THE decision by the world’s most popular language learning platform, Duolingo, to offer courses in Gaelic has sparked much renewed interest in the language among those who wish to explore and perhaps renew their Scottish heritage.

One prominent Scots academic who is not surprised by the surge in interest is Prof Máiréad Nic Craith from Heriot-Watt University, who believes Gaelic can serve to re-connect us directly to our past to appreciate our shared history and how it is still culturally relevant in Scotland.

She said: "People are increasingly looking for a sense of place in this ever-changing world.

"And for many people, our language is not just our heritage, it is also our home and the use of duolingo is a mechanism for reconnecting with our home, wherever we are in the world."

Gaelic Duolingo only launched last November but around 287,000 people have signed up to it - more than the 58,000 speakers of the language in Scotland.

It has also had a positive effect on other Gaelic language providers such as Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye and LearnGaelic, a free online companion for beginners, intermediates and advanced learners.

Like Prof Nic Craith, LearnGaelic editor Eilidh Lewsey believes the success of these providers shows people are interested in reconnecting with their heritage.

While she was initially worried it would attract people away from LearnGaelic, it has had the opposite effect - with Duolingo users also tapping into the organisation’s resources.

“If Duolingo had not arrived we would have expected 10% growth year on year in user numbers but this has been a real boon for us, generating interest so that we are now enjoying a 10% growth in user numbers every single month,” she said.

“We also send out a free newsletter and that has more than doubled all through organic growth and no advertising.

“I thought it would obliterate us because is the digital brand that people think of with language learning and we are a small fish, but that has not happened. It has been great.”


She said Duolingo users were particularly interested in LearnGaelic’s online dictionary which is supported by audio files to help people with pronunciation.

“We have had lots of positive feedback and we have started doing podcasts to support the newsletter” she said. “We have new content going online every single day of the week as our aim is to be your online companion at any stage of your Gaelic journey.”

Information about classes and courses, including distance learning courses, is also offered by Learn Gaelic.

She said online learning had made Gaelic more accessible and Duolingo’s decision to embrace the language reflected a latent interest.

“Twenty years ago a lot of people thought Gaelic was a dead language but that view is outdated,” she said. “Young people have a different outlook and are wanting to find out about their own diversity. People are more curious and all this information is online.

“I think Duolingo has awakened an interest that was there all the time. It has been great for generating interest and sending people to us.”

One user of duolingo is Mary Fisher from Glasgow who has also started a beginners’ distance learning course with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.


Now retired, she studied French and Spanish at university although she did not use the languages in her working life running an insurance business.

She had always wanted to study Gaelic, however, and signed up for the beginners’ course this year which she says she is thoroughly enjoying.

“I have always had an interest in Gaelic and I have friends who speak it,” said Ms Fisher, from Glasgow. “I am Scottish myself so why learn something else when you can learn the language of your country?”

She began her course five weeks ago and has a weekly tutorial in a telephone conference with a small group of people.

“You feel very much part of a group and that gives you an incentive to make sure you don’t fall behind and you are not on your own completely,” she said. “We are all beginners and there are quite a few Americans whose ancestors were from Scotland and who want to keep the language alive in their country.

“Hopefully there is interest in trying to revive and sustain the language.”

While she is finding Gaelic very different to the other languages she has studied, she is keen to keep going and uses Duolingo for help with vocabulary and pronunciation

The college course itself is well structured and helpful, according to Ms Fisher.

“I am very much enjoying it and would recommend it to anyone. If anyone wants to learn Gaelic through a distance learning course then this is the one to do.”

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