So there I was this morning in the Ilac Centre. I entered the Library at 10:30am and enquired as to the whereabouts of the Ciorcal Comhrá (Irish Language Conversation Exchange). Armed with my wit, my vocabulary and a friend, we took our seats in the Library’s activity room.
What struck me first was the age profile of the participants. I have nothing against anybody of any age, so this is merely a point of information.
We were presented with photocopies of some pages taken from a book about some lad called Ó Duinnín. Grand, I thought, we might be discussing the story.
So this is the part where it all became clear to me. The first guy reads, and is then asked by the Ciorcal’s facilitator to translate what he has just read. Oh dear Jesus, is this what we’re gonna be doing for an hour and a half?
The short answer – yes. Here’s the problem summed up.
1. The participants’ abilities ranged from improver to intermediate. I presume they decided to take part in this so-called Ciorcal Comhrá to improve their spoken Irish, not to read and translate.
2. Absolutely no conversation took place throughout the course of the hour and a half, and when the facilitator wanted to make a point, it was made through English.
3. It should have been called a Ciorcal Aistriúcháin. That’s all that happened.
4. To successfully translate, one must be competent in both languages – in that case, what was the use in a group of learners sitting around translating for an hour and a half?
5. The participants did not get a chance to use their own Irish, rather they used the Irish they read from the book. Completely pointless, in my humble opinion. How can they improve their spoken Irish if they don’t get to use it? Reading out loud is not conversation and does not improve one’s Irish.
6. Best educational practice will always point towards an immersion environment when learning or practicing a language. Translation has little or no merit when learning a language.
I’m sure the facilitator was doing his best and thought he was doing what was best for the learners, which, as I alluded to earlier, were from the older generation – perhaps they were used to this sort of ‘learning’ when they were in school which is why they all embraced it.
I will not be returning to the Ciorcal Comhrá in the Ilac Centre Library. It was of no benefit to me nor to my friend. I might point out at this stage that we are both fluent and that we were hoping to join a group where we’d get a chance to use our Irish to discuss all sorts of topics. We’ll keep on looking.