Today, I will interview the Irish student Laura Fitzgerald. To know more about her, visit shootabluejay.
1) Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Laura, I’m 19 years old, and I’m from Dublin, Ireland. I’m studying Spanish and Japanese full-time in university. I like listening to music/singing and playing video games.
2) What languages do you speak and at what level?
I’m a native English speaker, fluent in Irish and Spanish (non-native speaker of both). I can also speak basic conversational Japanese.
3) How do you choose the languages you learn?
I suppose I didn’t really have a choice for English! Irish is a compulsory subject in all primary schools here, unless you have an exemption, so I didn’t really have a choice in that either. Mostly it depends on circumstance and motivation – do I have the resources and drive to learn this language? I don’t think I’m one of those people who can just start learning a language at the drop of a hat. I have to research it a lot and ask myself if I have a real reason to learn it, otherwise I’ll just give up. I think language families are a big part of the decision too. I’m more likely to learn a language that’s close to another language that I already speak. For example, I speak Spanish, so I’m way more likely to pick up Italian since they’re similar to each other. All the languages I speak are from different language families so I have a lot of freedom when it comes to starting a new one.
4) When did you begin learning each language?
I’ve been learning English since I was a baby, since it’s my native language. Learning Irish is a compulsory part of the education system in Ireland so I’ve been learning that since I was 4. I picked up Spanish when I was 12 because it was a requirement once I entered secondary school, and I wanted to try something different as no-one else in my family speaks Spanish. I started learning Japanese when I was 16. My big sister introduced me to it, since she used her languages grades to compensate for her poor maths grades. I completely fell in love with Japanese and decided to pursue it at third-level.
5) How often do you use each language?
I use English every day. Although I used to use Irish nearly every day in school, I don’t speak it at home so I very rarely use it. I try to speak Irish to my little sisters sometimes to help them with their schoolwork, but they don’t have a lot of confidence in Irish so they don’t reciprocate. During the academic year, I use Spanish nearly every day in class, and I’m starting to think in Spanish a lot more now. I don’t really use Japanese outside the classroom because I’m not yet fluent enough, but I try and strike up conversations with native speakers sometimes on apps like Tandem.
6) What are your thoughts about Irish? Do you think it should be compulsory subject in the school? Do you think people should start to privilege Irish in daily interactions instead of English?
Yes, I do think it should be compulsory. Irish is a big part of our culture and heritage and it would be a huge loss of less and less people were able to speak it. During the colonisation of Ireland by the British, people were killed for speaking, teaching, and learning Irish, and still we kept it. We fought to keep it as part of our culture. However, I think certain reforms should be made in education, because the vast majority of Irish students learn Irish for 14 years and can barely hold a conversation. I think more Irish should be used at the very earliest stages of education as young children have better neuroplasticity.
I personally would love to see people prioritising Irish over English in daily life, but realistically, I don’t think it will happen. At least, certainly not in my lifetime. I think it would be amazing to have everyone in Ireland be bilingual, fluent in both English and Irish (unless someone is from another country and doesn’t want to learn Irish).
7) Which materials and methods do you use?
Because the vast majority of my language learning has been guided, I used my class textbooks. Schoolbooks are great because they assume you know nothing so complicated grammatical concepts are explained really easily. I personally find it impossible to start learning a language without learning as much as I can first about grammar. There’s a Japanese grammar textbook called GENKI which has sort of been like my Bible! Japanese grammar has a bad reputation, but the GENKI textbooks are amazing. I’d highly recommend them.
This won’t work for everybody, though. I think it’s really important to be creative when it comes to language learning. There is no one-size-fits-all guide to fluency.
For me, the most effective method is reading in a different language. It widens your vocabulary and gets you used to certain turns of phrase that help you sound more natural. For anyone learning Irish, there’s a great play called An Triail that uses relatively simple Irish and has a really interesting plot.
I find it difficult to understand native Spanish speakers, so I started watching a Spanish TV show online (Seis Hermanas) with Spanish subtitles. That’s been really useful. Since I’m also into video games, I watch Let’s Plays of my favourite video games in different languages on YouTube. You can learn a lot from that not only from the narration by the native speaker in the video, but also from in-game text.
8) Share any thoughts/tips you’d like with the readers.
One thing I wish someone had told me is this – suit your language learning around your hobbies and interests, not the other way around. I like historical drama TV shows, so I started watching a historical drama TV show in another language. I like video games, so I watch playthroughs of my favourite games in another language. You don’t have to get acquainted with German cinema if you just plain don’t like films. Matching your language learning to your interests also lessens the chance that you’ll lose interest, and you’ll also have a topic of conversation to bring up if you find yourself talking to a native speaker! Learning a language doesn’t have to be tedious, and with the internet now quite literally in everyone’s pockets, it’s easier than ever.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Even native speakers make mistakes sometimes. No-one speaks a “perfect” version of any language, because it doesn’t exist. Only a real jerk would look down on a non-native speaker for making a mistake. Grammar is changing all the time. I think it’s useful to learn phrases like, “Does that make sense?” and “Does that sound natural?”/“Do you know what I’m trying to say?” because then you invite native speakers to help you sound better. Most people will be delighted that you’re learning their language and will want to help. In fact, make as many mistakes as you can. You won’t learn anything by hiding away and not interacting with the language.