Trinity’s bilingual societies are important for all students

Atticus Medd explains how bilingual societies provide a platform to unify international and Irish students alike

One of the first things that you notice about Trinity is its range of languages. This range can be daunting and is something of an embarrassment for me, given I studied French for over ten years and can barely order a coffee or pain au chocolat. Yet, the ability of many students to fluently switch in between many different languages is reflected in the number of societies which not only celebrate the culture of languages, but also operate with bilingual nature to keep it accessible for all.

Trinity has over seven language societies. The Irish Society, An Cumann Gaelach, is one of the largest societies in Trinity. In response to the ongoing anglicisation of Irish culture, its outreach to students is extremely important. The society meets every Tuesday at the Ciorcal Comhrá (conversation circle) to give people a chance to speak Irish routinely. It also runs bilingual events in collaboration with other societies that may not be proficient in the language. They welcome all kinds of participants and view grouping together as an opportunity to mix with people who may not be as well attuned to Irish culture. Most of their events are conducted in Irish, and they use a bit of English to help people who may only have cúpla focal (a few words). For them, inclusivity and accessibility are the foundations of new membership.

The Irish language community on campus is very strong, and always expanding. An Cumann Gaelach plays a large role in preserving Irish language and culture by encouraging all people who have an interest to come together and celebrate Irish nationality.  Despite the difficulties for all societies as a result of Covid-19, An Cumann Gaelach’s annual festival, Éigse na Tríonóide, still took place, which began on March 1st and continued throughout the week. The society ran a range of different events and welcomed new faces and people of any language level. This is just one example of the accessibility that An Cumann Gaelach offers.

TCD French Society celebrates Francophone culture through a range of events that are open to all. Pre-pandemic, non French speakers could get a taste of the French life through the society’s wine and cheese nights – which seems to me no better way to break the ice! For those of a calmer disposition, the society’s Coffee and Croissants every Wednesday are a great opportunity to practice the language with other French enthusiasts, in a relaxed environment. Like with An Cumann Gaelach, speakers of all levels are welcome to join in. 

The society holds events with keynote speakers, the most recent one being an event hosted by the French Ambassador to Ireland, Vincent Guérend. This event explored the best ways to maintain links with French culture during the pandemic, which seems more important now than ever, given the strains that social distancing has placed on students with cultural ties across the globe. Joining bilingual societies across campus seems to be a great comfort for students who are craving the familiarity of their multilingual and multicultural connections. 

For Pierce O Meara, Chairperson of the Germanic Society, language is a “foundational bedrock of culture”, and as such promoting the German language is an important part of the society’s aim. Understanding a foreign language opens the doors into culture, and, as O Meara asserts, “enables you to explore a world of fascinating literature, art, and film of both historical and contemporary significance.” He cites the works of Goethe, Schiller, Kafka and Marx as examples. The Germanic society hosts different events in both German and English, to cater to speakers and non-speakers, including quizzes and game nights, along with regular “Stammtisch” and “Kaffee und Klatz” group events. This year, the society was able to hold a keynote speaker event with the German Ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Deike Potzel.

Most of us can relate in some shape or form to the anxiety of being called on to speak in a foreign language, and this anxiety can only be heightened in the detached format of Zoom. O’ Meara addresses this: “We’re all familiar with the awkward silence following a lecturer’s question on Zoom or over Blackboard, and that is exactly the kind of situation we try to avoid. We don’t want to put anyone on the spot so we aim to keep things as friendly and informal as possible.” Rest assured, you won’t be spluttering half remembered German sentence order to a screen full of blank faces. In any case, O Meara says that when it comes to bilingual events, “It’s not about being 100% grammatically accurate or having the broadest of vocabularies, more so about engaging and having an enjoyable conversation.”

All three societies are doing amazing work at promoting bilingual events that emphasise their respective cultures, whilst being open to people of all backgrounds who want to try something new.

The most attractive feature of Trinity, especially for a foreign student, is definitely the societies. The range of bilingual societies on campus proves that you can find a society for anything. It is vital that we try and maintain our ties with the campus during this extremely challenging time. If you need a new hobby to keep you going, there is no better place to start than through bilingual society events.