Linguistic diversity: the response of an Irish primary school

Since the mid-1990s, Scoil Bhríde (Cailíní), a primary school in the suburbs of Dublin, has experienced an unprecedented increase in the level of linguistic and cultural diversity in its pupil body. In response to this, two overarching goals to language teaching and learning have been identified. These seek to:

  • ensure that all pupils become proficient in the language of schooling
  • exploit the linguistic diversity of the school for the benefit of all pupils.

This presentation will describe the integrated approach to language learning developed in the school in cooperation with teachers, pupils and parents. Challenges and opportunities presented by increasing linguistic diversity in classrooms will be identified. Outcomes, where all languages of the school community are equally valued, will be examined.

About the speaker

Déirdre Kirwan was Principal of Scoil Bhríde (Cailíní) for over 20 years.

80% of this primary school’s enrolment is comprised of pupils from more than 50 different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Déirdre has explored, with teachers, parents and pupils, the benefits of an integrated approach to language teaching and learning where the use of pupils’ home languages is encouraged and supported in school.

In 2008, Déirdre was awarded European Ambassador for Languages (Léargas) for her active promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity within the school.

In 2009, she was conferred with a PhD from Trinity College Dublin for her research in the area of language education. Since her retirement in summer 2015, she has continued working with both serving and pre-service teachers to promote the benefits of plurilingual language use in Ireland and internationally.

Déirdre is currently working with the European Centre for Modern Languages on the topic of early language learning.