Multilingualism crisis – why Ireland needs to be more active

Why Ireland should be more active in promoting multilingualism

Over the years, Ireland has become a hub for immigration which the Central Statistics Office outlines in their data. The 2016 census showed that 70% of the non-Irish citizens on the island were accounted for by 10 nationalities, which is quite a lot considering the population size and geographical location of the island. Despite the hub that Ireland has become and the ever-rising influence of globalisation, Ireland has a bit of a language issue.

Under Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, Irish citizens have the luxury of freely moving throughout and residing in other countries within the European Union. While this may seem like an opportunity to indulge in other cultures by learning their mother tongue, Ireland has seemingly missed this opportunity to work on its multilingualism.

Although the school curriculum in Ireland does enforce multilingualism, there is no real incentive other than to get it over and done with. The Irish language is mandatory on the school curriculum for all pupils, bar those with exemptions for various reasons. As students progress in the school system in Ireland, they are given a limited selection of languages that they could choose to study going forward. There are three main options; French, Spanish and German.

As not all schools have the same resources as others, some schools are then left limiting the already restricted selection of options. Although students can peruse and outsource another language to study, in many cases it is not free, nor cheap.

For many secondary students in Ireland, studying abroad is not financially viable and there doesn’t seem to be many, if any, grants available to support it. However, third-level education offers many more opportunities for grants for those seeking overseas study. Why this is problematic is that, although there are opportunities available, they tend to be for later education, while studies show the importance and benefits of multilingualism at an early age.


Another opportunity that seems to be missed within the Irish school system comes not from the Irish studying abroad, but vice versa. Ireland welcomes many international students yearly from secondary to third level, but what is unfortunate and evident is that there seems to be little integration between native and foreign students. While both native and foreign students can be blamed for not approaching either side and creating integration themselves, the attention must be drawn to the higher authorities for the lack of creativity when it comes to the integration of students, particularly at secondary level.

Ireland is quite a small island and for that, we must give it some credit. The luxury of freely moving from country to country within the European Union does require some extra planning in comparison to other countries in mainland Europe. However, that is not to say that Ireland shouldn’t be more active in promoting multilingualism.

As a member of the European Union, the Irish school system should take full advantage of that and present the exciting opportunities for students in creative ways, rather than it being simply a module on the curriculum. Integration of international students should always hold importance for so many reasons, but in terms of multilingualism, it should hold importance to encourage familiarity and ease of the blending of different cultures.

Being active in the promotion of multilingualism not only creates many opportunities for the nation but also helps shape and foster a more collective identity, something that is essential in today’s globalised society. Although we can see more and more Irish students availing of opportunities that could promote multilingualism, such as Erasmus, Ireland still has quite a long way to go, but at least for now, it is going in the right direction.


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Dara Thornton
Dara Thornton

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