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Column: We need to make the Irish language cool again

We have a love/hate relationship with Irish – but the only way to get young people speaking it is to take it out of the classroom, writes Traic Ó Braonáin.

Are we counting on young people to keep Irish alive? Traic Ó Braonáin is the chairperson of Raidió Rí-Rá, an Irish language music station for teens. He tells TheJournal.ie why Irish has to be made cool for kids if we expect them to speak it.

THE IRISH LANGUAGE has an awful lot of baggage attached to it. The way it has been taught in the past links the language to bad memories in many people’s childhood. It is something that we are very proud of, but it can conjure up uncomfortable feelings for many such as the reciting of verbs over and over, and memorising conversations.

There have been changes in the way the language is taught over the years, so younger people don’t necessarily have that baggage attached to the language, but it is still hanging around. We wanted to make the language cool again for young people by removing that baggage and attempt to try and normalise the language.

The radio project started when we realised that we were interested in music, but there was nothing geared towards the music we love and the Irish language. There were radio stations that played pop music, but we wanted to have an Irish radio station aimed at kids, playing the music they love all of the time, not just for segments.

Normalise

We had two aims – to play chart music that kids can relate to and also to get popular bands on board who might be  interested in promoting the language by translating their own songs and singing them in Irish. A great way to normalise the language is to surround people in it, and what better way to do that than through radio. The idea that a pop song could be played alongside the Irish language, and there wouldn’t be a great fuss – that is what we wanted to achieve.

Getting the bands involved a few years back was a great coup for us. The language has a history to it, and because it is taught in school it can be seen as a chore, but a great way to get kids looking at the language differently is to show them some cool and talented musicians singing in Irish. We thought it would be a great way to make the language accessible for young people. Bands such as Bell X1, The Waterboys and The Coronas to name but a few got involved and it was really great to get kids looking at these bands and thinking – ‘hey, they are a cool band and they are speaking Irish’ – that can have a huge effect on young people’s attitudes. Seeing Danny O’Reilly sing in Irish can really create a mental shift in kids minds and how they view their native language.

Love/hate relationship

Taking the language out of the classrooms is the only way we are going to cure the love/hate relationship that we have with Irish. But the changes do have to come from the classroom. The idea that the oral section of the exam was such a small percentage when I did the Leaving Certificate was shocking to me. You cannot learn through memorising passages – that is not fun for kids and it will not encourage them to learn and love the language. Why is there not more of a focus on the speaking – that is the million dollar question – it has to be geared towards people speaking the language and listening to the language.

Conversation is the only way we can get kids speaking Irish. Years ago people would have looked twice at you if you started speaking Irish on the Dart or bus, but I think that teenagers now want to embrace the language and you can often hear them giving it a go on the way home from school, which is great to see.

The baggage that we have carried, the drumming-in off the language has to be erased. We want to get teenagers listening to the music they love on our station while also taking in some of the language too. We simply want to get teenagers listening.

Traic Ó Braonáin is Chairperson of Raidió Rí-Rá. Raidió Rí-Rá is broadcast across the capital on 94.3FM until October 7. Presented solely through Irish, Raidió Rí-Rá plays all the latest hit music from the charts all year round, online at www.rrr.ie, on all Nokia phones, and on the iPhone with its app, on Android phones via the TuneIn app, and on the DAB platform.

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About the author:

Traic Ó Braonáin

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