Nova Scotia

Scottish Gaelic gets boost with language learning app

Residents of Alba Nuadh, or Nova Scotia, who want to get in touch with their roots and learn some Gaelic, now have a little help from a Duolingo language learning app.

'To get Gaelic on a platform that has that kind of range and accessibility is great for the language'

Màrtainn Mac a' Bhàillidh holds a sign that reads "A future in our own hands" in Scottish Gaelic. Mac a' Bhàillidh contributed to the new Scottish Gaelic program on Duolingo. (Màrtainn Mac a' Bhàillidh)

Scottish Gaelic learners and teachers have a new tool.

The language learning app Duolingo has launched a Scottish Gaelic program.

Contributor Màrtainn Mac a' Bhàillidh, an architect living in Isle of Skye, said he and fellow contributor Ciaran MacAonghais have campaigned to get a Scottish Gaelic course on Duolingo for years. 

"To get Gaelic on a platform that has that kind of range and accessibility is great for the language," said Mac a' Bhàillidh.

Duolingo has about 300 million users worldwide. Since its release Saturday the course has garnered over 39,000 users.

A Nova Scotia connection

There are only about 60,000 Scottish Gaelic speakers in the world, with some in Cape Breton and the northern part of mainland Nova Scotia. 

The course uses standard Scottish Gaelic. Despite a wide range of dialects, users in Cape Breton and across Scotland will be able to use it with ease, according to Mac a' Bhàillidh.

However, the contributors did provide some alternative phrases to accommodate some dialects.

"Hopefully, we'll get some Nova Scotia speakers to record audio in later stages of the course," said Mac a' Bhàillidh, who visited Cape Breton this summer."

"There's quite a few mentions," of Alba Nuadh, or Nova Scotia, in the course, he said.

The Duolingo app offers instruction in many languages. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Rodney MacDonald, the former premier of Nova Scotia and current CEO of the Gaelic College in St. Anns, welcomes the new program. He started using it earlier this week.

"There's an old saying that a culture without a language is a culture without a soul," said MacDonald. "When you take a look at the fact that a third of Nova Scotia traces its roots back to Scotland, the Gaels, and Ireland, there's no doubt there will be a lot of interest."

Endangered languages

Colin Watkins, a Duolingo manager in the United Kingdom, praised MacAonghais and Mac a' Bhàillidh for launching the course eight months early. 

Watkins said a Scottish Gaelic course falls in line with Duolingo's plans to bring more endangered and Indigenous languages online, adding the team considered the Scottish diaspora and the Canadian population when creating the program.

Over the past few months the company has launched Navajo and Hawaiian.

Scottish Gaelic speakers were persecuted in the UK over the years but the language has seen a resurgence since the 1980s.

In Cape Breton, there are few who speak Gaelic as their native tongue. But some families are raising their children in the language in an effort to help restore it.