‘Let nobody say that you can’t speak Irish because of the name you bare behind you’
2019-04-01 14:31:08 -
Art & Culture

By Jessica Ní Mháirtín


Irish history and culture are only some of the reasons why Aliat Kotun enjoys learning the Irish language.


She and all of her brothers and sisters have been born and raised in Co Wexford by their Nigerian parents who moved to Ireland in their late twenties “to try and make a better life for themselves”.


Their family was their number one priority, and they chose Ireland as a safe environment for their future, she says.


Aliat explains that she and her siblings have much the same experience with languages. They all learned Irish through the mainstream education system, however they all speak some English, Irish, French and Yoruba between them.


“Each one of us have different levels of understanding in Irish as some are weaker and slower and have to work much harder than the others, but we all have roughly the same experience in the learning.”


Aliat’s parents hoped their children would be nurtured with the same opportunities and experiences as any other child in Ireland.


And Aliat has fulfilled that hope. Not only has she taken on the Irish language, she also has a huge interest in local sport as she plays for Clonard/St John’s Volunteers Ladies Gaelic Football Club.


As of now, Aliat is focusing her attention on the Leaving Cert curriculum. She is currently attending Selskar College Wexford and hopes to achieve the best grade she can in Higher Level Irish.


The five Kotun children have ventured on the same journey through the education system, which was no doubt a brave decision made by their parents as they did not have any Irish themselves.


“My siblings have learnt Irish since they were the age of four,” Aliat says. “My parents speak fluent English and the language they were born with, although, sometimes when it comes to family gatherings we try and speak a bit of Irish to them and have them guess what it means.”


Having children come home with homework you may not fully understand can be frustrating and sometimes undermining as a parent, but the Kotun family have succeeded in supporting their children through their education.


“The benefits for me being able to speak Irish opens up a lot of opportunities in entering colleges and having a possible career in teaching, but I think the hardest part of learning Irish was actually pronouncing the words and trying to have a conversation in it because doing it fluently is a challenge,” Aliat says.


This raises the question as to whether or not the Irish language as a mandatory subject (with the exception of exemptions) is being portrayed to what it can be in the light of the education system.


It is widely regarded that the most difficult thing for any Irish student is the practice of the language. Unless there is a particular environment where a student can fully embrace the language, it could lead to a sense of omission.


The topic of changing Irish to an optional subject in schools did stem a thought with Aliat, who said, “If I had to generalise the mindset of today’s teenagers, I think they would feel like, ‘Why did we have to learn the language even though it’s not spoken anymore?’ and ‘Why didn’t we have the option of not taking Irish?’”


However, the overall learning experience that Aliat and her family have had with the language has been positive, and Seachtain na Gaeilge is one thing that has brought her closer to the language each year.


She enjoys the fact that everyone takes time out to celebrate the language and “the thought and time that’s taken for preparation is one that will have far-reaching consequences in life”.


She adds: “Irish can be difficult when you’re not actually born with it, the language itself has a wide range of learning that not one can do in a day. It takes an unimaginable amount of time to develop another language, so I say have patience when doing so and let nobody say that you can’t because of the name you bare behind you.”

TAGS : language Irish English
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