The language of our land: The importance of keeping Gaelic alive

From the historic issues of the Clearances to the modern Facebook bashing of translated road signs, the Gaelic language has suffered immensly through the last few hundred years, with many an attempt to kill it completely.

7 mins read
Photograph: IStock

“But isn’t it a dead language?”

“It’s not a real language though is it?”

“It’s useless though.”

As I was raised in the West of Scotland, and in Gaelic Medium Education (GME), I have been asked questions like this relentlessly. The importance and value of our nations language is frequently debated. I’ve learnt how to defend my language and my culture with unwithering passion (speaking nonsense in Gaelic to psych them out does the trick) and will continue to fight for the language.

From the historic issues of the Clearances to the modern Facebook bashing of translated road signs, the Gaelic language has suffered immensely through the last few hundred years, with many an attempt to kill it completely. However, the 2011 census showed that there are 57,000 fluent speakers throughout Scotland, and this number is continuing to grow.

When I was in school there were 6 kids in my year, in a school of over 360 English speaking students (which left us quite alienated but hey, character development). this number has rising dramatically to 12-15 kids per year.

From being able to understand the tunes at The Park Bar to being able to read where you are going there are many arguments to secure the language’s future, which can’t all be included in this short article, which ranges over many topics and shows that Gaelic can be used (and should be) by any age group and any nationality.

Traditional Scottish Culture is over run by the influence of Gaelic, and has bled through to modern day culture. Popular bands including Runrig, Skerryvore and Manran all use the language in their songs in a lively combination of popular music, traditional Scottish music and dance music.

This music was a large part of my childhood, with these bands being played at every birthday party, school disco and event, an experience not unique to myself, but to most young people across the Highlands and Islands. The languages influence on music is not subtle, especially not on the tunes of Stornoway’s own, Peat and Diesel. Honestly, being able to understand the cultural nuances of “Salt and Pepper” is reason enough to learn the language.

The music is also a key part of the nightlife, with festivals such as Oban Live and The Gathering in Inverness drawing in huge crowds and having a major impact on the local economy (according to the Oban Live Visitor Survey and Economic Impact Report, the event injected a massive £705,509 into the local area).

A knowledge of Gaelic can add so much to a night out, for example by learning the words to “Puirt” by Manran you can convince drunk people you are a Gaelic rapper (highly recommend, never gets old).

The television channel BBC Alba, which is almost entirely Scottish Gaelic, hosts a wide range of valuable content for all viewers. From children’s shows to soaps (watch Bannan for your dose of over dramatic ceilidh based scenes and nosy old people), to comedy (most notably FUNC, for nieche Donald Trump x Gaelic content) and live local football and shinty matches.

There is an abundance of entertaining content that goes largely unnoticed. An increased knowledge of Gaelic and increased knowledge of Scottish culture go hand in hand. It is simply unreasonable to have one without the other.

Being bilingual can open hundreds of doors, and being proficient in the local language can open many more. There are numerous career paths in Scottish Gaelic, not only being a Gaelic teacher as is often said. Law, Media and Music are only a handful of careers where Gaelic can be a major benefit.

However, in every profession, the knowledge of multiple languages is always a bonus and can add a skill to your CV which could make the difference when applying for jobs. Over the past few years I have been able to apply for opportunities in Finance, Law, Media, Digital Learning and Tutoring as well as gaining management experience all through the medium of Gaelic.

Any students looking to improve their applications and stand out from the crowd should seriously consider Gaelic as the perfect next step.

The language surrounds us, pushing aside opinions on Gaelic road signs (ooh the Facebook dramaaaa), almost all of the place names throughout the Highlands (and large parts of the Lowlands) come from Gaelic. It is intertwined in places surrounding Stirling, for example Callender and Dunmore.

You most likely speak more Gaelic in your day to day than you would expect, modern Scottish slang such as “smashing” to describe something as good is derived from the Gaelic phrase “S’e math sin” (Sheh-mah-shing) which translates to “That’s good”.

This is only a handful of reasons why Scottish Gaelic deserves more attention, love and learners. Although numbers of learners and fluent speakers are rising, the language is still ignored and needs to be brought to light. Gaelic is easy to learn and you can learn for free, there is really no reason not too. There are some resources linked at the bottom of this article which are ideal for learners and cheap and easy to use – Gabh spòrs!

P.s. it’s pronounced “gaah-lic”


Learn Gaelic –

Duolingo –

Saoghal Mor Ostaig –

Gaelic 4 Parents (also useful for learners) –

BBC Alba –

Speaking Our Language –

Featured image credit: iStock

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