Hi friends, hope we’re all keeping well.
For those who don’t know, I’m a student who went to school in Dublin, Ireland. A mandatory subject that is taught to (most) students here is ‘Gaeilge’, the official Irish language.
Irish is, in my opinion, a beautiful language. The pronunciations, the spellings, and to some degree even the grammar weaves everything together perfectly to form a lovely sounding language. Unfortunately, it is a dying language, so I don’t find it surprising that the Department of Education is making the language a mandatory subject for all to try revive it.
The only problem is, the Department has crafted an Irish course for students that has turned the beautiful, gorgeous, and unique Irish language, into a disgusting atrocity. The way they’ve made the course almost makes it seem like they want students to hate the language from the get go.
How does it make sense that I’ve achieved better fluency in German, a language I’ve only been studying for 6 years, than Irish, a language which I’ve studied for pretty much 12 (since we started learning it in primary school as well), when I was taught both in the same circumstances in school? I even attended a Gaeltacht, a place where everyone speaks Irish and you can practise your Irish at, for 2 summers.
It’s because, from my view, the Irish subject is a terribly constructed course that completely extinguishes students’ passion to learn it. Granted, some might say very few people have passion for any subject, but I’m talking about students who actually want and like to learn about languages. I consider myself a person interested in languages, and yet I couldn’t overcome the Mt Everest of an obstacle that the Irish course was.
🤦🏻♂️My Experience with Gaeilge🤦🏻♂️
To be perfectly honest, I never was an eager student for Irish. My grades in it were average, and I was by no means an exceptional student in it. I kept a little copybook that I wrote vocabulary in, which I tried to revise every day or so (the same thing I did for German).
I think a huge part of being able to effectively learn something comes from finding enjoyment or, and sorry for using this dreaded word: ‘fun’ in it. It’s how I’ve been able to rise from almost failing German to getting near top marks. I learned about their culture, geography, and history, and thought it was all quite interesting. I also wanted to become a polyglot, so learning new languages didn’t bother me at all, since I’m always striving for that goal.
But for Irish, oh my Lord, I simply cannot be interested in it when it’s taught in school. My unique Irish teachers were some of the best memories from my school years, but even they couldn’t mitigate the sheer pain the Irish course inflicted onto students.
What good language course has poetry in it? Short stories? I concede that most language courses require you to be able to write letters and essays, so sure, I’m fine for those 2. But poetry and short stories? Seriously?
And do you want to know how I know that, if it wasn’t for poetry and short stories and possibly more, I’d actually be interested in the language?
Lockdown and holidays. Every time I was separated from that dreadful Irish course for a longer period than 2 days, I always suddenly became very passionate in learning it. I always developed the ‘polyglot passion’ and tried to study it using external resources as well like Duolingo. I VOLUNTARILY studied my teachers’ Irish notes from time to time, because I was now interested again in the Irish language.
But every, single, time, it was time to go back to school and sit through hell-I mean, Irish class, the passion was immediately extinguished after 2 lessons. And I’m by no means blaming my teachers for that, absolutely not. The course is just so, so poorly designed and constructed to teach Irish, as if it was something from the 19th century when everyone was getting hyped and excited as to when the new poems were dropping. 🤦🏻♂️
🔍Problems and Solutions🔍
There’s not really much point of a rant that exposes the problems of something, then fails to offer any viable solutions. That’s why I’m now going to list the worst problems of the Irish course (in my opinion), and try offer solutions to those problems.
🎭1. Poetry 🎭
Let’s attack the elephant in the room first; poetry.
Look, if you’re into poetry and like it, then brilliant. I’m genuinely happy for you. There’s been a minuscule amount of poems that’s ever resonated with me before, which is why I can’t relate to the hype around it. But if you’re into it, happy days. Enjoy whatever you like.
But, despite its surprisingly growing popularity (I’m not lying), please remember that still only a fraction of the population actually enjoys it. And an ever smaller percent of teen students (from relative experience).
No other (major) language course in the leaving cert has any poems on the syllabus, so why should Irish have it? I can safely assure you that if I ask a group of my peers what’s their least favourite thing about Irish, the majority would say the poetry.
It’s so, so useless in my opinion, to have poetry on the course. If your goal is to revive a language, then you need to make it seem as interesting, dynamic, and engaging as possible, and not by putting old-fashioned topics that only a fraction of the population still enjoys.
My Proposed Solution:
Completely scrap the poetry element of the course. Erase it from existence.
If a replacement is necessary, I suggest learning about how to write emails/reviews in Irish, or even beefing up the oral section of the course so we can converse better in Irish and be able to ask for things, like directions, the price of something, lost items, etc. At least with real life settings you can sort of see yourself having to deploy some Irish speaking skills. With poetry however, there is no use for it other than understanding the memes🤷🏻♂️ (which some may view as just as important, so fair enough).
🎞2. Short Stories🎞
I don’t think the short stories element of the course are as bad as the poetry section, but I think it’s something still worth talking about.
I feel Irish mythology can be quite interesting at times. The legend of ‘Oisín in Tír na nÓg’ (or Land of the Youth) is a great example of the magic behind Irish folklore, and is definitely something that can interest students.
I will, however, have to cross the line when we’re forced to learn about the themes, emotions and characters of the story, to a ridiculously absurd amount of detail. Essentially, I strongly disagree with the short stories getting the poetry treatment, in that we learn way too much about it. A little detail can intrigue students, too much of it will drive them away.
My Proposed Solution:
Keep the short story section of the course, but I feel it should include more stories relating to Irish folklore and mythology.
Additionally (and crucially), only the general story/summary should be taught. I strongly disagree with the approach in learning too much detail about topics, as that’s a sure fire way to kill any interest for it. Ditch the learning about themes, dominant emotions, characters, etc.
If we want to try make a language interesting, I think a good way would be to give students only a taste of it, leaving them want more, instead of giving them barrages of useless information on themes of this one piece of Irish literature.
👂🏼3. Aural Section👂🏼
Finally, let’s talk about the listening part of the exam.
In learning any language, I’m strongly, strongly on the side of ‘you need to listen to more of the language’. I think listening to native speakers talk and converse in their language is a great way to help improve one’s flexibility, fluency, and proficiency in the language.
What’s tricky about the aural section of Irish, is how heavy the accents can become, I think. Of course, this is a problem with many other languages too, but it’s especially tricky for people who are obviously not experienced with speaking and listening to the language (such as students).
The argument can still be made that we’ve been learning it since primary school, but realistically speaking, not many of us have been truly exposed to the Irish language constantly, unless you live in the Gaeltacht region. It’s not really about intensity, but about frequency.
My proposed solution:
Nerf the heavy accents used in the Irish aural exams, not really much else to say lol.
Alright, that’ll probably do it for this excessively long blog post. Honestly, even though I’ve spent the last few paragraphs completely trying to tear apart the Irish course, please don’t mistake me for hating Irish. I love the language, and hopefully now that school’s over and I won’t have to be exposed to the school system’s way of teaching it, I’ll be able to get excited over Irish again.
I don’t hate Irish. I hate the way it’s taught 🙂
Thanks for reading my ramblings if you did, hopefully I can see you again in another post. Stay safe