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Tongue twisted

April 17, 2012

The problems associated with the teaching of Irish are often mentioned but there is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed.

At honours level, students in English-speaking secondary schools take the same exams in Irish and study the same syllabus as Gaelcholaisti and Gaeltacht schools. This does not make sense. Students who are studying a second language cannot be treated in the same way as those who have it as a first language.

Students in English-speaking schools are being examined and taught at a level that is inappropriate for their level of language development. This hinders their grasp of the language.

There are also too many aspects to cover on the course in too short a time, so teachers are forced to prepare students for an exam, instead of having time to teach the basics. Students thus do not develop the skills needed to learn a language properly.

To make matters worse, students do not take an oral exam at Junior Cert level in the vast majority of schools. Because the focus is all on the exam, teachers have little time to partake in oral work. This is where the crux of the problem lies. Students could pick up the language easily if the system was appropriate.

Meanwhile, in Irish-speaking schools the course is not challenging enough — it thus satisfies no one.

The solution is simple — two separate exams and qualifications at honours level. One for those learning Irish as a second language (focusing mainly on the basics) that everyone would take, with an additional and more challenging exam for those who have Irish as a first language. There must also be an oral exam in every school at Junior Cert level.

They do this in other jurisdictions. In Wales, for instance, they have two qualifications — Welsh as a first language and then as a second language, as they recognise that you cannot teach both in the same way. They do the same with the Irish language at GCSE level in the North.

We are failing our best students. Why are we not doing something about it?

S O Coinne
Dun Dealgan, Co Lu