Irish Teens Have Home Advantage as Dublin Hosts the 2017 International Linguistics Olympiad

Today forty-four teams consisting of 176 students aged between 14-19 years, representing 29 countries, will compete in the International Linguistics Olympiad 2017 in Dublin. The International Linguistics Olympiad 2017 (IOL 2017) is being hosted by the Science Foundation Ireland-funded ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology and it will run from 31 July to 4 August in Dublin City University. Competitors will attempt over the 5 days to win a gold medal for their country and/or an individual medal for their problem solving skills.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Director of the ADAPT Centre, Professor Vincent Wade said, “The ADAPT Centre is delighted to host the 15th International Linguistics Olympiad and to welcome over 350 people – contestants, jury members, team leaders and observers – from over 30 nations to Dublin. These top young problem solvers break boundaries as the competition tests not just linguistic skills but hones their lateral-thinking skills. The IOL inspires students to consider the fascinating range of careers that combine computing, linguistics and languages. I would like to wish Team Ireland the very best of luck this week and hope they encourage you to attend the Family Problem Solving Festival taking place in September

The IOL is an annual international competition that challenges young people to decode unfamiliar languages, many of them little-known or expired languages.  It encourages students to develop their own strategies for solving problems in fascinating languages from around the globe. Students must use their ingenuity to solve puzzles such as deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, decoding numerical spy codes, and interpreting ancient Mayan poetry. No prior knowledge of linguistics or a second language is required, as even the hardest problems require only logical ability and lateral thinking. The aim of the competition is to develop students’ problem-solving skills and to inspire them to consider the range of careers at the intersection of computing, linguistics and language.

Speaking today Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy and Communications at Science Foundation Ireland, welcomed participants saying “The IOL brings together some of the best young problem solvers and creative thinkers from across the globe. Science Foundation Ireland are delighted to welcome the competitors and their families to Dublin. Problem solving and lateral thinking are vital skills for a wide range of careers, especially in science and technology. Competitions such as the IOL allow young people to learn these skills in a fun, interactive manner, fostering the next generation of problem solvers and innovators. I wish all the competitors the best of luck and hope they will inspire other students to participate in the national competition, the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad, next year.”

Team Ireland comprises Ireland’s top eight second-level students who competed against over 4,000 students nationwide in the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad (AILO) in order to qualify for the team. Team Ireland members are:

Philip Krause (17), Ashton Blackrock, Cork

Eimer Kyle (16), St. Finian’s College, Mullingar, Westmeath

Marco Stango (19), Newtown School, Waterford

Tom McAlinden (17), Aquinas Grammar, Belfast, Antrim

Padraig Sheehy (17), Gonzaga College SJ, Dublin

Tristan l’Anson-Sparks (15), Methodist College, Belfast, Antrim

Cian O’Hara (17), Holy Family Community School, Rathcoole, Dublin

Daniel Quingley (17), Belfast Royal Academy, Belfast, Antrim.

Speaking today Team Ireland member Eimer Kyle said, “The emphasis that the IOL places on logic and reasoning was certainly its selling point for me. Most of the languages we have to deal with I’ve never even heard of before so it’s really exciting trying to figure out the puzzles. I’m looking forward to cracking puzzles this week, especially in the group challenge. I know it’ll really force us to think creatively and to stretch our minds. I’m also excited to meet the many other young people from around the world who share the same passion and interest I have in problem solving.”

The IOL is an annual competition that challenges students to decode unfamiliar languages – many of them little-known or expired languages.  In past years, students have worked on everything from sign language used by monks to Sanskrit poetry.  They have translated Jaqaru, a language once spoken among indigenous tribes in the Andes, and Iatmül, a language with only 8,400 native speakers.

Team members are selected on the basis of their strong performances in their national contests.  Last year’s IOL 2016 brought more than 180 students from 29 countries to India.  There, Team Ireland participant Pádraig Sheehy secured an Honorable Mention award and he is joining the Irish team again for IOL 2017 to continue his interests in decoding and problem solving.  Last year’s Irish winners also include Claire O’Connor from St. Louis High School with a Bronze Medal, and Dónal Farren from St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny with an Honourable Mention award.

Speaking about his return to the Irish team this year, Páraig Sheehy said. “I first got involved with the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad and the IOL last year when I heard about it in my school, Gonzaga College. It was recommended to me by former IOL contestant and now team leader Luke Gardiner. I quickly developed a love for this form of problem solving. I enjoyed the experience and so was eager to participate in AILO again this year, despite having a Leaving Cert to study for! I am delighted and honored to have made the Irish team again this year, especially now that we are the host nation. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my friends from last year and challenging myself with some of this year’s problems, as well as getting to know my new teammates. Wish us luck!”

The competition is one of twelve International Science Olympiads.  IOL is designed to challenge secondary-school children, and has been growing since 2003.  Curious readers and aspiring students are encouraged to head over to, to give some of the past problems a try.

The All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad and Ireland’s participation in and hosting of the International Linguistics Olympiad are key elements of the Problem-Solving Initiative. This two-year nationwide initiative, run by ADAPT and funded by Science Foundation Ireland, aims to foster a new generation of skilled problem solvers for Ireland and to prepare the future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The initiative will culminate in a free Family Problem Solving Festival in Trinity College Dublin on the 30th September.