It is a language which researchers say is in danger of dying out by the end of the decade unless urgent action is taken for Gaelic to avert a crisis.

In a study by academics at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Soillse, a multi-institutional research collaboration, 18 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds on the Western Isles said both their parents are fluent in Gaelic, just 5.1% said they always or mainly speak the language at home.

And from last year pupils starting school in the Western Isles will automatically be taught in Gaelic. The Gaelic First policy was introduced by the islands council to help boost use of the language and give children the benefits of being bilingual.

Read more: Nicola Sturgeon urged by Duncan Bannatyne to allow gyms to reopen early in eased lockdown

Now the most comprehensive approach to learning Gaelic in a generation is being launched later this year.

SpeakGaelic will launch in September with a course and a dedicated on-demand learning website. Supported by the Scottish Government it is hoped the initiative will not only help existing speakers brush up their skills but also introduce a new generation to the language. Programmes will also run across BBC ALBA platforms, including BBC ALBA YouTube, ensuring international availability.

SpeakGaelic is funded by the Scottish Government; the principal body for promoting Gaelic development, Bòrd na Gàidhlig; the BBC; and MG ALBA, which delivers BBC ALBA in partnership with the BBC. It will be delivered over a three-year period at a cost of £2.4 million in total.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “This is an excellent project and I am pleased the Scottish Government is able to support SpeakGaelic. This comprehensive and ambitious scheme will have benefits for Gaelic speakers and learners in all parts of Scotland – and all over the world. I am also pleased to note the partnership working in place behind the project and look forward to seeing this work progress.”

Teenagers on the Western Isles were involved in a study into Gaelic speaking

Teenagers on the Western Isles were involved in a study into Gaelic speaking

SpeakGaelic will offer users the option of face-to-face classes, self-guided online learning, and media content through a variety of platforms. As well as complete beginners, SpeakGaelic will be aimed at enabling lapsed or less confident speakers to use their Gaelic with confidence.

The initiative will complement and extend the range of options already available to learners through other sources, such as LearnGaelic, existing formal courses and the successful Scottish Gaelic offering on Duolingo. Duolingo’s success, with around 600,000 registered users learning Gaelic, the doubling of LearnGaelic’s website users, and a surge in interest in Gaelic both in Scotland and internationally, will allow SpeakGaelic to offer an integrated structure at a crucial time.

Shona MacLennan, Chief Executive of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, said: “We very much welcome this collaborative and innovative project which supports the main aim in the National Gaelic Language Plan that Gaelic is used more often, by more people and in more situations. It will enable new learners and existing users to enhance their skills and to put their Gaelic to use in a practical way. BnG’s #cleachdi (#useit) initiative ties in with SpeakGaelic and I would encourage everyone who feels that they would like to speak Gaelic more to make use of the resources available through our website.”

Read more: Scottish covid support group in plea to illuminate landmarks on lockdown anniversary as a tribute to lives lost

SpeakGaelic will be delivered by media organisation MG ALBA, with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture in Skye as lead academic partner, and the BBC.

Iseabail Mactaggart, Director of Multiplatform Content at MG ALBA, said this was an unprecedented partnership initiative to deliver a unique combination of ways for people to take up – and improve – their Gaelic. She added: "This is exciting, and important for the future of Gaelic. All of us at MG ALBA are proud to be a part of an initiative we hope will prove game-changing for the future of the language. I’m also personally really looking forward to using all the resources to improve my own Gaelic.”

Marsaili MacLeod, Vice Principal & Director of Studies at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, said: “SpeakGaelic will transform the landscape for Gaelic learning – the partnership is creating structured, accessible and media-rich learning materials. It will support our teaching community, from private tutors to Councils and community groups to Universities. It will support our community of learners and Gaelic speakers, welcoming anyone who has an interest, connection or love of the language to take part.”

Margaret Mary Murray, Head of Gaelic Services at the BBC, said: “SpeakGaelic will be a fresh and modern approach to learning on the BBC’s Gaelic services, enabling digital, audio and video content to integrate seamlessly and align with formal academic courses. SpeakGaelic will offer a fantastic new service for audiences on BBC ALBA, iPlayer, Radio nan Gàidheal, Sounds and BBC ALBA YouTube.”