Scottish islands become first to teach every school pupil in Gaelic instead of English

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By Alastair Jamieson
The Callanish Stones heritage site on the Isle of Lewis, part of Na h-Eileanan Siar, Scotland
The Callanish Stones heritage site on the Isle of Lewis, part of Na h-Eileanan Siar, Scotland   -  Copyright  Morisonandsmith/Pixabay

Children in some of Scotland’s islands are to be taught automatically in Gaelic rather than English for the first time, according to authorities.

A new ‘Gaelic First’ policy has been introduced by the local council to help boost the language in the Outer Hebrides where Gaelic is used by 52% of residents.

It means children will be taught in the language between the ages of four and nine unless parents opt-out. 

Some 47% of children in the area already opt to be taught in Gaelic rather than English.

The Outer Hebrides lie to the northwest of mainland Scotland and their 27,000 residents have a rich heritage and culture in Gaelic, which is listed alongside Welsh, Galician, Catalan and Basque as semi-official European languages.

“The majority of our children in nursery and those enrolling in primary, want to speak our language,” Bernard Chisholm, education director for local council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, told parents in a letter.

Being taught in Gaelic provided “undoubted benefits”, he added.

“It is truly a free gift and, in this increasingly mobile world, it also enables them to acquire other languages much easier.”

Only about 1.1% of Scotland’s total population of 5.4 million speaks Gaelic, but the proportion is much higher in the north and west.

Recent moves to protect the languages have seen a growth in the number of speakers in younger age groups.

Up to 50 million Europeans speak a regional minority language — one that is not the official language of any state.

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