So here’s a legitimate question:
What is it about us as Irish learners that makes us willing to settle for shite? Or, worse, line up to defend it?
You see them everywhere you look on the internet: Free or low-cost posters, calendars, “translators,” and teaching materials and videos that are absolutely rife with mistakes. Misspellings, incorrect word usage, mispronunciations, grammatical issues, Béarlachas (Anglicized Irish)…you name it, you’ll find it.
Worse, you’ll find people who not only lap this stuff up, they bristle at anyone who criticizes it.
I’m not talking about the occasional typo, misstatement, or brain fart here. They happen to all of us (If you want to hear how many mistakes I can make in one hour, just follow me around at any Irish immersion weekend! As soon as I open my mouth, everything I know about Irish grammar seems to go out the window!)
I’m not even talking about the occasional mistake that gets past editors and proofreaders. Anyone who’s ever published knows just how often those happen! Heck, an entire school of literary criticism was caused by a typesetter’s error in Moby Dick!
It’s a matter of attitude
What I’m talking about is amateur-produced learning/teaching materials….specifically about learning materials published by people who are not only not qualified to be putting out such materials, they, frankly, don’t give a damn about the quality of what they produce .
Why is it that, when “learning” materials are published with tons of mistakes, by people who just shrug and say “I don’t have the time to worry about that” when those mistakes are pointed out to them, we say “well, at least they’re trying” instead of calling them out on it? What, exactly, are they “trying” to do? Teach people how to speak Irish incorrectly? Or maybe line their pockets? Or perhaps get their 15 minutes of fame?
Or maybe it’s all of the above.
Worse, why do we promote such materials? “They’re nice people” isn’t a good enough reason. There are good learning materials out there that we should be promoting, and maybe those “nice people” should be using those to learn a bit of Irish instead of trying to create materials of their own.
(Oh, and those reliable learning materials are also produced by nice people. Nice people who know what they’re doing).
Who’s attracting whom?
Another argument I’ve heard in favor of promoting these materials is “At least they’re attracting people to the language.” But is that really the case?
I submit that the people they’re “attracting” are people who are already drawn to the language. Those people may have been searching for a tattoo translation, for a name for a child, for a transcription of a memorial, or for a translation for a book or poem, but the interest in Irish was already there.
In nearly 14 years of learning Irish, I have yet to meet someone who was just surfing along, minding his or her business, when suddenly up pops a video or a poster and it’s “A ha! I think I’ll start learning Irish!”
I think that, if anything, these “resources” are distracting learners from looking for or finding good learning materials.
“Nothing” isn’t the only option
Why do we look at materials that are full of mistakes and say “well, they’re better than nothing,” when “nothing” isn’t the only choice? There are plenty of good, reliable Irish learning resources out there. Most of them don’t cost all that much, and some of them are even free of charge! You can check some of them out here: Beyond Duolingo.
The internet is your friend if you know how to use it, but when you’re a beginning language student, it’s best to use it with a bit of caution and guidance.
“The goodness of their hearts”?
And what’s all this I hear about “It’s OK because they’re doing this out of the goodness of their hearts”? First of all, that’s not always the case. Secondly, since when has that been a good reason to promote substandard learning materials?
Mistakes happen, but…
Mistakes happen…we all know that. At least we writers know that!! Typos, printer errors, and just plain old “what was I thinking?” When most of us make mistakes, as soon as we realize them, we’re sorry and we say so, and we try to put things right.
But when those mistakes happen and the response is “I don’t have the time to proof my work” or “oh well…the computer will figure it out eventually,” or “gee, she’s doing her best!” why the hell do we say that’s OK?
Worse, why do we suggest that new learners use these resources? Doesn’t this language, and its learners, deserve better than that?
Is “broken Irish” really better than “clever English”?
There’s a saying you’ll encounter if you spend much time around Irish language speakers and learners: Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste ná Béarla cliste — “Broken Irish is better than clever English.”
It’s meant to encourage people to use what Irish they have without fear of making mistakes, and in that way, it’s a good thing. Speaking and using a language is very different from simply learning to read or understand it, and you can’t learn to speak a language if you’re afraid to open your mouth.
And Irish learners have more and more opportunities to do just that. Facebook sites such as “Gaeilge Amháin,” for intermediate and advanced speakers and “Irish for Beginners” for newer learners give people the chance to practice their Irish in a safe and supportive forum.
Increasingly more and more on-line opportunities are springing up for people who want to practice their spoken and written Irish. Immersion weekends, week-long courses, and conversation groups are also becoming increasingly common throughout the world.
And, of course, there’s the “Pop-Up Gaeltacht” movement!
In spaces and groups such as these, of course “Broken Irish is better than clever English.” Speaking fearlessly is an important part of the learning process.
But learning and teaching materials are an entirely different story. What you learn as a beginner can be very hard to shake off later, so learning materials — especially those designed for self-teaching or for listening practice — need to be as correct as they possibly can be. In these cases, Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste ná Béarla cliste” definitely does NOT apply.
Just say “no”
It’s time, and more than time, that we stop giving poor quality learning materials a “pass.” If people want to put stuff out there to help people learn, that’s wonderful. But we need to insist that these people do whatever they can to make sure that what they produce is correct, including FIXING problems when they’re pointed out.
More importantly, we need to stop referring people to incorrect resources, when really good, solid, self-teaching methods are already available.
We need to start taking pride in this language we love. It deserves no less.