The Challenges of Irish Language Acquisition for Students with Special Educational Needs in Irish-medium Primary Schools.
Keywords:special educational needs, immersion education, second language acquisition, Irish immersion education, bilingualism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Specific Speech and Language Disorder, Dyslexia
This study investigated the challenges faced by students with special educational needs (SEN) when acquiring Irish as a second language (L2) in Irish-medium (IM) primary schools. Case studies were undertaken on four students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), three with a specific speech and language disorder (SSLD), and three with dyslexia enrolled in four IM primary schools. Three of these schools were situated in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and one was situated in Northern Ireland (NI). As part of the research, class teachers (N=10) and parents (N=9) undertook semi-structured interviews. These categories of SEN are listed within the five most frequently reported categories of SEN in IM schools. They were chosen as the focus of this study because students with these SEN often experience language and communication difficulties. Also, there is often a lot of debate as to whether bilingualism and/or learning through an L2 is appropriate for children with these categories of SEN. The research question addressed within this study was: what are the challenges faced by students with SEN learning through Irish as an L2? The findings of the present study suggest that some students with these categories of SEN can be slow at acquiring Irish as an L2 and that some do encounter challenges when learning through Irish. However, some of the challenges encountered by this group of students are also encountered by students learning through Irish without SEN. It was also reported by a number of parents and teachers, that the Irish language did not pose a challenge for some of the students.
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