Experience on Erasmus: Sharing Cultures – Teaching Irish Classes

My mum has worked as a teacher long before I was born. For years, she has worked at the local primary school in Monaghan, my hometown. I had her as my teacher for my second-last year of primary school and I consider it the worst year of my school life. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; it’s the second-worst, after the Leaving Cert. After years of watching my mother plan lessons and correct copies nearly every night, I made a vow to myself: no matter what happened, I would never ever EVER enter the world of education when it came to choosing my career. No. Way. 

At the start of the Erasmus year, during the orientation, the International Centre in the university was asking for volunteers to teach language classes. My friend, Jasmine suggested that I should volunteer to teach Irish classes. Not really thinking much of it, I decided to do it, just to see what they thought. Well, the Centre was thrilled as they had never had an Irish class in Trier before. So they arranged a day, a time and a place where I could teach the class and I began my first lesson.

Naturally, for the class, I had to teach my pupils the basics of the Irish language; how to greet someone, how to say who you are, where you live, etc. But I also wanted to teach them a little bit about Ireland itself. 

When most people think about Ireland, they think about leprechauns, lucky charms and drunken idiots. Ireland is so much more than that. We are the home of amazing legends and poets (Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney), beautiful music (The Corrs, Celtic Thunder), and literature (Brendan Behan, James Joyce). I wanted to show my pupils that during my classes as well.

Preparing my classes definitely took a lot of time. Every week, I had to choose what kind of vocabulary and verbs the class would learn and what topic about Ireland I would cover. Not to mention, looking up all the right information and adding it all into a presentation. It took a lot of time and there were some weeks where I just wanted to give up but I have to admit, the end result was worth it.

I held my Irish classes every Monday from 4-6pm. I had an average of six to seven people in my classes per week – for a language class being taught in the university for the first time, that wasn’t too bad. Every class, we would start with the Irish language and basic vocabulary and grammar. I tried not to make it too difficult – grammar is hard in any language! Basically, I taught my class how to greet one another, how to talk about their families, how to count in Irish, days of the week, months of the year – simple things that were, in my opinion, easy to remember. In one class, I gave them the task of matching some words with their Irish counterpart. I split them into groups and everyone got all but one right! If that doesn’t count as a great achievement, I don’t know what does!

After teaching a bit of the Irish language for one hour I would move on to Ireland in general. Every week, there would be a different theme. One week, I did Irish Myths and Legends  – stories about the Children of Lír, Chúchulainn, Fionn, and the Fianna, those sorts of things. Another week, I talked about Irish music and traditional Irish instruments and dancing, playing a few samples of each one. The week before the Christmas holidays, I talked about the traditions of Christmas in Ireland. 

I also decided to show them a few Irish television programs. I know I’ve already said that Ireland is more than the stereotype – but that doesn’t stop us from making fun of that stereotype! I showed them programs like Killinaskuly and Father Ted… and of course the legendary Mrs. Brown! Irish films were also looked at and I showed them ‘Circle of Friends’ – a simple but very touching film based on a book by author Maeve Binchy.

Two weeks before I was due to fly back home for good, I decided to host one last Irish language class. With everything that had to be done, including packing, cleaning my apartment for the next tenant, I just knew that I wouldn’t have the time to prepare for another class so I was firm with my decision to end my Irish class. 

It was actually with a heavy heart that I taught my final class. The theme was ‘Plans for the Future’ which I considered appropriate. We did a simple Irish conversation about plans and watched some Irish television programs. I ended the class by talking a little about Dublin City university and what I planned to do when I returned home to Ireland. And then, it was 6pm and time to end the class. I thanked everybody for taking the time to take part in my class and I hoped that they enjoyed them. The class then thanked and applauded me before leaving. I packed up everything and closed the door of the classroom for the last time. 

I have to admit that my opinion about teaching has changed thanks to my experience teaching Irish on my Erasmus year. While I still say that it is stressful and very time-demanding, it is also good fun teaching to others and sharing out all sorts of knowledge with them. Maybe in the future – it is a possibility – I could teach media to students in universities- I’m not saying that it’s definitely going to happen, but you never know!

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