Sir, – In the article “Lithuanian and Korean to be taught in Irish schools” (News, September 9th), the statement was made that “Surveys have repeatedly shown that the number of Irish children able to speak a second language is well below the EU norm”. This is scarcely credible unless the surveys being cited do not class Irish as a second language.
I am quite sure that Ireland would perform well above the EU average if it weren’t for the apparent tendency to approach these surveys as though Irish is the native language of most of the inhabitants of the Irish State. It is much more difficult for an English speaker to learn a Celtic language than a linguistically closer language like Spanish or Swedish. In linguistic terms Irish is a “foreign” language for most Irish people and all of the hours spent learning it in school need to be seen in that light.
While I have no doubt that there is work to do in improving the level of third-language acquisition in Ireland, it would be helpful if like were being compared with like in this discussion. As I live in the Netherlands with three school-going schoolchildren, I can observe at first hand how the Dutch school system provides an excellent grounding in the English language but has very similar challenges to Ireland in the area of third and subsequent language acquisition. – Yours, etc,