Surveys indicate that over 80 percent of people still see the Irish language or Gaelic as the major indicator of an Irish identity, yet most Irish people, be they at home or overseas, have limited knowledge of the language. The reasons for this are clear: if you are told something long enough, and if that message is reinforced from many different sources, then, over a period of time and generations, that message will gain momentum. If you are educated in a school system that places one language above your native tongue, to the exclusion of that native tongue, and if that system denies your language with its associated folklore, history, arts and culture then, over a period of generations, your native culture becomes foreign and your new language and culture becomes the norm.
What I am talking about here is what has happened and is happening to native peoples all over the world. It happened, and is still happening to First Nations people in the States today. It happened to us Irish.
Up until recently, the fast pace of commerce, media and trade seemed to legislate against a multilingual world. After all, one language is easiest. The international language of the dollar and the international tongue of the English language was all we needed to make money; there was no room for anything else. However, some economists are now looking at language, – native languages and multilingualism – as a resource. As we move into a new challenging period in our world’s economy, some are looking at language as an extra advantage in a people’s international toolkit. So how does this work?
Language affects the way we see the world, and it can mean that we bring something extra to the international table. Perhaps it is another perspective to solving a problem, adding to new innovation or providing a new way of looking at basic communication. While globalization and rich international languages such as English bring us together, more and more people recognize that what we bring to the table is often fuelled by our own cultural, historical and in many cases linguistic uniqueness.
Rebirth and Renewal
For centuries, Irish Americans have maintained their interest in Ireland. In the early days, the package from America kept families alive and, in recent times, the two-way exchange of ideas, international funds and much more have maintained and nurtured the Irish abroad and at home. However, despite huge amounts of talk about the importance of our culture and our unique heritage, it could be argued that it is our unique, ancient and yet very modern language that has benefitting least from this engagement.
Perhaps one of the most interesting results of what experts now call “linguistic colonialism” is that most often it is we Irish who have become the greatest propagators of the myth that our own language is of little value. Sure, Irish is fine for special addresses and celebrations, but using it as your own daily language? Sure, that is would not be progressive.
For the first time in hundreds of years, a system of education now exists that allows our children to naturally acquire and use the language of our ancestors while developing an multilingual and international outlook. The name of this is “Irish-medium Education.”
The reason why Irish-medium Education is so effective is that it works on so many levels. Linguistically and culturally, it allows new generations of young Irish people to acquire the language – not learning it as a subject, but instead being bathed in the language as a natural part of their lives. This living language ethos embraces all areas of learning. As an international language, English is also embraced and, indeed, children in Irish-medium schools usually perform better in English and all subjects when compared to children who attend English-medium schools.
For the first time in the history of our language and culture, Irish children are now renewed in their own native tongue, which is the repository for much our culture.
To date, there are 147 Irish-medium primary schools and 47 post-primary schools involved in the program. Our schools excel at every level. Success often breeds success, so our role at the Irish-Medium Trust Fund is to ensure that every family can avail of this fantastic opportunity for their children to have an education through our own language. We welcome you to join us in the continued realization of our vision.
For more information, visit www.thetrustforirishmediumeducation.com or contact Dr. R