Before you get up in arms about Irish being a foreign language I’ll explain what I mean in a minute.

A new survey has come out in Britain showing how many Britons can speak the most important foreign language to a conversational level.

15% – French

6% – German

4% – Spanish

2% – Italian

1% – Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Japanese

The others, including Portuguese and Turkish are less than 1%.

The report concluded that this was not good news for transacting business.


I wondered what the equivalent would be in Ireland so I looked up Wikipedia on the subject.

It said that 94% of Irish people had English as their first language and only 2% of Irish people spoke Irish Gaelic daily. Ulster Scots and Shelta, which the travelling people speak and is a mixture of Irish and English, would be the only significant others that were spoken as a 1st language.

2nd Language

So, when the survey was conducted it was looking at how many people could speak a 2nd language. Therefore, in this case they were looking at people to whom English was a first language, i.e. the vast majority of Irish people (94%).

They found that the most common 2nd language amongst Irish people would be:-

20% – French

9% – Irish

7% – German

4% – Spanish


Now it doesn’t say to what standard they are able to speak it. In the UK survey you had to be able to speak it to conversational level.

It looks as if more Irish people can speak French than British people, although I stress again that I don’t know to what level they have to be able to speak it.

The results are pretty poor for both countries.


It would be interesting to be able to find out how many people in Moville & Greencastle were able to speak any of these languages to a conversational level. Moville is a holiday town and gets lots of foreign visitors some of whom can speak good English and some who can’t.

I have never been in any pub or restaurant here when a foreigner has come in and any of the staff or customers have been able to talk back to them in their own languages. Maybe there are loads of Spanish speakers, French speakers and German speakers in Moville but who don’t go out to pubs and restaurants.


The most astonishing result, though, in survey is that more than twice as many people can speak French as can speak Irish.

And even more astonishingly, only one-in-eleven Irish people can speak Irish – despite having learned it ever weekday since the age of 5 till they leave school.

That’s a shocking waste of time and money in schools. I remember watching a Celtic v Barcelona match on TG4 in a pub and there was an incident at half time (a player got sent off in the tunnel) and I asked the other people what the commentator was saying and what had happened.

Not one of them knew!

Why Not?

I’ve asked people who more people can’s speak Irish and they all say they didn’t think it was worth learing as they wouldn’t be able to use it. The teachers could take them to the well but they couldn’t make them drink something that they didn’t think worth drinking – which is a shame.

So, it’s not just the foreign visitors. If someone walked into a pub, restaurant or shop from the Gaeltacht and spoke in Irish to the staff, it seems that few would know what they were saying.

Better Way

An awful lot of time and money is spent teaching Irish to very little effect. It’s great to be able to speak your own language. I can speak only a few words of Scottish Gaelic but it wasn’t taught in schools there when I was growing up.

However, they should seek a better way of teaching Irish in schools or give it up as a bad job if they can’t get any better results than that.