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Gaelscoil Ui Neill, Co. Tyrone

Early Immersion Bilingualism

As practised in the North of Ireland, Irish-medium education is a form of bilingualism from the early-immersion philosophy.  Early-immersion bilingualism came from practices in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s that sought to ensure that children from French-speaking families had equal access to both French and English.  Similarly, early-immersion bilingualism here ensures that children become fluent in the target language (Irish), typically by the age of 6 or 7, without compromising their literacy skills in English.   We achieve this by beginning in the Nursery School, where the children are 3 or 4 years old, singing songs, telling stories and simply speak Irish to them, say 50% of the time.   Gradually, the teachers increase the amount of Irish the children hear as the children get older and, in turn, the children begin to respond; first of all, with single words and phrases and then with full sentences.  By the time they reach the age of 6 or 7, they are nattering away in Irish as if it was the most natural thing in the world to them – Fluent in Irish by the age of 7!