Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ni thuigim an ceist.

Why we are striving to be a bilingual family.

Today we received the wonderful news that madam has a place in the local Naionra come September. For anyone not familiar with the Naionra it's a playgroup for children run entirely through the medium of Irish. Here's a link to their website:

I've always lamented my lack of Irish and I feel sorry for us as a nation that our national language is not actually our national language. I've even gone so far at times to suggest that all primary schools be Gaelscoils but that's a debate for another day.

As well as not having a fantastic grasp of Irish I also regret my lack of any other language. My French (which I studied for 6 years) is basic at best yet is infinitely better than my Irish (which I studied for 14 years). This got me thinking about how Irish is taught and learned in schools. The only Irish learning image I can conjure up from my school days is of my burly 6th class teacher screaming "Bhí, ni raibh" over and over whilst banging her fist on the blackboard. Attitudes to Irish in the classroom can be rather negative and kids aren't inspired to learn the language.

I come from an English speaking family. Primary school and Irish lessons were my first introduction to "foreign" languages. My experience of Irish wasn't great and lead me to mistakenly believe I wasn't good at languages in general. This thought followed me throughout my entire school career and left me feeling defeated before I even started.

What if my experience of learning Irish had been better? Would that have made a difference when I later tried my hand at French, German and Spanish?

What if I could make sure my daughter's experience of learning Irish was better than mine? If I could giver her a head start perhaps, unlike me, she wouldn't struggle to learn the language. Surely a positive experience learning her first new language would put her in a better position for learning other modern languages and, in turn, further her prospects.

So we made the decision to incorporate Irish into our lives. Neither of us is fluent so most full sentences elude us. We have found however that even simple word swaps have had a huge impact. Sofa is now tolg, up is suas and so on. The purchase of "Gaschaint" and the gift of a Babog Bear ( have been a massive help.
Our daughter, who is not yet three, can count to 20 in English, Irish and Spanish; sometimes switching fluidly between the 3. She also knows her colours in all 3, shapes in the first 2 and lots of other random words and phrases.

We've already seen the benefits of teaching her from an early age that there are many ways to say the same thing and I'd recommend it to any parent. I'm sure the day will come when her Irish will be better than mine and I won't know she's giving out about me to her friends but I guess it will still be a proud moment. She'll still be grounded though.


  1. Heya, Just stumbled across your blog :)

    I know exactly what you mean! What I want to do is take Irish classes before we have kids and try get up to scratch, the boy is studying Welsh so in theory a kid could have a very Celtic grounding in languages. Of course being in Wales is not helping with the whole Irish learning! I could easily go to a Welsh class but I think a part of me would die if my Welsh was better then my Irish! And I'm not really good at sitting down and learning something out of a book :(

  2. You should check out the Gaschaint book for some random every day Irish. It is geared at kids and parents but the phrases are great. From "eat that up there are starving children in Africa" to "Daddy doesn't go to work anymore because the company brought in machines to do his work".
    The CD's though are still shocking and voiced by ancient wrinkley types and delivered in weird monotones.