Scottish Gaelic by Terri Simpson from Angus

Tha Cànanan Spòrsail! Why I decided to start learning Scottish Gaelic

My first encounter with Scottish Gaelic was almost eight years ago.

This first encounter occurred while I was in second year of high school during a block of learning which taught us about “Scottish Culture” on a Monday morning. We also learned about Scottish food, Art, and music in these lessons. As you can imagine, there wasn’t very much focus on the Gaelic aspect given that none of my teachers were familiar with the language. As well as the fact that it was a double period first thing in the morning and everyone was still half asleep.

The food and music aspects of the curriculum were met with enthusiasm, mostly because everyone was already familiar with the likes of Amy MacDonald and Paolo Nutini even if they didn’t know they were Scottish. However, most people seemed to switch off when it came to the language portion, whether that be out of lack of interest, effort, or the fact that no one knew what they were doing. So, after a brief few weeks learning about different dialects – which were interesting but not very engaging – we moved on.

That was the last I heard about Gaelic in a school setting. However, during lockdown, I was searching for something to combat my boredom and decided that I would download Duolingo, planning to work through its French course since I hadn’t taken it further than National 5. What I didn’t expect when I downloaded the app was to see a Scotland flag. At this point, I had all but forgotten that Gaelic was even a language and was very confused at what the course could offer. Having nothing better to do, I started working through the levels.

If you aren’t familiar with Duolingo, the app functions on a little green bird shouting at you to complete your daily challenges, and many people have been taught phrases like “My dog has a big friend” and “My grandmother is a teapot”. It was the same for the Scottish Gaelic course, it taught you how to say certain phrases but not how to hold a conversation. I think the only thing that I could remember is that ‘iasg’ means fish. I kept up with the Duolingo lessons well into my first year of university but couldn’t seem to get anywhere.

When I went into my second year, one of my assignments was to write a feature article on a topic of my choosing. Around this time, I noticed that Joy Dunlop from the BBC was posting a lot about Seachdain na Gàidhlig (World Gaelic Week) which was just transitioning back to in-person events after covid. I didn’t know that this was a regular event and found it really interesting that there was a whole area of the culture that I wasn’t aware of. Chancing my luck, I reached out to Joy and was able to have a zoom call with her, which was a huge challenge for me. It turned out that a lot of areas in Scotland were planning on implementing more aspects of Gaelic into their curriculums.

Effectively, I had accidentally stumbled on a gem of a story. The only problem was that for the assessment, it had to have a local angle. So, I spent a couple of days scouring the internet in search of an Angus perspective. I had almost given up when I came across Angus Council’s Gaelic Language Plan which involved changes that were planned like updating street signs and road markings, as well as implementations for Gaelic in education. I managed to have a chat with my local councillor and was able to write one of my favourite articles I’ve ever done, which surprised my tutors as many of them weren’t familiar with Gaelic.

At this point, I had developed a really keen interest in the issues surrounding the rise and fall of the language and was in desperate search of a more effective and engaging way of learning it because Duolingo was no help. It had even got to the point where I had my family looking out for online courses that I could take part in.

So, when Angus Council posted on social media about a new online learning platform for Scottish Gaelic, I immediately signed up. In the first lesson, I was met with the familiar face and voice of Joy Dunlop, who helped create the material for the course (full circle, am I right?). And, after a month of completing the online courses, I can confidently say it is a great tool for anyone wanting to take up a new language.

What does the course involve?

As with any language course, which operates through SpeakGaelic, begins with basic phrases like good morning (madainn mhath) and good evening (feasgar math).

Each section has written, audio and visual elements so it is quite accessible to its audience. And when you complete an interactive element, you get a star which I think is really fun. I have found the content so far very manageable and not too confusing. As you move through each lesson, the phrases get more complex and more theory on pronunciation and grammar are introduced.

At the beginning of each week, an email is sent out from Angus Council which details which lesson and topic to do. For the first week, this was a brief introduction to the program as well as some starter materials. However, having completed it for almost five weeks now, each email adds extra materials for learners to enhance and practise their comprehension. These have ranged from BBC programmes, YouTube videos, podcasts, and radio shows.

One aspect of the process that I really like is that there is a Facebook group that has been created for learners to chat and interact about the lessons. Seeing lots of people speaking about the lessons really motivates me to complete them. Also, there is no pressure to complete the topics at the same time as anyone else – a few people I know leave the weekly lessons until the end of the month and do them in a bulk learning day.

Although it is a largely independent learning process, there is an opportunity at the end of the month to talk with a Gaelic Tutor on zoom with everyone on the course. This catch-up session involves going over specific things that were confusing about the individual topics. I think this method is extremely useful and means that both independent learners and people who benefit from a more interactive form of learning/teaching can get support.

Overall, I would really recommend anyone that is looking to pick up a new hobby to give learning Gaelic a go. It’s a very interesting part of the country’s culture and most importantly…tha e spòrsail!

P.S. Hopefully I might be able to write an entire article in Gaelic in the future.

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