Education System Failing Irish Language Learners

Mícheál Ó Foighil (left) manages Coláiste Lurgan, the Irish language summer camp for teens, located just around the corner from our house.  You may have heard of Lurgan because of their wildly successful music videos, some of which have been posted on The Wild Geese recently.  Mícheál and company have really put our little village of Indreabhán on the the map!

In this interview with the Irish Times, Mícheál is very critical of the Irish educational system when it comes to teaching the Irish language:

"Why is it that, after 13 years of schooling, most people cannot speak the language confidently?"

He puts this down to an ineffective education system. “The Taoiseach does have empathy for the language, but he is misguided. Ninety-five per cent of the budget that is spent on the language is spent through the Department of Education, but there is not much to show for it. Huge opportunities are being lost. The system is banjaxed. Irish people are being denied something precious in their lives by an ineffective system, and that’s sad.“

For those are not aware, Irish parents have a choice; They can send their children to English speaking schools, where they will have one class on the Irish language, or to Gaelscoils, where all subjects aside from one English class are taught through Irish.  I have done some volunteer work, tutoring school children in the city of Galway.  In my experience, the children who attend English speaking schools have extremely low proficiency in the Irish language, and little desire to learn it.  It must be said that the students I was tutoring are struggling in all their school subjects.  Because of this, I may have a skewed perspective on the matter.  

Whatever the case, Mícheál is correct that most adults in non-Gaeltacht Ireland speak very little Irish despite having 13 years of school instruction.  Surely we can do better.  What are the answers?  The Wild Geese would love to hear from members with insights on the educational system or language learning. 

Gaeilge abú!

Related Reading:

Irish a Dying Language?

Views: 1114

Tags: Gaeilge, Irish Language

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on August 20, 2013 at 7:14am

The never ending debate continues.One government department promotes the language while another strangles it. The State cannot decide whether to adopt it as a real language or abolish it. Too many unqualified people have a say in how it is to be taught, the likes of Des Bishop for example. More people tend to talk about Irish rather than actually talk it. Ag deireadh an lae is fearr liom a bheith ag caint Gaeilge ná a bheith ag caint faoi. Beatha  an teanga í a labhairt.

In schools it is not uniformly taught. At primary school level some teachers love it, others hate it. SOme parents put pressure on the principal to play down the role of Irish and he goes along with it because he wants a quite life.You have ridiculous situations like a family who moves to Daingean in County Kerry, an Irish speaking area and demand that the language of the school be changed to English. Poorly educated parents do not view Irish or indeed education in general as being very relevant to their child. In the eighties there was the fear amongst Gaeltacht people that not enough time was being spent on English. After all their destiny was abroad and you had things like the Bríd  NÍ Dhomhnaill affair of the eighties in REcess/ Sraith Salach.

Comment by Gerard Cappa on August 20, 2013 at 12:11pm

Cá hionadh an tír a bheith trína chéile ...

Comment by Bit Devine on August 20, 2013 at 1:02pm

But apparently proofreading is not....

Comment by Gerry Regan on August 20, 2013 at 3:51pm

LOL, Bit. I always enjoy seeing some of the 'old ones' here in the States retrieve the Irish from their school days, though they often do so with a sense of embarassment about how little they have, and perhaps had. It's nice to hear, even that little bit, all the same.

Comment by Bit Devine on August 20, 2013 at 4:01pm

I long for the old days...pre-stroke...when I could rattle off a response without hesitation... Now I struggle for each phrasing... often resorting to English instead...and even then...if I am tired...I struggle...

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on August 20, 2013 at 4:12pm

phrases you nee dto know include:

an bhfuil cead agam dul agam go dtí an leithreas?


there are people is nursing homes here and they learnt English at the age of ten. Now they have forgotten their English- it has been erased and they find themselves only speaking Irish.

Comment by Bit Devine on August 20, 2013 at 4:23pm

LOL...yes...two VERY important phrases to remember!

When my Mexican grandma developed alzheimers, she regressed further and further back in to her Spanish

My Gran's cousin Janet, as she grew elder, regressed to her old language, Irish, and old customs... some of which weren't accepted in the surroundings she found herself in...

Comment by Rose Maurer on August 21, 2013 at 10:14am

The similarity with South Africa is amazing, and I dare say universally, where school pupils are required to study two languages, their mother tongue from their admission to school (Grade 1) and the second language (which pre-1994 was limited to Afrikaans, but now includes one of the 9 Black languages, depending on which of the Provinces in which they live), until the end of the final secondary educations year (Grade 12). The majority of English speaking pupils actually pass Afrikaans, second language, without being able to converse in the language (myself included!), but when I was required to provide psychotherapy to both English and Afrikaans speaking patients, I became fully bilingual within a year. I believe the answer is to hear and speak the language frequently in order to master it. Another phenomenon, bearing in mind that the ratio of Black to 'other' races id 11:1, is that the majority of Black pupil elect to take Afrikaans as their second language because isiZulu, which I studied at second year undergraduate level [in 1966 !!], has the most complex grammatical rules, and mastering colloquial expressions is something else! Long story short, and it would doubtless create a huge backlash, is that all Irish pupils be obliged to study through the medium of Gaelige, without the present choice which is available. I am delighted to announce that I bought an Amazon Irish-English Dictionary and Phrasebook for my Kindle - watch this space!

Comment by Rose Maurer on August 21, 2013 at 10:19am

Spot my misspelling of 'Gaeilge'! Woe is me . . .

Comment by Gerry Regan on August 21, 2013 at 1:02pm

Rose, good on ya, for boostering Gaeilge! :-)


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