Multi-lingual Ireland: More languages could soon be taught in primary schools

The Minister of State for European Affairs has said there could soon be more languages taught at ...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.17 7 Apr 2021

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Multi-lingual Ireland: More la...

Multi-lingual Ireland: More languages could soon be taught in primary schools

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.17 7 Apr 2021

Share this article

The Minister of State for European Affairs has said there could soon be more languages taught at primary level.

Thomas Byrne was speaking to Lunchtime Live as part of Reimagining Ireland: a new series examining some of the changes people would like to see across a range of areas in a post-pandemic Ireland.

He said teaching more languages in school is essential, and that one such consideration is adding more to the syllabus.


"That's certainly under consideration... there's a lot of work to do to make sure that's put into schools properly and correctly.

"It simply can't be just thrown in as an add-on, it has to actually work, it has to benefit and it has to integrate then with second level as well".

Minister Byrne said Portuguese, Mandarin, Polish and Lithuanian are already available on the Leaving Certificate curriculum.

But that we need to look further: "There have been studies done as to what are the most spoken languages in the world... and we are actually starting the process of getting them into classroom and normalising that.

"But I think as well we have so many opportunities now - it can't just be put into schools.

"Schools is the foundation alright, but I think all of us have a duty to continue life-long education - particularly when many of the resources are now so easily available."

He said Irish people need languages for technology jobs in Dublin, or EU jobs in Brussels.

"We should be able to speak at least two of the European official languages - English and Irish - and English and Irish actually have the same status now, or will have fully at the end of this year.

"But there's no doubt that we certainly need, as a nation, to broaden our horizons in terms of languages.

"If we go back to Irish we've constant complaints, despite years of education, that we can't speak it".

'National hang-up'?

But Minister Bryne said he believes this could be something more.

"I wonder at times, and I've said this in the Dáil before, do we have a national hang-up about languages - where we just feel that we can't speak particularly Irish, but also our skills as a nation with French, German, Spanish... are not as high as they should be.

"Maybe because we live, generally speaking, in an English-speaking world and that has allowed us to get by with English.

"But I think there's no doubt we need to learn more languages, and learn them to a very high level as well."

And Minister Byrne says learning languages has never been easier.

"If you put on Netflix now, you can change the language to a variety of languages on almost every show - and I think that's a very useful way of watching programmes.

"You can watch French programmes or Italian programmes - maybe if you're learning without putting on the English subtitles or the English voiceover.

"I think that we all have to look at ourselves as a nation and see how this can be done and how each of us has a responsibility to do it.

"Yes the education system is central, but that must the building blocks for how we communicate with other people as a nation".

Irish student skills

Earlier Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said Irish students need better problem-solving skills.

He told Newstalk Breakfast: "The results for Ireland that you have today are essentially the same that Ireland had 20 years ago - there's been very, very little change in learning outcomes.

"While the world has fundamentally changed.

"The kind of tasks that are easy to teach, easy to test therefore have become easy to digitise, to automate they are disappearing from labour markets."

He said students are good at reproducing content, but fall short when it comes to problem solving.

"Irish students are very, very good when it comes to the reproduction of subject matter content - they can repeat what they've learned.

"But they are not so great when it comes to solving complex problems, when it comes to thinking out of the box.

"I do think that our times require a different kind of learning environment, where students can exercise more agency, take more responsibility for their own learning, set their own learning goals, pursue them," he added.

Main image: German-Arabic and German-Persian dictionaries are seen in a library at the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany in April 2016. Picture by: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/DPA/PA Images

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