“I’m probably the only person from Trinidad and Tobago that has Gaelic,” says Caroline Quinn.

The 31-year-old married and settled in Glasgow 13 years ago and sent her three boys to the city’s first Gaelic school. Her oldest is already fluent at nine.

English is the official language of the Caribbean twin island nation, but segments of the population speak other languages, including “patois”, a version of French.

“Because Trinidad has had so many cultures, a lot of the smaller cultures have been lost so I felt like in some way, learning Gaelic was my way of trying to preserve something important,” she says.

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The mother-of-three was already learning the language at the University of Glasgow and has now signed up to an ambitious £4million teaching project being launched today.

SpeakGaelic is being hailed the most significant and transformational change in the approach to teaching the language in almost 30 years – crucially because it is targeting lapsed speakers as well as complete beginners.

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The multi-platform approach will include a dedicated on-demand learning website with complementary programmes and content on BBC Alba and Radio nan Gàidheal, which will also be streamed on YouTube and social media. Communities will also be encouraged to host face-to-face classes using free, classroom materials.

Accessibility for international learners is a key part of the project – figures show around a quarter of those who use the DuoLingo app to learn Gaelic are from North America.

The first level – A1 – for complete beginners will be launched first, followed by a slightly more advanced foundation course. Lapsed or less confident Gaelic speakers will be catered for with dedicated courses in 2022 and 2023.

“It feels like a big moment for Gaelic,” said Project Director, Iseabail Mactaggart, who is also director of multi-platform content at MG Alba, the operating name of the Gaelic Media Service.

“We are very hopeful that it will lead to a very meaningful change in making Gaelic learning accessible.


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“This isn’t just about enabling new learners but equally and incredibly importantly – as Gaelic is a language of community – that we are supporting people who may never have had any formal education in Gaelic.

“There is a really clear statement about what you should be able to do at each level and that’s the first time that has been articulated. I think that’s really helpful for keeping people motivated on their learning journey.

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“The other way that it’s different is the scale of it. You will be able to learn in a self-directed way on the website and the class materials are available on the website for anyone to download.

“The fact that it has got that academic credibility – through Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the fact that the programmes will also be available on Youtube means there is no geo-blocking.

“We know anecdotally that there is a lot of international interest. I think Duolingo figures show that around a quarter are from North America so that’s significant.”

Census data from 2011showed just over 57,000 people could speak Gaelic while 23,000 people said they could understand the language but not read, write, or speak it.

Ms Mactaggart, a native speaker from Islay who is also fluent in Mandarin and has “conversational” Japanese, said she hopes the project will be warmly received in island communities.

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“We have fantastic community speakers and if we are able to provide them with authoritative teaching materials, that could be really powerful.”

SpeakGaelic programmes will be fronted by BBC weather presenter and musician Joy Dunlop, and outdoors enthusiast Calum Maclean, who are both Sabhal Mòr Ostaig graduates.

BBC Radio nan Gàidheal presenter John Urquhart will provide podcast and radio content.

The Learn Gaelic website attracts around 50,000 unique users a month and will be used as a benchmark for the first year of the project.

“We will be looking at our TV and radio audiences to assess the reach. I think it will be very important for us to use the analytics on the website.

“If we seeing any drop-offs, we need to unpick that and understand why. For Gaelic to survive, we are all in this together.”