Studying Scottish Gaelic

When I said to my Japanese students that I was studying Scottish Gaelic, they looked at me like I’d just grown an extra head. “Scotland has its own language?” they asked me. “But isn’t England and Scotland the same country?”

I inwardly cringed, but I suppose we can’t really blame them. After all, how many provinces of China or American states can the average person name? They knew my country as “the United Kingdom” and all being one country.

Scottish Gaelic (or Gaelic, as I’ll refer to it from this moment on) is the native language of Scotland. Only 1% of the population can speak it, a phenomenon that came from a long time of oppression and silencing. Efforts are being made to revive the language, though; in 2005, the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act was passed to formally recognise it.

And what better way to support the language’s revival than to learn to speak it?


Speaking Gaelic as a Kid

Gaelic isn’t a completely new language to me. My mother can speak it, and often spoke to me in it. Now when I’m studying certain phrases, I’ll realise I already know them and they’ll bring back great memories. We also listened to a lot of Runrig when we were kids – they are a band from the Isle of Skye and sing a lot of songs in Gaelic – so even if I can’t understand the meanings, I’m familiar with the sounds and the music of the language. If you want to hear a Gaelic song, I recommend Chi M’In Geamhradh. English translation is included.

I found a language learning series called Speaking Our Language on YouTube, and it turns out it’s the same series my mother used when she was a young adult! Gaelic is not my mum’s native language, though a lot of our family are Scottish. There are, unfortunately, very few native Gaelic speakers left.


I hope to keep you guys updated on my progress. Right now I’m learning the sounds and ho to read a lot of the letters. Although it won’t be nearly as hard as Japanese, getting used to how to read sounds is going to take some time.

There are numerous silent letters and vowel combinations that make it almost impossible for me to work out what a word says when it’s written down. However, I’m very much looking forward to mastering the sounds and getting down to learning more grammar and vocabulary.

Gaelic is an important part of Scottish heritage, and it would be a terrible shame to let the language die. I’m happy to see that there are efforts being made to bring it back, so who knows? Maybe in a couple of decades, Gàidhlig will be alive and well once more.

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