It seems that even the most reactionary dung-hill can produce the odd progressive rose. Here is Clare Cullen in the Irish Independent with some entirely sensible points in relation to Irish language education and the (constitutional) obligations of the state towards its citizens following the news that several TDanna were availing themselves of free Irish refresher courses via the Oireachtas (note the sneering tone of the original report in the same newspaper):
“Let me begin by saying I think it’s absolutely fantastic that six TDs have shown the initiative to sign up to Irish language classes…
Complaints have been made in the past about the abysmal standard of our national tongue in our national parliament and I, for one, am ecstatic to see that some of our national representatives are making the effort to get up to standard.
I, unlike a lot of people online, don’t even mind that it’s ‘taxpayer funded’.
Not only has it been reported that new Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister Heather Humphreys has “yet to begin her Irish lessons” as she has been “very busy with work”, it has not been reported whether or not the Minister for the Gaeltacht (who once famously said “my conversational Irish isn’t great”) has signed up for the classes – but again, that’s an article for another day.
My question is – if politicians, who earn up to and more than four or five times what the rest of us earn, can get free Irish lessons – why can’t we?
Conradh na Gaeilge is an important institution in Ireland. Why isn’t more funding allocated to it so they can offer free Irish classes for anyone who wants to “brush up” on their conversational Irish?
Ten week refresher courses start at €180 for Búnrang – the course designed to bring your Leaving Cert Irish flooding back. Those who then want to improve upon their existing Irish can fork out another €180 for Meánrang and another €180 for Árdrang (plus twenty weeks of their lives).
Now, for all but the most dedicated these prices can prove a turn-off. Improving your Irish comes way down the list in terms of priorities, after water tax, house tax and soon the proposed/threatened universal health care charge.
So shouldn’t the government, who claim to be committed to the language, free up some funding to allow Conradh na Gaeilge and the Oireachtas to provide free Irish language lessons for the public? More literacy and fluency in Irish can only serve to help the country – widening the audience for media outlets like TG4 and RnaG and levelling the playing field in terms of Irish people who can speak Irish. No longer would we have to hear the same tired argument that Irish is exclusionary – ‘only for those who were born with it or can afford it’.
I think it’s time to put the PR exercises to bed and the Irish government – and “gaelgóir” Enda Kenny – to put their money where their béal is.”
Almost since its inception the state of Israel has provided free classes in Hebrew, both introductory and advanced, to all its citizens and immigrant communities which in no small part has served as one of the bedrocks of the language revival there. Administrations in countries like Catalonia, the Basque regions, Flanders and Québec likewise provide free or heavily subsidised language courses to domestic and overseas learners. Such policies have proved not only to be popular but more importantly effective for linguistic dissemination. Meanwhile the Herald newspaper reports on Ireland’s now annual scandal of oversubscribed Irish-medium schools with hundreds of potential pupils being denied an education through Irish because of the state’s continuing antipathy towards its own national and first official language:
“Five Gaelscoileanna at primary level in Dublin have waiting lists of 100 pupils or more.
A total of 5,000 primary children nationwide will start in junior infants in the Irish-language schools this September, according to a spokeswoman for their representative organisation.
She said that in relation to waiting lists for Gaelscoileanna: “20% of the schools are oversubscribed.”
Another school is required on Dublin’s southside to meet the demand, she said.
Of the Gaelscoileanna at primary level in Dublin, five of have waiting lists of 100 or more. One school has 200 on its list.”
The above issues in Dublin highlight the challenges faced by parents seeking an eduction through Irish for their children in every part of the country. Related to this Business Insider restates a truism of education and culture that bears repeating since so many in Ireland (and Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Mann and Brittany) seem deaf to it:
“It has long been held that a bilingual brain is more developed. The grey matter in the brain controls sensory perception that includes language skills, memory, emotions, speech, and most importantly decision-making and self-control. These are better developed in bilingual individuals who have been exposed to a second language from early childhood.
You do not need to write and read another language; even a second spoken language gives you the additional edge.
The advantages of bilingualism are many.
One is improved cognitive ability. A simple example is when a child hears an object described in two different languages, it reinforces his cognitive ability and he is quicker to respond even in the absence of visual stimulation when compared to a child with a mono-lingual background.
Second, is the improvement in concentration power. Bilinguals are more adept at filtering out the unnecessary information and concentrate only on what is required.
Mental agility and quick thinking – A bilingual brain is used to moving from one language to the other and with better cognition, the thinking process is faster. This also covers mathematical skills.
Enhanced memory – Bilinguals process and store more information on tap. Memory and recall skills are more enhanced as compared to monolinguals.
Decision Making – Bilinguals tend to compare, evaluate, cogitate, and take a more responsible and informed decision.
A bilingual child thus develops better ability to handle problems and adjust to life around them.
It has also been shown that in adults who are bilinguals, the onset of the dreaded Alzheimer’s and other cognitive problems is significantly less.
There have been a lot of studies and research that prove that bilingualism is beneficial not just for your learning skills as a child but also as an adult.
Another important fact is the positive effect of bilingualism in social and cultural arenas.
The social and cultural gains include the fact that a bilingual is more tolerant as they better understand the social, ethnic, and racial background of a culture other than their own.”
So more support and services is not just good for Irish. It is good for the Irish.