Dyslexia, the Leaving Cert and Irish
Sir, – Dyslexia is a language-based difficulty which mainly impacts reading, writing, and spelling. It can also mean there is slow processing of written language, including comprehension. The English language has an opaque or deep orthography and because of this, it is very difficult for those with dyslexia to decode and read words, process the meaning quickly, and spell and write with speed. Dyslexia is on a continuum, so if a student has mild dyslexia, difficulties with decoding of words may improve, but spelling difficulties and slow reading persist throughout life.
Irish also has a deep orthography which means that students with dyslexia have difficulty reading, writing and spelling in Irish. In Gaelscoileanna, Irish is a spoken language throughout each day, with all teachers speaking the language fluently. Students are thus immersed in the Irish language. The nurturing of Irish as a living language in the context of schooling not only supports students who have dyslexia in their learning of Irish, but helps increase their confidence and competence with the Irish subject. Notwithstanding this, students with dyslexia in Gaelscoileanna also have difficulty with written Irish (decoding, reading, spelling and writing).
In English-medium schools, where Irish is envisaged as a “school subject”, taught through textbooks and rote learning for the most part with the end goal of written exam competency, students with dyslexia who have already been struggling with English through primary school can gain an Irish exemption. Up to now, this exemption was usually given when students with dyslexia received a diagnosis of dyslexia from a psychologist, using the outmoded and controversial IQ/discrepancy psychological assessment of dyslexia. So, students diagnosed with dyslexia in primary school often had their Irish exemption going into secondary school.
Some students with dyslexia in secondary school who have an exemption from Irish choose to take up another language such as Spanish or German. This is related to the fact that Spanish and German have regular or transparent orthographies which make them easier for someone with dyslexia to read, write and spell. This decision should be understood in the context of the Leaving Certificate as a stressful and very high-stakes examination with huge pressure on students to accumulate points in order to gain entry to a chosen course or path in life.
In my view, it is the morphing of the “Irish subject for the Leaving Cert” with the “Irish language” in the context of education that is a threat to the survival of the Irish language, and needs urgent attention. – Yours, etc,
Dr ELLEN REYNOR,
School of Inclusive
and Special Education,
Dublin City University,