More and more children all over the world are growing up speaking two or more languages. Being bilingual has incredible advantages for children, and speaking a language like Irish gives you a head start when learning other languages too! You can use Irish in Ireland, but you will find many other speakers all over the world!
Many people think that to be considered bilingual you need to be equally fluent in both languages, or you need to have acquired the languages during childhood.
People become bilingual (or multilingual if they can use more than two languages) in many different ways.
A child or an adult could become bilingual after moving to a new country and learning the country’s language. They might still have a distinguishable accent, but they can still be considered bilingual if they can use the two languages to communicate. Some bilinguals have excellent writing skills, but may not get many opportunities to practice spoken language. Think of technical translators, who have great knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of the languages they can use, but may not use them in their daily conversations. I also know many people who can speak a language fluently but never learned to write in that language.
Are all these people bilingual? They are, and so are my students who spent weeks immersed in the Irish language during language camps only a few months ago, after having spent years learning Irish in school. Their competence in Irish may be different from that of native speakers who live in the Gaeltacht, but that does not make them “monolingual”.
So, now please raise your hands if you are bilingual! And happy Seachtain na Gaeilge everyone!