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Why you hated Irish at school, and why you still love it

irish in ireland

As Irish people, our relationship with the Irish language can be a little bit traumatic for some, negative for others, and then for a minority of us, it is actually a way of life. It's going shopping, chatting with friends and putting our kids to bed. That's a lot of different experiences of one language, in one nation of people!

Our history is eventful, but not unlike what many nations have experienced themselves at the hands of colonisation, and we'll get into the education system soon. 

I am a teacher and a fluent Irish speaker. Now, I help parents speak Irish to their children so they can pass on the language. Each of my students brings with them their own story of Irish, how much they enjoyed it or loathed it at school. Nonetheless, every student is here because they do have a love for our native language, and they have a passion for their children to grow up with the language. 

We know that most of the negativity about the language comes from the education system. As a teacher, I do have a perspective of the language as it is taught in schools and an answer as to how we can possibly study Irish for 13 years and still only be able to ask how to go to the toilet in the language. 

Personally, I only have two memories of studying Irish at primary school. One was with an unfortunate teacher who used to make us learn a list of words by heart and if you didn't know them all, you got kept back at lunchtime and punished. Thankfully, in 6th class, I had a teacher that prioritised Irish and started every day off with an Irish lesson that I loved. I loved having a book in Irish to read at home, and it was obvious from then that I was in love with this strange language that teachers sometimes spoke to each other so we wouldn't know what they were saying. It's safe to say, I had no clue, nor did anyone ever tell me that this "school subject" was actually the language of our ancestors and a living language that children and adults were speaking every day in other parts of our very country. 

Okay, so let's take an audit of what we may have learnt at primary school. We learnt a lot of words, like, 'scoil', 'leithreas', liathróid', 'doras', like a lot of nouns, and we learnt how to ask to go to the toilet. I don't even remember being able to say, 'Jenny is ainm dom'. However, most of us don't leave with many sentences or being able to have a conversation in Irish. 

I also used to teach primary school teachers Irish, and while there are many primary teachers with a love of the language, I met a lot that had very little Irish and did not feel confident in their abilities. So, how much Irish is spoken in primary schools? It varies A LOT!

I'm a trained secondary school Irish teacher, and as a secondary school teacher, we have to prepare our students for exams. Now we're teaching students how to read poems and stories, then novels even, in Irish, and then how to write essays about their themes, characters, symbolism etc. That learning gap is MASSIVE. You either sink or swim. 

Everything above is my experience as a student and teacher, and God knows, our experiences differ. We may have felt lucky with teachers, or unlucky, but we can't deny that if we weren't brought up in Gaeltacht, or attended a Gaelscoil, we did not leave school being able to speak more than what we learned by heart for our oral exam. 

However, as adults, no matter what your experiences or regrets are, we wish for more Gaeilge, for the ability to be able to speak it. Why? Because it is our language, it is Ireland's language, it is the language of our history, culture, traditions and people. The older we get the more we realise that and especially if you travel or end up living abroad, somehow how hearts yearn for that connection even more. 

We can totally change all of this for our own páistí. A language is meant to be spoken, and no one can teach a language better to our children than we can. When we include Irish in our routines and daily lives, we show that it is a living and important language. So, we take the burden for sure, but I love to see it as joy. Let's not leave it up to the tired teachers, desperately trying to deliver everything that is included in the curriculum and still have the energy to go home and tend to their own wee ones, or to the teachers that aren't passionate about the Irish language and sacrifice it for anything else that crops up in the day. It is at home where our language can thrive. 

Instagram and Facebook are great places to keep up-to-date with blogs, Irish lessons, how to says, and all about our courses and resources. 

If you are interested in learning how to speak Irish at home with your páistí, then take a look at our Gaeilge Guides for Parents. They have everything you need. 

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