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The Irish For: How a familiar tale can help young bookworms become bilingual

Translating well-known books to Irish could be the best way to get pre-teen bookworms learning Irish.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

THIS IS THE latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every Sunday morning, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy.

There’s a scene in The Wire when a teenage drug dealer is helping his younger brother with his math (yes, “math” – it’s not set in Baltimore, Cork) homework.

The boy can’t get his head around the question in the textbook, but when the older boy presents the same problem as a drug deal, he works it out immediately. Once counting matters, he understands.

Much like Kurt Vonnegut’s repeated refrain “so it goes”, or the Persian adage “this too shall pass”, there’s a line that turns up on both sides of the debates around Irish: it’s the way it’s taught.

This handy little line is used by those who think Gaeilge could be taught in new and better ways, and those who wouldn’t miss it.

I don’t know if there’s a secret formula for the teaching of a single subject to every possible student. Children are human, maybe even more so than adults, and humans have different interests and concerns.

Parents who would like to encourage their child with a subject can help by finding a way to connect it to something they are interested in. And if you’re lucky enough to be the parent of a pre-teen bookworm, one thing that might work is getting them the Irish translation of a book they’ve loved in English.

Last week we looked at reading picture books with toddlers, but what about little independent readers? There are lots of great original children’s books in Irish and I’ll be writing about them soon, but today I want to talk about the aistriúcháin of well-loved books pitched at primary school age readers.

When I was that age, I routinely read books I loved multiple times. Once you know where the story is going, the Irish words start to make a lot more sense and significant retention of vocabulary is possible.

Charlie agus Monarcha na Seacláide (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

Roald Dahl has delighted young readers since the 1960s with his irreverent stories of the idiocy, cruelty and strangeness of the adult world from the perspective of an intelligent child. Many of these are now available as Gaeilge: the Irish for the Oopa Loompas is “na nÚmpa-Lumpach”. “Monarcha” means a factory and is unrelated to the English word
monarchy, although I’m sure someone somewhere is writing a thesis on the relationship between industrialization in Ireland and the interests of the royal family.

Dialann Dúradáin (Diary of a Wimpy Kid)

Creative writing courses like to torture their participants with tales of publishing success stories – JK Rowling’s long train journey, Stephen King’s wife saving his manuscript from the bin and so on. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a member of this club, beginning as a blog/website for author Jeff Kinney’s own enjoyment, ultimately leading to an international publishing deal. It is now available in Irish.

An Cúigear Cróga (The Famous Five)

Before Scooby Doo, if you needed two boys, two girls and a dog to solve a mystery, you needed to get some ginger beer and rice pudding and head over to England’s West Country. In Enid Blyton’s day, ‘famous’ wasn’t associated with celebrity culture specifically, but rather was the opposite of ‘infamous’. Taking this into account, the word cróga means ‘brave and resolute’ rather than ‘lots of followers on Insta’.

Tintin

Generations of redheaded kids have needed a hero to look up to, and Hergé gave them Tintin. It’s only fitting to have an Irish translation. In the original French, Snowy the dog is named Milou after the author’s first girlfriend. In Irish, the pupper is known as Báinín.

An Prionsa Beag (The Little Prince)

Finally, a favourite of mine. “Is leis an chroí amháin a tchíthear i gceart”, meaning: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.

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About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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