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Sarah O'Brien
Assistant Professor, C.L.C.S.


My research reflects a cross-pollination of disciplinary approaches and is primarily engaged with the application of applied linguistic theory and methodologies to personal narratives, particularly to narratives of the Irish Diaspora. In my research of Irish migrant enclaves in England (2009) and Argentina (2015) I adopt a discourse analysis approach, in which recorded narratives are engaged with from various perspectives; sociolinguistic, ethno-poetic and folkloric.

I am simultaneously committed to research that evaluates best practice in the field of English Language Learning and the impact that such practices have on the linguistic identities of minority communities. Dual language Education has become an area of increased import among Hispanic communities in the United States and I am currently engaged in research that questions how the principles of dual language education as modelled in California and New Mexico can be transplanted to and applied within the Irish primary education system. I am also investigating the implications such approaches might have on the maintenance of heritage and indigeneous languages in the home-place and the potential to sustainably draw heritage languages into the mainstream classroom.

As Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director of the Center for English Language Learning and Teaching (CELLT) I am in the fortuitous position of both exploring theories of English Language Learning and Teaching and in overseeing courses and curricula designed to meet the academic needs of Trinity College Dublin's culturally and linguistically diverse student population.

Publications and Further Research Outputs

Peer-Reviewed Publications

New Speakers of Irish in Continental Europe in, editor(s)Martin Lamb , he Palgrave Handbook of Motivation for Language Learning, London, Palgrave, 2018, [Sarah O'Brien, Ciarán O'Braonáin] Book Chapter, 2018

Sarah O'Brien, Spanish Language Ecosystems in New Mexico and their Impact on Spanish Language Learners, Journal of Language, Identity and Education, 2017 Journal Article, 2017

Sarah O Brien, Linguistic Diasporas, Narrative and Performance: The Irish in Argentina, First, London, Palgrave MacMillan, 2017 Book, 2017

Sarah O'Brien, Negotiations of Identity in the Wake of Republican Terrorism: The Case of the Irish in Birmingham, 1973-74, Irish Studies Review, 25, (2), 2017 Journal Article, 2017

Sarah O'Brien, The Irish-Catholic paradigm in England: A Case Study of Selected Parishes, 1955-1965, Eire-Ireland, 2016 Journal Article, 2016

Sarah O'Brien, Heritage Language Education in Context: A Northern New Mexico Case Study, 2016 Case Study, 2016

Sarah O'Brien, Ethnic Bound Identity in New Left Society: Conversations with the Irish in Argentina, Canadian Association of Irish Studies Annual Conference, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, 20-22 May 2015, 2015 Conference Paper, 2015

Sarah O'Brien, Dual Language Education in the last decade: Theory, Application and Issues in the Field - O'Brien, Irish Association for Applied Linguistics Annual Conference, Trinity College Dublin, 18-19 November 2015, 2015 Conference Paper, 2015

Sarah O'Brien, ​Exploring Community, Nationhood and Belonging in Irish Argentine Oral narrative 2010 - 2012, American Conference for Irish Studies, Santa Fe New Mexico, USA, 24-25 October 2015, 2015 Conference Paper, 2015

Sarah O'Brien, Irish Women's Involvement in Birmingham's Union of Catholic Mothers, 1939 - 1975, Midlands History, (Spring-Summer), 2014 Journal Article, 2014

Politics, Community and Nationhood in Irish - Argentine Oral Narrative in, Micheal O' Aodhaand Mairtin O' Cathain , The Silent People? New Perspectives on the Irish Abroad, London, Lexington, Rowman and Littlefield, 2013, [Sarah O'Brien] Book Chapter, 2013

Sarah O'Brien, Westmeath - Argentine Narratives of Tradition and Identity, Riocht na Midhe Historical Series, (Spring), 2013 Journal Article, 2013

Narrative encounters with the Irish in Birmingham in, editor(s)Nessa Cronin, Seán Crosson, Louis de Paor and John Eastlake , Anáil an Bhéil Bheo: Orality and Modern Irish Culture, Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009, [Sarah O'Brien] Book Chapter, 2009

The Stranger within my gate'; Irish emigrant narratives of tradition, modernity and exile in, editor(s)Marta Kurkowska-Budzan, Krzysztof Zamorski , Oral History: The Challenges of Dialogue, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, 2009, [Sarah O'Brien] Book Chapter, 2009

Research Expertise


  • Title
    • Heritage Language Education in Context: A Case Study of New Mexico
  • Summary
    • The aim of this project is to explore features of heritage language education in Northern New Mexico, particularly as they pertain to the population's 80% Hispanic and 11% Native American communities. Over the last decade, language planning at state level has led to the delivery of heritage language programs designed to expose students to the languages that were traditionally spoken within their homes and communities, particularly Spanish and the Native American languages (Keres, Tewa, Tiwa, Towa) of New Mexico's indigenous pueblo communities (Figures 1, 3). Despite these interventions, consecutive educational reports from New Mexico Public Education Department since 2010 have reported accelerated rates of decline in Spanish and Native American language proficiency together with high drop-out rates from bilingual/ multicultural school programs. In order to more fully understand the factors that underlie these results this project seeks to conduct a qualitative field research project amid impacted communities and, in so doing, to address the following research questions; What are teachers, parents, community members and students' attitudes to the use of heritage languages (Spanish and Tewa) in the school, home and community; how do heritage language attitudes vary across different socio-economic and ethnic groups in Northern New Mexico; what is the relationship between social attitudes to heritage language use and heritage language program performance in New Mexico
  • Funding Agency
    • Trinity College Dublin Arts & Benefactions Fund
  • Date From
    • January 2016
  • Date To
    • January 2017


Argentina; Bilingualism & Irish Diaspora; Heritage language education; Irish Diaspora


Awards and Honours

Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2007-2009


Secretary, Irish Association for Applied Linguistics