Learning Irish in English-medium primary schools in Ireland
: Understanding children’s views and experiences through a child-centred methodology

  • Fiona Nic Fhionnlaoich

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


This study examined children’s views and experiences of learning Irish in English-medium primary schools in Ireland. To date, children’s voices have largely been absent from these discussions, and this study set out to address this gap in the research by documenting primary school children’s experiences, in first class (7-year-olds) and fifth class (11-year-olds). The implementation of the communicative approach, where language use is both the aim and the means of language learning, was also explored. The conceptual framework, informed by Biesta’s domains of education, was used to provide coherence to second language learning theories. This was complemented by the work of Friedrich Fröebel, adding a child-centred, social constructivist perspective.

The participants were first-class (7-year-olds) and fifth-class (11-year-olds) children in three English-medium primary schools in Ireland. Informed by the conceptual framework, a child-centred methodology was employed to support children in sharing their experiences. Data from draw-and-talk, circle time and a post-it survey were analysed qualitatively, using a thematic approach guided by the conceptual framework.

The study highlighted that older children were more negative towards the language. In addition, limited opportunities for authentic communication in Irish were reported by the children. Findings also indicated that children viewed their role in Irish lessons as passive, with much learning confined to the accumulation of language units through imitation and repetition. Strategic development of language skills, language awareness, cultural awareness and language learner autonomy were largely absent from their descriptions.

This study suggests a need for additional supports in developing pre-service and in-service teachers’ knowledge and application of a communicative approach in Irish lessons in English-medium primary schools. In addition, giving children ownership of their learning by incorporating a child-centred approach would provide a more holistic experience. This could support children learning Irish and also when learning additional languages in the future.

Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJannette Elwood (Supervisor) & Laura Lundy (Supervisor)


  • Irish language
  • children's experiences
  • communicative approach
  • cultural awareness
  • language learner autonomy
  • authenticity
  • language awareness

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