Census shows decline in Gaelic speakers 'slowed'

School classroom A new generation of Gaelic speakers has helped to arrest the decline in speakers

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A decline in the overall number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland has "slowed", according to the latest results from the 2011 Census.

The previous Census results recorded an 11% drop in speakers, while the new figures suggest a 1.2% fall from 59,000 to 58,000.

The latest results also show a 0.1% increase in Gaelic speakers aged under 20.

The Scottish government said the results were encouraging.

The results also include detail on what languages are used in Scottish homes.

They suggest that 93% of people aged three and over reported that they used only English at home. About 1.5 million people reported that they regularly spoke Scots.

The figures also show 1% of the population - 54,000 people - used Polish at home, while 13,000 people reported using British Sign Language.

Alasdair Allan, minister for Scotland's languages, said: "While the census shows a slight fall overall, we can take real encouragement from the growth in Gaelic speakers under the age of 20.

"This increase in the next generation of Gaelic speakers, helped by a 12% increase in pupils entering P1 of Gaelic Medium Education clearly demonstrates that our investment in the language is paying off."

He added: "Our efforts to support Gaelic and create more learning opportunities for all ages has also significantly slowed down the decline in the overall numbers of speakers, many of whom tend to be in older age groups."

'Clear evidence'

Iain Campbell, chairman of Gaelic language organisation Bord na Gaidhlig, said the "marked decrease" in Gaelic speakers recorded in 2001 was being addressed.

He said: "Given the growth in the numbers in Gaelic medium education over the last two decades, we expected that the rate of decline would be further reduced as a result of further growth of the numbers of children and young people now speaking Gaelic.

Start Quote

Children are the key to the future health of the language”

End Quote Michael Hance Scots Language Centre

"This is clear evidence that the policy aims of the National Gaelic Language Plan are taking effect."

The growth in Gaelic medium education includes the opening this week of Edinburgh's first dedicated Gaelic school.

A total of 213 pupils, including 53 P1 youngsters, have enrolled for the new school, where lessons will be taught entirely in Gaelic.

The first Gaelic medium primary school department in Caithness opened in August.

It is based at Mount Pleasant Primary School in Thurso which is home to a Gaelic nursery with 19 children.

Michael Hance, director of the Scots Language Centre, said Scots had suffered from "centuries of neglect".

He said: "It is good to see figures being produced for the first time on the number of those speaking Scots and now that we have these figures we are calling on the Scottish government to draw up a Charter for Scots outlining how the language and its dialects can be supported more effectively.

"The data gathered during the 2011 census means that we can now begin to plan how to support communities of Scots speakers and to encourage those communities to value their language and pass it on to future generations."

Mr Hance added: "Children are the key to the future health of the language and we'd like to see new efforts being made to encourage innovative projects aimed at creating a sense of pride and self-worth amongst Scots speaking school pupils."

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