Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir spoke to Orla McMorrow, Dublin City Council's Irish Language Development Officer, to find out why the Council is so taken with the Certificate in Professional Irish, and how the course has affected the attitude towards the language in the Council.
Why did you decide to hold TGG courses in the City Council?
Well, the main reason was in order to improve the Irish language speaking skills of the staff members. In recent years we had certainly been fulfilling our legislative requirements with regard to the written language, but we noticed that there was a weakness in relation to providing oral services. As staff numbers overall had been reduced in the past number of years there was a corresponding reduction in the number of people who were fluent enough to provide services through Irish.
We had held various courses over the years but the reason we were particularly drawn to the TGG was because they were recognised courses and had QQI accreditation. When people complete the TGG, we can be sure that they have attained a certain standard of Irish and, as a result, we can be sure of their ability to deal with the public through the language.
When we began offering the TGG two years ago we had sixteen people who were capable of providing services through Irish. Two years later, we now have 50 on the same list. Perhaps this illustrates why we are so taken with the TGG. At this stage we have run six TGG courses and our seventh course will be starting in October.
Why do you think that courses have proved so popular with Council employees?
Again, the courses are accredited and of course that’s a motivation for learners, but it’s also about developing confidence. Participants are more confident in their ability to speak Irish after completing the courses and that’s very important. Regardless of how many courses you do, it takes courage and confidence to be able to deal with customers through Irish. Many participants have done the Level 4 course and have then asked to do Level 5; that shows that they are prepared to spend time on the courses and see them as beneficial and worth doing.
On top of that, positive feedback from the participants is filtering back to other staff members. There’s always lots of banter and craic around the classes; people hear their colleagues speaking about them in the canteen and saying things like “I have to go - I haven’t got my homework done!” That helps create a positive attitude around the whole thing.
Tell us about “Labhair Liom”, an initiative to help promote the Irish language in Dublin City Council.
It’s basically a cord for the swipe card that staff members wear around their necks. We have a blue-collared one with the words “Labhair liom” clearly visible on it. It’s worn by people who wish to signal to others that they speak Irish and that they’re happy to converse with them, on their way to the canteen, as they go to lunch or whatever the situation. It’s completely voluntary, there’s no pressure to wear the cord and it doesn’t place any onus on the wearer to work through Irish or anything like that – it’s just a good way to start conversations in Irish and increase the speaking opportunities in the Council.
We have noticed that TGG participants often feel inspired to wear the cord around their necks. It’s having a positive effect – people notice others speaking Irish together and it shows that people are happy to use the amount of Irish they have.
We also set up a conversation circle some time ago. It takes place on a Tuesday morning between 10.00am and 11.00am and we call it “Caife is Comhrá”. We advertise it on the intranet and all staff members are invited, regardless of their level of Irish. It gives those who have attained a particular level the opportunity to build on that or at least to maintain it. Sometimes conversation circles are discontinued due to lack of interest but because we regularly hold TGG courses new people often come along and so the thing is kept going.
Do you think that the attitude towards the Irish language has changed in any way in Dublin City Council since TGG courses were introduced?
In general I feel that there is a normalisation happening with regard to the language. It’s accepted now that people seek services through Irish and that there are people there to provide those services. Because of the TGG, people have the confidence to provide those services. Even among those who don’t speak the language, there is less apprehension than in previous times when queries come in through Irish, as they know that support is available now.
Over the last two years I feel that on the whole goodwill towards Irish has greatly increased and there is a positive attitude being fostered towards the language in the City Council offices. I suppose that’s due to a large extent to people hearing the language being spoken more often around the building. In our office, for example, which is open-plan, people are by now used to hearing the people from the Irish Language Development Unit speaking Irish all the time. I hope that will extend to all offices in time!
The Certificate in Professional Irish will begin again in Gaelchultúr in Dublin on 25 September 2017, but in-house courses can be run in any organisation around the country at any time. If you would like to get more information about the Certificate in Professional Irish, about the different course delivery options available or if you would like to schedule a free assessment for yourself or for other members of staff in your organisation (regardless of where you are in the country), please visit www.gaelchultur.com, call Michelle Seoighe, Gaelchultúr’s Business Development Manager, on (01) 484 5225 or send an email to email@example.com.