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One Voice for Languages

Group ShotLive, love, learn languages - The changing faces of Ireland

On November 18th, the group One Voice For Languages (OVFL) welcomed over 130 participants to its event Live, love, learn languages - The changing faces of Ireland in the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity’s Arts and Humanities Research Institute.

Three years after the launch of the group, OVFL took the opportunity to celebrate its patron Mairead McGuinness (MEP) and to bring together modern and migrant language speakers living in Ireland to showcase the importance of diversity and inclusion in our society. 

Professor Jürgen Barkhoff welcomed the audience on behalf of the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies in Trinity College Dublin followed by OVFL’s chairperson Dr Kristin Brogan. Mairead McGuinness said that although she only speaks one language, through her work in the European Parliament, she has a ‘deep appreciation’ for the importance of language. Referring to Jürgen Barkhoff’s address, she agreed that much needs to be done on primary and secondary school level to foster the love for languages in Ireland.

The audience also heard from five speakers who talked about their appreciation for languages in a changing Irish society.

Deirdre Kirwan and Juergen BarkhoffDr Déirdre Kirwan, former principal of Scoil Bhríde Cailíní, where 80% of children have a migrant background and speak more than fifty different home languages, made a compelling case for fostering a culture of inclusion, and of valuing and supporting all home languages, including English and Irish, in education. In her bilingual presentation, she showed how the conscious and consistent drawing on children's multilingual repertoires in classroom activities benefited all children. Socially, it opened up worlds of possibilities, forged friendships and a personal sense of acceptance and togetherness, while linguistically, children came to develop an extraordinary level of language awareness. Most gratifyingly, the focus on ‘other’ languages in the context of Ireland led to a profound revaluation and renewed appreciation of the role of Irish.

Alex Harding, a transition year student, was the youngest speaker at the event. He speaks twelve languages, among them Maltese, Afrikaans, Mandarin and Tagalog. The money he received from various language learning awards (e.g. Léargas), will sponsor his next trip to Malta to improve on his Maltese. Alex learns these languages to communicate, especially with students with a migrant background in his school, where over 40 nationalities are represented.  In his humorous presentation, Alex told the audience, ‘I learn languages as a hobby. To date, I can either speak or I learn the following languages to varying extents: English, Maltese, German, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Tagalog, Dutch, Bengali, Portuguese, Arabic, Danish, Mandarin, Ukranian, and Afrikaans. Believe it or not, I do have other hobbies.’ Alex also spoke of the ability to fully understand another person, and how they think, through knowledge of another language and how cultural context is ‘embodied in the language they speak.’ To see Alex’s full talk, click here.

Other speakers included Penelope Eades, translator, broadcaster and Spanish Honorary Vice-Consul for the South-East; Agnieszka Matys Foley, founder of the biggest Polish complementary school in Ireland; and Rory Rooney, graduate of GMIT and front of house manager at The Westbury in Dublin.

In celebrating world languages, attendees were particularly inspired by Nelson Mandela’s quote on language: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

OVFL Communications Officer Annelie Eberhardt, who directed the evening's proceedings, said, 'The One Voice for Languages event demonstrated how languages go to the heart, how all these personal stories were enriched by knowing and speaking other languages and how we have to open our eyes and hearts to the many different languages spoken in 21st century Ireland.'

Dr Conny Opitz, Adjunct Assistant Professor in Russian at Trinity College Dublin and  OVFL higher education representative, summed up the event by saying, ‘This evening provided most compelling examples of language learning for friendship, intercultural exchange and professional opportunities, for social cohesion and lives enriched.’

All talks are available to view by clicking here.

The next meetings by OVFL, which are open to the public, will be held on January 14th, April 1st and May 13th in 2017. Email

Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer | Trinity Long Room Hub | | 01 896 3895