Using Comics to Teach Foreign Languages


Posted on SpinEdu with permission by author and publisher.

For Aidan Courtney, the idea to write a comic book aimed at promoting one of Ireland’s native tongues, Irish Gaelic, came to him in a most unusual way.

“Back when I was 19, I used to go home for lunch, eat my corn flakes and watch ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ in Irish [Gaelic] and laugh, laugh till the milk went down my nose,” he told me last week through Skype, adding that during this time, he and several friends first thought about creating a comic book to engender a similar love and appreciation of language.

After attending the Limerick College of Art and landing several illustrating gigs, under a small publishing firm, Coimicí Gael, he finally launched Rírá, a comic which features various adventure stories targeted at kids 8-to-14, though anybody can enjoy them.

Courtney emailed me a panel from Maeve Clancy, whom he considers “one of Ireland’s best comic creators, ” in which a girl investigates a mysterious case of missing of cotton-grass.


Posted on SpinEdu with permission by author and publisher.

I admire Clancy’s artwork, and I’m in complete agreement with Courtney, who says, “Often, the action in the panels really do[es] help.” In fact, when I was in high-school, I stumbled upon a huge collection of Spanish-translated X-Men comics. I remember being especially fond of Ultimate X-Men, and how, there as well, the artwork made understanding the story not only simpler, but also more enjoyable.  

During my days as a Latin American studies minor at Brandeis University (for which I took several Spanish classes), my professors also made learning fun and enjoyable. They not only encouraged me to read comics in Spanish, but they also made learning fun by showing movies and playing music.

For an independent study, I even translated a self-published account of one woman’s horrific experience during Argentina’s Dirty War, Mas Que Humanos (More than Human). The story chronicles the suffering of Maria Consuela Castaño Blanco, who survived being tortured in a concentration camp.

I managed to get my hands on a copy of Blanco’s account by connecting through email with Robert Cox, who, between 1959 and 1979, served as editor the English-daily Buenos Aires Herald—the only Argentinian newspaper highly critical of the military dictatorship. On the title page, Cox’s transcription to me reads, “For David Cutler in appreciation of his concern for Argentina and his—and my—hopes for a better world. Journalism can make a difference as this testimony by Maria Consuelo demonstrates so movingly.”


My deep-seated interest in Argentinian history had made learning Spanish a passion and priority, and I would eventually study abroad in Buenos Aires to improve my knowledge—both of the language and the country.

Had my teachers not made learning Spanish fun, I would never have pursued the language, met Cox, nor spent any time in Argentina. I don’t mean to say that reading comics in Irish Gaelic, or any tongue for the matter, will definitely set others on similar, meaningful journeys. All the same, I’m passionate about utilizing any tools to make learning any language exciting, engaging, and worthwhile.

To that end, I am entirely grateful for how Courtney and his team are helping to pave the way for comics to instill in children a love of learning Irish Gaelic.

“I had good teachers, and they encouraged the language, but I found that once I was able to laugh at something in Irish and understand it, I was interested and kept wanting to go back and do more,” Courtney says. “My Irish language, I felt comfortable with it when I could laugh with it.”

Here’s hoping that Rírá, and comics from around the world, will make learning more fun for everyone.

As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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