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(OPINION) My struggle with learning Irish in school

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With the countdown to Irish orals fast approaching. Leaving cert students all across the country will be nervously preparing for their oral exam. This week I reflect on some of my struggles with learning Irish in school.

For as long as I can remember I have had a love-hate relationship with the Irish language. Being diagnosed with dyslexia growing up it was hard to grasp certain subjects in school but I struggled the most with Irish. What I found most frustrating for me was I wanted to be able to grasp my native tongue as a proud Irish native. As a young child, I remember one Summer I was fascinated with the Irish Famine and I read book after book on the topic. I even watched documentaries and made my dad take me to museums. I was completely moved by this sorrowful stage in our history and by reading these stories I felt it brought me closer to my country.

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As I got into secondary school I began to worry about my academic skills. It started to become more obvious to me that I would learn differently from others. Looking back now these irrational thoughts I had would hinder my enjoyment of many subjects but I was young and this feeling made me very insecure, especially when learning Irish. When I entered secondary school the Irish curriculum felt like a different subject to what I had learned in primary. I felt other students were well equipped and I had been left behind. The real struggles began at the start of my first Irish class in 1st year which would consist through my years in school. Our teacher would gather us all in a circle and we would all face each other and he would speak to each individual in as gaeilge. As the teacher grew closer to me, he would say “Dia duit” I was a nervous wreck, I would just freeze.  This would also be an introduction for me to anxiety. The teacher was trying to encourage back-and-forth communication to prepare us all for the Irish orals, but at that time I didn’t see it that way. The surge of emotion that would go through me when I was in that circle made me just want to leave the classroom and never come back.  I was extremely embarrassed I could not put together a sentence. Being unable to speak Irish made me feel that all my classmates thought I was stupid. I wanted to never be put into that situation. A classic emotion of fight or flight and I began to choose flight every time.

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Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I must stress again, that I wanted to speak Irish, I felt it was a perfect way of expressing my patriotism. However, as time went on, I would quickly shut this idea down and not attend class. As my Irish class grew closer, I would go anywhere in the building that I wouldn’t be seen. I would hide in the bathroom, the canteen, and the library as long as I was not seen by them for 40 minutes, I was safe. This would eventually get me in trouble with the head of the year for lack of attendance and I would have to step foot back into class. Below are some other people’s takes on learning Irish and how important it is to our nation.

When I reentered class, I had to channel all these emotions and I still had these thoughts and I still struggled. However, my classmates were all well ahead of me just as I had felt on that very first day in my first year. My teacher would still encourage me to speak in the circle and this time I would fight my anxiety and try to take part, a fantastic learning curve for me looking back, however, my confidence and enthusiasm for the subject had diminished. As my exams grew closer my teacher still had faith. He wanted me to do ordinary Irish, but at the behest of my teacher, I decided to do foundation as I felt I was nowhere near the level to do ordinary in an exam of that stature. I don’t think the educational system failed me I don’t even think my teacher did. I think my relationship with the language has always been attached to that relenting feeling In the circle. I had deep levels of anxiety and I wanted an easy way out from the subject. I could never get past my anxiety. If I had to put it down to one thing it would be that my anxiety failed Irish.

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