Language is one of the means by which we think, organise our knowledge, express our thoughts and feelings, and communicate with others. We live in a world which is rich in languages, and Ireland, too, has its own linguistic heritage.* All activities, in whatever language, are exercises in thinking.
One of the main ways that societies define and share their culture and identity is through language. It is a medium of interaction, through which knowledge and experience are communicated and organised. Every language has its own rich, distinctive features and complexities, as well as an intrinsic value as a resource for social participation, social cohesion, lifelong employment possibilities and mobility opportunities.
Language is also the means of self-expression and interpersonal communication as well as being the conduit for learning in the education process. It is a central factor in the growth of the learner as a person in the twenty-first century; how we learn about ourselves, others and the multilingual and multicultural world in which we live. Language learning also gives us access to the richness of the cultures and the mindset of the people who use that language.
Young people in Ireland are growing up in a dynamic, multilingual and multicultural society which is rapidly changing at local, national and global levels. They live in a world in which digital technologies, migration and mobility are bringing people closer together than ever before. In this society, shaped by social, political and economic forces, the opportunity to develop their plurilingual repertoire can be a source of empowerment for learners. Being exposed to language learning experiences offers learners skills, knowledge, understanding and values to negotiate these changes so that they can participate fully and effectively in our multilingual society and in the world of work.
When learners use more than one language, the spheres in which they can communicate are widened. This empowers them to more fully enjoy and appreciate a variety of cultural backgrounds; to participate in and contribute to society as global citizens and to access employment and mobility opportunities.
As well as benefitting society, a rich language learning repertoire has positive effects for learners’ personal and intellectual development and their leisure activities. Cognitive development is enhanced by language learning and can contribute to higher levels of achievement in other educational areas such as mathematical abilities and the formulation of scientific hypotheses.
The school curriculum in Ireland is language-rich and therefore progress in every learning area involves competence in language. There are two official state languages, Irish and English, both of which are offered to learners alongside a range of languages from within and beyond Europe. Language learners gain a range of skills that relate to and build upon learning in other senior cycle subjects, enabling them to apply their existing language knowledge to new knowledge and to transfer their skills across all learning on their journey of lifelong learning.
In common with other subjects, an important feature of this language specification is the development of learners’ ability to use language across the four modes of communication (reception, production, interaction and mediation**). An integrated skills approach to accessing, organising and presenting information is thus taken in this specification.
These modes of communication are central and essential to the full experience of languages and help promote and support an action-oriented approach to language learning and teaching. Learners undertaking Leaving Certificate Foreign Languages bring their own unique language repertoires and experiences to learning a language. It is also important to acknowledge that learners may have varying levels of competence across the modes of communication arising from their prior learning and existing plurilingual repertoire.
It is intended that the experience of learning languages in senior cycle will be highly relevant to the lives of learners today and in the future. It will inspire in them an interest and curiosity about how they can use and learn languages and cultivate an appreciation of the similarities and differences between different countries, communities and cultures. This will set a solid foundation for learners to embark on a lifelong journey as plurilingualists, empowering them to have the skills and strategies to become more autonomous learners, to engage with the wider world, to integrate socially, and to become active citizens.
* Framework for Consultation on a Foreign Languages in Education Strategy for Ireland, DES, 2014, p. 3.
** CEFR Companion Volume, 2018, p. 33.