What Teachers Need to Know About Language

This month we published What Teachers Need to Know About Language edited by Carolyn Temple Adger, Catherine E. Snow and Donna Christian. In this post Catherine explains how teachers can better support children learning language if they know more about language themselves.

Michael Halliday (1993) distinguished three dimensions of the language user’s challenge: learning language, learning through language, and learning about languageLearning language is, of course, what almost every child manages to do – typically with considerable help from parents and adult caretakers. Children then go on to learning through language, again with lots of help from adults, including teachers, reading aloud to them, answering their questions, and explaining the world.

A basic premise of What Teachers Need to Know About Language is that teachers can support children learning language and learning through language better if they know more about language – how languages work, how languages differ, why a language sounds different in different places, how spelling develops, and what aspects of a language pose the greatest challenges to young readers and writers.

Learning about language offers endless puzzles and amusements. For example, languages differ in how sounds can group together. With regard to English, consider the simple case of consonant clusters. Which sequences of consonants are allowed in English pronunciation? We can say words beginning with a [k] sound like clock and crock, but not cmock or csock or cnock. We English speakers don’t say the sounds of K and N together at the beginning of a word, but English has lots of words spelled with those two letters at the beginning: knock, knob, knee, know, knife, knight, knave, knapsack, knit, and knead, among others, where the [k] sound is not pronounced. German and Dutch speakers know there would be no difficulty in pronouncing the K and N in all these words, since their languages have words spelled with the K-N cluster and they pronounce both sounds. But English speakers just don’t do it.

Why should we care? Because knowing that K-N-initial words are Germanic in origin, and that both letters are pronounced together in other Germanic languages but not in English, explains something about English spelling. Teachers should know enough not to tell their students “English spelling is illogical. Just memorize it.” Instead, with a little knowledge ABOUT language, they are in a position not only to understand spelling patterns (and their students’ errors) but also to explain the origins of the correct spellings.

Similarly, with a little knowledge about how native speakers of Spanish hear English sounds, seemingly bizarre spellings like ‘warer’ for water and ‘ironker’ for I don’t care resolve themselves into students’ masterful attempts to use what they know about spelling in Spanish to represent words and phrases in English. The T in English water and the D in I don’t are pronounced exactly like the R in Spanish pero. 

Supporting language learning and learning through language is a major goal for any teacher. A little bit of learning about language can help teachers work more effectively with their students in achieving that goal.

Catherine E. Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Contact: catherine_snow@gse.harvard.edu

Reference

Halliday, M. (1993). Towards a language-based theory of learning. In Linguistics and Education 5:93-116. Retrieved July 1, 2018 at http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/JuneJuly05/HallidayLangBased.pdf

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like The Bilingual Advantage edited by Rebecca M. Callahan and Patricia C. Gándara.

Emotion Research in Multilingual Contexts: Why it Interests Me and What my Research Shows

We recently published Multilinguals’ Verbalisation and Perception of Emotions by Pia Resnik. In this post Pia explains how she came to be interested in researching emotion in multilingual contexts.

My interest in research into multilingualism was sparked during a research visit at Newcastle University, where Vivian Cook familiarised me with his idea of linguistic multi-competence. The languages known by a speaker mutually influence each other and interact with other mental processes, leading to a unique way of language use? Seemed reasonable. The complexity and dynamics of linguistic multi-competence have fascinated me ever since, especially as at the time I was investigating Chinese, Japanese and Thai users of English which required thinking outside the box and familiarising myself with, among other things, new concepts of self and other.

It was then that I also experienced what multi-competence means regarding the communication of emotions: be it my participants not sharing my sense of humour, or me not being able to ‘translate’ jokes from my L1 (German) into English, or a friend from Austria uttering the f-word a million times when walking down a street in Newcastle, nearly giving an elderly British woman a heart attack. I also noticed that British tend to use “I love you” quite differently from Austrians and how easily you can get it wrong in a language other than your first (the consequences of which can be quite severe). All these experiences made me want to explore the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic verbalisation and perception of emotions more closely.  A few years later, I collected my data during a research visit at Birkbeck College, University of London. Little did I know back then it would turn into this book.

In this book, I try to provide an exhaustive, up-to-date review of previous work in this field and also present the findings of two studies in which I investigated the topic on a meta-level of self-reflexivity and on the level of performance. Not only did my data show that emotions often do not go as deep in a foreign language (LX) as in one’s first but also that differences in emotionality (besides many other influential variables) have an effect on the frequency of verbalising emotions in an LX. This effect can be twofold: it can prevent us from expressing them in the LX, but it can also encourage us to express them more openly and frequently in the LX. Especially in the context of swearing, for instance, LX users often have difficulty judging the emotional force of swear words, which often leads to them using them differently from L1 users and also to conveying the intended meaning more or less drastically in the LX than in the L1. When comparing LX users from the Eastern world with those from the West, it was frequently shown that verbalising emotions in English (their LX) also allows the former to escape social constraints experienced in L1 contexts and it also seems to be the case that cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences are greater in their case.

In a nutshell, the book not only shows that multilinguals tend to verbalise and perceive emotions differently in the L1 and LX but also that many variables simultaneously play a role in the verbal expression and understanding of emotions. Even though there is great individual variation, I believe that only taking a ‘Western’ perspective does not suffice and that insights into Eastern backgrounds are much needed too to ensure mutual understanding – also in typical ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) contexts, for instance.

Even though a vibrant field of study, much is still to be discovered due to the topic’s complexity. I hope that my contribution will generate ideas for future study designs and research directions and that researchers as well as anyone teaching or learning multiple languages finds it useful. After all, globalisation and, along with it, migration frequently require expressing emotions in an LX. Emotions are also the driving force underlying successful or unsuccessful LX acquisition and, besides language, they are what makes us fundamentally human – something worth investigating!

Pia Resnik, Department of English and American Studies, University of Vienna

pia.resnik@univie.ac.at

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning by Masuko Miyahara.

Peer Review and the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

In this blog post, one of the editors of our Aspects of Tourism series, Chris Cooper, discusses peer review, writing books and chapters and research assessment exercises.

I am embarrassed to say that this is my first ever blog post, and that is only because I was persuaded by Sarah at Channel View to write on peer review over a very nice lunch at the Trout Inn by the river in Oxford! This followed a discussion on the fact that career academics are often dissuaded from writing books or book chapters because they are not seen as being peer reviewed and therefore do not count in any research assessment exercise such as the UK REF (Research Excellence Framework).

This is a simple fact of working in higher education in the 20th century; governments are looking for value for money from the investment they make in higher education and they do this by assessing an institution’s research – and funding then flows from that assessment. Logically then for a Dean or Head of Department their research funding depends upon the quality and productivity of published research from their academics and so they persuade their researchers to publish in top, peer-reviewed journals because they generate the most cash for the department. Which brings us to the conundrum: what is the best approach for an academic? Quantity of publication or quality of publications? As a former dean and head of department the answer is simple – quality – and lots of it!

So why is scholarly peer review so important when assessing research? It submits a publication to the scrutiny of other experts in the field, often part of a community of practice of say tourism, hospitality or event management. Following the review (which is advisory) editors then make the decision to publish, reject or ask for changes. The process is normally anonymous and can be done by one, two or three persons, but not usually more than that.

Scholarly peer review has become the gold standard for assessing research outputs and is most commonly used in journal publishing – but it is not without its critics. They say that the process can suffer from unconscious bias and where reviewers are chosen from a community of practice, the use of the peer review process strengthens the status quo and suppresses new ideas, innovation and creativity. And of course, like any process, it is open to abuse. Finally, with the advent of technology new approaches to scholarly peer review are emerging, including the use of social media to crowd source or have open peer reviewing.

So scholarly peer review is important, but it is less overt in book publishing than in journals, hence the in-built bias of research exercise assessments against books and for journals. For example, in the 2014 UK REF the business panel received 353 books/chapters to assess set against 11,660 journal papers, whilst the Sport, Exercise Science and Tourism panel received only 76 books/chapters and 2,685 journal papers to assess.

A number of commentators on the 2014 REF have called for a more sympathetic consideration of books and chapters. I believe that if publishers follow – and overtly publicise – a scholarly peer review approach, then books and chapters will be taken seriously in research assessment exercises and we will begin to change the views of academic managers of their value. In Channel View’s Aspects of Tourism series for example, the commissioning editors always use peer review of manuscripts and also scrutinise initial proposals carefully to preempt reviewers’ comments where possible. The peer review process is rigorous and many books in the series have gone back for revision following reviewers’ comments. So, use of the scholarly review process by academic book publishers could enhance the perceived academic value of books and chapters, so making them more acceptable to academic managers and boosting the funding to departments.

Chris Cooper, Oxford, June 2018

We are currently in the process of developing a peer review certification – watch this space! If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy our blog post Peer Review Guidelines.

TEFI conference, Lapland, 3-6 June 2018

I have been hoping to go to a TEFI (Tourism Education Futures Initiative) conference for a few years but hadn’t managed it until this year when I made it to #TEFI10, hosted by the University of Lapland in Pyhätunturi, Finland.

This conference experience was definitely worth the wait. TEFI has a real family feel to it and it was lovely to see how supportive and encouraging everyone is of each other and how welcome new delegates (and publishers!) were made to feel. The conference theme was ‘Knowing with Nature – The Future of Tourism Education in the Anthropocene’ so a lot of the conference was spent outdoors and only vegan food was served.

DSC_1512
Post-keynote discussion

The opening keynote was delivered outdoors by Gunnar Thor Jóhannesson, which was quite the feat as it was pretty chilly and a bit damp – a good getting-to-know-you session for delegates as we were all huddled together for warmth! 🙂

Over the next two days followed five sessions of absorbing papers and another really good keynote, this time from Tijana Rakić, and both days offered the chance to get out in the forest. The first day there was a yoga in nature session and the second day there was an afternoon hike. The walk was interspersed with panel discussions, including a great talk from Seija Tuulentie about PoLut, a project aimed at actively encouraging immigrants to come and settle in Lapland – which was great to hear. The hikes were an amazing opportunity to experience the Finnish landscape (while learning!). It was beautiful and a really nice memory for us all to take away with us. The conference closed with breakout sessions to reflect on what we had learned during the conference and how best we can all enact TEFI values in our own work.

While I was in Finland I managed to visit a few places, and from Helsinki I got the ferry to Tallinn and enjoyed wandering round the Old Town (the return ferry karaoke was also something to behold). Post-TEFI some of the conference delegates stayed the night in Rovaniemi and the next day we felt that as Santa Claus Village was on the way to the airport it would be rude not to go and meet the man himself. So exciting!! 🙂

I’m really glad that I finally got to a TEFI conference and am grateful to all of the organisers and Dianne Dredge and Johan Edelheim for a great conference experience. I am looking forward to TEFI11!

Sarah

Why Task-based Language Teaching? A Personal Statement

This month we are publishing Reflections on Task-Based Language Teaching by Rod Ellis. In this post Rod explains what led him to pursue this line of research.

My interest in task-based language teaching has two sources. One is my own experience many years ago of teaching English in a rural secondary school in Zambia. The other is my ongoing research into second language acquisition.

As a teacher, the approach I followed in Zambia was not task-based. But it did involve the use of tasks and my memory is that some of the most successful lessons I taught were those involving tasks. I recall an activity where the students read a passage about a famous person. One student was chosen to role-play this person with the rest of the class firing questions at him/ her which the student tried to answer in character. This activity – which I would now call a ‘task’ – proved highly motivating and generated spontaneous interaction among the students in a way that was clearly very different from the more traditional types of lessons I was also teaching at that time.

My interest in second language acquisition also grew out of my experience as a teacher in Zambia. I was puzzled why students continued to make the same grammatical errors after what I felt were successful lessons designed to eradicate them. The students would use the correct grammatical structures in drills and written exercises but fail to do so in their spontaneous speech. Through studying second language acquisition research I came to understand the limits of direct instruction and see the advantages of instruction that enabled students to acquire a language in their own way. Task-based language teaching seemed the best way of helping students develop the kind of knowledge of a language needed to communicate effectively.

More recently my professional life has given me experience of Asia – a situation very different from Zambia as English played no role in students’ lives once they left the classroom. I saw that too many students in countries like Japan and China left school after years of studying English with little ability to use the language they had been learning in every day communication. I believe that task-based teaching is the best way of avoiding this unfortunate state of affairs.

My new book, Reflections on Task-Based Language Teaching, draws on both my professional experience as a teacher and a teacher educator and my work in second language acquisition research to present a case for task-based language teaching and also to reflect on the issues about this approach that need further consideration.

Rod Ellis

For more information about this book please see our website.

Laura’s Trip to Japan

This June, the third Psychology of Language Learning (PLL3) conference took place at Waseda University, Japan.  Japan is one of our biggest markets and a country that we try and visit every few years in order to stay in touch with what’s happening in the Japanese academic book sector. PLL3 therefore gave me the perfect excuse to make my first trip over. As I have recently moved into my new job as Head of Sales, I am keen to learn all about the different markets in which we sell our books, how they differ and the challenges and prospects for each one. I structured my trip with the first part comprising sales meetings, and the conference making up the final (but by no means lesser!) few days.

Koro on the way to a meeting at the National Ethnology Library in Osaka

The first part of the trip provided an ideal opportunity for me to meet our key contacts, ask zillions of questions and to get the kind of understanding of the market that it is impossible to do by email from our office in Bristol. As with several territories, we have a local Japanese rep, Koro, who looks after our key accounts on a day-to-day basis. Having been emailing Koro for the past 8 years, it was great to finally put a face and a personality to an email address.  Koro arranged numerous visits for me during my stay, in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, and was a fantastic source of knowledge of the market. We also bonded over a love of music and fresh air and not panicking when we couldn’t find the right building for a meeting (Japanese maps are a complete mystery to me)!

Spot some of our books in Kinokuniya’s central Tokyo academic bookshop!

We met with booksellers (including our biggest customers Kinokuniya, Maruzen and MHM), librarians, academics and subject specialists, in both linguistics and tourism studies. We have a number of exciting titles which were of specific interest to the contacts, most notably the forthcoming book on akogare (desire) by Japanese author Chisato Nonaka and the recently published 3rd edition of Sport Tourism Development which sparked interested because of the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and Tokyo 2020 Olympics. As well as meetings by day, we went out for drinks and dinner with a number of our contacts, at which I learnt a lot about Japanese culture, food and alcohol!

After the sales part of my trip, I took a day off to reset my brain from sales to editorial work and to enjoy the sights of Tokyo. Sadly, it was a wet break (the rainy season had just begun), but as I had been fortunate enough to enjoy some sunshine the previous weekend, I was not too disheartened to have to spend the day browsing cookware shops on the famous Kappabashi Street and enjoying tea and cake in various tea shops when I needed a break from the torrential downpours!

Laura at the PLL3 conference

The PLL conference is now in its third meeting and I am fortunate to have been able to attend all three (you can also read about previous conferences in Graz and Jyväskylä on our blog) and to see the event evolve and thrive over time. This year, Waseda University welcomed 375 delegates from both across Japan and around the world. Stephen Ryan and his colleagues and students meticulously organised and hosted a conference that both lived up to and went beyond previous editions.

Richard Ryan giving his opening plenary

Among the highlights of the gathering were the plenaries which were always packed and stimulating. Richard Ryan opened the conference with a talk on self-determination theory and Ema Ushioda ended the first day with a thought-provoking talk questioning the social purpose of academic research. The plenaries of the second day saw Mimi Bong introduce her work on achievement goals and Lourdes Ortega asked how the field of PLL can address issues of social justice. On the final morning, Jean-Marc Dewaele gave a rousing introduction to the closing speaker, Zoltan Dornyei, who focused on the topic of perseverance within the domain of motivation. The final slot is always a tough one (especially the morning after the conference dinner!) but it certainly enthused and engaged delegates who hung around in the entrance foyer long after the conference was officially over.

Multilingual Matters book display

Alongside the plenaries, the programme was packed full of sessions and social events. And of course, I was kept busy in the book exhibit. Popular titles included Language Teacher Psychology (edited by Mercer & Kostoulas), Language Learner Autonomy (Little et al), Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning (Miyahara) and Portraits of Second Language Learners (Muramatsu), which was so hot off the press that I had had to bring copies straight from the office in my suitcase!

The conference was also a good platform for the new IAPLL association to be launched and for delegates to hear more about the benefits of membership. With the new association and another successful conference gone by, the stage is now set for the continued development of this subsection of the field and I am already looking forward to PLL4, which is due to take place in June 2020 in Canada.

Laura

What can we Learn from Listening to the Voices of Refugee-background Students?

We recently published Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry. In this post Shawna and Raichle tell us what we can learn from the voices included in this collection.

We are so excited about the opportunity to publish this new collection of educational research with Multilingual Matters! We’ve worked with refugee-background students in a variety of contexts: Raichle and Mary Jane have both engaged in research with adult education classrooms, and Shawna and Raichle currently collaborate with local school districts in Chittenden County, Vermont, which is a refugee resettlement community. Our book includes the work of researchers working with adolescent and adult students in seven countries, including those which have traditionally been among the top countries of resettlement – the United States, Australia, and Canada – as well as those with steadily increasing refugee populations: Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

One of our goals for this book was to put student voices at the center – to help us see schools and communities from the perspective of students with refugee backgrounds. This not only helps us understand students’ educational experiences, it also helps to counter the deficit-based narratives that are prevalent about refugee-background students – narratives that position these learners as lacking in social, cultural, and linguistic capital. There has been a rise in anti-establishment and nationalist sentiment in the US and Europe resulting from anxieties about migration. Refugee migration itself is often framed as a ‘crisis’, thus removing the human element from the discussion. When choosing chapters for this collection, we looked for those that highlight the agency, resilience, and ‘funds of knowledge’ of refugee students.

What do student voices in this collection tell us? First is that many refugee-background students are doing exciting things with literacy, both inside and outside of the classroom. Bryan Ripley Crandall’s chapter, for example, includes excerpts of academic and creative writing from several young men of Somali-background. Some of this writing, such as a film script and an essay about a family heirloom, came out of students’ English classes, however, much of it was shared on social media. Technology plays an important role in literacy for students in Delila Omerbašić’s study as well, which shows how students use digital tools to display cultural and linguistic knowledge. By exploring what she refers to as the girls’ ‘digital landscapes of knowing’, Omerbašić reminds us that students have many skills and resources that we might leverage as assets in the classroom. A similar

A student’s request for feedback on her drawing

message comes across in Amanda Hiorth and Paul Molyneux’s chapter, which includes excerpts of student-generated drawings, which offer unique insight into the emotional and social experiences of Karen students, as they transition from a newcomer program into a secondary school.

We also learn that students can assert themselves in powerful ways, to promote social and educational change. Erin Papa utilizes a photovoice approach in her

A Cambodian student’s attempt to write her name in Khmer

collaborative research with Guatemalan and Cambodian youth. In this approach, the youth used photography and writing to share about their lives and to suggest ways in which the school district and community might be improved.  Amy Pucino’s chapter shows how Muslim Iraqi students respond to discriminatory remarks from their peers, using humor, logic, and body language as communicative strategies. These chapters remind us that if given the opportunity, students can use language and literacy to be change agents.

We have been so inspired by the creative approaches of students – and researchers working with them – in this collection. This work has energized us as teachers and scholars, and we can’t wait to hear from readers: How do you create space for student voices in your work?

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Talking About Global Migration by Theresa Catalano.

 

New ‘Lines of Flight’ for Language Education

We recently published the 2nd edition of Learning English at School by Kelleen Toohey. In this post the author reflects on the 1st edition of the book and reveals what we can expect from the new one.

I published Learning English at School: Identity, Social Relations and Classroom Practice in 2000, reporting on three years of participant observation of children beginning to learn English at school. My son and daughter were entering kindergarten at about the same time I began my fieldwork in another kindergarten, and it was fascinating to me to observe something of what starting school is like for children and teachers. With this revision of Learning English at School, I am revisiting not only the experiences of the children I observed but also the childhoods of my own children. Together, these re-visitings have elicited mixed emotions of sadness, joy, regret, surprise and nostalgia. The sociocultural theory I used in the 2000 edition was relatively new in second language education literature at the time, and it provided me with a way to think about language learning that resonated more with my previous education in social science than psycholinguistic approaches had done.

With the 2nd edition of the book, I have worked with a new (to me) approach (new materialisms) that draws on my even-farther-back experience of majoring in philosophy in my undergraduate years. The book’s revised subtitle, Identity, Socio-material Relations and Classroom Practice reflects my interest in these ideas and my conviction that material humans, material symbolic systems, and the material world are bound together inextricably (entangled) and act together. The 2nd edition’s cover photo of flying birds was stimulated by ideas of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychotherapist Félix Guattari, who urged finding ways to take ‘lines of flight’ in our thinking. Looking for new ways to understand things, discourses and humans seemed an exciting way for me to rethink my observations from 20 years ago.

Deleuze has also reminded us that scholarship doesn’t advance because we wholly reject what has come before, and that scholars should adopt attitudes of ‘and, and, and’. For these reasons, in the 2nd edition, I re-present my initial observations and my sociocultural analyses, but I also discuss, where relevant, how a new materialism perspective might document and analyse these events somewhat differently, and how such a view might lead language education in new and challenging directions (‘lines of flight’). In those sections of chapters in which I present new materialist interpretations, I discuss additional possible ways of understanding what was going on. I hope the comments I make about new materialism and new ways of telling classroom stories, stimulate other researchers to aim their lenses at matters in addition to the human interactions in their research sites.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren.

Flo’s Trip to ICFSLA 2018 in Szczyrk, Poland

Last week I attended the 30th annual International Conference on Foreign and Second Language Acquisition (ICFSLA) conference in Szczyrk, Poland. This conference is well-loved by those who’ve attended regularly over the years, and upon arrival I was struck by how welcoming everyone was and what a warm and friendly atmosphere the organisers had created, despite the unseasonably chilly, rainy May weather!

As Multilingual Matters hadn’t been to this conference since 2015, the delegates seemed pleased to see us and find that they could actually buy the books we were displaying. Our SLA series was so popular among the conference-goers that a few of them assumed that was the name of the publisher, not realising it was just one of a number of our series! Alongside the SLA books, the first book in our new PLLT series, Language Teacher Psychology (coedited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas), was a particular favourite, selling out on the first day.

David Singleton giving his plenary

The theme of this year’s conference was “Identity in Second Language Acquisition and Foreign Language Learning” and I was able to take some time out from manning my stand to go to the plenaries by our authors and series editors Rod Ellis, David Singleton, Sarah Mercer and Simone Pfenninger. Topics discussed included social identity and language development in study abroad, bi-/multilingual communication and identity, language teacher identity and third age identity, and it was nice to have the opportunity to see our authors in action!

Apart from a packed programme of plenaries and sessions, the conference organisers also put on some great entertainment in the evenings. First up was an “Evening of Memories” in which ICFSLA enthusiasts past, present and regretfully absent reminisced (some by audio/video!) about the past 30 years, accompanied by a slideshow of ICFSLA conferences gone by, and with many fond memories of the late Janusz Arabski, the conference’s founder.  A special surprise was saved for the last night, when, following the conference dinner, we all trooped up to the bar, where the conference organisers had arranged a concert by Polish a cappella sea shanty band, Banana Boat. The band was brilliant, and somehow I found myself singing along, despite most of the songs being in Polish! The disco at the end of the night rounded off the conference nicely, with some serious dance moves being exhibited well into the early hours.

Flo

When Second Language Competence is Not Enough: The Case of Minority Languages

This month we published Immersion Education by Pádraig Ó Duibhir, which examines the success of young immersion learners of Irish in becoming competent speakers of the minority language. In this post the author explains why further efforts need to be made to promote the wider use of Irish outside Irish-medium education.

We devote a great deal of time and effort in second language teaching to ensure that learners reach the highest level of competence possible in the second language. Sometimes, however, competence is not enough, as in the case of Irish, a minority language in contact with English – one of the world’s major languages.

I have spent most of my career either teaching or researching Irish-medium education. In general, students who graduate from Irish-medium schools have developed excellent oral communication skills in Irish despite some grammatical inaccuracies. One might expect these young adults to contribute to the wider use of Irish in society. Unfortunately, this is not always the case despite government policy in this area. While some do use more Irish than their counterparts who went to English-medium schools, the level of use is disappointing.

As a parent who raised three children, now in their late 20s, through the medium of Irish, I can attest to the lack of opportunities to use the language outside the home and school contexts. None of my adult children work in a job that brings them into contact with Irish and apart from their communication with me, they have very few opportunities to speak Irish. When the children were younger, they attended Irish-medium schools. When their friends from school visited our house, however, I was always struck by the fact that their conversation was in English. If I engaged them in conversation they would happily speak Irish to me but return to conversing in English once I had left. Speaking Irish to me appeared to be normal, perhaps because they saw me as an authority figure or knew that Irish was the language of our home. But speaking Irish among themselves outside of school was not normal.

So much of the Irish government’s efforts to promote the wider use of Irish are invested in the education system. We know from experience, however, that transferring minority language learning from school to society is extremely difficult. How then might we create safe spaces where it is normal to speak Irish? Could we build Irish-speaking networks around Irish-medium schools? What can we learn from other minority language contexts? The advent of pop-up Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking social events is a very positive development. How might we capitalise on and expand this concept where participants have a clear desire to speak Irish? In the absence of greater opportunities and a desire to speak Irish, competence alone is not enough.

For more information about this book please see our website