The Gaelic language is both alive and thriving

More than 560,000 people have signed up to a Gaelic language course – almost 10 times the official number of native speakers.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 11:15 am
Martainn was one of the course writers.
Martainn was one of the course writers.

Duolingo, the online language app, said the Scottish Gaelic course launched a year ago had been “hugely successful” with lessons to be expanded given the demand.

Colin Watkins, UK manager of Duolingo, said around a third of its Scottish Gaelic learners were from Scotland, a third from the United States and the remainder from around the world, including around 8% from Canada.

He added: “Getting to 560,000 is a huge success – it’s a gangbuster.”

The Gaelic course was written for Duolingo by a number of native speakers, including Glasgow-based architect Màrtainn Bàillidh, former university student Joanne McLennan and Ciaran Iòsaph MacAonghais, a Gaelic primary school headteacher from Lochaber. The team and Ciaran personally have been nominated for awards at the Scottish Gaelic Awards for their impact on Scottish Gaelic language and culture.

Mr Watkins said: “We want all our courses to be as representative as possible and the course now has recorded audio from 17 speakers from across the Highlands, Islands and Lowlands of Scotland - including recordings from four generations of Ciaran’s family.

Mr Watkins said the Scottish Gaelic learners were “some of the hardest working in the world” given the number of lessons completed on the platform.

Given its popularity, the course is due to triple in size.

Meanwhile, learners have set up numerous online Scottish Gaelic events, where people can practise their skills in real time, with people in Hawaii and Sydney amongst those taking part.

Closer to home, Alex Tearse from Stornoway on Lewis, signed up to the Gaelic course on the first day to help fulfil a long-held desire to speak the language of his home island, where he has lived for 20 years.

He said: “However, languages don’t come easily to me and despite reading books and trying to do courses I hadn’t made huge amounts of progress.

“As time moved on I had children who have entered Gaelic Medium Education.

“My partner of some 11 years is a fluent Gaelic speaker and passionate advocate of the language and my step-children are all fluent speakers.

“However, being able to speak a language doesn’t mean you can teach it and surprisingly perhaps my Gaelic hadn’t moved on particularly with my partners input so English has been the predominant language used in the house to accommodate the monoglot.”

He said the Duolingo app suited his learning style and that his Gaelic had come on “leaps and bounds” in the past year since using the Duolingo course.

He said: “I can’t wait for the next instalment! Even my primary school aged daughter was using it during lockdown to keep practising her Gaelic. There’s much more Gaelic in the house now, even from a reluctant teenager, and it’s made my job ten times easier as I can usually spot problems in Gaelic supplied content / spelling myself now!

He added: “A couple of years back a good friend of mine said that no-one who lived in the Hebrides for years could excuse not learning Gaelic. With the existing and soon to be released Duolingo materials I look forward to being able to converse with him in Gaelic instead of shamefacedly returning to English.”

Shona a native Scot from East Kilbride but who has been living in Vancouver, Canada for 15 years, didn’t speak any Gaelic growing despite her mother being from from Lewis and it’s her childhood language.

She remarked: “I’ve been working my way through the Gaelic course since nearly the very beginning - currently on a 341 day streak - and I am now nearly complete. I absolutely love being able to WhatsApp my mum in Gaelic!

The latest available official figure showed that 57,600 people in Scotland could speak Gaelic at the time of the 2011 Census.

Duolingo’s Scottish Gaelic course is available for free on its app and at