Thursday, 4 June 2015

A PSA on the Irish Language

I have told the story before about my dad reading "The Tiger Who to Tea" to me when I was a young child. Except the only version we had of it was in Irish, so my dad would read it out loud and then translate it for me. Over the years, the book went missing. I tried to find a copy last time I was back in Ireland but it was out of print. 

That was pretty much the extent of any Irish my dad spoke to us as children. I knew how to say 'Merry Christmas' on the phone to my granny, and could name all 32 counties as Gaeilge (in Irish) after my cousins taught me during a trip back when I was 16. As it stands today, I know just enough Irish to sound impressive to someone who doesn't speak any Irish.

I understand why my dad didn't speak more Irish with us - it's not needed to get around Ireland and it serves pretty much zero purpose outside of Ireland - but sometimes I lament that there hadn't been more of a reason for us to learn it. (Say, for example, the English hadn't ruled Ireland and pushed the speakers to outlaying areas, making English the main language of business and trade and relegating Irish to something the uneducated country people spoke, thereby allowing Irish to continue to be the first language of the people of Ireland so then my brothers and I would have had to learn it to converse with my cousins. I'm just spit-balling ideas here.)

I lament because Irish is an endangered language. It's classified as 'definitely endangered' which is to simply state that it's not spoken by children in the home. While Irish is a compulsory course in Irish education and is a requirement to get into university, there are very few children who are actual native speakers of Irish. That is, they speak Irish before they speak English in their day-to-day life. Out of the 1.7 people classified as 'speaking Irish', less than 100,000 use it on a daily basis outside of school.

The push to revive the Irish language isn't any thing new. The Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) was founded in 1893 with the mandate to promote the Irish language both in Ireland and abroad. Over a hundred years of trying to save the language and it's still definitely endangered. Ain't that a kick in the teeth?

But it's not all doom and gloom. In November 2009, the Irish government published its 20 year plan for increasing the number of fluent and/or native Irish speakers. One of those points was to increase the number of Irish immersion schools (called Irish-medium schools in Ireland). There are now 177 Irish-medium primary schools in Ireland and parents line up to get on the waiting list. As for the number of speakers using Irish outside of school on a daily basis? It has been steadily climbing since the turn of the 21st century. Search the 'as Gaeilge' tag on any social media and you'll find a thriving community.

Why did I feel the need to post this? Because the road to hell, good intentions, all that jazz. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, if you need another analogy. You have to engage the kids and make them want to learn. What better way to do that than to make it fun? I came across the following video on YouTube recently and laughed until I cried when I realised what they were doing. If you learned a second language in school, I'm sure the pictures will feel familiar.

Kudos to the teacher (it seems to be one teacher from the looks of it) who came up with Gaelgory as a project with his class. The are all manner of videos and even though my Irish is limited to greetings, basic information and insults, I spent a good chunk of time going down that rabbit hole. There's even a video about cooking pancakes in Irish led by a dinosaur. (I think he's Gaelgory but I'm not totally sure.)

It always makes me happy to see Irish being used outside of textbooks (although this is kind of textbook-ish) and formal situations. It gives me hope that perhaps Irish will move out of the endangered language category. Because as Pádraig Pearse once said: 

“Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam."
(A country without a language is a country without a soul.)

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