Census 2011 figures show that more than 500,000 people live in a home where English is not the first language. However, Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA) education officer Pat O’Mahony said the State had yet to properly recognise the advantage of helping young people from such homes to acquire full written fluency in their heritage languages.
“Those young people coming from non-English speaking homes can become one of our greatest assets. If we assist them to acquire native speaker standard competence in their heritage languages, we will be going a significant way to meeting our need for workers fluent in both English and a foreign language.
“It should ensure that not only will we have workers to take up the entry level jobs in call and support centres, but we should also have highly qualified professionals, across the disciplines, who can communicate confidently with their professional colleagues all around the globe, but especially in Europe and the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] countries.”
He said Polish and a number of other national groups make valiant efforts to ensure their young people acquire written fluency in their heritage language but they get little or no support or encouragement to do so.
Mr O’Mahony said that even getting access to school buildings for weekly classes can be problematic and there seems to be a prominent view that such classes are or little importance to Ireland.
As well as making facilities available in schools without charge for extra-curricular classes, he suggests ways of integrating the teaching of heritage languages into the curriculum from infants to Leaving Certificate should be considered.
In an article for the IVEA News magazine, he asks if the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) could, in co-operation with education authorities from other countries, develop programmes for primary and second level in their native languages, which could be delivered in schools with the help of technology.
He also suggested that students might be able to take the relevant countries’ equivalent of Leaving Certificate exams in their heritage languages, so students taking Polish would, for example, sit the Matura in that subject.
“To incentivise these students to achieve a high standard in their heritage languages, might we consider giving bonus CAO points for results in, say, the Polish Matura?” he asked.
He suggested that courses developed for schools could be extended to “native Irish” students with a particular aptitude for languages, or adapted for third-level students as an optional part of their college courses.
Numbers who sat Leaving Certificate language examinations in 2012
- French: 25,977
- German: 6,787
- Spanish: 4,330
- Polish: 794
- Italian: 384
- Russian: 269
- Lithuanian: 262
- Arabic: 149
- Portuguese: 63