As ‘An Gaeilge’ gains popularity, the level of spoken Irish drops

II feel like An Gaeilge is having a moment. Last week, legislation giving official status to the Irish language for the first time in the North received royal assent from King Charles.

An additional €8.5 million in the 2023 budget has been granted for the Irish language and the Gaeltacht.

The largest increase ever at TG4 was awarded in the form of a further €7.3 million, which will support the launch of a new Irish-language children’s television channel, to be called Cúla4.

Next Wednesday, the Irish language film An Cailín CiúinWhich one is Ireland in 2023 for Best International Feature Film Oscars category, has a decent chance of making the long list of the last 15 movies.

This beautiful film was also named film of the year by the American film review site, Rotten Tomatoes.

It is the first Irish-language film to gross over €1 million at the box office in Ireland and the UK. Based on the short story “Foster” by Claire Keegan, it is directed and produced by husband and wife team Colm Bairéad and Cleona Ní Chrualaoi.

Alan Esslemont, managing director of TG4, described it as “a watershed moment for Irish-language cinema”.

There are now over 400 Gaeilscoileanna in Ireland and counting. Gaeilscoileanna was once considered to be for native speakers, odd bodies, and those with a certain brand of politics.

As an ignoramus memorably told me years ago, “these are terrorist training camps.”

Irish is the most popular language for learners in Ireland on Duolingo, the language app. The hugely popular Motherfoclóir podcast discusses fun new terms as Gaeilge.

It is no longer an honor to boast of having failed Ireland.

Perhaps in part because Millennials and Generation Z carry their Irish identity with palpable confidence.

As beneficiaries of cheap Ryanair flights and cheap Airbnb, these global citizens have jumped on the spot in ways unthinkable for previous generations, and it shows.

They are pleasantly free of it bright inferiority that was embedded in the psyche of so many people.

Put simply, they aren’t as threatened by Irish – but can they speak it?

Last week, the headmaster of one of the country’s best-known Gaeltacht summer schools criticized the way Irish is taught in schools and said the the norm among students is “shameful”.

Mícheál Ó Foighil, director of Coláiste Lurgan in Connemara, that the government had put “its head in the sand” over the “broken education system”.

He added that officials and the government would rather leave the system as it is, even if it is not working, rather than “rocking the boat”.

In March this year, the Department for Education’s Chief Inspector’s report noted concerns about the quality of teaching and learning in Irish in many primary schools.

Perhaps the teachers’ proficiency in Irish is a factor. Currently, primary teachers must have a higher level of Irish as a pre-requisite for college entry, which seems a bit vague.

An Cailín Ciúin is the first Irish-language film to gross over €1 million at the Irish and UK box office.

A suggestion that has already been made is that the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages ​​should be introduced for teacher training.

This European Certificate of Irish, Teastas Europach na Gaeilge, offers a series of general examinations of Irish language proficiency and qualifications for adult learners of Irish.

There are six levels, from basic to advanced. Testing teachers in the four skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing could provide a more credible benchmark of their proficiency and help them progress.

However, last week Labor Education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin questioned the requirement of a higher level of Irish at Leaving Certificate level for those entering the teaching profession.

Citing the huge challenges facing the shortage of teachers, he stressed that a higher level qualification is not necessary for maths or English, saying:

It is time to understand why this rule is in place and to consider changing the course requirements for entry into the teaching profession.

He also claimed that Ireland’s requirement for teacher training was a barrier to a diverse workforce.

Official Ireland’s attitude to language seems to remain half open, half aside, when it comes to education.

The study of Irish is compulsory at the second level unless you benefit from an exemption for having lived abroad, not speaking English or having learning difficulties.

Schools are required to teach the subject to be eligible for state funding. There is, however, no requirement for students to take the actual subject on the Leaving Cert exam.

NUI universities – University College Cork, University of Galway, University College Dublin and Maynooth University – require students to have an Irish Ordinary Level pass while Trinity College Dublin does not.

Need for an integrated policy

Julian de Spáinn, general secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, points out that since the founding of the state, there has never been an Irish language policy in the education system from preschool to third level.

Such an integrated policy, he says, would have multiple benefits, including creating a logical system from grade to grade, showing young people the benefits associated with learning Irish.

This would reduce the need for exemptions as it would respond much better to students’ needs and abilities and address many inaccuracies about the language, such as it being too difficult to learn.

Mr de Spáinn said: “This policy was a campaign promise by Fianna Fail in the 2020 elections and it is mentioned in the government’s programme, but the Minister of Education and the department are not following through on it. .”

Mr Ó Foighil said the Minister for Education should be concerned about the level of Irish students after 14 years of study and suggested that pupils taking Gaeltacht summer courses should acquire a better command of the language in just a few weeks.

Des Bishop, the New York-born comedian, has lambasted the idea that Irish is hard to learn. He learned Irish in a relatively short period of time living with a family in Connemara, documenting his experience in a series for RTÉ.

His cover as Gaeilge of “Jump Around” by House of Pain – Léim Thart – is memorable.

Clearly we need to look at how we train teachers to teach and students to learn Irish. And it can be argued that a language must first and foremost be spoken.

As far as Irish is concerned, we may need to consider whether we are teaching it for cultural reasons or for use.

Great for studying literature and poetry, but not before you can converse credibly at a basic level.

After all, the Irish word for tongue is “teanga” — tongue.

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