Their Wee Memories Are Like Sponges – Getting Them Gaelic Young To Preserve the Tongue

The modern era of Gaelic Medium Education in Scotland’s primary schools took off in the 1980s. Since that time the number of children attending Gaelic Medium schools has been growing.

In July of last year the Bòrd na Gàidhlig issued its Annual Report for 2013/2014. The Bòrd na Gàidhlig was founded in 2003 and in 2006 was charged with supporting the implementation of the provisions of Scotland’s 2005 Language Act.  The Bòrd’s report cited dramatic growth in Scots Gaelic medium education throughout Scotland and highlighted a 6% increase in primary school enrolment and an increase in secondary school enrolment measured at 7%.

Language activists hailed the numbers contained in the report interpreting them as proof that the slow decline in the Gaelic tongue has now been reversed. The Bòrd na Gàidhlig report stated: “The 2011 census results gave us very encouraging evidence that the number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland has just about stabilised since the census of 2001. Many attribute this good news to the rise in Gaelic-medium education which has seen excellent growth since its inception in 1985. The trend shows that within the next ten years the long term decline of the language could be reversed. “

Reflecting the steady rise in Scots Gaelic medium education is the Bìodain Dhùn Phris, a pre-school located in Dumfries near the English border where a Scots Gaelic Medium pre-school for toddlers has been formed.  This will add to the more than 60 pre-schools now offering Gaelic medium instruction across Scotland. According to Bòrd na Gàidhlig (see the Gaidhilg map link below) the current Celtic language pre-schools are spread across the Scottish Nation with concentrations in the Highlands and Islands and in and around Glasgow.

The value of Gaelic pre-schools to the preservation and restoration of Scotland’s historic Celtic tongue cannot be understated.  Although a Goidelic medium pre-school in a Scottish border town may seem insignificant in the scheme of things, it is in fact profoundly significant.  The Endangered Language Alliance puts it this way: “ There is widespread agreement that the single key to perpetuating language is immersion schools for children. The classic products of linguistic research, grammars, dictionaries and archived recordings, are ultimately peripheral to such activities. Languages were spoken before such resources existed and if there are still speakers left, their languages can be passed on orally as they were since time immemorial. So, contrary to popular belief, an endangered language needs preschool teachers to survive…..”.

In Dumfries two women, Johan Smith a native of Lewis in the Hebrides in the heart of the Gàidhealtachd (Scots Gaelic language area) and retired Gaelic teacher Sandra MacLeod, are being credited with driving the establishment of the Dumfries pre-school. The formation of this Gaelic language school for toddlers is highlighted in an article in Scotland’s Daily Record. The Record reported that the pair were passionate about helping to keep this part of Scottish culture alive and Johan is quoted as follows: “There’s a blossoming Gaelic community in Dumfries and Galloway which is fantastic.”

The Bòrd na Gàidhlig mission under the 2005 legislation is summarized as follows from the organisation’s web site: "The Bòrd na Gàidhlig, works to promote Gaelic in Scotland in partnership with the Scottish Government, the people of Scotland and Gaelic organisations to improve the status of the Gaelic tongue throughout Scotland."   Interestingly the 2005 law extends the Bòrd’s brief beyond Scotland giving the Bòrd stewardship for Scots Gaelic beyond the borders of Scotland as has been recently shown in its support for the Scots Gaelic revival now underway in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.

In an article entitled "Language as Activism: The Big Gaelic Comeback - The Native Tongue of the Highlands and Islands Seemed to be Dying Out - Until The Latest Figures Were Released", Cal Flyn writing in 2013 in the New Statesman cites the growth in the number of children who are being taught in the Gaelic medium:  " There is a Gaelic revival under way. Increasing numbers of parents – even those who don’t speak the language – are opting to send their children to Gaelic-medium schools, where all subjects are taught in the language. In 1985 there were only 24 primary school children being taught in Gaelic; last year the figure was 2,953.  Sixty-one schools across Scotland now offer Gaelic-medium education. The expectation is that, as time passes, these young Gaels will revitalise a language that is intricately tied up with their country’s identity. "

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