Raising children with Irish outside the Gaeltacht
This article discusses how best to bring your child up in an Irish-speaking environment when you are living outside of the Gaeltacht
It is generally recognised that there is a close link between language exposure and language proficiency. Therefore, the primary aim of parents who are raising a child through Irish should be to provide as many opportunities as possible for the child to hear, speak and use Irish. Because the opportunities for children to speak and hear spoken Irish in the wider community are limited, Comhluadar (now part of Glór na nGael) maintains that the best way to bring up an Irish-speaking family is for both parents to speak Irish to the children all the time.
One can enhance this by:
- Encouraging friends and relations of the family who have knowledge of Irish to speak Irish to them
- Tuning in to radio and television programmes in Irish and making use of books, websites and other media in Irish as often as possible
- Creating opportunities for the children to hear and speak Irish outside the home by attending Irish language events, visiting the Gaeltacht etc.
Children will inevitably hear more and more English as they grow older. Therefore, it is advisable to speak as much Irish as possible to them in the early years. From the moment that a child comes into the world, they are listening to sounds and acquiring language. Parents should ensure from the beginning that Irish is the language their children hear from the radio, television and internet, that songs in Irish are played in the car, and most importantly, that the language spoken by the parents to the child and to each other is Irish.
When one becomes accustomed to speaking in a particular language to certain individuals, even children, it is difficult to change. It is easier, therefore, to establish the habit of speaking Irish in the family by speaking to the children in Irish from the beginning. For that reason, the decision to make Irish the medium of communication in the family should be made, if possible, before the birth of the first child. Parents should have some knowledge of the vocabulary and terminology required for dealing with a new-born baby.
Not every family has the same opportunities. In some cases only one parent speaks Irish. Some families are one-parent families, and there are families who seldom have contact with people who speak Irish. It is necessary, therefore, to look at the various options available, and having done so, to choose the one that gives the best opportunity to your child to hear and to speak Irish. Below are some available options:
When one parent speaks Irish and the other English…
It is possible, using the correct language strategy, to have an Irish-speaking family even when one parent does not speak the language. 10% of families who are members of Comhluadar are families in which one parent speaks Irish to the children and the other English. In a few cases, the children acquired two languages from their parents and a third language outside the home. The best arrangement in the above situation is for the Irish-speaking parent to speak only Irish to the child or children. It is imperative that this parent be consistent about speaking Irish all the time. As well as this, he or she must spend as much time as possible playing with and reading to the child. Don’t forget that the more Irish the child hears the better s/he will be able to acquire and use it.
It is also important that both parents support the decision to have an Irish-speaking family and that the parent who has no Irish, or only a little, is comfortable with the decision and willing to support it. He or she can support it by continually showing a positive attitude to Irish, by attending Irish language events with the children, watching Irish language programmes on television with them and by encouraging them to use Irish as often as possible. If possible the parent with only a little Irish should attend an Irish class and try to learn with the child. He, or she, could learn enough to understand the conversation between the other parent and the child, and to carry a simple conversation with him/her. A good idea would be for both parents to use a little Irish together at set times when the child is present. For example, they could make a habit of speaking only Irish at dinner time.
When the child is in the care of a child-minder who does not speak Irish…
Whenever it is necessary to leave the child in the care of a minder, every effort should be made to find one who speaks Irish. If you succeed in doing so, make sure to explain to the minder that you would like him or her to speak Irish to the child all the time. At present, it is very difficult to find Irish-speaking childminders and it is most likely that you will have to entrust your child to a minder or to a crèche without Irish.
If this is the case you should let the minder, or the director of the crèche, know that the child’s home language is Irish and ask them to use as much Irish as possible during the day. You could lend some language materials to the minder, such as books in Irish to be read to the child. Impress upon them that the child’s efforts to speak Irish should be encouraged, not frowned upon, or made fun of.
When the child is not exposed to Irish during the day parents must make an extra effort to speak Irish as much as possible when they are at home. Ensure that at least an hour of the day is put aside for playing with the child, telling them a story or taking part in some other kind of activity with them. Keep talking to them while you go about your household chores.
When both parents speak Irish…
If you and your partner both speak Irish, you can decide to speak Irish to your child all the time. This way you are ensuring that s/he will have a sound knowledge of Irish before s/he comes under the influence of English. It is important also that both parents speak Irish to each other all the time as the child will be acquiring Irish from listening to the conversation of others as well as listening to those who are speaking directly to him/her.
If you happen to be parents who got to know each other through English, and still tend to speak to each other in English, it may take some time for you to become accustomed to speaking Irish to each other. You should, therefore, make the effort to change to speaking Irish as soon as you have made the decision to have an Irish-speaking family.
Glór na nGael are the lead organisation tasked with the promotion of Irish in the family.
Date updated: July 2023