Learning a language

It is claimed that Catholics were greatly disadvantaged in the educational system in days gone by.

It is claimed that Catholics were greatly disadvantaged in the educational system in days gone by.

That is undeniably true, but Catholics had one advantage that ‘the other pupils’ didn’t have. Latin was once taught in all the grammar schools, both Catholic and Protestant.

It was very useful: when you knew Latin other languages were easier, and it improved your English vocabulary. Generally you read Latin and you translated Latin in the classroom. You didn’t speak the language. But I was an altar server: I was much holier in those days. The Mass was said in Latin. Everyone knew a few words of Latin, but the altar boys knew much more. I spoke Latin in church during the Mass; I listened to the priest reading and praying; I sang in Latin (God help the congregation.); I had most of the Mass learned off by heart. I became quite fluent through repetition, and earned high marks. But very few children learn Latin these days. I think this is a great loss.

There is a very timely lesson to be learned here at the start of the school year with relevance to Irish: if a language is not used outside the classroom, it is much more difficult to learn. If you have a child you can help him (or her) and help yourself at the same time. Ask him about his Irish lessons. Listen to him reading; even if you do not understand him, you will be showing an interest and you will be encouraging him. Use the Irish that you have: greetings, (Hi! Good morning, etc.) simple questions: do you have your pen? Where is your schoolbag? You will be able to add to that gradually. Irish will become more real, and the child will make huge progress.