‘Enormous’ interest in Gaelic language over last 18 months

Around 200,000 people have signed up for the Duolingo online Gaelic course in just 11 weeks.

A surge in the number of people taking up Gaelic in the last 18 months has raised fresh hopes for the revival of the historic Scots language.

Community leaders say interest is at its highest in the past decade and are welcoming the introduction of online learning platforms, which are helping to swell the numbers of speakers.

One factor being credited with a recent spike is online language tutorial service, Duolingo. The global service launched a Gaelic version on November 30.

Around 200,000 people have signed up to learn the language in just 11 weeks.

Hugh Dan MacLennan of the Royal Celtic Society said: “There’s a very much more widespread interest in Gaelic than there has been over the last ten years.

“There are some initiatives actually triggering that and some are building on other initiatives, which have happened over a period of time.

“But without doubt in the last 18 months or so the involvement of Duolingo and the opportunities that presents for learners has definitely given it an added impetus.”

He added: “The figures are enormous and I think the speed with which the whole thing has been pulled together has created an environment where there’s much more positivity about Gaelic now, arguably, than there ever was.”

The last census in 2011 showed 60,000 people spoke the language.

Registrations for Gaelic classes from Glasgow Life have doubled in the last two years with around 400 people engaging in weekly classes throughout the city.

Organisers say demand is currently outstripping supply, with waiting lists for beginners classes.

A fourth Gaelic school is also in the pipeline for Glasgow due to demand for Gaelic medium education.

At the turn of the century more than 230,000 people spoke Gaelic, with around 30,000 using it as their only language.

The number of speakers has gradually declined in the intervening years and was at its lowest in 2011.

But a rising interest in the past decade has led to major interventions to sustain the level of new speakers, including a recent decision by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to make Gaelic the default language until primary four in all schools.

Children will still be taught in English if the parents choose to opt out.

One learner who first took up the language ten years ago says the new service has encouraged her to restart her efforts, with great success.

Anne Robertson: Revived her efforts to learn Gaelic by signing up to Duolingo.
Anne Robertson: Revived her efforts to learn Gaelic by signing up to Duolingo.

Anne Robertson said: “When the Duolingo service came online I thought that might kick start me to go back to the beginning and try to move on a bit further.

“I think my streak is about 67 days at the moment. That just means that you’ve done a bit of Gaelic every day for that number of days and as long as you even do a small exercise, you’ve maintained your streak.

 “I do think it’s helping, definitely. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I’ve found that it really compliments learning. The key is finding people to converse with.”

It’s hoped the surge in interest might be reflected in the census of 2021, which could result in the number of speakers increasing for only the second time since the turn of the 20th century.