FOLLOWING on from a very successful evening at the Scots Language Awards, the Scottish Gaelic Awards are the next major language celebration. There is absolutely no doubt that both of these languages are worth promoting, speaking and preserving. Sadly, it is equally clear that one of them is desperately in need of being saved.

Scots Gaelic is officially classed as “endangered” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). This means “children no longer learn it as their mother tongue”. However, there is clear evidence that there are a growing number of organisations and people who are prepared to try to change the tide.

Màrtainn Bàillidh, a member of the team that created the Gaelic course on Duolingo – a popular language learning app – says the new interest in the language is “fantastic”. However, he stresses, there is still much more to be done.

Màrtainn explains: “Increasing social density of the language in the Western Isles is a very good start. We need to look at how to support people in local communities and we need to fund community-level teaching. There’s a huge number of things that could be done but they require policy action.”

The Gaelic Duolingo course has just short of 500,000 users, an amazing achievement for the small project team.

“There’s no such thing as an easy language to learn,” Màrtainn says. “Gaelic is not any harder than other European languages to learn. But if you are learning Italian in Italy, you’ll find it a lot easier than learning Gaelic in Scotland. There’s a lack of resources and a lack of opportunities to use your skills.”

When talking about the extinction of a language, it is not about no-one ever speaking it again … instead, it means society does not have a place for it any more.

The Scottish Government and individual regional, district and community councils are doing a considerable amount to raise the profile of Gaelic in schools, whether through established Gaelic medium schools or teaching it as a subject to young children. However, there still remains the problem that it has now become an “acquired skill”.

Màrtainn continues: “There are far fewer families raising children with Gaelic being spoken in the home, so it is making the language an additional skill as opposed to something done as a national way of life, and that is the crisis we are facing at the moment.”

The Republic of Ireland has revealed that 1.7 million of its citizens can speak Irish but only 73,000 use it on a daily basis. Having more than a million people being able to speak Irish is a very admirable statistic, but it does not count for much if the language does not actually get spoken.

Màrtainn says: “Gaelic is seen as something that relates purely to the Western Isles, when in fact it is everything up to Culloden – it was central to the Scottish story. There is such a lack of awareness that people don’t value the language; don’t value the culture; and don’t understand their own heritage. If we can address that, then this would make a huge difference.”

Renowned Gaelic singer Calum Ross, 86, agrees that without the desire to learn Gaelic, it will not survive for much longer. Most of his friends speak Gaelic, as do their children, or at least they have a good understanding of it.

Calum was born into a Gaelic-speaking family in Partick, in Glasgow’s west end, an area that welcomed an influx of Gaelic-speaking Western Islanders for many years. When he was born, speaking the language on a daily basis was much more common than now, and this is why he finds it difficult to visualise the possibility of it dying out. However, times have changed, and a determined effort is required to maintain the tradition of it being spoken in communities.

It is clear that without some passion from the people and a number of governmental policy changes, Gaelic will shortly exist only as the yellow text on road signs.

However, with all the changes governing bodies are now committing to, and the steady and growing increase of available resources for learners, there is just a chance Gaelic can thrive once again.