Gaelscoileanna have got things right when it comes to teaching Irish. Immersion is the only way to get children properly fluent. In English medium schools, i.e. 98% of primary schools, Irish is only spoken for a very short amount of time during the day. However, it is taught in such a way that assumes children will pick it up in the same way as they do in Gaelscoileanna. 30 minutes of what we do a day isn’t going to work so something has to change.
There are two options – teach the entire primary school day through Irish (See Idea 10) or teach Gaeilge like we teach English as an Additional Language, like we do quite successfully in our English Language Schools.
We have to assume that the only experience children have of Irish is when they are in school. They need to experience Gaeilge in a variety of ways. Yes, they need the discrete language teaching experience – i.e. the grammar, the vocabulary, etc. (I should say that I really hate this type of teaching but it is important.) On top of this, there needs to be activity-based teaching through Irish, whether that’s in other subjects such as SESE, the Arts or anywhere else. Finally, there also needs to be social and informal opportunities such as after school sports or other activities. Children need to have much more time learning the language in lots of different contexts in order to be able to learn the language well. The discrete time doesn’t need to be long (in fact, I’d argue it should be shorter) but the more informal stuff does.
This is, of course, if we are really serious about really being a nation of Irish speakers. That’s also something that needs to be decided.