Katie Lalwani discusses Minister Richard Bruton’s campaign launch which will see the promotion of foreign language learning in Irish education in the context of Brexit.

The government has recently launched a new campaign which will see the promotion of foreign language learning in Irish education. Languages Connect – Ireland’s strategy for foreign languages in education 2017 – 2026, was officially launched by the Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton T.D. The initiative is set to promote language learning in secondary and higher level education and will see extra support and funding provided to schools, parents and students. The aim of the campaign is to increase the number of students taking on and speaking foreign languages, as well as highlighting the importance of language learning in relation to promoting Ireland’s global status.

A key reason for this new government initiative is Brexit, which will leave Ireland as one of two remaining countries in the European Union where English is the predominant language, Malta being the other. Furthermore, Languages Connect highlights that Ireland has become a much more culturally diverse nation with more than 11% of the country’s population consisting of immigrant communities from nearly two hundred countries. The campaign hopes to provide more support for these new Irish citizens and the variety of languages they have brought with them to Ireland.

Language education has faced many challenges in Ireland. The apparent difficulty of learning a foreign language can be off putting to students. Meanwhile, the status of English as a global language has led to the assumption by many, that foreign language learning is unnecessary for English speakers. According to Languages Connect however, under 25% of the world’s population speak English, highlighting the value of language learning when it comes to making full potential of opportunities to build connections with non-English speaking countries.

“…70% of Irish people lack the ability to speak a foreign language while a low number of students opt to study a language at higher level.”

With regards to foreign language education, Ireland has significantly fallen behind its European counterparts. Statistics provided by Languages Connect indicate that 70% of Irish people lack the ability to speak a foreign language, with a low number of students opting to study a language at higher level. A number of issues have held Ireland back with regards to foreign language education including the lack of qualified language teachers and limited language options available to students. Part of the program will include plans to introduce funding for teacher training in order to tackle this shortage. Furthermore, schools will have the opportunity to apply for the Funding for School Exchanges Scheme which will provide €15,000 to ten selected schools. This funding will enable them to provide more language exchange opportunities for students.

Languages are a desirable skill with 25% of employers providing opportunities for those with a foreign language ability.”

The campaign also hopes to raise awareness of the wide range of career opportunities available to those who study foreign languages. Languages are a desirable skill with 25% of employers providing opportunities for those with a foreign language ability. Career opportunities are available across a wide range of sectors including business, finance, education and IT with work available both in Ireland and abroad. In addition to this, learning a language can help to further boost skills desired by employers including communication, problem solving and networking skills.