Irish, also known as Gaeilge, is the language that is the most taken up by students in the Leaving Cert, followed by French. For many, Irish is compulsory, even if you describe yourself as ‘just not a language person.’ Regardless, many must deal with it and stick with Irish for the Leaving Cert. Being able to speak Irish fluently has many benefits! If you choose to take all your Leaving Cert exams in Irish, you will get extra points.
Moreover, Irish is the official language in Ireland, along with English, which is why there are many resources available to learn it. However, having to take it from primary school all the way up to Leaving Cert in secondary school, it still seems to many secondary school students that learning Irish does not seem to get any easier. If this applies to you, then read this article to discover tips to do well in your Irish oral exam.
This article is targeted at Leaving Cert students but also applies for Junior Cert as well, especially if you want to approach the Irish oral exam at a more advanced level to obtain the highest marks possible.
Why Study Irish as a School Subject?
As was mentioned earlier, choosing to take a Leaving Cert exam in Irish means extra points, and in Leaving Cert, many students try their hardest to get as many points as possible because many courses accept students on a competitive basis and anyone that has completed the Central Applications Office form knows that one point can make the biggest of differences, ultimately deciding whether you will pursue your dream course in your desired college. If you can speak Irish fluently, you might as well take the Leaving Cert exams in Irish to secure the extra points.
Furthermore, almost every university course requires Irish as a Leaving subject for students to gain entry in that course, such as law, medicine, engineering, biomedical science, business studies. The various benefits of being able to speak Irish is widely recognised that we even have many Gaeltacht, Gaelscoil and Gaelcholaistes in Ireland.
Notably, a Gaeltacht is a school where you are taught to speak Irish. Many of them are in the form of summer schools, with young people all over Ireland paying high amounts to be able to speak the official language of Ireland fluently. In a Gaeltacht, students would have to communicate in Irish to improve their knowledge in Irish and be taught new words in Irish. A Gaelscoil is a primary school where subjects are taught primarily in Irish and a Gaelcholaiste is a secondary school where subjects are taught primarily in Irish.
How is the Irish Leaving Cert Exam Divided?
Firstly, there are three components to the Irish Leaving Cert and Junior Cert Exam – the oral, the written and the aural, also known as the listening part. Notably, the Leaving Cert Irish oral exam is 40%, while the aural exam is 10% and the written part is 50%. This article will be focusing on the oral exam. If you are just finding out how significant a portion of the oral exam is to the Gaeilge Leaving Cert exam as a whole, you would be surprised because 40% is massive. It is almost half of the whole exam so the importance of doing well in the oral exam is already self-explanatory.
It is important to mention that you do not have to be fluent in Irish to do well in the Irish oral exam, even better, an accent is not needed when speaking Irish to the extent that is required for other languages, like French or Italian. In fact, the oral exam can be described as a way to obtain ‘’easy marks’’ because of how easy it is to prepare for it and conduct it in a manner that favours the student. For example, oral exams are supposed to be done in a conversational style. Hence, a student can lead the oral exam in the way they want it to go.
What Topics are Covered in the Irish Leaving Cert Oral?
Essentially, the Gaeilge oral exam is marked out of 240 and divided into four main parts. For a whopping 40% of the entire Gaeilge exam, the oral only lasts for 12-15 minutes. The first one-minute part is the Beannú, which is worth 5 marks to ease the student into the exam. Here, you will be asked basic questions - your name, exam number, date of birth, age and where you live. It is vital that you learn the answers to these questions off by heart because they will be asked, and they also give the examiner their first impression of you.
Examiners are generally secondary school teachers, and they understand that students are nervous, however, it really does not look well if you stumble over the Beannú questions, so learn them in advance and keep repeating them so you get it right in the exam. Take a deep breath before you enter the exam to calm the nerves and remind yourself that you have got this! Also, when you get to the venue smile at the examiner and greet them in Irish, even by saying ‘Dia dhuit!’ and ‘Conas atá tú?’ to give a good impression.
Next, the second two-minute part requires the students to read a piece of poetry to the examiner and is worth 35 marks. By this, it is evident that the Irish oral exam tries to favour students because you get 35 marks for reading a piece of poetry that you should have rehearsed and repeated over again in advance of the oral exam. You would have to do a lot in the written exam for the marks you get for reading a piece of poetry in Irish, so make sure to get your pronunciation right!
Moreover, it will be one of the five poems that are already in your course, so you will be familiar with them since you will be answering questions about them in the written exam. Then, the third five-minute part worth 80 marks is the ‘Sraith Pictúir.’ This is a series of pictures on a page and students are required to describe the events on that page. Generally, the 20 pages would be upside down and students would pick one at random, but sometimes, the examiners may just choose for students.
You will be permitted a few minutes to prepare for the sraith pictúirs. After you describe the events of the sraith pictúirs, the examiner will ask you three questions about the events on the page, and you will also ask the examiner three different questions about the events on the page. Lastly, the fourth part is the conversation (comhrá) with the examiner and is worth 120 marks, so it is a significant portion of the oral exam. It can last anywhere from 6 to 9 minutes.
As a conversational style is adopted, many topics are covered in the Leaving Cert Oral. Palpably, the various topics would be covered in the last past of the oral exam, which is the comhrá that lasts for 6-9 minutes. While it may not seem like much time, many topics manage to be covered here.
Topics that generally come up are describing yourself, your family, your area, your school and its facilities, your hobbies, the education system, pressure of exams, what you would like to do after the Leaving Cert, the Healthcare system, your daily routine, how you spent the weekends or certain holidays, your part-time job if you have one, whether you did Transition Year, social problems, the future of Irish as a language, and current affairs. Various topics under the syllabus come up in the oral exam overall.
Is there any Advice on Succeeding in the Leaving Cert Irish Oral?
For the first part of the oral, just remember the answers to the questions and keep repeating them over again to prepare. For the second part which requires students to read one of the five pieces of poetry that are also on the curriculum for the written exam, keep rehearsing the poems so you can get it right. Also, watch your pace for the poetry part because your pronunciation could be perfect, but you get penalised because you are speaking too fast. Poetry tells a story so read it like a narrator.
However, do not be too dramatic! Stop at full stops. Take a break at commas. Vary your speaking pace. You can write the phonetics for the Irish words, especially if you are having difficulty with the words. For example, ‘croithfinn’ is pronounced ‘cri-hin.’ One thing I found helpful when I was doing my Leaving Cert Irish oral exam was that I recorded myself saying the poems and listened to myself after. I could hear the words I was pronouncing incorrectly and the parts I would hesitate at, which enabled me to work on them.
If you are ‘just not a language person’, I would advise you to learn the straith pictúirs off by heart, so you do not get stuck in the exam. Some teachers would even advise everyone to learn off the straith pictúirs anyways because anyone can get stuck in the exam, even due to nerves. Doing my Leaving Cert, I even had class sraith pictúir tests where we would be assigned a random sraith pictúir to write down what we see. It is easy to get lazy and not learn them off, but you know it will be 1 of the 20 in the exam so, you might as well learn all twenty.
However, if you do not, ensure you know the vocabulary for difficult items and words related to the straith pictúir. Importantly, be consistent with the tense you use for the straith pictúir. If you give the people in the picture names, be consistent with the names. Keep the questions you ask the examiners for the straith pictúir simple! Listen to the examiner’s questions for the straith pictúirs, so you do not end up repeating their question when it is your turn to ask. It will not look good as you would have just answered their question but still repeated it.
Furthermore, add Irish proverbs to your straith pictúir and comhrá. Luckily, students are examined in fewer sraith pictúirs now because of the coronavirus pandemic, so they have a lesser amount to learn than in previous years, which reduces the burden. Have conversations with your friends in Irish. Even watching shows like TG4 is beneficial and stops you from falling into the trap of speaking another language in the oral exam. You can guide the exam, by mentioning a keyword that would lead to another topic. Thus, it is essential to have a list of topics prepared!
However, do not mention something if you are not prepared to talk about it. Be ready to be asked questions that test your verbs like in the ‘modh coinníollach,’ which is the conditional tense, such as what you would do if you won the lottery. As a secondary school student, the best advice I received concerning this is that if the examiner mentions something that sounds like ‘haw’, then your reply would sound like ‘hin.’ For example, ‘cad a dheinfeá’ which ends in ‘haw’ means what would you do. Therefore, your reply would be ‘dheinfinn’ which ends in ‘hin’ phonetically.
Do not panic if you get an advanced question like this because it is a good sign as examiners generally make the questions more weird/advanced, the more advanced your level of Irish is, so not everyone gets asked these types of questions.
Practising for the Irish Oral on Superprof
Superprof has millions of tutors with many of them being specific to the teaching of Gaeilge in many localities around Ireland. As the Irish oral involves a conversation, speaking to a Superprof tutor would be helpful. You could read the poems out to the tutor to perfect your pace and pronunciation. You can even record the Superprof tutor, with their permission, saying the poems so you will have an idea of how the poem is read.
You can discuss various topics in Irish with the Superprof tutor, especially if you do not speak it with your friends to practice. Using a Superprof tutor is cheaper than going to the Gaeltacht and many tutors offer their first lesson for free. Choose to speak Gaeilge with a Superprof Tutor today!