The opening ceremony of the International Linguistics Olympiad 2017 (IOL 2017) took take place today in Dublin City University. 44 teams comprising of 176 students from around the world aged between 13-19 years, representing 29 countries, will now compete in the IOL all this week. 2 Irish teams representing 8 of our best and brightest problem solvers are among the competitors. The IOL is an annual international competition that challenges young people to decode unfamiliar languages, many of them little-known or expired languages. The competition 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. The Olympiad is being hosted by the Science Foundation Ireland-funded ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology.

Speaking ahead of the opening ceremony Professor Vincent Wade, Director of The ADAPT Centre said, 
Students are encouraged to develop their own strategies for solving problems in fascinating languages from around the globe as part of this competition. They must use their ingenuity to solve puzzles such as deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, decoding numerical spy codes, and interpreting ancient Mayan poetry. 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. 

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 is 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 puzzles using those languages. I'm really looking forward to cracking puzzles this week especially in the group challenge. I know it will force us all 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.”

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 students to develop problem solving skills and it has been growing in popularity since 2003. Curious readers and aspiring students should go 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.