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There are families that have two native Irish speaking parents that speak only Irish to their children. These families are exceptions. More often than not, only one parent has Irish or perhaps may not be completely fluent. The may, nonetheless, have made the decision that they will raise their children with Irish. Regardless of what language background the parents have, their efforts will not succeed by accident. They need to think and have a plan in order for their efforts to succeed.

The aim of this article is to guide families and to prepare an action plan.

Of course, there are parents and families for whom choosing Irish as their family language is a natural choice requiring no consideration. However, it is a decision which other parents need to consider in advance. When parents decide that they would like to raise their children with Irish, they have to act to make it happen. Without a conscientious and appropriate measures, English will have the upper hand within the family and the efforts will be wasted.

There are many factors for a family to consider when developing a language plan and when implementing language practice at home:

  • Are they living in a Gaeltacht area or outside of it?
  • Is there a community of Irish speakers?
  • Do other members of the family or neighbours have a positive or negative outlook on Irish?
  • Are they support resources available to them?
  • What language ability do the parents have?
  • Are there other factors that could have an influence, good or bad?

Everyone will have different needs and have different commitments. The following suggestions will give a sound basis to the decision making process.

Irish speaking families

When both parents are fluent in Irish, it is recommended that they both speak Irish to the children and in front of the children as often as possible. This relates to all activities outside of the house, shopping, visiting relatives etc., as well as the times when the family is at home. If Irish is not spoken in public and when they are in the company of those who do not speak Irish, the children will think that the language is not a matter of pride and will not understand it in a positive context.

Sometimes there will be visitors to the house that do not speak Irish. Even if this is the case, it is recommended that parents adhere to Irish and explain to the visitors that Irish is the language usually spoken to the children. On a practical or etiquette basis, people will sometimes feel the need to translate into English. Whichever option is taken, the children will quickly understand themselves and speak the appropriate language.

If the decision is to continue speaking Irish to the children when there are visitors in the house, it would be worth explaining to the visitors. If they understand what is going on, there will be a stronger foundation for the efforts of the parents. And, of course, if the visitors themselves have Irish, they should be encouraged to use it.

When only one parent has Irish

There is every chance that there is more families with only one Irish speaking parent than there is families with two Irish speaking parents. In this case, it is important that there is a structure which uses Irish in the lives of the children. This means that the parent fluent in Irish will only use and speak it. It is recommended that you stick to this approach and that the parent fluent in Irish does not mix the languages together.

The other parent can take up learning Irish alongside the child or children. Children enjoy learning and it boosts the child’s self-confidence to help the parent learn.

When neither parent has Irish

It often happens that parents with children in Irish-medium schools decide to learn the language alongside their child. This can be challenging.

When neither parent has Irish and if they are learning it, it is recommended to try to use simple words and phrases where they are satisfied that they can be accurate. Use these simple words and phrases often and keep adding vocabulary and phrases to your word bank. Be sure that the dialogue is relevant to the child’s life such as food, clothing, bedtime and more.

Families who fall into the categories mentioned above will need support. It is be worth inquiring about other families in the area and taking every opportunity to attend Irish language events. It is necessary to create an Irish speaking environment in the home. The more Irish heard from different sources, the more it will benefit the children.

There are people in the community who do not understand why any parent would speak Irish in the family and they can be quite negative about it. There will be times when it will be necessary to talk to relatives, friends and/or neighbours to explain the reasons for speaking Irish to them. Don’t turn it into a battle, explain your decisions and the research behind it.