'I have long since perfected the response to the commentary on how badly the language has been taught.'
My friends are accountants. I slag them about spreadsheets, number-crunching and working for ‘the man’. Most of them aren’t accountants at all; they’re bankers, managers, vice-presidents of departments I’ll never understand. I am sometimes envious, verging on jealous of their ability to travel with their chosen profession and the wealth of employment opportunites offered to them. They’re successful, accomplished, smart women. I am in awe of their achievements.
Last week, I attended the launch of ‘Stripped’ a new female-only workshop from the Soar Foundation. Stripped seeks to start conversations with young women about confidence, identity, self-worth. As part of the launch, the attendees were asked to take part in a mock-workshop, speaking about identity, personal challenges and moments of pride. My blood ran cold; when people ask what I do, I invariably fumble.
What am I? Who am I? I start with ‘I am an educator, a public servant, a freelance Gaeilgeoir, a writer’. I continue, ‘I work with words, mostly. I am good at talking to people. I am firmly rooted in this country’s culture, in the muddied identity of Hiberno-Ireland in a post-truth society. I am a fashionable feminist writer who seeks to promote the Irish language through accessible think pieces.’ It’s not the concise, pithy soundbite I’d like it to be but it’s better than the bored nods my friends suffer when they declare their professions, as accountants.
I have long since perfected the response to the commentary on how badly the language has been taught. Male taxi drivers and pub goers who overhear me speaking Irish are particularly fond of this narrative. I begin with a watery smile and a gentle nod, not forgetting I am a young woman who has been conditioned to listen to men for thirty years. Disagreeing from the outset only prolongs and intensifies the monologue, I have found so I let them say their piece. I follow this with ‘funnily enough I’m not a native speaker and I managed to learn the language via the schooling system, however my maths results were never good and I’m pretty sure it’s badly taught too and why is it the maths curriculum doesn’t come up for national debate?’. I let the question hang there and it generally goes unanswered. They retreat and we are left enduring in a heavy silence.
Sometimes they crack and admit ‘I am embarassed about my level of Irish, it’s shameful’. Vulnerability cuts straight to my heart and I instantly become maternal, I tell them ‘I’m sure you’ve more than you think’ and share my knowledge of learning resources for adults from night classes to downloading the DuoLingo app. We end on a hopeful note, for the most part. These exchanges are tiresome and there are days when I don’t want to talk about my name, its origin and the failings of successive governments but most of the time, I am happy my way of life is a conversation-starter and not a finisher.
I’d never have made a good accountant anyway, maths is very badly taught in schools, you know.