snag

Banner for Seachtain na Gaeilge (snag.ie)

Bhuel, an bhfuil Gaeilge agat? The chances are your answer to this question is one of the following: Tá, Píosa beag … Huh?

Is Leastsa í:

With Seachtain na Gaeilge coming up and in light of the recent protests I was inspired to take a look at the general lack of interest in our national language.  Conradh Na Gaeilge & Foras na Gaeilge  have released a promotional video for Seachtain na Gaeilge with the tagline “Is leatsa í” but do the general population believe that about the Irish language?

Recently I was having coffee with a friend of mine. We got chatting about how my brother was going to be a Cinnire in the Gaeltacht this summer. She proceeded to question whether he was getting paid to do this. Of course he was but this was not the reason he wanted to be a Cinnire. He really just enjoyed the Gaeltacht experience and has a love of the language. She seemed bewildered that anyone would voluntarily want to be involved in activities “as Gaeilge” and immediately began to express her hatred for the Irish language.

Of course, I wasn’t surprised. This isn’t the first conversation I’ve had along these lines with friends of mine. Very few would say they like, let alone love, Irish. Yet, as someone who grew up in a family where Irish was important and highly respected, I can’t help but be disappointed in my generation every time I hear this.

My parent’s love of the language had a huge impact on my attitude. I always saw Irish as something more than a subject at school. To me it was a part of my culture and national identity. However, many kids grow up in a home where their parents are not Irish speakers or they themselves dislike and take no interest in the language, often making schoolwork difficult and frustrating. Inevitably, this contributes to their negative feelings towards the Irish language.

The Dreaded Subject:

Most people link the negativity towards Irish back to their school days. Personally it would have been one of my favourite subjects at school but this was mainly due to my love of the language. The curriculum itself failed to make Irish a living breathing language. On top of this the methodologies for teaching Irish have never really been changed. Many argue that there is too much emphasis on the written word and it is clear that this method hinders students from actually grasping the language itself. I recall a number of my friends in school who would write a pre-prepared essay in English for an exam and translate it into Irish with the help of a teacher. They would then proceed to learn several of these essays off by heart and reproduce them in an exam. This is common practice among Junior and Leaving Certificate students. Although this “learn and regurgitate” idea is quite widespread for most Leaving Certificate subjects, one could argue many of the facts we “learn off” for a Chemistry exam for example will never be needed again unless we pursue a career in Chemistry. However, language is something that involves repetition only at a basic level initially. It is not something that can be learned by rote. There is clearly a problem with the way that Irish is being taught in our schools.

The Chief Inspectors Report released in November 2013 found that the quality of students’ learning in Primary schools in Irish was found to be “problematic” in almost one in three lessons observed. Deficiencies in how the subject was taught were evident in 28 per cent of lessons.

Students’ learning was found to be less than satisfactory in almost a quarter (24 per cent) of Irish lessons in primary schools and almost a third (32 per cent) of Irish lessons in post-primary schools. The lack of a comprehensive Irish-language programme for English-medium primary schools and concerns about the Irish-language competence of teachers in a small but significant number of class rooms were among the factors noted by the Chief Inspector.

Irish is a dead language?

It is widely argued (mainly by the younger generation) that the Irish language is no longer relevant or necessary. While this may appear to be the case, the CSO published statistics in 2012 that showed 1.77 million people indicated they could speak Irish.

Out of this 77,185 said they speak it daily outside the education system. A further 110,642 said they spoke it weekly, while 613,236 said they spoke it less often.

Hope For The Future:

There have been a number of recent advances for the Irish language. Gaelscoileanna have increased in number and popularity all over the country. Over the last year Coláiste Lurgan, based in Co. Galway, has released several music videos online in which the students perform Irish versions of popular English songs. The college has let students write and preform these covers for a number of years and released them as CD’s in the past, however, these new Youtube videos have become viral hits due to their quirky and well produced content. They even managed to get rap stars Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to make an appearance in one. To put it simply, they have made Irish “cool” again for younger people by reaching out to them through technology. This online campaign has increased it’s popularity and the college now has a waiting list for its summer courses.

Coláiste Lurgan have also just announced their “Sé Seachtainí” campaign. Beginning on the 3rd of March TG Lurgan will be uploading 4 weekly videos following the progress of 6 learners as they engage with a series of lessons from OIDE (an online language lab)  under the guidance of a teacher. Take a look at the promotional video for more information.

The Lá Mór na Gaeilge protest held last weekend to highlight treatment by Governments north and south of Irish-language speakers and Gaeltacht communities shows us just how many people are willing to stand up for the preservation of the Irish language.  Organisers said around 10,000 people took part in the march.

Even though there have been a number positive initiatives, there is still a long way to go. If the general attitude towards Irish is to change, it has to start with the younger generation. It has to begin in the classroom. The methodology for teaching needs to be updated to make subjects like Irish more engaging and practical for students. But more than that, it needs to be respected in our culture. Our relationship with the Irish language needs to begin before we even enter the school gates. Until Irish people really believe the Seachtain na Gaeilge tagline “is leastsa í” the Irish language will continue to decline. I for one certainly do believe is liomsa í.

Seachtain na Gaeilge 2014 takes place March 1st-17th. Check out the website to see all the events taking place to promote the use of Irish nationwide.