A FREE online language learning service with more than 300 million users will launch its Scottish Gaelic course on St Andrew’s Day.

Duolingo began in 2011 and now has more than 90 languages on its online service, including Navajo, Hawaiian, Welsh and Irish Gaelic.

Users learn by playing various games including typing words or phrases, matching grammar and also speaking or listening to sentences to earn “crowns” and progress their knowledge through a number of levels.

It is estimated around 60,000 people in Scotland speak Gaelic but already 20,000 have registered for the course before its release – months ahead of schedule – on Saturday.

Contributor Martin Baillie explained that the new service has been created in “record-breaking” time.

“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 said.

“It’s a very, very small team that’s been working on it and I think most people will just be pleased to see that it’s been released.”

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Baillie hopes the new Duolingo course will fuel in-depth learning of the language.

“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.”

Deputy first minister John Swinney heralded the move: “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. I therefore warmly welcome the launch of the new online resource from Duolingo which is another useful tool to promote the use of Gaelic.”

Ahead of its release, reporters were given access to the course. Early phases involve picture-based learning with simple words such as identifying a boy, girl, cat and dog before moving on to other animals.

It then uses what you learn from the pictures to help form and translate sentences – both written on the screen and with audio clips recorded by Baillie and his team. At the end of each round, there is an advert saying “this ad helps keep education free” above and the option to go for an ad-free version of the app.

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.

“Anyone can start learning the language for free from today. All it takes is for you to download Duolingo and then spend five minutes a day learning, that’s all.

“It’s perfect for when you are on the bus or having your lunch.”

Course creator Ciaran MacAonghais added: “Helping create the course has been a real privilege. I’m immensely proud that the Gaelic community pulled together to make this happen in such a short time.

“I think this says a lot about our determination to secure a future for the language. I hope people enjoy it as much as we have enjoyed creating it and look forward to developing it further in the future.”

To sign up for the Gaelic course, visit duolingo.com.