SpeakGaelic, the first multi-media learning platform for Scottish Gaelic, was launched this week in Scotland, online, across multiple social media platforms, and on television and radio. The program’s goal is to get people in Scotland and around the world speaking Gaelic, whether they are absolute beginners or already have learned some Gaelic.

The initiative is backed by the Scottish government and is being jointly produced by MG Alba, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and the BBC. All the materials are available online internationally, including material shown on the BBC, and access to all materials is free of charge. SpeakGaelic also includes valuable materials and a program for teachers and study group leaders.

BBC presenter and Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop is an ambassador for the SpeakGaelic initiative.

“It’s the biggest (Scottish Gaelic) language initiative in an awful long time, the last one in 30 years,” Joy Dunlop, one of the ambassadors and presenters of SpeakGaelic programming on the BBC, said at the Comunn Gàidhlig Thoronto fèis Saturday. “We had Can Seo in the 1970s, Speaking Our Language in the ’90s, and now this.”

There are many differences between those two earlier programs and SpeakGaelic, but the biggest is that the latest initiative is being rolled out over the Internet, which didn’t exist when the BBC produced Can Seo and was in its infancy during Speaking Our Language’s heyday. The course developed for SpeakGaelic also is groundbreaking.

The course is based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages, which standardizes language teaching and learning and the measurement of proficiency across Europe. The CEFR organises language proficiency in six levels, A1 to C2, with A1 and A2 covering basic or beginning language skills.

This is the first time a course based on the CEFR has been developed for Scottish Gaelic. (The CEFR is used as the basis for the Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge in Ireland). The initial SpeakGaelic program now available focuses on the A1 level, with A2 coming next year. Speak Gaelic plans to role out its six levels over the next four years, culminating in a C2 course.

“The great thing about this is you learn the same things across the board, whether you’re learning French or Gaelic,” Dunlop said in a presentation for Fèis Thoronto. “And SpeakGaelic is open to anyone. It’s there’s to be utilized. And it’s totally free.” There’s no registration fee, no textbook to be ordered. All sound files and videos are available online.

Global access for learners

Although the initiative is aimed principally at Scots, the organizers did not forget the thousands of Gaelic learners studying the language worldwide. All SpeakGaelic materials broadcast on BBC will be available on the SpeakGaelic YouTube channel. “Everything is on YouTube and anybody anywhere in the world can get the videos on YouTube,” said Dunlop.

Speak Gaelic also will use social media, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, and TikTok. “There will also be supporting podcasts to go along the TV program,” she said. “They will be streamed on Radio nan Gàidheal. Iain Urchardan will deliver the first season.”

Calum MacLean will co-host the programs alongside Dunlop, traveling throughout Scotland speaking with Gaelic learners and visiting sites important to Gaelic history and culture. “I’m kind of like (Speaking Our Language host) Rhoda MacDonald with a much smaller wardrobe budget and a lot more puns,” MacLean said during the Fèis Thoronto program.

Working on the program “has been a brilliant experience,” MacLean said. “People who went through Gaelic medium education but wouldn’t have had Gaelic at home often feel they’ve lost the language once they reach their 20s,” he said. “They probably haven’t, it’s still there. SpeakGaelic can help give people the confidence to use the Gaelic they’ve got.”

Another difference between SpeakGaelic and previous media learning initiatives is the inclusion of material for teachers. Classroom materials include training information, a syllabus, worksheets, games, tutor guides, and more, all of which can be used by study group leaders and teachers around the globe.

“This is a real opportunity for Gaelic Learning Communities in North America that have been struggling to find materials to teach new beginners,” said Liam Ó Caiside, president of An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach (ACGA). “There are many valid approaches and methods, but SpeakGaelic puts all this material in your hands, for free, and online.”

ACGA is eager to help Gaelic Learning Communities use the materials made available by SpeakGaelic, he said.

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