Séril Báicéir

What I meant by “English through Irish” is that the phonology of their spoken Irish is almost entirely that of English (imagine someone speaking English with a really strong French accent, using French r’s, dropping the h, etc., saying things like “Ah want zat you ‘elp me wiz mah Eenglish”. Now imagine someone speaking Irish but with a strong English-speaker accent and pronunciation), syntax is also heavily influenced by English and vocabulary is generally limited and many English words and expressions are used as the speakers don’t know the Irish for those words. They also create many calques from English and use them among themselves: “é sin ráite”, “tá mé caillte”, “tá mé den tuairim”, “tá mé ag roinnt teach le duine eile”, etc. They have little knowledge of native spoken Irish and indeed most have major difficulties understanding native speakers as they only ever socialise with other Gaelscoil people. They live in a sort of bubble cut off from the real language and indeed are often hostile to Gaeltacht Irish. The Gaelscoileanna are not really about the language itself; they are not linguistic institutions trying to teach children normal spoken native Irish but are selling a sort of ideological package deal. Their raison d’étre is the “cause” and the “movement” that they have created for themselves and not actually about learning the language properly because it’s not really about the language itself at all at the end of the day.

Irish can only have a future if people can actually speak it and speak it very well. Irish will not be able to hold its ground against English if people’s competence in Irish is a pale shadow of their English.

Sadly I know this to be very common when any secondary language is taught through public schools (or even private schools). It seems the school system of listen-to-the-teacher-say-what’s-in-the-book-then-spout-out-what-you-just-heard (in educational studies this is called the “banking system” which is not a good system for teaching any subject really) when applied to learning a language is really not teaching much at all. I can attest to that fact, having taken 3 years of Spanish in high school and 2 years of it in College and only being able to comprehend a moderate amount with out any real fluency. I admit that one of my professors in college made the class more hands-on and did manage to teach some of the language properly (though it was too little too late in most cases). And spanish is a more readily accessible language in terms of finding native speakers to practice with….

What I’m getting at is that Gaeilge or any language taught with the “banking system” is bound to fall short of the mark. I believe that immersion and more hands-on teaching is the only way to hope to get close to that mark. But most importantly…all schools need teachers who are fluent in the language they are teaching first. If the structure of the lessons don’t start with fluency from the teacher, how can we expect the students to become close to fluent. I don’t know how the Gaelscoilleanna are set up or if they screen their teachers for fluency or require it even…I would hope they do, but they may not.

But perhaps hiring teachers from the Gaeltachts is the next step if they don’t do that already?