Thousands sign up for new online Gaelic course on Duolingo

image copyrightMartainn Mac A'Bhaillidh
image captionVolunteer Martainn Mac A'Bhaillidh hopes users will move on to use other resources in Gaelic

More than 20,000 people have signed up to learn Scottish Gaelic on a free online learning app which launches the new course on St Andrew's Day.

The Duolingo course has been created on a "record-breaking timescale" with the help of bilingual volunteers.

Its official release on Saturday is eight months ahead of schedule and the course has already attracted more than 7,000 learners using its Beta version.

Duolingo has 91 courses in 30 languages and more than 300 million users.

It uses artificial intelligence and "gamification", where users compete against each other as they learn.

In the eight years since Duolingo was launched it has added dozens of languages including Navajo, Hawaiian, Welsh and Irish Gaelic.

'Raising awareness'

Volunteers who worked on the Gaelic course included Joanne McLennan, a student from Benbecula, and Iagan MacAonghais, a secondary school teacher from Eriskay, who provided many of the voice recordings.

Oban primary school teacher Ciaran MacAonghais wrote the course curriculum and even took his laptop on honeymoon to work on the project.

He said the small team of volunteers each worked a minimum of 10 hours a week over seven months to get it ready.

Contributor Màrtainn Mac a' Bhàillidh, an architect from Glasgow working on the Isle of Skye, said: "July 2020 was the initial estimate but we revised it because we'd made so much progress over the summer.

"In terms of development of the course it's been, as far as Duolingo told us, a record-breaking timescale in getting things released from scratch so I'm pretty pleased with that."

He added: "The more users we have, they contribute to the process. There's 20,000 pre-registered so that's a pretty decent starting point.

"It's about raising awareness, getting people involved in learning Gaelic and hopefully they'll go on to use other resources that are out there."

image copyrightDuolingo

A Duolingo spokesman said a "superhuman effort" meant the course could be launched in 2019, the UN's Year of Indigenous Languages.

Colin Watkins, Duolingo's country manager in the UK, said: "We hope our course will open up Gaelic to millions of people across Scotland and the Scottish diaspora across the world."

Gaelic was heavily suppressed over the centuries and is spoken by about 60,000 people in Scotland, according to the most recent census data taken in 2011.

Until the 1918 Education Act, children were given corporal punishment if they spoke Gaelic in Scottish schools, but the language has seen a revival in education since the 1980s.

More than 11,000 school children were learning Gaelic in 2018, with more than 4,300 being taught in Gaelic schools across the country.

Duolingo also expects to attract learners from across the Atlantic.

Gaelic communities established in Canada after the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th Centuries still use the language today.

'Wealth of materials'

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he "warmly welcomed" another useful tool to promote the use of Gaelic.

"The Gaelic language is a vital part of Scotland's cultural identity and we want to ensure those who wish to learn and use the language are given every opportunity to do so," he said.

"This sits alongside the recently updated Learn Gaelic website, which contains a wealth of adult learning materials for those with an interest in the language."

Funding for a 30-year project to create the first comprehensive Gaelic dictionary was announced by the Scottish government last year.

Duolingo's Scottish Gaelic course is available free on iOS, Android and at

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