Why immersing ourselves in the Irish language is so important

Nathan thinks it’s time to get serious about Irish and gives three recommendations for how we can do this

Written by Nathan O'Regan


A part of our heritage has been lost throughout centuries of colonialism and erasure. The Irish language is one of the biggest cultural indicators and it’s being wiped away more and more each day. Young people have turned away from their national language due to the poor standard of our education system. The single best way to learn a language is through immersion. But how can the people of Ireland immerse themselves in the language when it’s hardly used across our country? Bilingual signs and official documents are a nice gesture but they do little. Projects like TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough. The Irish government needs to do something to improve the standard of our language across our nation. I believe the best way to do this is through these three areas

1. The education system

It will come as no shock to anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Irish education system that the standard of Irish teaching in this country is abysmal. We need to revive the Irish curriculum and make it more accessible to learners.

Firstly, we need to make it cross-curricular. I have an Italian friend who speaks fluent English and French as well as Italian. In her school she takes History through French and Economics through English. I believe we should make use of a system like this here in Ireland. Why not teach subjects like History and Geography through Irish so that we can start using the language without trying to consciously learn it? It’s not as if studying Irish history through Irish is going to be a hindrance to anyone’s career. In my opinion this is the perfect way to start implementing Irish in niche aspects of people’s lives.

Secondly, I think we need to revamp and change the Irish curriculum itself. Right now it’s trying too hard to be like the English course when the people of this country just don’t have the skills to do that. We need to put more emphasis on the comprehension and composition of the language through oral and aural work, as well as more relevant written pieces. Rather than many different poems and verses (some of which are outdated), we should focus more on topical and relevant pieces such as novels and plays like An Triail or Gafa. A more accessible curriculum will be more interesting for students.

Lastly, we need more Irish classes available to adults. Free classes. We can’t just implement the language in the education system, everyone in the country should have the opportunity to learn the language without any barriers. I’m sure plenty of Irish teachers would love the opportunity at increased employment for after-school adult classes if the government were willing to pay.

2. The entertainment industry

Ireland is a gushing fountain of talent when it comes to actors, musicians, writers and poets. We need to start tapping into this talent and encouraging artists to make more art through the medium of Irish. The main reason more young people don’t watch TG4 is simply because the shows on there aren’t appealing to young people. Irish-made English-language movies and television shows have been incredibly successful in recent years and if we made some in Irish, I guarantee it will spark an interest in the language. How are people supposed to use a language if they can’t be immersed in it? Thousands of people across Ireland view and share the music videos created by Coláiste Lurgan which shows that people have an interest in it. The government needs to invest money into the creation of more Irish-language entertainment outlets so that the people of our country can learn to enjoy their language and see it as something more than an obligation to learn.

3. The public sector

In recent years the government has taken Irish out of the Civil Service, with the removal of the language as a requirement and the removal of bonus points for passing an Irish exam before interview. This, in my opinion, is a poor decision. If anything we should be implementing Irish more-so in the public sector. I find it astonishing that the TDs in the Dáil speak in English for the majority of affairs. There isn’t even a requirement for TDs to speak Irish! With the fact that the terminology of our government is completely in Irish (i.e. ‘Dáil’, ‘Seanad’, ‘Taoiseach’ ‘Teachta Dála’, etc.), I think it’s safe to assume that those who fought for independence had somehow intended for Irish to be the main language used once again.

So why have we not made more of an effort to make this a realty? Right now we produce all government documents in English and Irish but in reality English usually takes precedence. We should put more of an emphasis on the Irish documents and make a greater effort at using Irish in other aspects of public affairs like the budget debates or the election campaigns. I believe we should do this across the public sector, not just for the political affairs. If the public portion of our society isn’t going to make the effort to use our national language, what hope do we have of implementing it in the private lives of our people?

Obviously these are no easy task and they will take time and great effort. But they’re important. Political parties need to come together and push for more Irish immersion as a cross-party issue, otherwise those who push on their own may risk public dislike and the issue would go nowhere positive. Irish is important. It’s something that was taken from us but it’s not dead yet. We still have the chance to revive our language and I believe we should do all we can to do so.

Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam.

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