Reflections On . . . the Irish Language and Education
By Freya Feeney
Updated / Wednesday, 17 March 2021 10:17
“Ní hí an teanga féin an fhadhb” a deirtear nuair a thagann an t-ábhar suas i gcomhrá, “ach an tslí a mhúintear ar scoil í.” Tá gach uile dalta Gaelscoile tar éis an ráitéis seo a chloistéail ag pointe éigin, go minic ag teacht ó chara a fhreastlaíonn ar scoil Béarla. Níl mé ábalta a rá leat más seafóid nó más í an fhírinne atá ann, afách, toisc nár fhreastail mé riamh ar rang Gaeilge i scoil Bhéarla. Ach tá mé fiosrach. An bhfuil struchtúr an ranga agus an churaclaim comh tábhachtach agus cumhachtach sin go bhfuil sé ábalta beagnach tír ar fad a chasadh i gcoinne teanga? Tá fhois againn ónar ranganna staire an chumhacht atá ag an gcuraclam agus ag bolscaireacht ar intinn daoine óga. Rinneadh sa 20ú aois é i dtíortha faisisteacha timpeall an domhain. An bhfuil an slí a mhuintear béarla ar scoil an fadhb?
“It’s not the language itself,” they say “it’s the way it’s taught at school.” Every gaelscoil student has heard that at some point or another. Usually it comes from friends in English-speaking schools trying to justify their dislike of our native language. I cannot tell you whether the statement is true or false, because I have never actually been to an Irish class in an English-speaking school. But, I’m curious, does the school system and the curriculum have so much power that it can turn almost an entire population against a language? History has shown us how a biased education system and propaganda can corrupt the mind. It was done around the world by fascist regimes in the twentieth century. So, is the way Irish is taught really turning people against it? Is the education system truly to blame?
Píosa beag, b’fhéidir. Tá a fhios agam féin ón gcaighdeán Gaeilge atá ag mo chairde i scoileanna béarla nach bhfuil siad ag teacht amach líofa ar an nós, ach ní chreidim go bhfuil an locht iomlán ar an gcuraclam. Féachaimid anois ar naadhbanna is mó a fheicim ó lá go lá leis an nGaeilge agus scoil.
The answer is: maybe. I know from the level of Irish spoken by my English-speaking friends that they are not emerging from the education system as fluent Irish speakers. But I find it hard to believe that all the blame should be laid at the doorstep of the curriculum. I see a number of everyday challenges when it comes to the Irish language and education.
Tá stiogma ar leith in sa tír seo maidirle labhairt na Gaeilge. Níl mé ach 15 bliana d’aois, agus dar ndóigh téann an stiogma i bhfad níos faide siar ná sin. Ní aiste staire é seo, níl mé chun dul isteach i mionsionraí fhréamh an stiogma sin, ach an rud ná; tá sé ann. Cuimhníonn mé mar pháiste óg ar an ionadh ar aghaidh duine fásta nuair a dheirinn leo go bhfreastalaím ar scoil lán-Ghaeilge. Nó an mearbhall a bhí ar aghaidh páiste ag campaí samhraidh. “Déanann tú gach ábhar trí Ghaeilge? Fiú mata?”
There is a certain stigma in Ireland that surrounds speaking the Irish language. I am only fifteen years old; the stigma predates me by a couple of centuries. This is not a history blog, so I won’t plunge into the details and origins of the stigma, but the fact is, it exists. I remember as a primary school kid, the surprised look on adults’ faces when I told them I went to an all-Irish school. Or the confusion on the faces of other kids I met at summer camps. “You do every subject through Irish? Even maths?” they would exclaim.
Ach an rud is minice a bhíodh ar aghaidh daoine nuair a dheirinn leo, agus fiú anois agus mé ag freastail ar an meánscoil, ná trua. Tá trua acu dom, mar go bhfuil mé i nGaelscoil. Ní thuigeann siad, gur rogha é, go bhfheadfadh duine a bheith ag iarraidh freastail ar Ghaelscoil. D’fhéach siad air mar drochlámh a fuair mé i gcluiche cartaí, nó píonós a ghearradh orm gan cúis.
The most common look I have seen on people’s faces, both then and now, is sympathy. They feel sorry for me because I’m in a gaelscoil. They don’t understand how anyone could attend an all-Irish school by choice. That idea is so foreign to them, they immediately assume it isn’t what I want. They look at me like I’ve been dealt a bad hand, or been wrongly prosecuted for a crime. They never seem to see it as receiving the gift of bilingualism, or as a way of keeping in touch with my culture and heritage.
An dara fadhb a fheicim ná líon dochreidte ard na ndíolúintí a thugtar amach don Ghaeilge. Tá dlí nua tagthaisteach anois agus ní chaithfidh tú a bheith I do dhochtúir ná i do shíceolaí chun díolúine a bhronnadh ar dhalta. Is féidir le príomhoide na scoile é a dhéanamh. Chúisigh sé seo ardú 11% ar líon na ndaltaí leis an díolúine.
The second issue I see with regard to the Irish language and the education system is the large number of exemptions. Under a new law, students are no longer required to see a mental health professional or other expert to get an exemption. The school principal can now approve the Irish-language exemption. This has led to a phenomenal 11% increase in children exempt from learning Irish in schools.
Mar a dúirt mé ag tús an bhlag, níl a fhios agam cad a tharlaíonn i ranganna Gaeilge i scoileanna Bhéarla. Ach is féidir liom buile faoi thuairim a thógáil maidir le roinnt de na fadhbanna atá ann. Deireann mo chairde liom nach bhfuil béim ar bith ar labhairt na teanga, is ar an ngramadach amháin a bhítear ag díriú. Luaigh mé cheana nach aiste stairiúil é seo, ach má fheiceann tú ar stair na teanga agus an bac a bhí ar, d’fhorbair sé tríd an chaint, ní an scríobh. Sin an fáth go bhfuil cainúintí comh éagsúil againn i dtír chomh bheag. Níor mheasc daoine taobh amuigh dá bpobail féin, agus ní raibh daoine ag suí ag deasc chun graiméir a scríobh. Mar sin , ó mo thaithí féin, an tslí is fearr chun gramadach na Gaeilge a fhoghlaim ná do theanga agus do bheola a leanúint agus pé rud a fhuaimníonn i gceart a rá. Muna bhfuil na daltaí sa scoileanna Béarla ag áil an taithí sin níl seans ar bith acu.
Like I said at the beginning, I have no experience of how Irish lessons are taught in English-speaking schools. But, I think, I can guess the problem. Lots of my English-speaking school friends have told me that the focus tends to be on grammar; oral skills are completely forgotten. If you look at the development of the Irish language through the years, however, you will see that it flourished in spite of bans and restrictions because it was spoken. That is why each gaeltacht area has such distinct dialects. The Irish people were speaking Irish. None of them were sitting down to write a grammar book – many of them could not write at all! As a result, Irish is best learnt by ear. Say what sounds right, what comes naturally to the tongue. If students don’t listen to and speak the language, they will find it difficult to succeed.
Tóg na béaltrialacha Gaeilge mar shampla. I mo thuairim féin (agus tá lán fáilte easaontú liom!) níl a leitéhid de sheafóid cloiste agam raibh is “na sraith phictúir.”Is é sprioc na mbéaltrialacha ná daltaí a chur ag cumarsáid go nádúrtha, ach foghlaimíonn siad alt de ghlanmheabhair a dhéanann cur síos ar scéal an tsraith phictúir agusdeireann siad é gan clú céard is brí leis!
Take the Irish oral-exams, for example. In my opinion (and you are more than welcome to disagree!) I have never heard of anything as ridiculous as “na straith phictiuir.” These are a set of comic strips that the student must study, before describing the events in the comic to the examiner. The point of orals is to get students communicating naturally, but these picture series are just stories for students to learn off in advance without ever really needing to understand what they are actually saying!
Sa deireadh, is breá liom an Ghaeilge. Sa bhunscoil, ní raibh sé “cool” Gaeilge a labhairt agus sheas muid amach ag an mballa dána le meangadh gáire mór ar ár n-aghaidheanna nuair a rugadh orainn ag labhairt as Béarla sa chlós. Ach anois sa mheánscoil, ag an sos labhraím Gaeilge go sona sásta le mo chairde gan spreagadh ó aon “bhalla dána.”
In conclusion, I love Irish. In primary school, it wasn’t “cool” to speak Irish. Kids would smirk at their friends as the teacher told them to stand out at the wall for speaking English in the yard. Now, my friends and I happily chat in Irish at break time, not because there is a threat of punishment. We chat in Irish because we want to and because we are proud.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of the Museum of Childhood Ireland.
Freya Feeney is a Dublin-based secondary school student with a wide variety of interests, including history, literature, and climate and animal rights. She loves to advocate for causes close to her heart, which includes promoting the Irish language, along with performing in musicals and dancing. Freya is also a member of the Museum of Childhood Ireland’s Youth Voices Panel.