Newsletter #46: September 2019

The Certificate in Professional Irish at the National Shared Services Office

Two levels of the Certificate in Professional Irish (Teastas sa Ghaeilge Ghairmiúil, or TGG) were run at the National Shared Services Office (NSSO) earlier this year. Gaelchultúr’s Newsletter spoke with Rachel Fitzgerald, a Human Resources Advisor at the NSSO. Rachel completed Level 3 of the TGG. We also spoke with Caoimhe Madill, a Learning and Development Officer at the NSSO. Caoimhe was involved in coordinating the course for the organisation. She also participated as a student, completing Level 3 alongside Rachel.

Rachel Fitzgerald, Human Resources Advisor at the NSSO

Tell us about your experience to date learning Irish.
I adore my language! I loved learning Irish at school, although since leaving (some years ago!) the opportunity to study it hasn’t been there. My husband has Irish and – more recently – my family, but no matter how much I promised to start speaking Irish with my children when they were small, it just didn’t happen. Living in an Irish household where ninety percent of the family speak Irish fluently, you would think it would be easy for anyone to learn! For me, though, I do think learning a language also has to have a structured approach.

Why did you decide to do the Certificate in Professional Irish?
My department, the NSSO, has a dedicated Irish phone line and team and this caught my imagination when I first joined the civil service. Knowing that my level of Irish wouldn’t allow me to participate in this team, I made the decision to jump start my interest in the language again. The NSSO makes it really easy to find out about and apply for courses and it wasn’t long before I was attending an assessment interview to see which level of the course suited me best.

I was delighted to be offered a place on the Level 3 course.

So how did you feel on registering for the Certificate in Professional Irish and on revisiting Irish?
Nervous! I am shy by nature and this probably stopped me from enrolling in any courses prior to this. But I was excited too. I started digging around the house for old schoolbooks and dictionaries and compiled a little collection of Irish novels at my bedside. I felt a real surge of interest in the language and was really keen to get the ball rolling.

What did you think of the course, on the whole?
The course was fantastic. I really enjoyed it. I loved meeting my colleagues and moving through the course modules with them. It was a considerable learning curve. We were pushed a little out of our comfort zone to use Irish openly between us and to actively practise speaking out loud in class. To be honest, this was a little daunting at first, but as the weeks went by we became increasingly relaxed and confident. By the end of the course, conversing in Irish was beginning to feel like second nature!

Do you think you made much progress on the course?
Absolutely. I learned a huge amount of new Irish but I noticed the course also opened a store of vocabulary already in my head from early days. It was contemporary and fun, and so unlike my school days. I was proud to see how our language had morphed into a shiny new entity with words for “smart phone” and “webstreaming”.

Were you able to apply the skills you acquired on the course in your workplace?
While I’ve had just one opportunity to apply them in a phone conversation, every Friday I meet with one of my colleagues for lunch and to practice Irish. I find this a great way to apply what I’ve learned in a practical and enjoyable way. Having done the course, I now know several colleagues who are happy to chat in Irish.

Would you recommend the Certificate in Professional Irish to others? What advice would you give to others who are unsure about the course?
Definitely. Go for it! That’s my advice. As I mentioned earlier, the idea of enrolling in an Irish course can be a little daunting, especially if you haven’t learned the language for several years. Once you take the plunge, though, you quickly realise that others share the exact same anxieties as you. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying using Irish with each other and will have a laugh or two along the way!

Do you intend to do Level 4 or further courses in the future?
I hope my department will be offering the Level 4 course in the future. Because I passed the oral exam for Level 3, I can be placed straight on to Level 4 without doing another assessment. Having said that, with my new-found confidence in my ability to speak Irish (thanks to the brilliant course) I know I would now make a much better interviewee!

Caoimhe Madill, Learning and Development Officer at the NSSO

Why did you decide to run the Certificate in Professional Irish at the National Shared Services Office?
At the NSSO we provide Human Resources, Pensions and Payroll services to all seventeen Civil Service Departments and over forty Public Service Bodies. We provide these services through both English and Irish so there is a need within the organisation to have staff who can work through Irish. We ran the Certficate in Professional Irish to help develop the Irish language skills of our staff – we ran two courses between November 2018 and January 2019, one at Level 3 and one at Level 4 and they were very well received.

How have staff members responded to the course?
Response to the course has been very positive. Those who took part in it have been very positive about the way in which the course was taught and how it improved their confidence in speaking Irish. There has also been a lot of support from management in facilitating time to attend classes and to encourage staff to develop their Irish language skills.

The course was very successful and as more staff have become aware of it we have had a lot of people expressing an interest in taking part in it should we run it again.

Do you think the attitude to Irish has changed much since the NSSO began organising Certificate in Professional Irish courses?
The response from the organisation has been very positive. A “Cupán agus cúpla focal” is organised every Friday at lunchtime for staff who can speak Irish to meet and chat as Gaeilge.

Staff members who completed the course are now confident in conversing in Irish with each other. Beacuse they are used to speaking in Irish from doing the course, there are no inhibitions or obstacles in their way. Some of them meet at least once per week to chat and practise their Irish. The course has given them a renewed interest in the language and they discuss, for example, programmes on TG4 they have watched or Irish-language books that they have shared with each other.

Does the Official Languages Act have an important role at the organisation?
Yes it does. As we provide services to different Departments and Public Service Bodies we have a need for staff who can work through Irish. There are a number of staff within the organisation who can already work through Irish and we hope that we can help others develop their Irish language skills by offering this training.

Do you intend organising further courses in the future?
We hope to run more courses to improve on what staff have already learnt and to provide training for those who have not availed of it before. We also hope to run the training in our regional locations as demand increases.