The Certificate in Professional Irish is now over five years in existence. Almost one thousand people have received the qualification to date and demand for the course has been growing steadily in recent times. This spring, almost 80 people are undertaking the course in Gaelchultúr’s centre in Dublin, courses are being run in councils and organisations all over Ireland and people from all corners of the country are undertaking the course online.
Since the Certificate in Professional Irish began in 2012, nearly one hundred staff members from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, in Dublin, Galway and Longford, have gained the qualification. Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir recently spoke to two staff members in the Department about their experience of the course and about the impact it has had on them.
Tell us a little bit about your experience of learning Irish at school.
Although I had been studying Higher Level Irish until a week before the Leaving Cert began, I then dropped to Ordinary Level. Unfortunately, the pressure was on at the time and panic had set in! I managed to get a B1, however, so I would have been well able for the Honours paper. The learning environment was completely different back then: the aim of the game was to get the Leaving Cert done in order to get enough points to get into college. It had nothing to do with enjoying the language as such. Nevertheless, I did enjoy learning Irish and I had fantastic teachers in secondary school who shared a great love for the language. That was something that stuck with me but I hadn’t really had an opportunity to return to learning Irish since.
How, then, did it feel to register for the Certificate in Professional Irish and to return to the language?
I suppose that my experience was more multidimensional this time around. Certainly, we have legislative requirements in the workplace that must be met and that was the main reason why I chose to do this particular course. Initially, I was slightly apprehensive about managing my workload and taking on the course. The teachers were so supportive that it alleviated any fear that might have been ingrained into us from when we were at school.
Interestingly enough, I began to realise just how much knowledge I had retained and how familiar a lot of it was to me. I was starting from scratch yet a lot of it came back naturally. What’s more, I was learning this time around because I actually wanted to learn – I could see a real purpose and use for it at work and I got to enjoy learning it because I wasn’t worrying about the overwhelming pressure of exams. The course content was relevant and applicable to the job in terms of the vocabulary, phrases, sentence structures that they could be practised and used regularly at work. I recall saying to myself: “This is really worth learning, valuable to have and, hopefully, I can provide a good customer service down the line if it’s required.” It essentially added a whole new dimension to learning the language for me.
What role does the Official Languages Act play for you at work?
The Official Languages Act obliges us to provide a service to the public through Irish should it be required. The Department itself is hugely supportive of that obligation and we have made leaps and bounds in providing this particular service. I myself studied Spanish in college and it wasn’t until I travelled to Spanish-speaking countries in South America and to mainland Spain that I realised just how important it is to have a native language and to know how to speak it. There is so much to gain from that and since we have Irish here and since I didn’t have that great a grasp on the language I wanted to raise my standards.
The Department continues to work hard so that services will be available in Irish. By having more staff here in Longford who are learning Irish, we’ll soon have more staff readily available to accommodate customers with these services. Now, I know at Level 3 of the TGG that I’m not fluent yet by any means, but I can certainly get a phone call off the ground. That in itself has built my confidence and this course has also helped me brush up on my skills when dealing with customers.
Would you recommend the TGG to others?
I would certainly encourage anyone to participate - it was a very enjoyable and worthwhile course. If the Level 4 course ever became available here, then I would certainly sign up. The fact that it is also a QQI accredited course gives a lot more weight to it; you know that you have to meet a certain standard to get the certificate. That ensures that I have the ability to continue and to progress onto the next level. It also brings with it a great sense of achievement; we had a presentation of certificates here in Longford for the staff who had completed their courses at various levels, and there was a very upbeat atmosphere. We had all worked hard over the course of the ten weeks, and with the support of our teachers we saw the fruits of our labour at the end. So, should the opportunity arise to avail of another course I would definitely sign up!
Tell us a little about your experience learning Irish.
I studied Irish at school about fifty years ago. I’m originally from Mayo, and although I’m not from a Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking area myself, my schooling was conducted in Irish up until the Inter Cert and my teachers were passionate about the language. I do recall my schoolteacher being very interested in Irish and fond of the language and I think that was what encouraged me to continue learning it. I went to a co-ed, or a mixed school, and if I'm not mistaken, one of the first of its kind in that part of the country at the time. I had a great Irish teacher for my Inter Cert which was why I could speak Irish fairly well and why I was happy with how I did in the Leaving Cert.
The approach with the TGG is quite different to the approach teachers had when I was in school and it has been much more enjoyable. It seems to me that teaching methods have improved and that the emphasis is placed on the language itself as opposed to the grammar. There are assignments to complete throughout the course which are challenging from time to time. I myself did Level 5 of the TGG. Initially, I wanted to do Level 4 but it was suggested that I should do Level 5 instead. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to do well in my assignments, listening and oral exams, but despite the challenges I'm really glad that I decided to do the course!
Are you happy that the Department has provided the TGG course?
After I had finished school and started working in the civil service I did several Irish courses including one with Gaeleagras and a few others with Sult, an Irish language club established in 1999 in Dublin. I was delighted to hear that Irish language courses were being offered again because I always had an interest in working on my Irish. Given that I work in the Training Unit, I organise of courses on behalf of the Department and the ability to speak Irish would be of a great benefit to me. Not only would it help me work on my self-confidence when it comes to speaking the language but it would also allow me to encourage others in the Department to sign up to courses in order to improve their Irish. There are approximately 7,000 people working in this Department and I'm lucky in the sense that I can help my colleagues so that they, in turn, will be able to tend to customers’ needs and those of the general public too.
How important a role does the Official Languages Act have in the Department?
It plays a rather important role in the workplace – by law, a bilingual service must be available to our customers and to the general public, both in English and in Irish, and the onus is on us in the Department to ensure that this is provided. There are not too many people, as of now, availing of this service but if the effort isn’t made to speak Irish to the public, then our services won’t be used. Even those who speak Irish are willing to avail of English-speaking services such as filling out forms in English but it remains of utmost importance to show respect to the Irish language and to Irish speakers by also accommodating their language needs.
Would you recommend the TGG to others?
Definitely. Although the course is challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was delighted with my results and felt a great sense of achievement when I was awarded my certificate. Both staff and management in Gaelchultúr provided great support, lending us a helping hand with any issues or problems we may have had over the duration of the course. The teachers instilled confidence in us while we were in class, which made for a pleasant class environment. This helped us in our progression, allowing us then to improve upon our language skills.
The Certificate in Professional Irish will begin again in Gaelchultúr in Dublin on 25 September 2018, 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 Sales and Marketing Manager, on (01) 484 5225 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.