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Gaelscoil Ui Neill, Co. Tyrone

Advantages of Bilingualism

In the past, when asked what are the advantages of Irish-medium education, the only response that proponents of Irish-medium education had was to point to the fact that it is easier to learn a third language when you can already speak two languages.  While this is undoubtedly the case, there are many more advantages to a bilingual system of education, these are:

  • enhanced capacity for learning – bilingual people use more of their brain and have improved working and long term memory;
  • self-confidence – bilingual children soon become aware that they can do something that most people around them can’t (speak Irish) and this gives them an increased sense of self-esteem and confidence;
  • greater creativity – bilingual people see the world from different perspectives, they have two windows on the word, and this altered viewpoint can lead to a more artistic temperament
  • enriched emotional literacy – our children develop the skills to read the non-verbal clues to communication; body language, facial expression, intonation and this helps them develop a greater feeling of empathy for others
  • metacognition – language does not reflect reality, it creates reality and the capacity to speak two languages from an early age helps people appreciate language as a tool, which in turn helps them understand their own thought processes better;
  • our own language – in school, we often take it for granted that our children speak Irish but for our parents, there is an overwhelming sense of pride that their children can speak Irish and that they have given them the advantage of bilingualism from an early age; and
  • employment – Ireland is changing and, with or without an Irish Language Act, the ability to speak Irish will give our young people a clear advantage in the world of work in a future Ireland.

Seamus Heaney, as ever, put it best:

“Not to learn Irish is to miss the opportunity of understanding what life in this country has meant and could mean in a better future.  It is to cut oneself off from ways of being at home.  If we regard self-understanding, mutual understanding, imaginative enhancement, cultural diversity and a tolerant political atmosphere as desirable attainments, we should remember that a knowledge of the Irish language is an essential element in their realisation.”