Shalini Sinha on the importance of the Irish Language

I was nearing the end of an epic post on Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s proposal to end compulsory Irish education for Leaving Certificate students in the Republic (subs req), linking to a load of media coverage and commentary, but managed to lose it all when the auld PC crashed.
In hindsight, this may have been a good thing, for otherwise this brilliant and passionate piece from Shalini Sinha (subs req) in the Irish Times Health Supplement last week would have been buried in the middle of it and perhaps missed by most of you. Shalini was born and raised in Canada to Indian parents, and is a TV presenter with RT� in addition to her weekly columns in the I.T. and Metro �ireann. Her immigrant viewpoint on the Irish language and its importance gives this piece a freshness that has been lacking in much of the debate on the language over the years.

Communicating with each other is one of the most significant activities humans engage in. We use language to share technology, progress and form relationships with each other. We need it to survive.

In particular, our own language is specifically valuable.

The language of our people has been designed and developed to communicate our experience and view of the world.

It is a unique recording of a way of life, philosophy and set of relationships. We may learn the languages of other people (sometimes forced) but it never replaces our story – the insight into who we are and why we do things as we do.

I grew up speaking Hindi. It was my first language. While not the one I use most or arguably am most proficient in, it means the world to me to be born and raised in the diaspora and still a Hindi speaker.

My language connects me with my people, our philosophies and ways of thinking.

I grew up knowing that language has little to do with economic value, and everything to do with identity and closeness.

Thus, one of the first things I did when I moved to Ireland was begin the journey of learning Irish – not because I thought it would be easy or was “fascinated”, but because I felt that this was the only way I would really understand the country that was now my home, and the people who would love me here.

Although most of you won’t speak it, this is still true.

(…)

Irish people can speak Irish. Regardless of how inadequate we may feel when we do, or badly we felt when we were learning, anyone who did it through school truly has a decent enough level of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation to make it a living experience.

We see this while abroad on holidays. This is when Irish people turn to speaking Irish, and discover we can find the words we want. More so, we want to. And so it is possible to bring it into our lived culture at home.

Let us speak in Irish with each other. If it must be as a second language, let it be so to bring it to life.

(…)

For our immigrants who didn’t learn Irish in school, let’s not make our language a means of excluding people but offer the supports to learn it in our communities and workplaces.

Those of us coming from African or Asian countries already typically have three or four before arriving.

Being required to learn this one will not hold us back and is quite feasible. But, do not demand it of us until you choose to speak it yourself, for we can bring enthusiasm and ability, but we cannot make you have pride.

In the aftermath of controversy surrounding Kenny’s proposal, a consensus seems to have emerged that the way the Irish language is taught in schools needs to be changed radically as it is not working. Opinion is very much divided however on whether dropping Irish as a compulsory subject for the Leaving Certificate might also be a positive step. My own viewpoint is that, like a good mechanic trying to solve a problem, one thing should be adjusted at a time so that the effect of each change can be assessed.

More significantly, if all students were taught a course on Language Awareness (perhaps during their Transition Year), covering the arguments in favour of saving minority languages from extinction and emphasising what they have to offer to society (as Shalini Sinha has), much of the hostility towards the language would dissipate and students would appreciate learning Irish much more.

As for the sometimes politically divisive issue of Irish language learning in Northern Ireland, that�s a blog for another day…

  • Nathan

    To alot of people, having Leaving Cert Irish means little more than being able to translate the odd Fir and Mna every now and again (a helpful skill but not much to show for 12/13 years of compulsory instruction!!). I’ve nothing more to say on this matter – the ball and chain approach to Irish has had corrosive effects upon alot of people up and down the country. It has bred a sense of disaffection with, if not complete loathing for, Irish in many a classroom. The government is well aware of the remedy for this hideous condition – it needs to get its ass into gear and act upon it, fast

  • I support Irish being mandatory in school (for now) but I think it shouldn’t need to be mandatory. In truth, we should be fluent in the language before we even start secondary school.
    I think most primary schools should be Irish medium and English medium schools should have an Irish medium strand, if that’s workable at all. If kids could learn to speak the language fluently then it wouldn’t matter a toss if the language was compulsory for LC or not. Plus, being fluent in Irish so young would probably help us learn other languages later on.
    Serious changes are needed in the education system though, especially in the way languages are taught. At the moment it sucks big time and has done for decades.
    Living in Europe (the mainland that is) I meet people all the time with amazing skills in English and for many of them it’s a second, third or even fourth language, yet they learn it to a very high level in a short enough space of time. What are we doing wrong?

  • Nathan
    “the ball and chain approach to Irish has had corrosive effects upon alot of people”

    And no such affect on a lot of other people.

    “The government is well aware of the remedy for this hideous condition”

    What is the remedy? I don’t believe making it optional is the remedy.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”being able to translate the odd Fir and Mna every now and again (a helpful skill but not much to show for 12/13 years of compulsory instruction!!).”

    A helpful skill indeed Nathan — a few years back, having partaken of some liquid refreshment in Galway, I translated Mna as being an anagram of Man and wound up highly embarressed.
    The compulsory nature of any unnecesary subject (exactly how important is a parochial tongue like Irish in the 21st century?) is merely going to drive the majority away from it. I’m old enough to have done two years of compulsory Latin at school and can remember all of two words — I would suggest a year of compulsory Irish with the option for the interested to carry on and the rest to move on.

  • foreign correspondent

    Interesting article and view-point from Shalinhi Sinha. It´s a pity that so many people have a knee-jerkingly negative reaction to Irish so it´s good to hear someone, who could not be accused of being a ´´Little Irelander´´, to coin a phrase, being positive about the language. Maith i fein.

  • Crataegus

    Life is so short and I often ponder on what we compel our children to learn. To my mind there is something wrong with making subjects like Greek, Latin and Irish compulsory.

    What is a rounded education? Would a working knowledge of Irish make one iota of difference to my life or would the time be better spent learning Spanish, Chinese or Russian? There are many subjects, particularly technological that we tend to ignore or down grade.

  • George

    Irish is not compulsory, it is a required subject.

    As it is the first official language of the state, it is only correct that it is a required subject in school.

    The other required subjects are English and Mathematics.

    True, the way it is taught needs a lot to be desired but to argue that it should not be a required language when it is the first official language of the state is a bit ridiculous in my view.

    Have a constitutional referendum and remove its status if it is to be the first official language no longer.

    Learning something like Irish or Latin is necessary, if not vital, for a rounded education. Not everything in life has a monetary value.

    Sometimes learning about the raw blocks from which your very essence was hewn can come in very handy in understanding and developing yourself in later life.

  • Nathan

    And no such affect on a lot of other people

    Lets put whataboutery to one side for the moment, maca. Naturally, there are a few hyper-enthusiasts floating around, but they merely represent a segment of the student population. What about the students who suffer from dyslexia and other learning difficulties – alot of them are not entitled to exemption either because of non-diagnosis or their condition being judged as not serious enough. Being more prone to having a lower aptitude for languages in general (they can’t even manage basic English, nevermind French and Irish), they suffer a detriment whereas if Irish were optional, they could have excelled in another subject of their choice. Even more common are the students who start learning an EU language in first year and obtain an honour in Leaving Cert. The same student studies Irish for 13 years and fails to secure a mere pass in Leaving. Surely, this tells its own story and needs urgent attention.

    “What is the remedy? I don’t believe making it optional is the remedy.”

    Multiple remedies are on the boil. Its just a case of giving each one due consideration.

    I have a preference for the well-mooted non-compulsory Irish package at LC. I do so because I find it is a complete and utter joke that the studious cram long and hard for their Leaving Cert in Irish, only for it to be their last intensive contact with the language. This almost absolute absence of any functional context for Irish once the Leaving is over, sways the balance firmly in favour of an optional package for Irish at LC. Dispensing with the non-enthusiasts after Junior Cert would allow the schools to tailor their resources accordingly, so that the enthusiasts are generously catered for. It would also go a long way towards alleviating the shortage of teachers with fluent Irish, as there would be fewer students studying Irish and thus less demand for teachers of that description.

    An alternative remedy is something which Cathal has cooked up. He seems to be very much in favour of a regimented ‘Language Awareness’ programme i.e. an overdose of indoctrinating measures designed to give the appearance of a user-friendly language. I bet students will feel that they’re lumbered with enough aural garbage as it is – an additional ball and chain is hardly likely to cultivate within the students, a love for the language.

    “a few years back, having partaken of some liquid refreshment in Galway, I translated Mna as being an anagram of Man and wound up highly embarressed.”

    There is an undeniable logic to working it out that way, especially if you’re a hardcore fan of cryptic crosswords! On a more serious note, I actually like the discrete usage of the words Fir and Mna. I’ve seen it in plenty of restaurants in Dublin city centre for instance – the Hare Krishna restaurant on Aungier Street (Govindas I think its called) and Thai Orchid on Westmoreland Street to name a few. It illustrates quite neatly how fond we are for euphemism – all part and parcel of a polite society, no matter how much confusion it causes 😉

  • Keith M

    I think that Fine Gael have got it right on this one, Irish Gaelic should be compulsory until the group cert (O levels) but after that students should have the option of dropping it. Also the whole way the language is taught should be changed. The language should be combined with pre 20th Century Irish history, music and folklore in an “Irish studies” curriculum.

    For all the emotion in the original article, one thing needs to be stated. The primary function of language is to allow people to communicate, in Ireland the only language which allows this is English. That has been the way for as long as people remember and it won’t change in the future.

  • PS

    Going to school in the 6 counties, Irish was never mandatory for either GCSE or A Level but it was still one of the most popular subjects and attracted greater numbers than any other non-compulsory subject.

  • Nathan
    “Lets put whataboutery to one side for the moment,”

    Whataboutery???
    You claim it has had “corrosive effects upon alot of people”, I am right it point out that it also has no such effect on a lot of other people.

    What about the students who suffer from dyslexia and other learning difficulties”

    And how big a percentage of the student population is that? A “mere segment”.

    “whereas if Irish were optional, they could have excelled in another subject of their choice”

    I don’t buy that for a second. In fact I think it is utter bull to suggest someone with a learning difficulty would excel in other subjects if only they could drop Irish. Nonsense Nathan. Why not drop Religion? Or Commerce? Or Mechanical Drawing?
    The number of subjects is not the problem with such students.

    “Even more common …
    Surely, this tells its own story and needs urgent attention.”

    Quite correct. But the problem is not with the Irish language. If you look at it honestly you will see that all language teaching in Ireland is sub-standard. The fault here is NOT with the Irish language it is with our poor education system. Irish is just and easy target for people.

    “This almost absolute absence of any functional context for Irish once the Leaving is over, sways the balance firmly in favour of an optional package for Irish at LC.”

    But the same applies to other subjects too. Of the 7 subjects I did for LC Maths was the only one I used in college. Should ALL subjects be optional for leaving cert? Truth is, most subjects we learn in school will not be used again after LC.

    “I bet students will feel that they’re lumbered with enough aural garbage as it is – an additional ball and chain is hardly likely to cultivate within the students, a love for the language. ”

    Speaking of ball and chains. Most of the English we do in school is reading novels or learning poems or plays. What is the point of all that? Why not drop that too after all we do need to improve our English skills? Wasting time reading shakespeare won’t do much for us.
    And religions studies which is another few hours wasted per week? Perhaps we could also drop one foreign language? I learned two foreign languages and have never needed either despite numerous visits to both countries.

    Keith
    “The language should be combined with pre 20th Century Irish history, music and folklore in an “Irish studies” curriculum.”

    Why??

    “in Ireland the only language which allows this is English.”

    Untrue. People communicate all the time in Ireland in a multitude of languages, including Irish.
    Do you support the dropping of foreign languages in school?

  • Keith M

    Maca, “why”, because it actually might appeal to students and also help cover areas which are neglected in the current points race.

    Of course SOME people communicate in other languages, but English is the only language that allows almost everyone to do so. As Irish Gaelic slips further and down the ranking of most commonly spoken languages in this country, it’s important that we set the context for its preservation properly. We must forget the previous generations idealistic notion of a fully bilingual country and recognise reality.

  • gg

    Living in Europe (the mainland that is) I meet people all the time with amazing skills in English and for many of them it’s a second, third or even fourth language, yet they learn it to a very high level in a short enough space of time. What are we doing wrong?

    Having taught English to school pupils on the continent I firmly believe that those who learn it well feel it is useful and even necessary to do so. This is not just from a business point of view, but also culturally, where many “cool” things come from English-speaking countries. Another issue is that there is much more contact with the language in the media (and therefore everyday life) due to its perceived “coolness”.

    Make Irish into something which you have to toil over for very little perceived gain, and you put people right off it. This applies to every language.

    The language should be combined with pre 20th Century Irish history, music and folklore in an “Irish studies” curriculum.

    This is a fantastic idea. Giving context to something very often serves to make it relevant, and therefore seen as worth learning.

  • Keith
    “because it actually might appeal to students and also help cover areas which are neglected in the current points race.”

    But if the point is to develop students ability to actually speak the language then I’m not convinced this is the right way. A much better idea would be to promote Irish medium schools IMO, you could still have your “Irish Studies” class if needed.

    “but English is the only language that allows almost everyone to do so”

    Of course, English is the #1 world language. Should we stop teaching French, German & Spanish too? After all, most of us will use them as much/as little as we use Irish.

  • GG
    The problem here is that Irish is an easy target for people because it’s preceived by some as less important that other languages, attacking Irish takes away from the bigger issue: language education in Ireland is shit!
    There’s no language taught in Ireland which is “cool” to learn.(afaik) I was forced to also learn French and German in school. The “coolest” thing about learning those languages was that the German teacher was good looking. The educaiton itself which we received was boring and uninspiring and in these cases I studied as little as possible.
    This is the real problem and this is where we should be focussing our energies IMO.

  • Ishmael Whale

    An earlier comment repeats the mistaken belief that English and Maths are compulsory Leaving Cert subjects. Irish is the only compulsory Leaving Cert subject. This compulsion makes no sense, and serves only to continue the sacrifice of the our educational system in the name of cultural fervour. Tom Garvin’s book ‘Preventing the Future’ documents how the language revival movement stunted the country’s development by putting their agenda ahead of our children’s educational needs. It’s time to call a halt to this nonsense. Let people who love the language study and speak it. Leave the rest of us in peace and maybe, in time, we will be able to relate to the language in a neutral way.

    But for as long as its compulsory, the language will be resented by many.

    [quote]http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/senior_cycle_options.pdf?language=EN The majority of senior cycle students take the established Leaving Certificate. Achievement in the Leaving Certificate examination is the basis upon which places in third level institutions are allocated. …. Students taking the established Leaving Certificate programme must take at least five subjects, of which one must be Irish.[/quote]

  • Ishmael
    “documents how the language revival movement stunted the country’s development by putting their agenda ahead of our children’s educational needs. It’s time to call a halt to this nonsense.”

    The country is doing pretty ok now doncha think?
    How does Tom Garvin explain that one?

    “But for as long as its compulsory, the language will be resented by many.”

    It will always be resented by a few narrow minded people who see it as a peasant language.

  • Btw Ismael
    In most schools English & maths are also compulsory. Along with Irish they make up the three core subjects. They weren’t optional when I went to school. Also I think a foreign language is compulsory too.

  • Brian Boru

    “I think that Fine Gael have got it right on this one, Irish Gaelic should be compulsory until the group cert (O levels) but after that students should have the option of dropping it. Also the whole way the language is taught should be changed. The language should be combined with pre 20th Century Irish history, music and folklore in an “Irish studies” curriculum.

    For all the emotion in the original article, one thing needs to be stated. The primary function of language is to allow people to communicate, in Ireland the only language which allows this is English. That has been the way for as long as people remember and it won’t change in the future.”

    No. FG have got it wrong on this one. I agree that the Irish subject syllabus needs a RADICAL overhaul. The 17th century poems need to be ripped out and the fixation with grammar over conversational Irish has to stop. I probably know French better than Irish. In fact, I may sound slightly hypocritical here since I got an exemption from sitting Irish at the Leaving Cert (A-levels) exams. But it was the way it was thought in Secondary school that was so irritating and I agree it made generations of students resentful of the language. However, I recall that in 1992 when I was sent to an Irish language school outside of the Secondary school system that I emerged with a far better grasp of conversational Irish, so much so that my teacher there said I had attained Leaving Cert standard. The relevant school soon closed and the person who taught us then went up to work as a Dail Irish language translator. Years later, after mind-numbingly boring and ineffective teaching methods for Irish, I cannot understand what the woman on Nuacht (Irish language news on RTE) is talking about. I can grasp certain words, but I have to guess what she is saying based on that alone.

    There are 3 keys to reviving the language:

    A: Change the teaching method to emphasise spoken Irish over written Irish. In particular, remove the endless poems e.g. Mise Raftaire an file etc. Humans tend not to converse in poems.

    B: Start teaching them this early on in their first school years, as scientists have discovered that small children pick up a new language much quicker (hence our fleuncy in English in the English-speaking world), compared to when in the teenager years.

    C: Take school-children on school trips to the Gaeltacht to converse with people in the remaining 12,000 households that still use Irish as their first language.

    Then we might start to make progress. In particular, we should learn from the Welsh, whose native language (Welsh) is still the first language over 336,000 people. It is a damning indictment of current policy in Ireland that when the South became independent, 240,000 people still spoke Irish as their first language, compared to perhaps 20,000-40,000 now.

  • George

    Ishmael,
    you are mistaken.

    True, five subjects must be taken in the established Leaving Certificate.

    Irish, English and Mathematics are all required subjects for the Irish Leaving certificate, they are not compulsory.

    Your post merely points out that Irish is one of them.

    Difference between compulsory and required I hear you ask?

    Required means that if you decide not to do Irish you will only be graded on four subjects rather than five, thus you will have a lower point total.

    Compulsory means you have to do Irish.

  • Aonghus

    I think a number of related but different issues are being confused here.

    1) Language is primarily a means of communication – but not solely. It is also a means of expressing and living emotion. Also, communication is not solely contempary. I would, for example, find it hard to take a historian of medieval europe who had no latin seriously. Similarly, a student of Irish history will be at a disadvantage if he/she lacks Irish.

    2) Education is not training – technical knowledge is subject to rapid change. For example, I have been an embedded programmer since I left college. In that time I have used PL/M, C, several scripting languages, and several flavours of assembler. I doubt I could have been usefully taught any of that at school, and little of it at university.

    I think one of the strength of the Irish leaving cert is the broad range of subjects students are exposed to. However, it is almost always the school which chooses the range of subjects available, and the student can pick within that range. That is why most schools choose French as the foreign language, with the result that other languages which would be of more economic benefit for the country suffer.

    The difference between the continent and Ireland (and to some degree the UK) is that langauge teachers on the continent have spent a long time immersed in the target language, and are fluent.

    Conradh na Gaeilge’s education policy aims at making immersion for teachers of all languages necessary for qualification.

    A somewhat rambling post, I’m afraid.

  • páid

    an interesting debate. Often I notice debates on the irish language quickly degenerate into personal abuse; i put this down to the fact that gaeilge is often at the core of a person’s identity. or not as the case may be. thus if irish is denigrated or someone’s lack of irish is denigrated, things quickly boil over. personally i think gaeilge should be made optional…but this should be done as a last step in a language education overhaul, not the first. however i realise that this is not a snappy simple headline-grabbing solution. i wonder if enda kenny is a bit shocked by the polls that support for compulsory irish is strongest amongst younger age groups. I think one thing is slowly becoming clear…this gaeilge revival stuff is increasingly looking like seriously unfinished business.

  • Brian Boru

    I reject the comparisons with Latin. Latin is geniunely a dead lamguage, whereas 12,000 households down here still speak Irish as the language of the home.

  • Crataegus

    I also think compulsion is wrong and could be counter productive.

    The main reason why Irish is reviled by many children is they don’t see it as being relevant and resent the imposed rigging of structures to try to make it so. Let us face it Irish is not a subject that most actually NEED to make their way in life.

    We are quite happy to let pupils leave education without the slightest idea how the car or the plumbing at home works or even basic economics. Why not make horticulture or First Aid compulsory or place greater emphasis on music? There are lots of worthwhile subjects so why Irish?

    There are many reasons why Welsh is more robust, and I think it is a combination of geography and social structures. In Wales the Welsh Chapels and other institutions spoke Welsh and acted as anchors. In Ireland the Church in times past spoke Latin. If you want to save Irish look first at the social and economic networks in the areas that still speak Irish or it will die. Having it as a second language in Dublin is tokenism. Go down that road and it will go the way of Latin.

    I agree that we need to improve how we teach all languages.

    Because my great great great great great grandfather may have spoken Irish is not a good enough reason for me to compel my childern to learn to do the same. To me an ability to unpick a few place names seems of fairly peripheral value and poor compensation for the time spent.

    Are we so insecure that we have to hang to the trappings of a time that has passed? Would it make sense for every child in Britain to be able to sit down and read the Venerable Bede in its original form or those in Egypt to read the hieroglyphs? It is good that those with interest are able to do so, and there are plenty of people in Ireland who have an interest in Irish so get on with it, but please don’t inflict your interests on those who may not share them.

    We often mistake our History with our culture. Our culture is the here and now and trying to rewrite or erase the consequence of history is at best misguided. We are a country where the predominant language is English and that ability coupled with low corporation tax is closely tied to our current economic success. Do we hate the English so much that we cannot come to terms with that reality? Do we prefer myth to reality?

    Politically it is a hot potato and what a mistake that is. We have to stop using it as a political weapon in the Northern context. All the restrictions requiring Irish could become a big obstacle to a United Ireland.

    Language is about enabling people to communicate. I passionately wish that the world would adopt a common second language and I don’t mean the main economic language which is now English but could be Chinese in the near future. It could be Esperanto, Latin or whatever because none of us live long enough to learn even a fraction of the languages spoken. The stronger the international language the more diverse the local languages can be.

  • Aonghus

    Brian,
    I was not directly comparing Irish to Latin in that way. I was pointing out that reducing a language to contempary verbal communication only is wrong.

    Crategus,
    the goal of most Irish speakers, myself included, is not the replacement of English by Irish, but a confident, multilingual community.

    Finland has a similar policy of teaching all children Finnish and Swedish – and Finns often go on to learning many languages. Not to mention their economic and technical success – how many of you have a Nokia phone?

    I think some perspective is required on the term compulsory – pretty much all school subjects are compulsory in one way or another. Either they are imposed by the State, or by the choice of subjects offered by the school, or by parents, or by the need to qualify for a particular course, or whatever.

  • Crategus
    A few points:

    “Let us face it Irish is not a subject that most actually NEED to make their way in life.”

    The very same applies to most subjects we learn in school. There is not 1 subject I learned in school that I actually NEED in my life (bar English obviously). Maths was the only one I needed for college and I haven’t needed that since college.

    “There are lots of worthwhile subjects so why Irish?”

    Why French? Why Bus Org? Why Technical Drawing?

    “Are we so insecure that we have to hang to the trappings of a time that has passed?”

    Are you saying the time for Irish has passed? As the nations 1st language maybe but it is still the 1st language of a number of our citizens today.

    “Would it make sense for every child in Britain to be able to sit down and read the Venerable Bede in its original form or those in Egypt to read the hieroglyphs?”

    Silly comparisons!

    “Our culture is the here and now”

    And the Irish language is an important part of that culture. It is not history.

    “All the restrictions requiring Irish could become a big obstacle to a United Ireland.”

    All what restrictions?
    A big obstacle? I really doubt it, but so what?

  • páid

    “All the restrictions requiring Irish could become a big obstacle to a United Ireland.”

    is there is an unspoken supposition here that a united ireland is more important than the progression of the irish language, and in particular,the rights of irish speakers to do business with both administrations in irish?

  • Ishmael Whale

    I’m hardly surprised that the reaction to pointing out that Irish has a unique status is being the only compulsory subject involved the usual denial of reality that peppers debate on the official status of Irish. The requirement stated by the Department of Education is only one compulsory subject. I don’t doubt that within that policy, schools offer whatever programmes they offer. Some schools teach through the medium of Irish. That’s hardly required by the syllabus, but a matter of choice for the school and the parents who opt to send their children there. Choice is what this is about. No-one has suggested an actual reason as to why people who choose not to study the language should have it forced on them.
    Tom Garvin’s book is useful in revealing the background to the mindset of Irish language activists, which some may be unaware of themselves. The essence of their view is that education takes second place to the status of the language. Hence, the easy accepts by such activists that our current prosperity means there is no need for further change. OECD surveys show our educational standards are mediocre. A contributing factor to this is the considerable resources wasted by failing to teach people Irish. The way out of this is to start from the assumption that schools are about education, and not providing jobs for Irish teachers.

  • Ishmael
    “involved the usual denial of reality”

    But it appears that here YOU are denying the reality. Because as far as the student is concerned, the reality is if they attend a school where there are 3 core languages + a foreign language for LC (most schools), then they have no choice but to study those 4 subjects. That was the reality when I did LC, 3 core subjects and a foreign language were compulsory. The situation is the same today.

    “A contributing factor to this is the considerable resources wasted by failing to teach people Irish.”

    I really doubt this. Can you back it up?

    “The way out of this is to start from the assumption that schools are about education, and not providing jobs for Irish teachers.”

    The way out is an overhaul of our education system especially with regard to our language teaching.

    Making Irish optional will not magically solve Ireland’s education problems, so these arguments which focus on Irish being the problem are nonsense. Remove Irish as a compulsory subject and the very same problems we have will remain.

  • aonghus

    OECD surveys show our educational standards are mediocre.

    Care to back that up with facts, Ishmael?
    The PISA reports show us fairly high up the scale.
    Finland is ahead of us – they are more thorough in the teaching of their “compulsory” language.

    PISA studies also show Irish medium schools at the top of the range of Irish schools; something backed up by the tables of schools sending students to third level.

  • Daugavas

    “Living in Europe (the mainland that is) I meet people all the time with amazing skills in English and for many of them it’s a second, third or even fourth language, yet they learn it to a very high level in a short enough space of time. What are we doing wrong?”

    I think your question gets to the nub of the issue. Why do Scandinavians in particular speak such good English , even when it is normally a third language for many of them?

    The answer is simple, English is culturally dominant : travel throughout Europe and every nightclub, cafe bar and radio station will have a fair proportion of English music. English is also the language of business. So for many who speak a language like Finnish or Swedish there is major pressure to know English well if they want to travel, work in international companies and generally be understood.

    I think the reverse of this is that those who have English as a mother tongue will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to learning languages as the compulsion element is lacking and you can often scrape by on holidays without making any effort to learn the local lingo.

    For example I live in Latvia and while my Latvian and Russian skills are fairly shit it doesn’t really matter as in every public place and especially in the service industry there will always be someone who speaks English, no matter how basic.

    With all the good intention in the world Irish will always be in that disadavantageous situation of being unnecessary for economic reasons and of much lesser importance for cultural enjoyment.

    Reversing that would need massive economic intervention which I can’t see coming in the near future. It would mean for example compulsory interviews in Irish for public sectors positions, halting the brain drain from the Gaeltacht by making it economically viable to live there for example. How they can achieve that goodness only knows although there are ways eg further tax breaks for investors to set up there etc or even the extreme option of creating a new town/city in the area.

  • Ishmael Whale

    “involved the usual denial of reality” The simple fact is the Department of Education gives a status to Irish in the Leaving Cert that is not shared by any other subject. If this is irrelevant, then removal of that status is hardly a problem for anyone.

    “A contributing factor to this is the considerable resources wasted by failing to teach people Irish.” Irish language teaching takes up a fair portio of the educatio budget, and produces little by way of results. http://www.gaelport.com/index.php?page=clippings&id=49
    [quote]DESPITE spending 13 years learning Irish, at an overall cost of €500m a year, many of our school-leavers are not attaining even a basic fluency in the language. That’s the conclusion of the Irish Language Commissioner, Sean O Cuirreain, who yesterday called for a comprehensive review of all aspects of the teaching and learning of Irish in the educational system. [/quote]

    “The way out of this is to start from the assumption that schools are about education, and not providing jobs for Irish teachers.” The key point is why is there any reason to maintain the compulsion element. No-one has provided any justification for it. Whether we teach Irish well or badly, no-one can explain why it should be compulsory.

    OECD surveys show our educational standards are mediocre. http://www.erc.ie/pisa/P03SummaryReport.pdf
    The PISA reports us as coming 17 place out of 29 OECD countries on maths, 6 out of 29 on reading literacy 13 out of 29 on science and 18 out of 29 for problem solving. Only on reading literacy could we feel this amounts to a good score, so I really can’t understand your problem in acknowledging the plain fact of educational mediocrity, as you seem aware of the PISA data.

    The performance of Irish medium schools is, of course, utterly irrelevant to the question of making Irish compulsory at English medium schools. If you want to get miles off the point we can, of course, raise the question of the extra resources given to Gaelscoils.

  • Brian Boru

    Ishmael Whale, do you not think that if we scrapped compulsory Irish then we would be nothing more than a clone of Britain, with no separate identity of our own?

  • Ishmael Whale

    Firstly, I would indeed query how the Irish language can be regarded as a vital part of Irish identity when so few of us speak it and many of us resent it. Additionally, many Irish people simply don’t feel a need to look over their shoulders to see how different they are from Britain. A weakness of some strands of Republicanism is to assign an importance to Britain that it simply no longer has. Watch an episode of ‘Pimp my Ride UK’ and tell me if the sight of English people pretending to be American gives you any changed perspective on things.

    Secondly, in any case compulsory Irish has failed to promote Irish speaking. It has only created resentment of the language among English speakers. Irish people should be able to see the language as just something that’s there, like GAA or whatever, that goes with the island. The fact that many of us don’t is closely linked to compulsion. Irish language activists have never really engaged with English speakers, and have simply used their grip on the educational system to foist it on us. We have responded, not unsurprisingly, by resisting its imposition. Remove the compulsion and you remove the resistance.

  • aonghus

    I acknowledge that some results are not great, but on language skills we do well (Reading literacy 6 out of 29 is pretty good).

    Bilingualism is a strength in that regard, we need to spread it.

    Gaelscoileanna do not in fact get extra resources, they are resourced the same as any other school.

    The number of people who “resent” irish is probably smaller than the number who speak it, and certainly smaller than the number who feel favourable towards it.

    The solution is not to scrap the alleged compulsory Irish, it is to improve the teaching of it and every other language, to improve language skills.

    It is a mistake to think that because you can get by in Englsih everywhere, that is the only language you need.

    Speaking more than one language has benefits outside the pure area of langauges – I am convinced from personal experience that people with an awareness of several language make better (for example) computer programmers.

    Irish is a language available to anybody in Ireland if they turn on the radio, TV, take a short trip to the west coast etc. It would be a waste not to benefit from that.

    Do you deny that Irish is a language unique to Ireland? Do you think no effort should be made to preserve things unique to Ireland?

  • Ishmael Whale

    I honestly don’t mean to be disrespectful when I say your last post is a collection of the usual old stuff that gets pulled out by Irish language advocates.

    Bilingualism can be great, but it depends on actually succeeding in teaching the second language, which we are not doing. On the OECD, Reading literacy 6 out of 29 is pretty good but the other categories are, as I said, mediocre.

    Gaelscoileanna have a lower pupil teacher ratio, get a better capitation grant and capital grants, but you’re not the first person I’ve met who was unaware of this. You’ll find the pupil teacher ratios here:
    http://www.into.ie/ROI/WorkingConditions/Staffing/StaffingSchedules/

    The arguments regarding the beneficial nature of a second language are well known, but that debate loses itself when people respond that their second language of choice would not be Irish.

    There seems to be a confusion in your mind between the need to retain compulsory Irish and the preservation of the language. I have participated in several discussion on this topic. I have yet to find an Irish language activist who was able to explain how the language benefits from a measure that creates so much resentment.

  • Brian Boru

    Ishmael, while I agree that many many people resented (including me) learning Irish in secondary school, the problem wasn’t the compulsion but the syllabus. I had far more enjoyment at the Irish language school in 1992, as the emphasis was on conversational Irish, instead of poems from the 1600’s or an obsession with grammar. As such, I believe compulsion should remain. Just changes the syllabus. One of the oldest languages in the world deserves protection from cultural imperialism.

  • Ringo

    Am I the only one that finds this thread a little patronising? A dark-skinned lady says something coherent and nice about Irish – and that is taken as being a more valuable addition to the debate than if, say, I was to say it? Even if she was in Canada while we were in school?

    I think there is some merit in what FG are proposing. Look at the Gaelscoileanna – they are not compulsory, yet they are increasing in numbers.

  • CJ

    aonghus

    Your comments serve to confirm my prejudice about being made learn Irish, and toward all those who defend such a system.

    “Do you think no effort should be made to preserve things unique to Ireland?”

    Right. We’ve had 80 years of such an effort, with compulsory Irish in schools at the heart of it, and where has it left the Irish language? In near-terminal decline.

    The key issue, as someone mentioned above, is that of compulsion. If you believe Irish to be an integral part of your culture etc, fine, fire away. But don’t try to justify forcing it down the throats of those of us who don’t share your convictions. If a student has no aptitude or desire to learn this language, then he/ she shouldn’t have to just because people like yourself think its a good idea.

    In fact, compulsory Irish has bred a deep-seated resentment in generations of Irish people. How can you expect people who have spend hundreds of hours doing something they just don’t want to do to have any kind of conection with this “unique” language?

    Clearly something has to be done if the numbers of Irish speakers is to be stabilised. Getting rid of compulsory Irish will help, in that classes will no longer be crammed full of resentful, embittered students (like myself), and those who want to learn will benefit from a more positive, more advanced enviroment.

    And if we can’t save Irish that way, tough. Languages die out only if no-one wants to speak them. We in Ireland just won’t put our mouths where our money id when we come to the Irish language. That is, we’re prepared to subsides Irish language tv and radio, grants for fluent Gaeltacht residents, cushy jobs in quangos to promote it etc, BUT NO-ONE SPEAKS THE BLOODY LANGUAGE. I don’t wish to oversimplify, of course. But as it stands, Irish is propped up artifically by state money and by compulsion in our schools. If it can’t stand on its own two feet, then whats the point?

  • Brian Boru

    “And if we can’t save Irish that way, tough. Languages die out only if no-one wants to speak them. We in Ireland just won’t put our mouths where our money id when we come to the Irish language. That is, we’re prepared to subsides Irish language tv and radio, grants for fluent Gaeltacht residents, cushy jobs in quangos to promote it etc, BUT NO-ONE SPEAKS THE BLOODY LANGUAGE. I don’t wish to oversimplify, of course. But as it stands, Irish is propped up artifically by state money and by compulsion in our schools. If it can’t stand on its own two feet, then whats the point? ”

    Not true. 12,000 households still use it as their first language. The key is to promote speaking Irish in a bilingual Ireland, where court-proceedings should be allowed in Irish etc.

  • Brian Boru

    “The key issue, as someone mentioned above, is that of compulsion. ”

    No. The key problem is the method of teaching it.

  • CJ

    Mr. Boru,

    12,000 households. Great. Many of them get paid for it, might I remind you, which is why I also have a major problem with the whole concept of a Gaeltacht. A significant proportion of those doing sterling work to keep Irish alive, by using it in daily life live outside the Gaeltacht. Why don’t they get a grant?

    Fact is, in our capital city more people have Mandarin Chinese as their first language than Irish. Soon, that will be the same nationwide. And this idea of yours that

    “The key is to promote speaking Irish in a bilingual Ireland, where court-proceedings should be allowed in Irish etc”

    is a load of rubbish, to be frank. There is nothing to stop people conducting their daily business through Irish IF THEY SO CHOOSE. I point you to civil service Irish requirements, Garda Siochana Irish requirment etc. But (world’s smallest violin here) most people just don’t want to. They pay lip-service to it, and in a display of stunning hypocrisy support forcing students to learn a language they won’t use themselves.

    You say that compulsion is not the key issue here. Easy for you to say, my friend. I’m the one studying a language I despise, to the detriment of subjects I could be doing better in. The shoddy syllabus doesn’t help, I’ll grant you- whats the point of studying poetry in a language you can barely grasp?- but even with reform, you can’t escape the fact that you are forcing your ideology, your views on what it is to be Irish, upon people that may hold a different view. The cost of this is to me, not to you.

    Well, I won’t be able to reply to any more of these- compulsory Irish homework calls (I’m not kidding). I can only hope that someone else will carry the flag from here on in.

    That link put up by Ismael Whale is most illuminating, by the way. Do check it out.

  • Brian Boru

    “Fact is, in our capital city more people have Mandarin Chinese as their first language than Irish. Soon, that will be the same nationwide. And this idea of yours that”

    We shouldn’t have gotten ourselves into that situation in the first place. It was government policy to bring them here with looser controls. Many immigrants from developing countries are driving down Irish wages and taking Irish jobs, as CSO figures seem to confirm, with wages going up 2.7% rather than the 4% in the National Wage Deal. Also, the evidence is that so far in the past year, 10,000 Irish jobs have been lost while 8,000 non-nationals have taken some of those jobs.

    When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I do not believe in current government policy on immigration. I agree it appears to contradict the idea of keeping the language alive. The 12,000 are not paid to learn it. They are the last native speakers. British imperialism attempting to make Irish people contemptuous of their native tongue with the usual imperialist propaganda about the supposed “backwardness” of native languages compared to English. We must throw off the inferiority complex some consequently feel about Irish native culture compared to English culture.

    Israel is an example of a country which brought an extinct language (Hebrew) back from the dead. If they can bring back an extinct language, surely there has to be a chance we can save Irish from extinction too? It is in a more fortunate position than Hebrew was in 1948.

  • Brian Boru

    BTW, I meant 12,000 households still use it as their first language, so just correcting myself there.

  • Ishmael Whale

    Brian

    CJ has put the points very fluently. Can I suggest you need to reflect on your position, and consider some of the information above that is obviously news to you, before you make a complete eejit of yourself.

    Compulsory Irish seems to have some kind of iconic value to you and other Irish language activists. You make a vast leap from saying we need to teach the language in a better way to saying it should therefore remain compulsory, as if compulsory Irish was the natural order of things.

    Just ask yourself, quietly, why compulsory Irish? And if you manage to find an answer, share it with us.

  • Aonghus

    Ismael

    Gaelscoileanna have a lower pupil teacher ratio,

    There were 35 children in each of my sons junior infant classes.

    Only recently established Gaelscoileanna, in common with any other recently established scoll, have a lower pupil to teacher ratio.

    Most Gaelscoileanna suffer from overcrowding.

    Gaeltacht schools are in remote rural areas, and so have a lower pupil to teacher ratio than urban schools.

    As for the rest, I have said my piece.
    I believe Maths English and Irish are core subjects, which should be taught to all pupils up to leaving Cert.

  • Brian Boru

    “Just ask yourself, quietly, why compulsory Irish? And if you manage to find an answer, share it with us.”

    To encourage patriotism and to preserve our heritage and culture.

  • Ishmael whale

    Aonghus

    The INTO website clearly states that Gaelscoileanna have an advantageous pupil teacher ratio, so your continued denial of this simple fact is puzzling in the extreme.

    A flat assertion of your belief that Maths English and Irish are core subjects, which should be taught to all pupils up to leaving Cert, does not give a reason for the continuation of the unique position given to Irish. You are essentially saying that people should be compelled to take Irish for the Leaving because of your whim. That doesn’t wash.

    Brian

    At least you are giving a reason why you think Irish should be compulsory, although I can’t see how patriotism, heritage and culture are served by a policy that promotes resentment of the the language. For my own part, I simply think our schools should aim to educate our children, rather than have this aim made secondary to promotion of the language. Clearly Irish should be available as a subject as part of that process, along with history, science and other such good things. But I see no reason to make the language compulsory for Leaving Cert, and would query if you truly feel compulsion is serving the objectives you have mentioned.

  • Brian Boru

    “But I see no reason to make the language compulsory for Leaving Cert, and would query if you truly feel compulsion is serving the objectives you have mentioned. ”

    Not at the moment but it will when the syllabus is changed.

  • J McConnell

    Ishmael whale

    > OECD surveys show our educational standards are mediocre.
    > A contributing factor to this is the considerable resources wasted by failing to teach
    > people Irish.

    Did you see the wonderfully oblique op-ed piece in the Irish Times last week about the continued refusal of the Dept of Education to cooperate with the main comprehensive international survey of primary level educational proficiency in all industrialized countries. What was not spelled out in the op-ed piece was the real reason for the DoE’s refusal to cooperate with the international survey since 1992 – the educational standards achieved by Irish primary school students compare very unfavorably with those in other countries.

    According to an internal report by the DoE that was reported about in Irish Times earlier on in the year, the main reason for the very low standards archived by primary level students was the more than 20% of teaching time spent teaching Irish, a language which less than 1% of student use at home, a language which less than 5% students will use in any meaningful form at any time in their adult lives. A language that is seen by the majority of people as more a social obligation to be suffered (just like going to mass), than something that has any real place or meaning in their daily life.

    Not that I think that compulsory Irish is totally responsible for the very low standards achieved by primary level students. The fact that Irish primary school teachers are among the best paid in the western world and have among the lowest number of hours in spent teaching in the classroom may also has something to do with it…

  • Ling

    “do you not think that if we scrapped compulsory Irish then we would be nothing more than a clone of Britain, with no separate identity of our own?”

    …because that’s just the best reason to have a compulsory language that kids loathe and fail to see the point of.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I would have loved it if I had been sent to an Irish language school at an early enough age that I picked up the language naturaly, but not out of rabid nationalism, but because I feel a bit lame for being mono lingual. I have made the odd attempt at learning a bit more as I have the cupla focal I picked up in my early primary days so I have more of a stab at getting that than any other language. Every time I’ve tried though I’ve been foiled by the fact that there’s no relevant material. I can get TG4 off the net, but it’s all crap to be honest. The reading material available is either very old and irelevant, or Harry Potter.

    When I was at school myself and my classmates would regularly argue with our teachers about the point of learning Irish, we knew there was utterly no use for it from an early age. It’s the language of the old and dead and kids know that. That’s a shame, but not much you can do about it.

    “Many immigrants from developing countries are driving down Irish wages and taking Irish jobs”

    Mmmm, I love the smell of nationalism in the morning!

    “Israel is an example of a country which brought an extinct language (Hebrew) back from the dead. If they can bring back an extinct language, surely there has to be a chance we can save Irish from extinction too?”

    Because, of course, Israel is a country we should all aspire to make our home more like. A true icon of stability, unity and peace.

    “British imperialism attempting to make Irish people contemptuous of their native tongue with the usual imperialist propaganda about the supposed “backwardness” of native languages compared to English. We must throw off the inferiority complex some consequently feel about Irish native culture compared to English culture.”

    Yes yes, it’s all the evil Brits fault, as usual. I for one would rather continue on being who I was brought up as, rather than stare fixedly at the past to some romantic ideal of what I think we should be, or could have been, or whatever it is you think should be going on.

    Perhaps we should throw off the inferiority complex some feel about our current culture compared to ideals based on an Ireland that never quite really existed. That being a free united island of native gaels, blithering in Irish, playing hurling and dancing at the crossroads.

    I, for one, am rather glad that the opressive inward looking isolationist state the Republic of Ireland became after independance is fading as that place wasn’t nice for many people. But that’s somewhat beside the point, the point is let Irish be preserved, encourage children to be able to speak it, do it in ways that work, but foe heavan’s sake don’t force it on people in some effort to make Ireland into something it’s not.

    No use crying over spilt milk and all that.

    (oh and 12,000 households? Well whoopdedoo, there’s a living language if ever there was one. Ever spend time in any of these households or areas? I have, and you know what? The have the ability to speak Irish, but that doesn’t mean they do. Mainly it seems that RnaG is on in the background and not much more, especially with anyone under 50.)

    aonghus
    “Do you deny that Irish is a language unique to Ireland?”

    Ever heard Scottish Gaelic? Sounds an awful lot like my old headmasters ‘Donegal Irish’.

  • aonghus

    \quote{Ever heard Scottish Gaelic? Sounds an awful lot like my old headmasters ‘Donegal Irish’.}

    Ishmael,
    the narrow advantage in pupil teacher ratio is in theory. The 35 kids in my childrens classes are in practice. The puil teacher ratio in all Irish primary schools is acknowlged to be too high

    And Dutch sound like Flemish. They’re related.

    The policy is not wrong. The implementation is. Don’t drop the policy, fix the implementation.

    By the way, I am neither old nor dead, and speak Irish every day!

  • Ishmael Whale

    Firstly, while the pupil teacher ratio in all Irish primary schools is too high, it is simply a fact that Gaelscoils are relatively advantaged. They also receive a higher capitation payment. You may feel uncomfortable with the reality that Gaelscoils are relatively advantaged. I can’t help that – it’s just the way things are.

    I still don’t have a clear picture of what makes the policy right. To me it seems to be a straight disagreement between people like me, who think schools should be about educating children, and people like Brian (and possibly yourself) who think education should take second place to moulding children into someone’s ideal of what it is to be Irish. I’m still unclear as to what makes Brian think he has the right to mould other people’s children into his image of the ‘True Gael’. But I’m not sure that consideration is that high a priority in his mindset.

    In the meantime, as another contributor points out at the end of the last page, our children’s education seems to be suffering so much that officialdom don’t want to participate in international surveys of primary school attainment for fear of what it reveals.

  • aonghus

    No, I think education takes primacy.

    I think a broad education, including a clear sense of who you are and what your history is, and the history of those around you, makes for happier and more successful people.
    Irish, English, Maths – and I would argue – a laboratory/natural science, another language and a humanity, are essential parts of that broad education. Education prepares for training, putting them the other way around is putting the cart before the horse.

    The Irish language is the birthright of everyone on this island; that you prefer, Esau like, the mess of pottage is not ground for a sensible government policy.

    Finland has a similar percentage of Swedish speakers (5-6 %) but Swedish and Finnish are compulsory subjects. The difference is that they are taught there by fluent teachers. Sure, there are a small number of people who gripe about it there too. But it works, and it can work here if the resources (properly trained teachers, better books etc) are used.

    There has been improvement – that is borne out by the fact that in two recent surveys, one for Fine Gael and the other for Foinse, a majority of 18-24 year olds were in favour of compulsory Irish for the leaving Cert.

    We’re going round in circles – I don’t have time to address each detail of your argument, and you seem to ignore most of the detail of mine, so I’m going to leave it there.

  • Ishmael Whale

    “The Irish language is the birthright of everyone on this island; that you prefer, Esau like, the mess of pottage is not ground for a sensible government policy.” Again, this is simply assertion and provides no explanation why someone would be compelled to take Irish for the Leaving Cert. It is pure fantasy to describe the view that the primary job of schools is education, rather than cultural engineering, as a ‘mess of pottage’.

    “Finland has a similar percentage of Swedish speakers (5-6 %) but Swedish and Finnish are compulsory subjects. “ And, as you half acknowledge, ‘Yoke Swedish’ provokes much the same resentment.

    “We’re going round in circles – I don’t have time to address each detail of your argument, and you seem to ignore most of the detail of mine, so I’m going to leave it there.” In fact, I have provided detail that you have found uncomfortable to assimilate, such as the relatively advantaged resourcing of Gaelscoils. This is why you find yourself running out of things to say.

    I think it will be a long time before you even become conscious of the massive assumptions you are making. Hopefully this exchange will help you on your way, because we truly need people to start looking at the actual needs of the country instead of tilting at windmills.

  • George

    Ishmael,
    the elite Protestant fee-paying schools of Ireland get 100% funding even for new buildings.

    The Gaelscoileanna do get extra funding but are non-fee paying and over-subscribed.

    They have been a resounding success. Why would you have an issue with this?

    With the abolition of third-level fees, most middle-class parents send their children to fee-paying schools, leaving many schools in poorer areas empty and underachieving.

    Gaelscoileanna give many poorer families at least the opportunity to send their children to a school that achieves results.

    Of the 13 non-fee-paying schools in the top 25 list of feeder schoools to Irish universities, no fewer than six are Gaelscoileanna.

    Surely, we should be advocating more gaelscoileanna. At least they are delivering and delivering for all social classes.

    Would you advocate we remove the funding benefits from the Protestant schools too?

  • Aodh Mac Aingil

    As a young student I think that many middle aged people need to realise that the methods of teaching the language have changed since they were at school. There is much more emphasis put on the spoken language and its life and vibrancy. The old style of dry grammatical theory from the Christian Brothers’ Text Books – which caused so much resentment – is gone. This is the reason support for compulsory Irish is so high among 18-24 year olds, I seriously doubt if Enda Kenny asked anyone under the age of thirty before coming up with this policy.

  • You guys have been busy.
    I don’t know why people keep harping on about Irish being compulsory creating all this resentment. Personally I think that is bullshit. It’s not the compulsory nature of Irish which causes resentment among *some* students, it’s the way the language is taught.
    Do the same people resent French or German? Probably not yet those langages are also compulsory for many.

    If Ishmael and others are actually worried about the education system they should be looking at the real problems.

    Btw, there was a poll not so long ago on Irishjobs.ie, only 25% of respondants said that Irish should not be compulsory in school. And more than half of the respondants thought Irish was an important part of their identity. Something to think about.

    Aisling
    “Every time I’ve tried though I’ve been foiled by the fact that there’s no relevant material.”

    You obviously didn’t look too hard. There’s lots of material out there, if you were interested you’d find it.

  • Ishmael Whale

    If you check back, I’m not saying anything about removing the advantaged position of Gaelscoils. The problem was another contributor initially denied they got any special treatment, and then spent a long time trying to avoid acceptance of the simple, documented fact that they do.

    I’d be perfectly happy if Irish language activists accepted the extra benefits given by the community to assist them in their choice to afford a high priority to Irish in their children’s education, and left the rest of us with the freedom to choose where Irish would fit into our lives. However, there looks to be a long journey ahead before they’ll see sense on this issue.

    However, I really can’t see any reason for giving extra resources to Protestant schools.

    At the risk of provoking another lengthy discussion, I don’t really see Gaelscoils as provided educational opportunities to poorer families. My picture is more that Gaelscoils tend not to get enrolments from children who might be deemed to have educational disadvantages. But, to be honest, if unlike the previous contributor you are willing to at least admit that Gaelscoils are relatively advantaged I’m happy enough to leave it there.

  • Ishmael Whale

    Maca. Oh dear.

    What is the problem in simply accepting that Irish has a unique compulsory status in the educational system, not shared by any other subject, that needs to be justified?
    And we are worried about the problems in the educational system. A significant block to progess is the advocacy of Irish language activist, who put cultural engineering ahead of education.

  • Ishmael
    “What is the problem in simply accepting that Irish has a unique compulsory status in the educational system, not shared by any other subject, that needs to be justified?”

    How does that answer my post?
    Why does it need to be justified and not the other required subjects? The state has chosen to support the language (supported by many citizens I might add) and this is reflected in the educaton policy.
    And again focussing on this issue doesn’t get you any closer to solving the bigger issues with our education system.

    “And we are worried about the problems in the educational system.”

    Then tackle those problems!! Making Irish optional for LC won’t solve those.

  • Ishmael whale

    Irish is the only compulsory subject. Check the earlier posts in this thread. That’s why the justification is needed.

    Several people have told us how important the language is to them. No-one has given a reason why their preference should be enforced on people who don’t share that view. It’s as simple as that.

  • Ishmael
    “Irish is the only compulsory subject. Check the earlier posts in this thread”

    Check back yourself. As posted a number of times here there are 3 core subjects & a foreign language which are required. Check the link I posted earlier.

    The majourity of people support the Irish language and as recent polls have shown the majourity also favour Irish being compulsory. The state is also committed to supporting the language. That’s the current situation, if you want it to change then you’re free to argue your case.

  • Ishmael Whale

    The link you posted is, as already mentioned, the link to a particular school. As, I thought, had been established we are talking about the unique status granted by the Dept of Education. If this is irrelevant, as already said, there can hardly be a problem with simply removing it and letting schools continue within that new reality.

    Appeals to majorities seems strange in this context. You could hardly envisage a popular vote on what should be on next years Maths syllabus. If you take a step back, you might consider that your comment unlines the way in which Irish is compulsory for political reasons rather than education. (In any case, as you are no doubt aware, there’s a dodgy telephone poll doing the rounds suggest a majority for retention and another commission by Fine Gael suggesting the opposite.)

    What I’m looking for is a reason that could be given to explain to someone why they are compelled to take Irish for the Leaving Cert. Clearly you don’t have such a reason so, following the usual appraoch of the Irish language lobby, you are falling back on your stranglehold on the educational system and saying ‘we don’t need to explain why, because we can force it on people anyway.’

  • Ishmael
    “I thought, had been established we are talking about the unique status granted by the Dept of Education”

    That’s what you’re talking about. The reality is what we should be looking at surely?

    “If this is irrelevant…”

    If this is irrelevant why bother changing it? If this is irrelevant why waste time arguing about it? Why not focus on REAL problems in the education system??

    “If you take a step back, you might consider that your comment unlines the way in which Irish is compulsory for political reasons rather than education”

    No.
    It may be part political (i.e. shouldn’t citizens learn their national language? Shouldn’t we promote one of the key aspects of our culture?) but also I believe the learning of ANY language is advantageous. The more languages the better I say, and with Irish we are in a position to provide much better education than we are with foreign languages. That we fail to do so is a problem with our education system which we should be looking at.

    “there’s a dodgy telephone poll…”

    And a third poll done recently which shows 59% of respondants think Irish should be compulsory.

    “Clearly you don’t have such a reason so”

    I certainly have my own reasons why I think it should remain compulsory, for now.
    I don’t know who you think I am but I don’t have any stranglehold over the education system, unless when you say “you” you mean the majourity of Irish citizens.

  • Dutch

    I agree that language teaching in Ireland in general is terrible. Most Irish people I know cannnot have a functional conversation in any language other than English.

    There are many reasons for this including:
    a) The fact that English grammar is not taught makes it very hard to get to grips with the concept of grammar in Irish or French or whatever. My own knowledge of grammar comes from having had a good French teacher – that is just crazy.

    b) Irish people are not normally forced to speak any other langauage. The natural laziness of English speakers stops them practicing Irish, French etc. when they get a chance.

    c) There is no atteantion to the linguistics or language awareness as somebody already mentioned.

    I was lucky in having had good language teachers so I spoke Irish and French very well on leaving school. With these languages in the bag learning other languages like Dutch and Spanish has proven quite easy.

    Right now I am learning Japanese and having knowledge of Irish is a fantastic help in getting to grips with Japanese word order and expression.

  • Ishmael Whale

    Maca
    I’ve already spent a long time simply getting another contributor to accept the simple documented fact that Gaelscoils get preferential treatment. It’s more than a little disappointing to find a similar level of evasion in simply acknowledging that Irish has a unique status in the educational system.

    The State needs a reason to place obligations on its citizens. If, as you seem to be agreeing, the official status of Irish is an irrelevance to its uptake in schools, why indeed are you wasting time arguing about it?

    I’m glad you are acknowledging that the position of Irish is political, and your search for a political mandate from polls illustrates that it’s the political imperative that drives the issue rather than educational needs. You might reflect on the fact that the same could not be said for other subjects. There’s nothing wrong with people learning what they regards as their national language, or promotion of what some people feel is a key part of their culture. The issue is, of course, what happens when others feel the language is not a key part of their lives. Why compel them?

  • Dutch

    Aonghus,

    I just wanted to take you up on one point. You use the example of compulsory Swedish in Finnish schools as a shining example of multilingualism. I don’t know how familiar you are with Finland but I have been there on several occasions. As I had a Swedish speaking girlfriend I learned to speak Swedish at a basic level.
    In my experience a Finnish-speaking Finn that can speak reasonable Swedish is a major exception. Most Finnish speakers hate having to learn Swedish and see no great value in being able to communicate with the 6% of Swedish speakers in Swedish because all of that 6% also speaks Finnish.
    In fact in any group in Finland where Finnish and Swedish speakers are mixed it is always the protocol to speak Finnish. I just wonder if your opinion is based on statistics you have read or on a different personal experience in Finland.

    Also, Flemish is Dutch it is not just related. Standard Dutch is agreed by the Nederlandse Taalunie consisting of representatives from Holland, Belgium and Surinam. The local dialects in Flanders are unlike standard Dutch but that is also true of dialects in Holland in places like Limburg or Zeeland.

    Afrikaans is a different language because it evolved away from Dutch and they did not join the taalunie. Scots Gaelic evolved from Irish Gaelic in the same way so Afrikaans was a better example to use. It might sound like Ulster Gaelic but it many different words, different spelling and literature that Irish Gaelic speakers cannot just pick for a quick read.

  • Ishmael
    “It’s more than a little disappointing to find a similar level of evasion in simply acknowledging that Irish has a unique status in the educational system.”

    It’s you who are being evasive. I’ve no problem accepting that Irish may be unique on paper but it doesn’t change the fact that there are 3 core languages & a foreign language which are required in schools. Doncha think that’s a bit more relevant to the folks actually sitting the exams?

    “I’m glad you are acknowledging that the position of Irish is political, and your search for a political mandate from polls illustrates that it’s the political imperative that drives the issue rather than educational needs.”

    Perhaps you could re-read my post. It’s poor form to twist my words in an attempt to win the argument.

    Dutch
    “Most Finnish speakers hate having to learn Swedish”

    You sure it’s most? Most Finns I know are simply not bothered too much by it. I’ve spoken to few who actually hate it.

  • Indeed, why compel them and why stop at Irish in the upheaval?

    Whether we like it or not, there are (or were!) four core subjects on which entry to university is based, regardless of titles like “obligatory”, “compulsory” or “mandatory”. These include(d) English, Irish, Maths and in 99% of cases, French.

    Following through on your logic, why force feed children with Shakespeare, Yeats and Kavanagh during English studies when they are by and large of little practical use to us in our day to day lives and effectively ruins what should be a pleasure better appreciated during adult life?

    Why insist on developing a rudimentary knowledge of a European language that a majority of Anglophones stubbornly refuse to exploit through embarassment or laziness when all “foreigners” speak English?

    Calculating the mortgage repayment on a loan is probably the most complex mathematical task in most of our lives. Do we need to study Maths beyond Junior Cert to achieve this level and if not, why waste time on calculus and trigonometry used only in specialist fields, for e.g. engineering.

    I for one detested imposed subjects that I’d no interest in whatsoever. However if we’re going to criticise the study of Irish at Leaving Cert, by all means feel free to do so without limiting yourselves to one particular subject. For better or for worse, a line has been drawn in the sand by our universities and we must abide by their rules (or of course campaign for a change!).

    Concerning An Ghaeilge herself, it is no surprise that there is some resentment given the methods employed by our education system. Out of the four cornerstones of language learning (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking), the emphasis is quite clearly on grammar, reading and basic writing, effectively treating it as a dead language and consigning it to our ‘language dustbins’. What child would want to speak a language not spoken at school and taught by teachers devoid of enthusiasm?

    I only hope that things have improved for the better in all these subjects from my Leaving Cert days!

  • Dutch

    Maca,
    Mea culpa, hate is probably too strong a word but most Finnish speakers I have asked about this resent having to learn Swedish which is not very useful when they could spend the same time learning Spanish.

    I have personally tried to convince them of the error of their ways given that Swedish is such a beautiful language but, as many Irish language fans experience, my appeals fell on deaf ears.

  • Ishmael Whale

    Maca

    I’m not twisting your words when I point out that your desire to see a popular mandate for your view illustrates that it is a political imperative that drives compulsion, rather than educational needs. I’m making an assessment of the significance of what your are saying.

    If you regard this as only a paper change, do I take it you have no objection?

  • Ishmael, I think Irish, taught properly, can be of great benefit to Irish kids which is the main reason i’d like to see more promotion & better teaching of the language in school.

    Dutch
    I’ve also tried to convince a few myself, didn’t have much luck. 🙂

  • Ishmael Whale

    I think evreyone would subscribe to Irish being taught properly. Putting it another way, clearly no-one is advocating it should be taught badly.

    But you still seem reluctant to turn the corner on compulsion. If you see it as purely a paper thing, why not simply let it go?

  • Ishmael,

    Why have compulsion removed for Irish only? As I tried to explain earlier, your argument could equally be applied to all of the subjects required for university entrance.

    Personally, I could live with the compulsory nature of Irish being removed but only if and when the language is being taught properly and the language is given equitable treatment with respect to the other core subjects. Otherwise youngsters will drop the subject for the wrong reasons.

  • Ishmael Whale

    There seems to be a genuine hole in the middle between where we’re each coming from, which hasn’t yet been filled. (and I’m not blaming you for this, or canonising myself for the wonderous clarity of all of my contributions).

    One gap seems to be where we start out from. It makes no sense to me to pose the question ‘Why have compulsion removed for Irish only?’, as Irish is the only compulsory Leaving Cert subject as per the Department of Education. Also, you don’t need a reason to remove a State imposed obligation. You need one to continue it.

    I haven’t checked, but my picture of subjects required for university entrance is that colleges are allowed to vary in what exactly they require for admission to different faculties. That is simply a different question, and certainly there is no comparison between compulsory Leaving Cert Irish and say the obligation to have two science subjects and honours maths if you want to do engineering. If a particular college regards Irish or a foriegn language as a criterion for general entry, that’s essentially their business.

    Trying to equate these two things may very well seem reasonable to you. But, from my perspective, it looks like an utterly artificial argument. And, to be honest, if you reflect on your position I think you will see this.

  • Ishmael Whale

    Incidently, I just did a quick check. You seem to need Irish to go to NUI colleges, but not to go to TCD. TCD also seems to accept Latin in lieu of Maths, and as simultaneously satisfying the need for a foreign language. So the idea that Irish, English, Maths and a foreign language is some kind of de facto standard does not actually hold.

    http://www.nui.ie/entry/default.asp#ex_irish_third_lang

    http://www.tcd.ie/assets/documents/other/admission_requirements_2006.pdf

  • Ishmael,

    Cheers, you beat me to it and I was checking out these web sites myself. I also checked for DCU. So to resume the minimum requirements:
    DCU: Mathematics AND English or Irish.
    (See http://www.dcu.ie/registry/entry.shtml#leaving)
    NUI: Irish, English and third language
    TCD: English
    … (I haven’t looked for the rest)

    So there seems to be only a de facto requirement for English. For most of us though, even if there is no particular requirement for Maths, Irish or a third language for some universites, there is no real choice but to study the four subjects to keep our options open and to have a realistic chance of obtaining a university place. Most people can ill afford to limit themselves to one uni. So it seems like we’re targetting the wrong language for criticism 🙂

    Although it is undoubtedly the case given its highlighting by Endy Kenny, I couldn’t fine on the Dept of Education web site where Irish is compulsory at Leaving Cert. Could anyone point me to a link?

    Thanks.

  • BTW I agree 100% with what you said concerning “the obligation to have two science subjects and honours maths”. What I was trying to express was that irrespective of Dept of Ed requirements, the obligation is on most of us to study the ‘big four’ if we intend obtaining a university place.

    I admit that I’ve drifted slightly off the subject from Leaving Cert compulsory Irish to Uni entrance requirements but the two are inherently linked.

  • Ishmael Whale

    Just to add another, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology require Maths combined with either English or Irish. So, depending on the third level college, there is no absolute requirement to have any particular subject. Drop Maths, Irish and drop any foreign language but take Latin and you can go to TCD, drop English but take Maths and Irish and you can go to GMIT, equally with no need to do a foreign language.

    I don’t doubt there’s other options out there, but this should surely be enough to illustrate that, in fact, the ‘big four’ are not actually a de facto requirement.

    http://www.gmit.ie/prospective_students/prospectus2005/entry/ADMISSIONS/index.html

    But the key question is, indeed, how the unique compulsory status of Irish can be justified. I found the compulsory Irish requirement here:

    http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/senior_cycle_options.pdf?language=EN

    “The majority of senior cycle students take the established Leaving Certificate. Achievement in the Leaving Certificate examination is the basis upon which places in third level institutions are allocated. …. Students taking the established Leaving Certificate programme must take at least five subjects, of which one must be Irish.”

  • George

    Merely an FYI. From NUI entry requirements:

    “Exemption from Irish for candidates born in Northern Ireland/United Kingdom

    With effect from 2005, candidates from Northern Ireland/United Kingdom presenting GCE/GCSE qualifications will automatically be granted exemption from Irish.”

  • Thanks for the link Ishmael. It was difficult to find a government site with the words written down in black and white. The only justification that I can see for the compulsion is to insist on an Irish cultural aspect to our studies. Perhaps you’re right in that it succeeds only in breeding contempt though I reckon that the contempt is for the most part born out of outdated and inefficient teaching methods.

    What you say is true so, no particular subject is necessary provided one is prepared to limit oneself to a single university. The de facto nature applies for the majority of us who apply for similar courses to various third level institutes to hedge our bets.

    Of course, for someone expecting straight ‘A’s, this isn’t a problem.

  • Ishmael
    “the idea that Irish, English, Maths and a foreign language is some kind of de facto standard does not actually hold.”

    The universities require one thing as you highlight above but most secondary schools still appear to have the 3 core subjects & a foreign language as the default requirements for LC.

  • Ishmael Whale

    Fine, but if that Department of Education document simply said “Students taking the established Leaving Certificate programme must take at least five subjects.” and left it at that, would you have any problem?

    In practical terms, most schools probably will continue to offer much the same subjects, and most students will probably still take Irish to be able to apply for a wider range of third level options. But the offending element of compulsion will be gone (which means gripers like me won’t have much left to complain about.)

  • In the long term, the “offending element of compulsion” could be done away with but people should not lose sight of the fact that the true debate is whether or not it hinders Irish language development. If it does, remove it immediately or if it helps and a growing number of students appreciate it (59% according to the survey cited by Maca), then leave it be. Personally, I feel that the whole issue is a bit of a red herring as if Irish has been studied up to Junior Cert, taking it at L.C. foundation level is not any more difficult.

    In reality, there is no possibility to drop English, Irish, maths or a third language as most secondary schools could not cater for an expanded list of subject combinations.

  • Ah but Ishmael, without gripers then what fun is there? I’d have no-one left to argue with.

  • chasbanner

    compulsory irish helped to make me what i am today:
    A bitter angry loser struggling to hold on to a dead end job