Nova Scotia

Auld country looks to Nova Scotia to recruit Gaelic teachers

Scotland has a shortage of Gaelic teachers, and Nova Scotia is uniquely positioned to fill that gap.

Scotland has a shortage of Gaelic teachers, and the province is uniquely positioned to fill that gap

Scotland has a shortage of Gaelic teachers. Housing for teachers can be difficult to find in more remote parts of the country. (Frances Willick/CBC)

The auld country is looking to Nova Scotia to help preserve its traditional language.

Scotland is experiencing a shortage of Gaelic language teachers.

It recently amended its shortage occupation list — jobs that are acknowledged to be too difficult to fill from within Scotland's ranks — to include Gaelic teachers and nuclear scientists.

That means institutions in need of Gaelic teachers can now look overseas.

Shona MacLennan, the chief executive of Bord na Gaidhlig, Scotland's Gaelic language promotion organization, said the international search would likely be limited to Nova Scotia.

"There may be individuals living in other countries but really, by and large, Nova Scotia is the only other real community of Gaelic speakers."

The country had previously recruited in Nova Scotia, but regulatory changes clamped down on that.

Last year, the case of Antigonish, N.S., native Sine Halfpenny made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. She was offered a Gaelic teaching job on Scotland's Isle of Mull, but the government denied her a visa, saying it had already filled its work visa quota.

Demand outpacing supply

MacLennan said the demand for Gaelic instruction is increasing in Scotland because people see it as a valuable part of their heritage.

"It's an important aspect of Scotland's culture and identity and they want to support that, or they are Gaelic speakers themselves and they want their children to be able to speak Gaelic."

Many road signs in parts of Nova Scotia are in both English and Gaelic. (Canadian Press)

Scotland's Gaelic teacher shortage is due in part to the lack of progressive career opportunities in the field. MacLennan said if teachers are looking for a promotion, they often turn to English-speaking jobs.

Finding housing can also be a challenge for Gaelic teachers in remote parts of Scotland and in Edinburgh, where the high cost of living may exceed salaries.

Gaelic persevering in Nova Scotia

Scottish Gaelic is listed as "definitely endangered" on UNESCO's list of endangered languages worldwide.

The language made its way to Nova Scotia when Scottish people, many of whom were forced from their homes during the Highland Clearances, sailed across the Atlantic to find a new home.

In Nova Scotia, Gaelic is persevering, and is even in some ways thriving.

Heather Sparling, an associate professor at Cape Breton University who is active in the island's Gaelic community, said many young people are interested in learning the language, and there are several community-based efforts to teach it.

But she said the number of native Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton is rapidly diminishing.

The language began to dwindle because of a deliberate effort by some generations not to transmit it to their children.

"That speaks to the internalization of an attitude that Gaelic was somehow an example of backwardness or poverty," Sparling said.

Highland dancers perform at a ceremony at the legislature in Halifax in April 2019. Many aspects of Scottish culture continue to thrive in Nova Scotia. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Sparling said the opportunity to teach Gaelic in Scotland may be an economic incentive for Nova Scotians to learn the language because there could be a job at the end of the learning curve.

She said the role reversal of people from the diaspora teaching people in the home country is "not the story we expect."

"We expect that the diaspora is where cultures go to die, that over time they become weaker and people acclimate to the dominant culture of the new place and that those traditions get lost," Sparling said. "And instead, what we see here is a recognition that there's something that has been retained in Nova Scotia that people in Scotland are interested in accessing."

MacLennan said since the rules about recruiting overseas changed only a couple of weeks ago, it may be too early for Nova Scotians to see job advertisements. Bord na Gaidhlig anticipates there may be up to 20 vacancies each year across the country, with a small number of those being filled by Canadians.

About the Author

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at


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