« Previous | Main | Next »

Gaelic is good for you

Post categories:

Seonag Mackinnon Seonag Mackinnon | 17:01 UK time, Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Greek fish roe is responsible for my children being educated in Gaelic.

The trio, all born in London, had Wimbledon accents. The eldest employed this and several decibels when on a visit to my mother's home in Edinburgh she asked him in Gaelic to move out of the way. ("Teann as a rathad orm.")

He replied: "What? Taramasalata?"

I was embarrassed to learn my son, then four, was more familiar with Greek food than a simple phrase that was part of his heritage.

Like most of my 36 cousins and many others of my generation I was not brought up speaking Gaelic even though I was the offspring of native speakers. From the sixties onwards there was a widespread belief among parents and grandparents that proficiency in Gaelic might delay or damage children's command of English. The latter language was also perceived to have greater status and currency. Consequently my generation commonly has a decent understanding of conversational Gaelic but struggles to speak more than a few sentences.

Brian Wilson, the former education and enterprise minister who is part of what has been dubbed "the missing generation", suggests this widespread belief meant we were "disinherited" of an important part of our heritage.

Gaelic Medium Education isn't for everyone but its launch 25 years ago has offered the option of ensuring this and future generations don't miss out on the language, music and wider culture.

It is worth pointing out that this form of education isn't just a link with heritage. Children learn all the subjects they would in an ordinary school be it the environment, science or outer space.

And Gaelic education can open all kinds of links with the wider world. To give just one example, pupils learn to sing stunningly beautiful Gaelic songs or are sometimes offered the immense privilege of learning to play the clarsach (Scottish harp).

That's led to some playing last year in St Andrews at the summit for G20 finance ministers and before that - with great glee - at Edinburgh Castle for an ex KGB spy boss, President Putin.

Read Seonag's news article on Gaelic taught pupils catch up on English skills and listen to her report bilingual skills benefits pupils.

Check out the BBC's pages where you can learn Gaelic and see where you can get involved in Gaelic medium education in Scotland.


  • Comment number 1.

    The issue of 'interference' by the introduction of a second language was addressed in Canada where French was mandatory for the Quebec province. As I recall, they also found no interference or handicap with English skills. As I recall, if the exposure was at least five or six years, those student's primary language skills were augmented as they scored generally above monolingual students in the same year.
    Anecdotally one technique I advise and personally use to improve communication skills is to acquire a second language. Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain are two sterling examples of a forever long list of accomplished authors who mastered and manipulated multiple languages.
    Multilingualism unlocks great latitudes in English and at the very least, gives a competitive skill for the world.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.