Article published in:Policy and practice in early language learning
Edited by Janet Enever and Patricia Driscoll
[AILA Review 32] 2019
► pp. 112–137
Young immersion learners’ language use outside the classroom in a minority language context
There has been a long history of early Irish language learning in Ireland as a result of Government policy to promote greater use of Irish. All children learn Irish in school from age 4–18 years. The majority learn Irish as a subject, typically for 30–40 minutes per day, and the levels of competence achieved are mostly disappointing. Approximately 6.7% of primary school children learn Irish in an immersion context, however, and these children achieve a high standard of communicative competence. In this paper we examine the impact of Government policy on the transfer of linguistic competence from the classroom to wider society in the context of a minority language that is becoming increasingly marginalised. We draw on data from three studies to explore the relationship between Irish-medium school attendance and the desire and opportunity to use Irish outside of school while attending school, and later as an adult. The first study also investigated students’ attitudes towards learning and using Irish. All three studies examined parents use of Irish in the home and the influence that the language spoken in their home during childhood and the language of their schooling had on their current language practices. Overall, Irish-medium schools are very successful in educating proficient speakers of Irish who have very positive attitudes towards Irish. These positive attitudes and proficiency do not necessarily transfer to use of Irish in the home. While attendance at an Irish-medium school as a child has a positive effect on later use of Irish, when former students become parents, the effect is quite small. The perennial challenge persists in transferring competence in a minority language acquired in school to the home and community.
Keywords: language immersion, minority language, language use, Irish
Published online: 07 April 2020
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