn't understand. And then they went very rapidly from casual students with rudimentary Irish to all being really dedicated to learning and speaking it, because it had become, as it were, their thing, or part of their thing. That should be the question for educators. Not how to get kids to pay attention in the classroom... no, educators should think about a little cluster of teenage girls whispering to one another in a corner of the hallways between lessons, and ask themselves what might encourage that little clique to start saying some words in Irish to one another... after all, viable language communities don't have to be big! [languages can survive with only a handful of speakers, at least for one generation]
The second thought: it may well be that independence is what killed off (or, let's say optimistically, laid low) Irish. In my great-grandfather's generation, learning Irish was a symbol of resistence against the evil oppressive English government, and people learnt Irish enthusiastically. In my grandfather's generation, learning Irish was a patriotic necessity of war, and of peaceful unity, and people learnt Irish dutifully. And then by my mother's generation, learning Irish was something with no discernable purpose imposed upon them brutally by government-backed nuns, and they did not learn Irish - indeed, I get the impression talking to my family of that generation that they actively wanted to not learn Irish... where learning Irish had been a rebellion against the English state, after independence NOT learning Irish was a rebellion against the Irish state! I worry that education can all too easily come to be seen as a war between the schools and the children: and often what a teacher sees as a child failing to learn is really a child defiantly succeeding in not learning. Children can enthusiastic about some things that excite them, and they can be taught to be pragmatic about other things that are evidently useful to them - but as for the rest, the more you force it on them the more pleasing it is to them on some level to refuse to learn...
Thank you for your response. It's very clear a lot of effort and thought was put into it and I enjoyed reading it. Your ideas have been educational and very interesting!
I personally think the way in which it is taught in schools in Ireland is a big root of the problem. Nobody in Ireland sat down and learned English by writing 'I am,' 'You are,' 'He is,' etc. You learned all that by speaking it. You might not know what the pluperfect tense is but you can construct it without even thinking about it. There is too much emphasis on linguistics in Irish in school, it should be much more focused on conversation with slightly less of a rigorous emphasis on grammar. I remember getting marked down on spelling tests because I left out a fada in a word. What a way to drain the motivation out of a child.
Considering your primary education in Ireland lasts from when you are ~4 to ~12 there is no excuses for children leaving primary school not fluent in Irish. A Polish neighbour of mine has a six-year-old daughter who is completely fluent in English and Polish and that is from just her mother and presumably her mother's side of the family speaking to her, her father is Irish and can't speak Polish as far as I know.
But in Irish schools, speaking Irish is restricted to the couple of hours a day or whatever the lesson lasts. Even then when I was in school there was barely any conversational Irish. It is reduced to the tedium of another lesson, like you have to reel off multiplication tables. They should be dedicating whole days to speaking Irish, teaching other lessons like history in Irish, playing sports where you can only communicate in Irish. Get some immersion going instead of always associating the language with a class you take.
I don't think kids have any actual objection to learning Irish, certainly 5 and 6 year-olds aren't thinking 'this is just for farmers.' They just resist it because it's reduced to listing out conjugations and writing stories using the same tired old lines, "Go tobann!" etc. It's not hard to make young children bilingual and once you get one generation of kids properly fluent in Irish then the next would be even easier because they could speak it at home and then their own kids could be fluent before they even get to school.
It really shouldn't be so difficult but with the way things are done in this country, everything becomes harder. The best solution the government could come up with is to bribe you with extra points in the Leaving Cert. (your final exams in school). I think they give you a percentage boost in your marks if you take the exams in Irish. Of course that only benefits those who are born in Irish-speaking areas because God knows after 14 years of education in Irish there is no way I could take a Biology exam completely in Irish.
Very true I couldn't agree more. Thanks for the response. I don't know how we could get the education system to realize this, since they been making the same mistakes in teaching the language for years now. I know a Swedish guy who became fluent English in 3 years of school there. Its ridiculous like.
To be fair to teachers and learners alike, for those coming from English as mother tongue, the structure of Irish, its mutations, its syntax (and word order) and whole way of seeing the world, and the orthography (its particular use of Latin script, and the representation of sounds, which is ) contrasts so strongly with the English that is everywhere around that I am not surprised 14 years gets many child beginners, taught formally, only to being tongue tied and frustrated. English as starting point for Irish, is not a good one.
I have learnt no Swedish, but I have spent years gazing at the labels on shampoo bottles etc noticing how the ingredient list compares/contrasts with the English, Dutch, German, Danish and Norwegian. The connections are obvious. Kids there in the old Hanseatic league countries, see connection with the languages they learn at school, have always done.
Irish never appears on products except perhaps on Tayto potato crisps/chips in Gaelic Week. Also,in Ireland of course the burden of history, (and, as I gather, Peig) has been a turn off, and the moral pressure to save their cultural inheritance by being good and enduring boredom brings in guilt and blame that ought to be a burden to the colonial bastards instead, but isn't.
Anyway, in terms of ease of learning from their language I wonder how many Danish, Norwegian or Swedish children achieve literacy and fluent oracy in Finnish, or Sami...across etymological borders. That would be a fairer comparison than a Swedish child learning English. They can acquire much English from youth culture.
English is lingua Franca for a huge American (and overseas ex Brit) market with all the impact of advertising and PR.
Kids find looking things up in alphabetical lists, dictionaries, etc difficult. Mutations make it very hard indeed, and inflections, too. It was, using a dictionary and grammar book, very hard to get to be independent as a learner of Irish... So technology that solves that problem, allows access to cool translations of pop/rock/ teen culture, the ever more accessible material on TG 4 etc, all these things will continue to make a big difference from now on. I hope the diaspora will take an interest, too, and help make a viable Irish language cultural market even stronger. Rock on, Duolingo Irish, and Welsh, too.
In tiny Luxembourg, with lots of kids from immigrant families, amazingly the kids like using the local lingo, it is cool.
I can see that happening in the middle class, or in a highly literate strata of Irish society, and in those of active Republican or music or sporting tradition. I guess it requires money to go to Irish College, set up Gaelscoileanna, etc and contacts that many kids families will never have unless the state makes the sort of commitment the Welsh have made to immersion in schools, and now intend to extend into kids' leisure time, I think.
In relation to your point about the cultural burden of learning Irish, my point is that you can teach kids a language before they're even aware of anything like that. For sure when you start to grow up there can be mixed feelings with regards to the reasons for learning Irish, particularly as it brings no tangible benefits to your life, in particular your employability. But young kids are hardly pondering their cultural heritage and at a young age they will just learn whatever you tell them without really stopping to wonder why.
I know Irish is a more difficult language to learn than the Romantic languages say but when you see Chinese kids coming to Ireland learning a radically different language with an entirely different alphabet, the difficulties in Irish seem less significant.
And just on your very first point, I didn't want to imply that teachers are doing a bad job. While there are certainly some poor teachers in Ireland, I was moreso being critical of the system and curriculum not being at all conducive to learning a new language, regardless of the abilities of the teacher.