There are different school contexts in which language learning occurs: schools where English is the medium of instruction, Gaeltacht schools and Irish-medium schools. The prior and current Irish language learning experiences of children, of teachers and of schools vary greatly across the different types of schools. In an English-medium school, English is the working language and Irish is taught as the school's second language. There are particular challenges for children learning Irish as an L2, because the language that they learn at school cannot in the case of most children be practised, used and consolidated in the same way as the language that they learn in English and speak as their L1.
The centrality of the classroom in learning Irish is therefore pivotal. Teachers need to plan, at individual-teacher and whole-school levels, to provide children with opportunities to use the second language that they are learning outside of the Irish lesson. Teachers do this by using Irish regularly as an informal means of communication throughout the day and by teaching other subjects or aspects of other subjects through Irish using Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), which provides opportunities to learn through Irish in another area of the curriculum. In this way, the children will hear and speak Irish throughout the day as is recommended in 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language (2010). By teaching Irish effectively as L2, a foundation is laid on which the teaching of the third and fourth language will be built later.
In Gaeltacht and Irish-medium school settings, Irish is the working language of the school and the children use it to communicate and to access a broad range of subjects across the curriculum. Children in the Gaeltacht access the curriculum through Irish. For children who are native Irish speakers, their language is developed and enriched at school. The school provides an essential setting where language is maintained and perpetuated. The teacher has a key role in affirming the type of Irish that the child speaks at home and in drawing attention gradually to other versions and to vocabulary from other dialects. Children who are not native Irish speakers are immersed in the language as the school contributes to increasing the number of Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht as laid out in 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language (2010). The Gaeltacht school is engaged in preserving and fostering the language of the community by enabling children who are not native speakers to achieve advanced skills in Irish.
It is recognised that a central written standard for Irish is necessary but, on the other hand, the principles of choice were accepted in the last review of the Official Standard. In the Revised Official Standard, forms and versions that are common in speech in the major dialects were included as part of it. The Official Standard is now closer to everyday speech than it used to be although, of course, the Official Standard was laid down for the written language.
Children in Irish-medium schools also access the curriculum through Irish. While Irish is the working language of the school, it is recognised that it is not the language of the home for the vast majority of the children. The school enables the children to achieve advanced skills in Irish and therefore functions as a place where language is revived. This policy is in keeping with 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language (2010).
The different contexts in which children learn languages in primary school in Ireland are represented in this Primary Language Curriculum: English-medium schools, Gaeltacht schools and Irish-medium schools. The language experiences of children attending primary school varies considerably. The number of children who speak a language other than Irish or English at home is a feature of Irish primary schools, creating a multilingual context for language learning. For children with English as an Additional Language (EAL), partnerships between the primary school and their homes are critical for planning for and supporting their language learning, developing their first school language while maintaining their home language. Additionally children with special educational needs may encounter challenges in the development of language and communication skills. A differentiated approach which focuses on the identified needs of children with special educational needs will involve planning at individual-teacher and whole-school level.
All children come to school with a level of competence in one or more languages, which may or may not be the first language of the school. The language curriculum supports teachers to value the language experience of all children. It recognises that, when children develop skills in one language, they are not just learning the skills of that language, they are also developing a common underlying proficiency which enables them to transfer language skills and learning strategies to other languages. The surface aspects of different languages vary. A lot of these variations relate to aspects of oral language, e.g. vocabulary, pronunciation, phoneme grapheme correspondence, language fluency etc. These skills are not transferred. The skills most transferred are literacy skills, e.g. left to right and top to bottom orientation, knowledge of sound systems (i.e, that words are made up of various sounds), decoding skills, comprehension skills and so forth.