You say tomato, or is it trátaí?

As an expat in Dublin, I don’t have the added complication of living someplace where I don’t speak the language.  During the past four months, I have often thought about how much more isolating and difficult this transition would have been had I ended up in France or Italy.  This is one of the many reasons I am glad I landed in Dublin.

But while English is what is spoken here now, the native language is Irish.  Street signs are in English and Irish, announcements on the tram are in both languages, you can choose to speak to someone in Irish when calling a customer service number.

I’m rather fascinated by the Irish language.  Letter combinations don’t make the same sound they do in English – “rs” shounds like “sh”, “mh” sounds like a “v”.  And I can’t seem to wrap my brain or my mouth around how it all is supposed to work.

In a wine-filled discussion with some of my co-workers, they tried to explain (and diagram) the ins and outs of the language to me.  I came away with: The Finn McCool obstacle course mud run I did should have been spelled “Fionn MacCumhaill” and “an bhfuil cead agam dul go dti an leithreas” means “Can I go to the toilet?”  At least, I think it does.  As I said, there was wine involved.

It seems to me that there is a definite effort to keep the Irish language alive.  Even though I wonder if this effort may be in vain, I admire it.   My work friends tell me that Irish is a dead language, yet it seems to me they can all speak it at least on an elementary level, if not more.  And I think that’s pretty cool.

One of the things that really embarrasses me about America and our education system is it’s total lack of regard for any language other than English.  I have struggled for years to learn French and am now, at best, an intermediate speaker.  I have been close to tears in my Italian class as I try to learn the language of the country that granted me citizenship.  I truly regret not being taught a second and even a third language when I was young, when it would have been so much easier.

Irish may be a dying language.  It may no longer be necessary or relevant.  I won’t learn Irish simply by living in Dublin the way I might have learned French if I had moved to Paris.  But as long as I am living in this country, I will do my best to respect its native tongue – which probably means I should stop trying to write or speak it at all.


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