Ireland – A country without a language is a country without a soul

 Antírgananammuid? Are we a soulless country? I don’t think so, or at least, I certainly hope we are not! Having dallied in the ‘Irish’ circles around me for many years now, I can safely say everypersonwithin them goes through highs and lows with regard to our mother tongue. I myself was wallowing in a low for some time, wary of its vitality. Then I turned on the action button andbeganproactively practicing the language again, and what a delight it is!

This articlecould turn into a history piece, if I weretotell you of how our language was ripped from our tongues and torn from our mouths, or the centuries in which we have struggled to conserve the wonderful, complex beast that is an Gaeilge. But I would rather we focus on the present and future, and be comforted by the progress we have madewiththe language.

Progress? What progress?Ihear you say. It may come as asurprise that Gaeilge has in fact moved with the times. There are many publications and online accounts out there that areas active as a Kilkenny hurler: they are current, witty, insightful, funny and, dare I say it, entertaining.Amidst this excitement came the announcement on social media this February that ‘Fliuch’ magazine will be coming soon. Mind you, little has been heard of it since and the cover image provided was too pun-tastic – on the Irish Mammy line of humour – to be completely credible. To jog your Gaeilge memory, yes, fliuch means wet, and the magazine suggested that the TG4 weather girls would be wearing their birthday suits… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination … or if you’re desperate for a visual aid, Twitter search @fliuchmag and you’ll see the teaser that hasleftsomany of us awaiting a follow-up!

Not all publications have stood the test of time, due to funding and readership levels – Foinseand Gaelport.com may ring some dusty bells for you. However, some print media still remains: the Irish Independent proudly includes a free publication with the Wednesday edition called Seachtaine; which covers all bases from politics to sport and fashion.

Not being a native speaker, I, like many others, have to constantly work on my Irish. This doesn’t have to be a tedious task – just make it part of one’sdaily routine.

Hearing people say they don’t learn Irish or they are not active in the language because ‘it is not really out there’ does not sit with me. Tásé. It is. It is easily done by catching your news as Gaeilge on TV or any of the many active online publications: nós.ie, tuarisc.ie and beo.ie to name a few. Beo.ie is well known amongst those who are still acquiring the language, simply because it has a brilliant educational edge, i.e. when a mouse hovers over a highlighted word/ phrase a translation is provided. Another popular source, particularly with students, is the Twitter account @talkirish. Itprovides illustrated words and phrases with translations, so nomoreexcuses, you can learn as you scroll.

The resource list is healthy to say the least, and the active Irish community should be very proud of what is available, as with each site or publication there has been much passion and hard work involved.I implore you not to use Google translate. Google translate is never acceptable. You will be spotted and outed in an instant! Use tearma.ie, potafocal.com, and focal.ie instead.

Education. Now, we’re getting to the crux of the issue! With every other Tom, Dick and Harry willing to throw their tuppence worth on this one, there is little chance that the nation will ever come to an agreement on how to provide a comprehensive language education for children. Do we even need to teach Irish in schools at all? Are there any intellectual benefits? Does it further enhance employment prospects? A resounding YES is my answer to all of the above.

Incidentally, why should you pay heed to what I say? Well, from working in Irish in media settings and having taught in a secondary school and primary schools, you can be confident that I not only have a keen interest in Irish but haveexperience ofit in both personal and professional settings. And Irish is of great importance from an educational and professional perspective, as studies have provedthat children who acquire a second language from their younger days have better cognitive and retention abilities than those that don’t. It also enhances their ability to learn grammar and syntax in a third, fourth or fifth language, should French, Spanish, German or whatever other language be taught when they reach secondary level, or indeed in later life. Even more surprising is the improvement in mathematics from bilingual children.

With the current primary curriculum divided into two areas for teachers – requirements for English speaking schools and a different set of requirements for teachers of Gaelscoileanna – all children are taught Irish (with a few exceptions). Children in other European countries may be learning a second language from birth, they sometimes even learn up to five languages by the time they are finished school, between home and school life. Language isandshould be a way of life. A friend succinctlysummed up my own musings:“Language is a language and if treated like a subject will always remain as one”.

Children need tolivethe language. Simply rhyming off a collection of verbs in various tenses and a list of vocabulary on a particular topic can be beneficial for memorisation, but has a detrimental effect to the restoration and love of the language if it is not practiced in conjunction with daily use in life- relevant, fun situations.

I commend the teachers who actively practice and implement the curriculum in the correct way, and at an appropriate accessible standard for their students. It doesn’t take the brightest tool in the box to realise that 1) you can only learn at a level you understand and 2) that with language, you learn best through immersion. What is more important: that a child can list off Irish translations of emotions, or that they can express their emotions as Gaeilge? An aontaíonntú? Another undeniably crucial point is that teachers themselves need to be proficiently educated in the language. Having attended the Gaeltacht as part of my teacher training programme, it is clear that there is absolutely no reinforcement of a standardised approach or programme for student teachers, who pay up toif not more than €1000 to attend these courseson top of funding themselves throughout the academic year. It is detrimental not to have a plan, it is utterly ridiculous to have a plan and not reinforce it.

Unfortunately, a huge struggle for second level teachers is the difference in teaching approaches for first years after they leave 6th class. While the primary curriculum is a set curriculum for all, a lot falls on the individual experience of the child, or class. For a first year pupil to really love and use Irish, they will need it in their home, on TV/radio, toys/entertainment and in the primary classroom. Sounds like a lot of work eh? But it’s not, all you have to do is turn on and tune in! A family friend recently told me his six year old daughter came smiling towards him, saying “Daddy I can count to 50 in Irish”, and proceeded to do so. She then started spouting Irish words and phrases as she was playing and organising her school things. He was shocked because he knows that she didn’t learn that many numbers in school and he nor his wife ever encouraged Irish use. Then the penny dropped, she had always watched Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants as Gaeilgear TG4. Isn’tthat wonderful? That’s how simple it is folks, tune into Irish media and you will be pleasantly surprised at theprogress made!

With many of my college friends teaching Irish in secondary schools, the lack of correlation between primary and secondary teaching of the language from a curricular perspective is a line I have heard so often, and issomething I noticed when teaching myself. What works in primary schools is making the language fun, appealing and interactive. Should this be the focus for the secondary level curriculum, the prospects of student interest developing in the language would be greater and henceforth the language itself would continue to develop. This sounds ideal but a lot of work restructuring the curriculum would be needed, from the government and then timetabling within schools. The Minister for Education has acknowledged challenges in education in Gaeltacht communities and a study is underway, but thishasyettotranslateintoreal overhaul.

Teachers and parents nationwide are closely watching the proposals for a Junior Cert reform. Would it improve the quality of Irish? Noticing great conflict inteacher unions I have watched the proposed plans closely from their initial introduction. I believe should they be implemented there would be a detrimental effect to the quality of education we are supplying in Ireland. While I can’t say muchspecifically abouttheeffects on the Irish language (because even teachers I have spoken to are so ill-informed they do not know what the new course would entail), Ifearata general levelit would rob secondary students of the opportunity for the development of a comprehensive understanding in any subject area. By modulating choice subjects, all that will ever be taken from a studied subject area is a taster, withno deeperunderstanding and no true appreciation.

In the past few months, some national press have published articles discussing research study results and projected beliefs that the Gaeltachtaí will be non-existent within a decade. When will the national press get behind the people who live through, work through, talk and love the Irish language? Therewasabacklash on social media to these articles, many young leaders and pioneers of Gaeilge retorted ‘where are we going?’ It is truly heartbreaking to see on such a consistent basis that our national media rarely uses its immeasurable power to promote and advertise the strengths and progressions of Irish, a language recognised by the European Union and the first named language of our country. This lack of support is thankfully not ubiquitous, however, with the Irish Times giving voice to leaders within Conradhna Gaeilge who work wonders for Irish. TheIrish Times have shone light on Dr. Conchúr Ó Giollagáin’sComprehensive Linguistic Study of the Usage of Irish in the Gaeltacht: 2006-2011 and called the government to action, stating that “Gaeltacht communities must be empowered … to be communities with a future in control of their destinies”.

 Aithníonnciarógciarógeile, birds of a feather flock together… but, not always. From talking to other cainteoiríGaeilge, or Irish speakers, recognising Irish speakers to whom we can speak with is highly problematic. Perhaps some of you have heard of (or better yet own) the fáinne, a ring shaped pendant worn on ones jacket as an emblem representative of their proficiency in Irish; gold for fluentand silver for semi-fluent. I own one but honestly, I don’t wear it often enough. A revival of sporting the fáinne would do wonders for the language. We must be conscious of it, be active in it and be proud of it. There is so much positive energy for Irish language preservation, all that is really needed is a collective movement for people to channel this wonderful energy. Should the government reinstate funding that was cut with the crash, as it has with groups such as Enterprise Ireland,  ÚdarásnaGaeltachta would have the means to support the existing passion for the language. As some friends from the Gaeltacht pointed out to me “tásédeacairmaireachtaintanseo- níbheidhteangaphobailannganpobal” (“it is hard living here, there will be no community language without a community”).

I believe now is a more fitting time than ever to reenergise our use of Irish. With next year being 2016, therewillbemany commemorations to the battles of our forefathers. What better way to respect and revive their memory than through a movement and drive for promotion of Gaeilge… GluaiseachtnanGael? The Government once announced a 20-year plan, ‘Gaeilge 2030’, that I hear nothing of now. It seemstheyare resigned to thefeeling that our language is due to fade away, rather than ignited by the powerful cries of so many, willing it to fight and take flight again.

Bród. Pride. That is oneemotion I notice in everybody that I hear speak Irish. I don’t have psychological test results saying ‘Speaking Irish makes you happy and proud’, but when I speak Irish or speak of Irish to people, the common resonating emotion is pride; to have that link to our identity of the past, present and, if we continue to play our cards right, our future. Not only that, it is pretty cool to have another language… who of you readers has not used Gaeilge on some level when holidaying abroad? To remarkas you check out the talent, complain about prices or maybe just feel like James Bond for a moment… you are rebels to the cause!

With young Gaeilge activists and advocates there are always new things to tie into, check out Una Kavanaghs’ twitter platform where #Gaeilgechat is used Mondays from 8-9pm and people nationwide (and sometimes worldwide) tweet as Gaeilge. Una, who has always promoted Irish recognises that the hashtag is in its infancy but promotes its use for everybody; “Remember, Gaeilge is for everyone. Don’t be ashamed to speak it, practice it, get words wrong. It’s meant to be enjoyed and #Gaeilgechat is to be a stress free zone.”

I appreciate the irony of this piece being in English, and many times in writing this piece, I got carried away and started typing as Gaeilge. But it is in English for the simple fact that you now understand me, you now understand that you have the power to develop your skills, our language and enhance the lives of everyone around you by practicing it.

With passionate proclamations from Gaelgóirí, constant curiosity from those sharing the cúplafocail, and multitudes of people eager to remain living and working through Irish, it is time for us to pull together, to reintroduce, snas a chur, and use Gaeilge. Continuedlobbying for the return of funding and support for the language through education policies, community language planning and groups within and out of Gaeltacht areas is also necessary. The government must alsopay heed to the studies completedandrealiseour country needs its language.

Níneart go cur le chéile! (There is no strength without unity!)

Words – Rebecca Egan

 

Fusion Magazine
Written by Fusion Magazine