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Isn’t Gaelic a difficult language to learn?

Many adults believe that Gaelic is a ‘difficult’ language for learners and even the Rough Guide to Scotland says that Gaelic has a ‘fiendish, antiquated grammar’. No language, however, is intrinsically more difficult to learn than any other, or intrinsically ‘antiquated’, although some Gaelic grammar books may look a bit old-fashioned! In fact, it is worth remembering that Gaelic spelling, although it looks complicated to a non-Gaelic speaker, uses the same alphabet as English, unlike Cantonese, Russian or Japanese, to name a few major world languages.

Some of the problems for adults attempting to learn Gaelic are:

  • pre-conceived ideas that the process will be difficult
  • many adults have never learned another language to fluency and their language-learning ‘muscles’ are out of condition
  • some adults will have learned only certain European languages from the Romance or Germanic families, and be disconcerted by a language from a family which is unlike either of these
  • it can be difficult to be ‘immersed’ in Gaelic as it exists as a community language today in only a few places

It is important to remember that children have some very great advantages over adults when it comes to learning Gaelic. Children in Gaelic-medium education learn through immersion – through being surrounded by the language. Children’s developing minds are often compared to sponges, and they absorb new languages easily when they are very young. They have no preconceived views, are not worried about ‘getting it wrong’ and do not get bogged down in questions of grammar. This means that they become very fluent very quickly.

If you have tried to learn Gaelic in the past, or would like to learn Gaelic, your child’s first years in Gaelic-medium education are an ideal time. Your child will not judge you or correct you, and you can share the learning experience. Many local authority Community Education departments offer Gaelic courses for adult beginners, or those at intermediate or advanced level. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and other colleges offer intensive summer courses and distance-learning options.

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