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A bheil Gàidhlig agad? The growth of Scottish Gaelic

Genre: Language, Scotland
Audience: Adults

Last updated: 07 June 2024

Four friends sitting around a table drinking coffee in comfortable clothing, two of them high-fiving

How many people speak Gaelic?

Census records number fluent Gaelic speakers(this link will open in a new window) in Scotland around 57,600, or approximately 1% of the population. This number does not capture non-fluent Gaelic speakers or newer Gaelic learners – and research shows that there is an ever-increasing interest in the language!

The 2022 Scottish Social Attitudes survey(this link will open in a new window) has found that the proportion of people who 'can speak a word or two' of Gaelic has doubled in the last ten years (2012–22), from 15% to 30%. Though these statistics draw from a much narrower respondent pool than the census, they indicate an upward trend in support for the Gaelic language.

The SSA survey was also closely followed by a consultation launched by the Scottish Government(this link will open in a new window) in August 2022, seeking a new strategy for Gaelic medium education, and further profile for the Scots language.

Research indicates that this broader support for Gaelic can be attributed – at least in part – to continued funding of Gaelic Medium Education and Gaelic arts, music and culture. By looking at recent changes within Gaelic publishing, language learning, and economic investment, we can chart the ways Gaelic can continue to thrive in Scotland, and advocate for further support.

Publishing success

Gaelic writer Donald S. Murray wrote an article for the Society of Authors in autumn 2022 (Journal of the Society of Authors(this link will open in a new window)), outlining that, 'From 2003, an explosion in Gaelic literature occurred,' due to the Gaelic Books Council funded imprint named Ùr-sgeul . 

In addition, he stresses the importance of the increased visibility of marginalised writers, the availability of other formats like audiobooks, and – crucially – the support offered by commissioning grants and translation work. He advocates for continued and increased support for Gaelic publishing: 

A culture also cannot exist without its stories, and books still remain the most important means of providing that support.

Murray's account is reinforced by an article in The National(this link will open in a new window) in January 2021, in which the Gaelic Books Council (GBC)(this link will open in a new window) announced 'a massive spike in online sales' of Gaelic books over lockdown.

The GBC credits this 'spike' to two popular factors: 'increasing interest in learning the language' and 'the success of new titles produced by independent Scottish publishers.'

They also reported an increase in schools using the online learning platform e-Sgoil and their online resources.

Language learning 

The dawn of Duolingo has further transformed the progress of Gaelic learning: as reported by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in March 2022(this link will open in a new window), the Scottish Gaelic Duolingo course now has over 1 million learners. 

This milestone came during World Gaelic Week / Seachdain Na Gàidhlig, and is a huge success for the development team behind the course, which launched in 2019. 

Duolingo confirmed that the same team will develop the Scottish Gaelic learning course in partnership with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, based in Skye.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig and BBC ALBA have also funded LearnGaelic(this link will open in a new window) which offers resources post-Duolingo for Gaelic learners, as well as structured courses to learn Gaelic as a beginner. 

LearnGaelic contains over 2,000 audio and video recordings of Gaelic(this link will open in a new window), most with transcripts and translations. It also contains a searchable English-Gaelic dictionary(this link will open in a new window), a course finder(this link will open in a new window) to direct learners to other programmes, and the opportunity to learn Gaelic through song(this link will open in a new window).

Gaelic futures 

There is a demonstrable economic driver in Gaelic learning, and has been since at least the 1970s (when Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was founded).

In February 2022, Glasgow City Council reported the impact of the Gaelic economy up to £21.6 million. Bòrd na Gàidhlig commissioned the council to undertake a research study of the value, growth, and impact of Gaelic in Glasgow:

The use of Gaelic was also found to contribute positively to wellbeing in a number of ways, including a greater range of job opportunities, increased engagement in physical activity, the development of local and national pride, a sense of identity, and improved mental health and happiness.

This proven economic benefit is significant as both case study and precedent: under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act (2005)(this link will open in a new window), the Scottish Parliament set down their aim of 'securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language.'  

Currently, we support Gaelic across our programming, notably in Gaelic book gifting for children 0–7 years old, as part of Bookbug and Read, Write, Count,(this link will open in a new window) and hope to engage with more Gaelic speakers through programmes while liaising closely with the Gaelic Books Council(this link will open in a new window), the National Library of Scotland(this link will open in a new window), and Bòrd na Gàidhlig to realise the Gaelic Language Act's aim.

Our Gaelic resources