Monday 14 June 2010

FG wrong on Leaving Cert Irish

The position of Irish in the school curriculum is central to the larger question of whether the state - and by extension this nation - ought to preserve or promote the first official tongue. The cause of the language is very dear to my own heart, and therefore I feel very strongly that this is an important issue.

Everyone knows that Irish language policy has been very flawed down the years - though some remarkable changes have taken place over the last 15 years or so. We know too that there have been chronic failures in how the language has been taught. I recall studying 16th century poetry in a class where no student had the ability to order a train ticket in Irish. Some of these failures have been corrected in part in recent years; for example, by making the curriculum more relevant and emphasizing communication over literature.

Given the known and perceived failures it is tempting to reject current policy in its entirety. This would be a mistake. If the Irish language - still declining in the Gaeltacht - has any hope of survival as a spoken tongue, it is by virtue of the latent but widespread support that it enjoys among the general population.

It is true that among those who look favourably upon the language, most never succeed in mustering the effort required to learn to speak it. The reasons for that are complex, but the fact remains that passive support among the public is a crucial buttress without which the whole edifice of recent language policy would collapse.

Compulsory Irish, I believe, has been a key factor in maintaining a thin but very widespread knowledge of the language among the general population. It makes the vast bulk of the population at least moderately familiar with the language. People may not have enjoyed their experience with Irish in the classroom (one hopes that this can be continuously improved upon for future generations), but, more often than not, they come away wishing the system had served them better and that they had learned more not less of the native tongue.

When people who struggle with the language are given the option, they will opt out, and the result will be an evaporation of the crucial familiarity with Irish. The result will be alienation from the language. It is easy to see how, over a period of time, this would lead to a drastic drop in support for government sponsored revival efforts.

That people retain a mere 'cúpla focal' after years of schooling is an indictment that the system has failed to create competent speakers. Yet dispensing with this thin base entirely would be devastating.

The Fine Gael attempt to make Irish optional is a political ploy - designed to portray a party ready to take radical steps to inject impetus into fresh policies. In reality their proposal is a populist proposal, designed to capitalise on the widespread negative view, not of the language itself, but of how it was taught in school.

I would urge those who support the goal of preserving Irish not to fall for this ploy.

It is worth noting the Welsh have increased their compulsory requirement. From the early 90s it was compulsory to study Welsh to age 14 and in 1999 that was increased to 16. Welsh preservation and even revival efforts have been seen as more successful than ours. We should certainly keep an eye on developments there, though I would accept that each situation is different.

One thing is to be welcomed. Over recent years the debate on the Irish language has been increasingly informed by expert opinion in the field of socio-linguistics. Indeed this has brought a dose of reality to the question of Irish survival prospects that was previously absent. It has also highlighted with greater accuracy than before, that the language is indeed in a very perilous position. The state of the language is now so fragile - despite popular views to the contrary - that a major step in the wrong direction could wipe it out quickly and everywhere as a community tongue.

So the status of Irish in school should not be an object of experiment or political gaming. Instead it should be seen as an essential component of a survival strategy for a language which now needs very careful nurturing if it is to survive.


Anonymous said...

Aontaím go huile is go hiomlán leat.vid

Panu said...

Is é an rud is measa faoi seo ar fad ná go mbíonn na polaiteoirí sásta dlíthe agus reachtanna a achtú leis an teanga a chur chun cinn, ach ansin, nuair a chuirfeas naimhde na Gaeilge troid ar son a gcúise suaraí féin, géillfidh na polaiteoirí aríst. Níl leadership acu, níl siad in ann iad féin a choinneáil dírithe ar an targaid beag beann ar an íde bhéil a gheobhas siad. Dá mbíodh polaiteoirí againn, pardún, agaibh a bheadh dáiríre píre fá dtaobh den Ghaeilge, sílim go mbeadh naimhde na Gaeilge féin sásta leis sin: them guys mean business now, better to keep mum.

glenn said...

I hate the language, its useless, its taught badly. when i say that to people they say i must be bad at languages. I'm not i do very well in honours german and english but the way irish is thought is so awful its justw asting my time and holding me back from doing better in the leavin cert in 2 years time. If you irish lovers like it so much then learn it its your choice. stop holding the rest of us back from achieving our full potential in the otehr subjects

Tomaltach said...

Hi glenn,
Thanks for taking time to comment. Sorry to hear about your frustration regarding Irish. I think you are probably not alone in that.

What exactly about the teaching of Irish do you find most off-putting?

What does your German course involve that is different?

Is there anything you can think of that could be changed that might change your attitude to the language?

thayes4 said...

I don't think there is any doubt that the 1 million people who answered in the 2006 census that they could speak Irish, but rarely or never use it, have a standard that can be called 'Carlsberg Irish' - “Ciúnas bóthar cailín bainne”. What end has been served by the expenditure of vast resources so that they can impress foreigners with a cúpla focal? 72,000 people in the 2006 census admit to using Irish outside of the education system, including Gaeltacht dwellers. As noted elsewhere, you hear more Polish on any day of the week than Irish. Face the facts, Irish is effectively dead as a language of common currency.

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