With lockdown cutting us off physically from the communities around us, technology has been a vital tool for keeping connected.

This was particularly true for Scotland’s Gaelic-speaking community, with some pioneering young people using online methods to keep the language alive- and its community of speakers connected.

Calum Ferguson, 25, and Donnie Forbes, 23, decided to team up to combine their passion for Gaelic with a love of football. During lockdown, they created YouTube videos that challenged youngsters to practice football tricks while speaking Gaelic phrases.


“If I film myself passing a ball while saying the phrase ‘pass the ball’ in Gaelic, kids eventually put two and two together and learn the language that way,” explains Donnie. “People are seeing us deliver the action, say the action at the same time- that helps the language click.”

“People learn languages in different ways,” adds Calum. “Some will learn by sitting down and reading a textbook, some by speaking it, but others might find that visual learning is best. What we feel is important is giving as many resources as you can to people, to offer plenty of opportunities to speak the language.”

Calum and Donnie went through Gaelic-immersion education together in Inverness but then both moved on to pastures new- Calum to play professional football in Canada and Donnie to become a football coach in Edinburgh.

But it wasn’t until they left the Highlands that they realised just how wide the Gaelic-speaking community stretches.

“When I was away in Canada playing football, I found that in Nova Scotia there are Gaelic-speaking communities, there’s a football club in Halifax with a Gaelic motto,” says Calum.


“I bumped into someone in Canada and I started speaking to him in Gaelic- he looked at me like I had three heads. He said that I was the first person to speak to him in Gaelic for 25 years.”

Certainly, in the last 25 years, one of the biggest changes in our society has been the development of the internet. While Gaelic speakers might be dotted across the world, modern technology allows them to form virtual communities with ease.

“The internet gives an opportunity for Gaelic to move into the future,” Calum enthuses. “It’s about us adapting, changing, to ensure that Gaelic has a relevant place in the future. You either move with the times or you get left in the past.

“It’s easy to think that Gaelic is from the Highlands and Islands and that is where it stays, but it can be relevant right throughout the country. The beauty about the internet is it removes any kind of geographical barrier and makes Gaelic is accessible to anyone who wants to learn it, in any kind of way.”

This is a view shared by Seonaidh MacIntyre. The South Uist-based musician started an online campaign - dè an t-ainm a th’ ort- that encourages people to change their social media handle to the Gaelic translation of their name.


“One of the problems Gàidhlig faces is that it is up against an English-dominant landscape in modern life between TV, social media and the internet,” he says, “making it more difficult to maintain the language in day to day life.

“In a bid to counter that, I think we should be looking at ways of normalising the language. I thought social media would be a good start and the first bit of information anyone reads on social media is someone’s name, so it seemed an appropriate first step, especially given that many family names in Scotland are anglicised from Gàidhlig.

“Small steps like this combined over time will make a difference in normalising the language for Gàidhlig speakers and learners.”

With social media particularly popular among young people, Seonaidh hopes that it can help Gaelic language live on through future generations.

“It’s very important for young people to use the language. For one, they are the stepping stone to the following generation and for the language to progress naturally down the generations, each ‘stepping stone’ has to be strong. I think a hard question you have to pose at this point is “Do you want your generation to be responsible for the language’s demise?” - The unanimous answer is obviously no.

“Since the campaign, I have had messages from young people writing to me in Gàidhlig, some of whom I had only ever spoken English with in the past. It has also opened a dialogue among young people about how we progress with encouraging and doing what we can for the language.

“For Gàidhlig to appeal to the next generation, it needs to have a strong presence online as well as in the home and community around them.

“I do feel there is a strong sense of a virtual community amongst Gàidhlig speakers online, there are many Gàidhlig based groups dotted around social media and the wider internet.”

And for Agnes Rennie, chair of Galson Estate on the Isle of Lewis, the internet allows Gaelic to “transcend geographical boundaries everywhere.”


“As a language that can operate through social media, Gaelic demonstrates its universality and I hope in this way speaks to young voices. Speaking Gaelic is essential, irrespective of the ability to read write or sing. Speaking and inter-generational exchange is what keeps the language alive.”

But what of those who have never learned Gaelic? With the world wide web at our disposal, there has never been a better time to learn, according to Agnes.

“Do it. Listen to voices and never be afraid to let your voice out,” she says.