The New Irish/Na Nua-Éireannaigh: ‘Why would you bother?’ This is why
2018-12-01 13:46:31 -
Opinion
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By Jessica Ní Mháirtín

 

There are three types of Irish people. Na Gaeilgeoirí, the people that love Irish but can’t speak it (and that always say, ‘Oh I’d love to be able to speak Irish’) and those that always have to put their tuppence to say, ‘But why would you bother?’

I am Irish. I’m a fluent Irish speaker and I speak my native tongue every day. My entire education has been through Irish and when it came to the time where I had to make a decision on whether or not I wanted to pursue Irish as a career choice, I did. I want her to be with me for the rest of my life.

According to the 2016 census, almost 40 per cent of the population have the ability to speak Irish. That’s pretty good for a dead language.

I don’t think the Béarlóirí understand the frustration they cause the Gaeilgeoirí when they ask that degrading question – why would you bother? It breaks my heart, though I understand why they ask it, as the Irish don’t always prioritise Irish as we do English. Still, I personally think the question is essentially ignorant and rude.

I started teaching Irish when I was in transition year as a social project. Since then, it’s my understanding that there are two crucial elements that are interlinked that are the key factors in learning any language: confidence and practice.

There is lack of confidence and lack of practice among most people in this country. However, with practice there comes a sense of confidence and then that build-up of confidence carries the ability to practice.

According to the Economic and Social Research Institute, in April 2015 there was an analysis done on the mentality towards the Irish language. “While attitudes towards the Irish language are broadly positive, this does not translate into significant use of the language,” its report said.

So, people shouldn’t ask the question ‘Why would you bother?’ — they’re the ones that didn’t bother with the language. They didn’t spend time or effort. They didn’t read, write or listen, and now they cannot speak it.

Yes, the language is complicated and maybe people are scared about making grammatical errors or that they’d unintentionally say the wrong thing and offend someone or be embarrassed. Maybe there’s a huge superiority surrounding the Irish language and it discourages people to be corrected on their grammar mid-sentence, which is something that happens more often than not. I could see why this would put people off learning the language.

I’m not asking you to be fluent. I’m asking you to simply try.

We should take the chance and start our conversations in Irish. It will all progress from there. Everyone knows a few Irish phrases even if it’s just saying ‘Go raibh maith agat’. Let’s use them.

We can blame the Government for lack of funding for State services and local facilities for the public to develop the language. We can blame teachers. We can blame parents. But the only people we should be blaming are ourselves. Laziness is all it is at the end of the day and we have no excuse.

If immigrants and people of many other cultures and nationalities are willing to learn Irish, and do a wonderful job at that, Irish citizens should at least make an attempt. There’s a Gaeltacht in Canada, they’re teaching Irish in Oxford and Irish is now a recognised language across Europe.

People will always ask that dreaded question – why would you bother? In response we should ask them – why wouldn’t you bother?

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