Can WordBricks Make Learning Irish More Engaging for Students?

Can WordBricks Make Learning Irish More Engaging for Students?

Monica Ward (Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland), Maxim Mozgovoy (University of Aizu, Aizuwakamatsu, Japan) and Marina Purgina (University of Aizu, Aizuwakamatsu, Japan)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2019040102

Abstract

Learning a language is challenging and it is important that learners be kept motivated throughout the process. Many Irish primary school children are not particularly motivated to learn the language and there are few computer assisted language learning (CALL) resources available to them. WordBricks is an app that enables learners to construct only grammatically correct sentences. It leverages a visual learning paradigm and has a Scratch-like interface. It was originally developed for English, and more recently has been expanded to cater for Irish. This article investigates if using Irish WordBricks is both suitable and usable for primary school learners, if it is pedagogically appropriate for them and if it is enjoyable for them. The WordBricks app was tested by five classes of two different age groups in a typical school in Ireland. This article reports on the results of the WordBricks deployment and the feedback of students and teachers.
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2. Background

2.1. Language Learning

Learning a language can be an interesting experience for some and challenging for others. There are many factors involved in how successful someone is at learning a language. One interesting factor is how useful or relevant a language is in the perception of the learner. Many students throughout the world learning English as a Foreign Language as it is the (current) global language. While they may not enjoy the experience, they can at least understand why they have to learn it and their parents probably value the opportunity their children have to learn the language. However, the issue of learning a language for non-utilitarian reasons complicates the language learning process. If the parents do not see the value in learning the language, their lack of support or indeed, negative attitudes towards the language can militate against their children’s language learning journey. Motivation is a key facet of successful language learning. This can be either intrinsic or extrinsic or a mixture of both. In recent years, scholars have continued to research language learning motivation and pointed out that this intrinsic/extrinsic dichotomy is too simplistic and that the topic of motivation in language learning is more complex (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013; Ushioda, 2013). Devitt et al., (2018) provide an interesting overview of primary pupils’ attitudes to Irish.

2.2. Irish Language

Irish is one of the two national languages of the Republic of Ireland. It is on the Goidelic branch of the Celtic language family and has a long, written history and oral tradition. It was the L1 (first language) of the vast majority of the population of Ireland, but the number of speakers has continued to decline from the middle of the 19th century. Depending on the definition of a speaker, it has between over one million speakers or 20,000 speakers who use the language on a daily basis. The majority of the one million speakers use Irish in the education system (as it is a compulsory subject in schools) so the true number of speakers is probably closer to 20,000 speakers. There are three main dialects of Irish: Munster, Connaught and Ulster which are spoken by native speakers. However, ‘Standard’ Irish is taught in schools. This is a standard that was defined in 1958 and is a combination of features from each of the three dialects. Due to its long, written tradition, there is quite a divergence between the written and the spoken forms of the language. For example, the name Aoife (Eva or Ava in English) is pronounced as ‘ee + fa’. The word for week is ‘seachtain’ and is pronounced as ‘shock + ten’. This causes a problem for children, whose first language is English, when they start learning Irish. They tend to map English pronunciation onto Irish words, but this is not an effective strategy due to the divergence between the two different writing systems. Another problem that learners often encounter is that their teacher speaks one variety of Irish (dialect or Standard) and the next year a different teacher uses another variety. Young students do not know there are different varieties and they can find this very confusing.

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