In the Irish setting, the family still remains the most significant unit that ensures that the Irish language richness is passed on to the next generation, who will also appreciate its impact in various life domains. The language is unique in Ireland and crucial to the identity, culture, and heritage of the Irish. Several stakeholders, including the Government and concerned organizations, have instituted various strategic plans to usher in new actions targeting supporting families to raise their children with the Irish language as the primary mode of communication. This paper focus on reviewing the development of the Irish language in family matters.
The Irish language landscape shows that it is Ireland’s national and first official language. This is following article 8 of the Constitution, and the language is taught as a compulsory subject. According to Ceallaig and Dhonnabhain (2015, p.180), 3% of the people in Ireland use the Irish as their local vernacular. On the same note, the 2011 census report indicated that 38.7% (1.77 million) of 3 years and above speak Irish. At the same time, 1.8% (77,185) of the 1.77 million confirmed that they speak the Irish language daily. Interestingly, of the daily speakers, only 1 in every four people was in the age bracket of school-going. The figures raise significant questions about the Irish language’s future based on its cultural and linguistic sense.
Further, in cultural and identity domains, studies on the language attitudes of the Irish people show that the people present goodwill and accept the Irish language positively. This is a positive indicator of the language’s uniqueness, historical distinctiveness, and special identity of Ireland and the people. As a result, it is considered the vessel of cultural expression and an intangible asset of cultural heritage, which is significant to identity worldwide. Over the years, the language has enjoyed substantial growth in arts, media, education, and music. Its inclusion in European Union has promoted social mobility hence showing its power in identity in Europe. According to Ní (2001, p.4), to enhance Irish language protection and promotion, in 1993, the Comhluadar Association was formed for Irish-speaking families. This association supports families in information and advice, social and educational events, the introduction of families to each other, and demanding services through Irish. In this sense, it has helped build families that can speak the Irish language.
Teanga Ti and Glór na nGael are two crucial resources that are essential for parents raising their children through Irish. The websites provide significant advice regarding best practices, support, activity resources, and events information for Irish-speaking families. The websites have awareness campaigns through blogs, podcasts, and case studies. For instance, speaking Irish in public is one scheme developed after recognizing that the world is drastically changing and cultural habits are evolving fast. Therefore, this scheme encourages home Irish speaking as parents receive advice, support, and assistance in strengthening the language at home. (Cara Teanga Tí). This Home Language scheme primarily creates public opportunities that families exploit to speak Irish. It supports parents’ efforts at home and takes language into public places so that people can hear the language.
Glór na nGae organization is another resource committed to providing practical support to foster new language through language planning projects. Language planning is crucial in measuring various actions that influence language behavior to strengthen the Irish language position in the community. Workshops organized around language planning also provide essential information to community groups and other parties like activists to undertake individual planning processes. Besides, the staff from Glór na nGael are resourceful in providing help and advice to community groups with planning concerns. On the same note, the “Roghanna” is an essential resource in the form of a handbook made available to promote language planning. Also, “Sruthanna” contains several inspiring short videos are available and provide crucial instructions that cover language planning basics and act as an aid to community groups.
Furthermore, since the organization is tasked with promoting Irish as the family language, it works with several like-minded groups and organizations to ensure that Irish-speaking families have access to advise and support. It rolls out a program of events covering the whole year in meeting its objectives. This program has holidays in the Gaeltacht, day events in the country, storytelling sessions at Samhain, Easter events, Daidi no Nollag visits during Christmas, activity weekends, picnics in the month of May, and a family room at Oireachtas na Gaeilge.
Glór na nGael has also availed a GRADAIM scheme essential for the business community. Through this resource, businesses receive advice and support on using the Irish language in their business model (Glór na nGael, n.d). Besides, they can also provide goods and services in the Irish language after the support. The scheme is also designed as an award that highlights, encourages, and rewards best practice use of the Irish language in business. This award has been found to have an excellent mark in using Irish in different business settings. For instance, the “Siopa Udar” is an innovative online platform that provides an effective sales platform for products from developers producing Irish language products.
Ní (2001) and the Government of Ireland (2010) have come up with key strategies to develop and promote the Irish language in many areas outside Gaeltacht. The first strategy is raising children through Irish since there is a strong connection between language exposure and language proficiency. Through this strategy, parents are advised to present several opportunities for their children to enhance their Irish hearing, speaking, and usage (Ní, 2001, p.8). This position is supported by Comhluadar while maintaining that one of the greatest ways of raising a family rooted in the Irish language is through both parents deciding to speak Irish to their children throughout. This strategy can be realized easily when friends and relations with Irish knowledge are encouraged to speak to children in Irish, tune to Irish radio and television programs, use books, and videos with Irish content, and create opportunities for hearing and speaking Irish in other places outside home, such as attending various events organized in Irish language, and the Gaeltacht visits.
The next strategy is replacing English with Irish ad the family language. According to Ní (2001, p.12), deciding to make the Irish language immediately after a child is born is essential in developing and promoting the language. However, the author notes that since most parents are brought up speaking English, and a child’s birth is an emotional event, parents forget and send their children to the local Gaelscoil when it is late out of sympathy. Therefore, making the decision promotes parents’ complete involvement in speaking Irish and attending local events with their children as they begin to express themselves in Irish and their daily routine. De (2022) also argue that sending children to Gaelscoil also has advantages, such as Irish parents getting the opportunities to send their children to enhance their Irish skills, learning, and speaking.
Education through Irish is another strategy stakeholders argue promote Irish language development. Some changes made in education have ensured that children are taught to read first in-home language since reading is a great skill for a child that, once acquired in Irish, can be transferred easily to another language (Ní, 2001, p.24). Also, parents are advised to read books in Irish to their children to make them emulate by reading by themselves before going to school. Reading is beneficial to children, especially in expression and vocabulary enrichment; therefore, there is a need to increase the number of books in Irish covering many topics for children.
Bilingualism is another strategy with advantages for Irish families and children. Ní (2001, p.14) argues that about 60% of the world’s population uses two languages daily, and there are some advantages that come with bilingualism. For instance, researchers have found out that a bilingual child has a better language approach than a monolingual child. This is because a bilingual child understands from an early stage there several ways are used to refer to or describe something. Therefore, since there is a strong connection between language and thought, a child’s thoughts become influenced throughout the process. Additionally, bilingual children have an increased ability to deal with abstract ideas since they attach more significance to the meanings of different words than their sounds. Moreover, Irish families with backgrounds in English are advised to integrate the Irish language as this allows bilingual children to have a more flexible mind and better linguistic creativity. As children with bilingual status decide on which language to use in speaking with different people, they become more sensitive as they deal with people compared to monolingual children. This, in the long run, helps bilingual children in developing better social skills.
On strategy, the Government of Ireland continues to implement the 20-year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 through a phased approach. According to Ceallaigh and Dhonnabhain (2015, p.185), the main objective of this strategy is to increase the Irish language use and knowledge to become the community language on an incremental basis. Under this strategy, significant attention is given to bilingualism development, rejuvenate the language in Gaeltacht areas, increasing language utilization in public areas and services, and promoting Irish language visibility in the country. The strategy has key objectives and aims, including increasing the number of those with Irish language knowledge from 1.66 to 2 million between 2010 and 2030 and increase those speaking the language every day from 83,000 to 250,000 between the same periods.
Government Legislations and Policies
Through priorities, legislation, and policies, the Government has also developed strategies to halt Irish language loss. In re-establishing the Irish language as the primary communication language, the Government declared Irish as the national language (Ceallaigh and Dhonnabhain, 2015, p.184). Besides, the Government launched a five-year “Action Plan” to develop and promote the Irish language. This plan primarily breathed a new life into the Government’s 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-200, which sets out several measures in specific areas of action, including education, the family transmission of the language, media and technology, dictionaries, the Gaeltacht, economic life, cross-cutting initiatives, administration, services and community, and legislation and status. Several legislation acts and government initiatives impacting Irish language development and promotion are:
Good Friday Agreement of 1998 established an implementation body that promotes the Irish language all over Ireland As a result, Foras na Gaeilge was instituted to encourage the people to speak and write in Irish (Ceallaigh and Dhonnabhain, 2015, p.184). In the same years, the Education Act of 1998 encouraged providing education services in the Irish language through planning and coordinating textbooks and teaching resources provision in Irish, promoting education in Irish in schools, and providing support services in other educational institutions. In addition, the Official Languages Act of 2003 established a statutory framework to enhance public services’ provision in the Irish language. This act is recognized for establishing the Language Commissions office. It was to be in charge of monitoring and enshrining compliance in all public institutions. This act allows people to communicate in Irish with the state, ensures public officials respect this right, publication of documents like annual reports and policy statements in Irish, and removal of English placenames in the Gaeltacht.
The Government Statement on the Irish Language of 2006 is another significant legislation enhancing Irish language development and promotion. The statement shows the Government’s belief in the importance of the Irish language to its people residing in the country and living abroad (Ceallaigh and Dhonnabhain, 2015, p.185). Irish as an Official Language of the European Union of 2007 is another significant act that greatly impacts Irish language development. Granting the Irish language the status of an official and working language in the EU enhanced the language’s attention and entitlement of Irish speakers. In the same context, this status increased employment opportunities due to the demand for translators and interpreters in the international sphere.
On policy, according to the Government of Ireland (2010, p.3), the policies implemented are to increase the number of families that uses the Irish language as the primary mode of communication and provide linguistic support for the Gaeltacht while recognizing issues raised on Irish household and community language. Besides, it ensures there is practicality in using the Irish language in public discourse to provide public service and ensure that the Irish language is more visible throughout the country in areas such as speaking, writing, literature, and signage.
Barriers to Irish Language Progress
Despite many strategies, policies, legislation, and initiatives implemented in Ireland, the situation of the Irish language still appears challenging. The development and promotion of the Irish language are undermined due to difficulties experienced by parents, teachers, organizations, and the Government. A greater number of reports and research studies point to low proficiency levels in the Irish language that is attained by several students through the established education system interfere with Irish language development and promotion (Ceallaigh and Dhonnabhain, 2015, p.189). Another barrier is low motivation levels targeting learning and using Irish among students. This is also encouraged by dwindling opportunities that reduce Irish use, which significantly creates serious challenges toward Irish language revitalization in the country.
Ceallaigh and Dhonnabhain (2015, p.189) affirm that teachers interacting with students has also contributed to challenges in Irish language development. These teachers lack linguistic proficiency, which has been documented in various studies, such as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment of 2008 and the Department of Education and Skills of 2015. Another challenge comes from difficulties for many teachers in implementing an effective pedagogy, as documented in a report by Harris and colleagues in 2006.
Furthermore, the Gaeltacht education system has failed to successfully tackle the needs of the native speakers, especially the youth. At the same time, this system has failed in transforming those joining schools with strong knowledge and use of English into Irish speakers. Several stakeholders are also demanding targeted support across the continuum to improve Irish skills and knowledge. Ceallaigh and Dhonnabhain (2015, p.189) presented a special case that interfered with Irish language development. Particularly, the authors argue that in 2013, 2.023 students in their fifth and sixth years were exempted from studying Irish for their Leaving Certificate. This is an element that should be addressed to reawaken the Irish language in the education system.
In review, the Irish language is the official language in Ireland; however, as indicated in the reports, the majority do not speak the language daily. Therefore, several resources, such as the Teanga Ti and Glór na nGael websites, have significant resources, including Podcasts and videos for families and businesses that are vital in Irish language development. Also, the Government and other stakeholders have put in place several strategies, policies, and action plans such as Acts and language development and Irish use as the official language to increase the number of Irish language speakers. Despite such initiatives, several barriers, such as lack of proficiency in the Irish language among students and teachers, continue to be a hindrance to Irish language development and promotion.
Cara Teanga Tí. https://www.teangati.ie/?lang=en
Ceallaigh, T.Ó. and Dhonnabhain, Á.N., 2015. Reawakening the Irish language through the ırish education system: Challenges and priorities. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 8(2), pp.179-198. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1085869.pdf
De Barra, C., 2022. Raising your child through Irish is the best way to learn the language yourself. The journal. i.e. https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/seachtain-na-gaeilge-3-5696666-Mar2022/
Glór na nGael. https://www.glornangael.ie/family/?lang=en
Government of Ireland, 2010. 20-year strategy for the Irish language 2010–2030. file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/88781_087bbace-b392-4671-b51a-149720d3f6ff.pdf
Ní Chinnéide, M., 2001. A guide for parents: Speaking Irish at home. http://www.gsue.ie/uploads/5/5/0/0/5500604/guide_to_speaking__irish_at_home.pdf