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Depressing conversation I had with my sister (long)

I recently had a somewhat depressing conversation with my sister about Irish.

Please feel free to disagree with and ignore everything I write here.

It started with her suggestion to make holidays in Ireland to improve my learning efforts but I said that it is probably useless since even if I try to talk to the few remaining native speakers they will most likely reply in English. (I have read several reports of such occurences). Which shocked her quite a bit since when she moved to France and Spain whenever she started out with their languages people were in fact enthusiastic and helpful when someone tries to learn their language. (people I know who visited Japan told me the same thing)

Are they ashamed of their language? I said that maybe just tired of language tourists, which is a sad thing. The other reason why I don't want to make such a trip (at least until I have gotten MUCH better than I am now) was because I want to distance myself emotionally from the language's context because leaning a dying language is somewhat depressing. I told her of the latest statistics and several other factors why I am so sure Irish is doomed. She agreed with me. She lives in Mexico. She sees the symptoms of dying languages everywhere and they reflect the situation in Ireland in many ways.

Then I told her what the efforts to keep it alive looked like and why they apparently failed. While I don't live in Ireland and certainly am no expert, by all records I have seen they made Irish a mandatory but ultimately useless class. Like Latin we took in school. All it did was scare pupils away so much that they don't want to have anything to do with it once they leave school. And it was so inefficient that after even six years of learning few could speak it. Again, like Latin.

Here it becomes interesting: She told me how they do it in Mexico, at least for all who can afford decent education: The children start to being taught a second (or the case of her son: third) language in kindergarden, which usually starts at the age of two and becomes mandatory at three. When they enter regular school, they have at least one class taught exclusively in that foreign language. I said “of course they do, they can't just stop teaching that language...”. She said “No! Not language class. Something different like history or math”

I said that this would be a somewhat reasonable solution, probably a necessary one if you want to save the language through school on a wide level, but I can't see them ever doing such a step. Sure, many want the language to be alive but many don't or at least don't care.

At that moment she was quite shocked. After all, it was THEIR language. But at best, it is a lot of effort for something with no economic benefit. I told her that the maybe biggest online newssite in hosted in one specific town because it is the only one in the Gealtacht with decent internet connection. (at least this is what Wikipedia tells about Tuairisc) So much for economic pressure for young people to stay in a Gaeltacht! And there is also no social pressure to speak Irish. Not in the Gaeltacht, nor elsewhere. I told her while the current President speaks Irish, a former and current rival does not. (although if I read tuairisc correctly, he is currently trying) If even the most Irish position in the country doesn't require knowledge of the language of their country, what does?

At that moment she became quite agitated. Although she really doesn't care much for Ireland, she said she was surprised that they don't they want to be irish? Are they ashamed of that?

At that moment I had to stop a bit to think about that. In danger of sounding condescending, I agree with her on her opinion that once a group of people loses their language they lose their identity. And I certainly include myself in that. I am from Bavaria. But my father never passed our local dialect on to me. I can't speak it. So I can't say that I am a bavarian. I see people calling themselves bavarians, dress in lederhosen once or twice a year but speak High German so I think they are just kidding themselves. I know of a black taxi driver in Munich who speaks thick Bavarian. He is from Senegal and I don't know if he even has a german passport, but I think he is much more bavarian than most politicians that claim to be.

So basically, saying I don't want the Irish language equals to us not wanting to be irish. So is there something to be ashamed of there? Now, being german, I was basically raised to be ashamed of being german. That's just the result of our history. So I am quite familiar with the concept of being ashamed of ones identity. Ireland does have a troubled past but not a kind of horrible history that being irish could be embarrassing. But if you link the irish identity to the language, there are some such points. Economically, because you would become associated with people from remote and poor areas. Socially, because it is sometimes associated with the IRA and being backward. Which would be incredibly sad and stupid. There are a couple of languages that were in danger of getting on the road to extinction and survived and thrived instead. Because it's people had the will to do so.

Now, I have no firsthand experience in all of this. I could be wrong about a lot of this. But I still wanted to share the story with you because of that interesting language teaching concept she sees in Mexico. And because I think that nothing less than such an effort is needed to make any difference.

While I decided to look at Irish as just a language without much of the cultural aspect and wouldn't even start that language now (Duolingo has since gotten a Welsh course, a celtic language with a much bigger prospect for survival) I will of course continue to learn it. Because it still is a very interesting language, am making good progress and I hate giving up! Also: Of course the conversation was much longer. I told her about gaelscoils and the term “bean an tí” and much else.

October 18, 2018



You seem to be suffering a psychological crisis which I suspect many minority language learners experience. I sympathise, but you are wrong. Firstly, I guess your sister knows very little about Irish. She is also going to feel your negativity and feed your biases - this is just normal social dynamics.

Secondly, you are an isolated language learner. Are you on twitter? Facebook? Irish is thriving online. You need to connect with other learners. Have you reached out to other learners near you?

Thirdly, Irish is not Nahautl. Irish has a high prestige in Ireland and abroad. Irish is taught at university level in 53 institutions outside of Ireland, 11 of which are in Germany. It is taught in universities in Austria, France, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Czechia, Russia, USA, Canada, Australia, UK, and China. Irish is growing in social prestige and use all the time. You need to see yourself as a part of this vital language community and rediscover the joy of learning Irish.

Lastly, I would disagree that the US has much to offer the world culturally. You should read the book, Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline by professor Morris Berman. (https://www.amazon.de/Why-America-Failed-Imperial-Decline-ebook/dp/B00RH3JJ4Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1539939335&sr=8-1&keywords=why+america+failed) It is also available in German as Kultur vor dem Kollaps (https://www.amazon.de/Kultur-vor-Kollaps-Wegbereiter-Amerika/dp/393642800X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1539939545&sr=8-1&keywords=kultur+vor+dem+kollaps).

Connect to Irish learners online:

facebook group, Gaeilge Amháin:




watch Irish tv:


listen to Irish radio:




Ná tabhair isteach! (Don't give up!)


Nahautl is doing much better in terms of actual numbers of native speakers and their quality of language.

Just look at a study like An Chonair Chaoch.


I guess my only response would be to say that here in Columbus, Georgia, I'm the only one with any Irish. Three years in, and I'm speaking Irish 2-2.5 hrs/week with my online video-based class and my private tutor. I've spent 3 weeks total in the Gaeltacht, and I'm singing and writing in Irish now very regularly.

Learning any language is a commitment, and I really have no time for the local Irish (i.e. from Ireland, there are a few) who poo-poo Gaeilge. I've created my own immersion, listen to RNaG, read books, poetry, translate songs, etc. I'll go back again this summer for (hopefully) a full month of as much immersion as I can get. I'm also giving short 15-minute lessons to my music students in the Irish ensemble at my university -- with no pressure, just little "bite-size" snippets. They say "Dia duit" and "Cad é mar atá tú?" to me in the hall all the time.

I just like it, and Irish has become very special to me. I wish others would feel the same way, but I'm not a salesman. My Gaeilgeoir friends are warm, welcoming, and they "get it". What else do you need? :)


Go hiontach ar fad! Is aoibhínn liom do mheon. Is patrún go han-mhaith tú. You are right to avoid those negative Irish people. They sound like losers. Anyone who would disparage language learning is a boor and not worth wasting time on. Anyone can be Irish, but few are Gaels. Is fíor Gael tú, a chara.


Nope, you are not the only one in this town learning Irish.


I went to the Gaeltacht and spoke to native speakers in Irish they all answered in Irish . In other places I asked people I meet if they speak it and found some that speak it not in Gaeltacht parts of city's or towns just at pubs and shops .


Hi, Tá sé sin an-suimiúl agus dearfach. Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí/cárbh as tú? GRMA


I think YOU value language. Not that language is inherently valued. It does not mean they are ashamed, they just don't benefit from the language. If it has no financial incentive, and it isn't easier than financially incentive languages, then it doesn't mean as much to them. I personally find culture, traditions, and character values to be better definitions of a place. If they celebrate their holidays, do the same things every year, cook familiar foods, prioritize family/knowledge etc. as a culture, then they're doing better than someone who just "teaches" themselves the language. you do not inherently know a place, or belong to a place because you can repeat their words. it just helps you to understand and relate when you hear new information, and the way they emphasize certain things.


That's taking a very reductive-communicative view of language. There is a huge amount of culture bound up in language.


I'd like to answer just one of your points. My boys are in junior/elementary/primary school right now, and when they do Irish, the teacher speaks only in Irish. I can't speak for anyone else, but they seem to have realised a problem with learning Irish in an academic way. Doing it through books and struggling over the grammar puts people off. I spend a lot of time at my sons' school because I help with science, and I hear Irish being spoken a lot while I'm doing other things. From the teachers, the children and watching videos in Irish. Less so in the infant class - they generally do games using Irish words. It's uplifting, encouraging and warms my heart to hear the little ones speaking their language. They do seem better with it than people who went to school a decade or two ago. It just makes me sad to think of the future - where will they go with after school? Teachers, police and other government positions require Irish, but it needs to be spoken as a community. I wish the Gaeltachtaí would spread, or members move around, speaking Irish - kind of like they do in Wales. You'll often hear Welsh spoken in Wales because Welsh speakers generally aren't confined to particular areas. Anyway... I only wanted to mention that I think they're doing a better job teaching it to the very young, or at least they are in my local school.


I haven't had a hard time getting people to talk Irish with me, but to be fair, I haven't spoken to native Irish speakers yet, as they live in relatively small pockets of the island, particularly west. There are definitely jobs out here that require people to be bilingual English/Irish-speaking, which is why I started studying it.

A lot of people (even when not bilingual) are reasonably enough educated in Irish and don't mind using it. Granted, I'm living here, not a tourist, so context probably matters here.

If you possibly try to contact some of the centers that work on teaching Irish, you might be able to find some language exchange partners that way. Sometimes people don't like being wrangled into being someone's speaking partner, but those centers are around specifically for trading Irish knowledge, so, they would probably be more open.


Windsaw, for the joy of learning languages, find out which cities or counties in Ireland are more actively teaching the children to be bilingual. When seeking fruitful outcomes do not look in barren fields! Enjoy! Don't let your hesitation shut you off from the Irish who do want to speak with you in their mother tongue. Learn about their folk music. I bet if you check Youtube, television or podcast you'll find people who can tell you where the best locales are.

I went to Montreal years ago. Knew only a few phrases in French. But, people were more than happy and helpful to meet me halfway in my baby steps attempting to use their language. Go for it! Fighting!


I'm originally from NZ, lived in England for three years and now have been in RoI for 2 years. I was actually surprised at the extent to which Irish is used here, there certainly doesn't seem to be any shame in it. I know quite a few people here in Dublin who speak it fluently, my partner (went to Gaelscoil and had to learn the English words for many technical terms endnote he went to college) my housemate, etc. I've seen activists using it to speak privately in front of non native Irish security guards, there are many as Gaelige social events both for native speakers and people learning, Irish meme pages on Facebook and "Ta Gaeilge agam" is a common fb profile picture frame. My ex laments that Irish is compulsory at school, because it means he refused to learn it properly as a child and now wishes he spoke it lol


Your story does illustrate that there is a community of Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht, people for whom Irish is a normal means of social communication, but if you aren't hanging out with someone who is already in that circle, like your Gaelscoil educated partner, finding your way in can be challenging. The pop-up Gaeltacht movement arose to provide one solution to that problem, though it isn't a solution for everyone. There are 10's of thousands of Polish speakers in Ireland too, but most Irish people never encounter Polish either, unless they are socializing with Polish speakers who are socializing with other Polish speakers.

Meeting new people can be challenging enough. Doing so in a language that you aren't entirely comfortable in can make it even more of a challenge.


Sin iontach! Teastaíonn níos mó scéalta dearfacha uainn. (that's wonderful, we need more positive stories!) GRMA


I'm not sure if I even expected any answers, but I thank you for the civil responses on a topic that has the potential to turn into a flamewar.

First, I think I should specify why I brought up that mexican way of teaching a second language. I saw it as an alternative to the kind of teaching a language through simple classes on a national level, not as an alternative to Gaelscoileanna. And yes, (@SathernPHL) I am aware of Gaelscoileanna (as much as I can by reading about them on the internet) but did not bring them up because I did not think they would be relevant for what I tried to say. Doing so would make the article way too long.

@sebecraft and @BodgieFift: I know there are some jobs that require Irish, it is just that such a prominent one like the president doesn't that surprised me. (imagine electing an irish president that only speaks French...) And yes, I already thought about going to different places to train Irish, like Dublin. I guess it is my own psychology why I don't or wouldn't dare yet. It took me six years of learning English before I found the courage to talk to somebody with it.

To those that argue that language doesn't equal identity: I was aware that these responses would come. I knew that people would disagree and that is fine. Arguing about this is in my opinion a very interesting topic but would, again, go too far for this discussion. As for me: let me just say that I came to that conclusion after studying the history of many cultures and their eventual decline. There are certain patterns that I do not want to ignore. More important would be to observe the examples that did manage to make the turn-around.

Also: America (the non-native variety) doesn't suffer from a cultural decline, it is still emerging. Therefore it doesn't matter that it shares a language. Loss of language is usually the last symptom of a loss of culture and identity, not of an emergence. And the Jews example: Wow, that would really be a topic worth pages and pages. My answer would be neither “no” nor “yes” but “complicated to say”.

@scilling: Sadly no, there is absolutely no incentive in Mexico for wealthier class to learn native languages (which is sad). And among the poorer class (the vast majority of natives belong to that one) the old opinion that teaching a child bilingual is bad for it's development is unfortunately still very common.

Interesting sidenote: Yesterday I drove by a huge school compound in Monterrey which was an “Irish school”. I asked my sister what that is all about and she answered that these kind of foreign schools are very trendy among the richer residents. She doesn't know if there is an actual benefit from it or if an “irish teaching style” (whatever that may be) is in fact more efficient than other ones.


Perhaps the school was just named Instituto Irlandés de Monterrey due to its address on the avenida Batallón de San Patricio?

I don’t think that it’s a foreign school; it seems to be a domestic preparatory school (something like a German Gymnasium, but with tuition paid privately rather than publicly funded) with a bilingual Spanish/English curriculum, doubtlessly marketed to wealthier families in and around Monterrey.


You are correct. What I wonder is why they call themselves that. It can't be the street or city district name since they have branches elsewhere like in Mexico City. My sister and I looked in the Internet (me in English, she in Spanish) but we didn't find anything.


Irish are commonly associated with Catholicism and are perceived as English speakers by the world. I'm not that surprised that a school in Mexico would go with an Irish theme. I suspect it's just marketing. English-teaching school? Catholic? Irish!

Having done a bit of the TEFL thing I have seen similar ideas elsewhere.


Which branch was founded first? Perhaps the reason is associated with the oldest branch, and the other branches were named solely for branding consistency.


You might be interested in a series I found on YouTube called "No Bearla". It addresses some of the points you've made. The focus is a native Irish speaker traveling around Ireland trying to find others who can actually speak the language fluently. He even stands on a street corner singing a song full of obscenities but most of the passers-by don't raise an eyebrow because they don't understand him.

Here is a link to the first episode (there are four in all)



It's annoying, but I've tried to get over it.

I've lived in Swtizerland for 17 years, and am Swiss myself now, having been naturalized. I test at C1-C2, and write at a university level. I can understand all but the fastest TV and film, although I sometimes still miss the joke when wordplay gets really rapid.

Yet, almost every time I'm out on a weekend in my own city (where I'm on a first name basis with several municipals (alderpersons) I occasionally experience someone switching when they hear my accent.

I've come to realise that it's not about them thinking I don't speak French, but about them wanting me to help them with their English. It's the only plausible explanation.


"I've come to realise that it's not about them thinking I don't speak French, but about them wanting me to help them with their English. It's the only plausible explanation."

This is true. When I lived in Spanish-speaking countries, most situations people would switch to English no matter how perfect my Spanish was. I was always happy enough to oblige because I knew that English mastery would provide them with more benefits than me improving my Spanish.

This is the second biggest reason in me preferring paying tutors instead of trying to do free language-exchange as well. It's sort of like finding a good running or gym partner - takes so much time and legwork I'd be better off saving the money and paying for X hours of tutoring, then trying to make friends that speak my target language organically through events, tours, vacations, etc.


... but very rarely somebody turns out to be putting me down for my accent. That's when I switch to Italian.


Oh, and that one time that a bartender heard me speaking to my wife in English and asked me how I could have lived here for so long without learning French.

I told her "J'sais pas. Quelque sorte de problème au niveau de cerveau je pense, soit peut-être une désire malsain d'être une affliction chez les péquenauds."

There are rednecks everywhere. Gotta get used it.


Have you actually been to Ireland or have you just been reading naysaying, depressing comments online? Yes, a LOT of people don't speak it to fluency, and there are a good amount of people who really don't care about the language, and even some people who have a hatred towards the language. It's a minority language, yes, but however it's really not "dying" as you might think.

I met plenty of people out in Connacht who spoke Irish. In the Gaeltacht Quarter in Belfast, it seems like you hear Irish more than English! There are Cultúrlannaí in Belfast and Derry in Northern Ireland where people gather and just speak Irish! It's a restaurant, a community center, a bookstore, et cetera.

I put off learning Irish for the exact reason as you; I didn't want to learn a "dying" language. But then I actually went to Ireland to visit my family and saw what seemed to me like a new wave of revival efforts. I met dozens of people who were sending their kids to Gaelscoils. All those kids will be native Irish speakers by the time they are older.

And then of course, there are those people who take it in school and hate it, but some of those people like my cousin go on to study it more intensely in university and actually become fluent! And wanna have your mind blown? I personally know multiple people in San Francisco, CA, USA, who still speak Irish.


Post iontach, gmma! Wonderful anecdotes showing a truer picture of the state of Irish.


I'm not really sure that there's much point in responding to such a long post by someone who is unaware of Gaelscoileanna and Naonraí.

Do you think Americans can't be Americans because they speak English?


I have lived abroad for many years but have kept my Irish up and also taught it to my Spanish wife and children - this summer on a visit to Ireland I had quite a few conversations in Irish with people, who themselves started the conversation, when I mentioned my kids had some Irish - from a Garda in Cork to a taxi driver in Dublin it was surprising and refreshing - but it was in the town of Westport in County Mayo where I had the most opportunities to speak it: in the hotel, pubs and shops - there is a program in Mayo called Gnó Mhaigh Eo - that encourages the use of the language in business - most of the shops there had a sticker on the door meaning they participated in the scheme - so when I asked if that meant I could speak Irish with them the answer was Yes! there was always somebody who would speak away and other customers would join in. Now, I think the fact that my young daughters look Spanish yet were speaking Irish made people more willing to speak with them just for the novelty of it all - but it was a great experience and I felt very positive about it - to me seems that Irish is not doing too badly and is just there under the surface - you just need to scratch -many people would perhaps like to speak it more but are unsure who else around them feels the same and so for shyness ,self-consciousness or whatever reason, just stick to English.


She told me how they do it in Mexico, at least for all who can afford decent education: […]

I take it that that is for teaching a foreign language (i.e. foreign to Mexico), rather than for teaching an indigenous Mexican language? In an Ireland-to-Mexico linguistic comparison, English is to Spanish as Irish is to e.g. Nahuatl, rather than to some language that is foreign to Mexico.

Another approach to languages in education is taken closer to your home, in Luxembourg: see pages 5 and 6 of this PDF document in English / auf Deutsch / en français. See here for a past discussion on Luxembourg’s educational system.

But at best, it is a lot of effort for something with no economic benefit.

This, I think, is the crux of the matter. Much of the adoption of English in Ireland in past centuries was due to the perceived economic benefit of knowledge of English. Without a similarly perceived economic benefit to persuade Irish people to master Irish, many of them won’t make an effort to do so …

So basically, saying I don't want the Irish language equals to us not wanting to be irish.

… which is why my guess would be that many Irish people would disagree with this equation — that they would see other cultural factors as being sufficient to define their Irishness.

I agree with her on her opinion that once a group of people loses their language they lose their identity.

As a counterexample, would you say that Jews lost their identity during the many centuries in which Hebrew was not their native language?


I speack german know I had a conversion with my famly their faces wer funny

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