Networking as gaeilge with Des Bishop on Abair Leat!

Comedian Des Bishop was in Dublin this morning to launch a new Irish-language social networking site called Abair Leat.  Abair Leat was created by Coláiste Lurgan, an Irish-language school in Connemara which Des Bishop attended as part of his show “in the name of the Fada.”

Hear Des and Principal of Coláiste Lurgan Mícheál Ó Foighil explain what’s behind the initiative

Read about the background to the project and about Irish-language social networking:

A new educational social network dedicated to the Irish language was launched today by Des Bishop to encourage Irish speakers of all levels to use the language. The site, called Abair Leat, will offer users interaction and access to language support tools such as translation, spellcheck and a specialised dictionary.

Abair Leat!

Abair Leat!

It’s the brainchild of Coláiste Lurgan, an Irish-language school in Connemara which embraced the web a few years ago by making materials available to its students in what it calls an online language lab.

Principal of Coláiste Lurgan Mícheál Ó Foighil explains that the distinguishing feature of Abair Leat is the language determination capability, which ensures that any content posted to the site contains over 70% of Irish native words. Content can be linked to Facebook, but not the other way around.

“We had always intended to add a social network aspect to our offering to allow people to chat in Irish,” said Mr Ó Foighil. “The site allows for a certain amount of bilingualism but if the content falls below a certain threshold, the site will give you feedback and suggest changes so you learn as you go along.”

Mr Ó Foighil explains that the project is non -commercial and that no state support was received. It will run on a platform called Contain, developed by US-based digital agency Fantasy Interactive (Fi), which adapted its system for the specific needs of this project.  The site is currently open to users for testing purposes.

abairleat_infographic_gaeilge

abairleat_infographic_gaeilge

Fi donated time and resource since the beginning of the project last year. Mr Ó Foighil says there are no plans yet to monetise Abair Leat as the site depends on a great deal of goodwill and commercialising it could put that concept at risk. “That is not the reason we’re doing it, we just want to help people to use the Irish language, we’d gladly pay for that!”

By the end of 2012, Mr Ó Foighil hopes to have signed-on 50,000 users.

The latest trends in social media usage in Ireland are encouraging, with the number of Facebook account holders at an all-time high having grown by 1.6 million in less than 3 years, according to internet consultancy AMAS in partnership with the Irish Internet Association (IIA). Facebook now has an Irish user interface and a growing number of Twitter users tweet ‘as gaeilge’, running Irish language hashtags.

David Scanlon, the internet marketing advisor of Enterprise Ireland, stresses the importance of unique content to successfully attract users to any social network. “You are asking them to give up time somewhere else, so you must have something worthwhile to offer,” he says. “You can have a conversation in Irish on Twitter, so if Abair Leat want people to use it they’re going to have to give users an extra draw. I think the educational angle is interesting.”

There have been previous attempts at Irish-language social media. Conn Ó Muíneacháin, CEO of Clare-based podcasting and social media company Edgecast Media, says that some previous Irish-language ventures may have had too narrow a focus, such as one that was targeting businesses in the Gaeltacht. He thinks Abair Leat is a great idea.

“What a social network does for a three week college course is extend that influence outside the three weeks,” he says. “So why not set up something dedicated to encourage them to talk in Irish?” The key, he says, is to be realistic and not to try to replace Facebook or Twitter.

Niamh Ní Bhroin, a PhD researcher at the University of Oslo who examines the relationship of social networking on linguistic diversity, explains that the most recent statistics show that just 83,000 speak Irish every day outside of the education system. She says that government policy alone is not enough to ensure the survival of a language.

“What is necessary is that people persist in speaking and using the language in as many social contexts as possible,” she says. “This is why it is important to use endangered languages online and particularly in social media. We have a saying in Irish: ‘Beatha teanga í a labhairt’, which means a language needs to be spoken in order to survive.”

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About monicaheck
Monica Heck is a bilingual freelance writer and journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.

2 Responses to Networking as gaeilge with Des Bishop on Abair Leat!

  1. Míle buíochas Monica, sár-alt. This article captures the ambitions of our project while outlining the challenges that lay ahead. I find the quotes and opinions expressed by knowledgeable parties very interesting and helpful.

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