Find out more about those who have chosen Gaelic Medium Education for their Children.



    Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Education and Children’s Services Department is delighted to announce that pupils from The Nicolson Institute, Castlebay School and Sir E Scott have been successful at the 2017 FilmG awards. Pupils from The Nicolson Institute won FilmG’s Gaelic Award in the Junior category for their film ‘Strì gu Dìleab’. William MacDougall from Castlebay School won the award for Best Actor award. And Catherine MacDonald from Sir E Scott School won Best Young Filmmaker for her film, Coimhearsnachd. All this year’s films can be viewed at www.filmg.co.uk

  • Katie Laing — parent and teacher

    The decision to put my child into Gaelic Medium Education was made before I was even pregnant! As a teacher in the Nicolson Institute, I saw the difference, in general of course, between those pupils who had come through Gaelic Medium and those who had been in English mainstream.

    Ahead of my first ever lesson, a more experienced teacher told me: “You’ll have no problem with them — they’re an Addison class.”

    Addison is the school house for pupils who have come through Gaelic Medium and right away it was clear that something about these pupils was ‘better’, somehow. Initially, and of course this is a generalisation, you could see a difference in behaviour but the list of prize winners at the end of the year showed that Addison were also excelling academically.

    They would win prizes in all the subjects, not just languages, and were frequently first across the line on the sports track, too.

    Some people find it strange that, as an English teacher, I have chosen to put my children through GME but it was what I saw in the Nicolson pupils that persuaded me to do this.

    To be absolutely honest, there were some cases where GME pupils would display slightly shaky grammar and spelling in English but this wasn’t all that common and, to my mind, was more than compensated for by the fact they did better across all the subjects.

    The benefits of GME and bilingualism are immense. They are well documented and the research done by Professor Antonella Sorace of Edinburgh University helped convince me. GME children tend to perform better across all disciplines but I personally really like that it gives them an understanding of the fact there will always be more than one way to describe something.

    Bilingualism slows cognitive ageing and has been shown to delay the onset of dementia. I’ve also heard stories of old folk losing their first language but keeping their second when they’ve suffered a stroke, which says something rather magical about bilingualism.

    My own children are Michael, aged six, who is now in primary two in the Gaelic Medium unit in Stornoway Primary, and James, three, who has very recently started in the school’s cròileagan.

    I did my research early on and learned it would be wise to switch them from nursery to cròileagan at this age to give them a couple of years of preparation for going to school in Gaelic.

    Michael went to Breasclete cròileagan at first (we moved from the west side to Stornoway a year ago) but he didn’t initially take to the language.

    “Don’t talk Gaelic!” he would shout to me, whenever I threw a wee phrase at him, but the staff assured me this was an entirely normal stage of development and all the children were like that.

    Even this summer I had a moment of doubt because he was still resisting speaking it but I was told about ‘the quiet phase’ of language acquisition, which is still very much ongoing during P2.

    Recently, though, his Gaelic has taken off. I have a wee bit of Gaelic, because I’m learning it (my husband has none) and try to use it in conversation. I think I’m doing well with ‘An robh sgoil math an-diugh?’ but Michael and his Gaelic-speaking Shen will have wee chats that I can’t understand.
    He is more than happy now to ‘talk Gaelic’ and thinks it’s cool that he will be able to read and write in two languages! I know that he’s proud of himself for knowing English and Gaelic and the extracurricular experiences he has had through GME – such as going to the Mod and delivering lines on stage in An Lanntair — have helped with that confidence.
    James, Michael’s little brother, has had a much slower start with his speech in general but I have still put him into cròileagan at Stornoway Primary.
    Miss Macritchie and the rest of the staff are fantastic and he settled right in, despite not hearing much Gaelic at home and not speaking very much of anything himself. His words are still very muffled but it was great to hear him count to five in Gaelic at cròileagan recently.
    I’m what you would consider ‘the missed generation’ in Gaelic. My parents were both fluent Gaelic speakers but didn’t teach it to me, thinking that it would be best to concentrate on English.

    I went to school in Lewis in the 80s, when GME wasn’t really a thing, but my children are in that system and are on track to growing up bilingual. The fact that Michael bypasses me in conversation with his Shen highlights this beautifully.

    They have an instant cultural connection because of the language and Michael is now part of the Gaelic culture that is his heritage.

    As well as the cultural and cognitive benefits of this bilingualism, there is also the undeniable economic advantage of having Gaelic in this part of the world. There are a lot of jobs, particularly in the media, that do require Gaelic and I didn’t want my children to find any closed doors when they might have been open. In the early days I used to worry that choosing GME was a bit elitist but what parent wouldn’t give their children any advantage they possibly could?

    I won’t pretend the decision to choose Gaelic Medium Education was an easy one for our family. Some relatives disagreed with it quite strongly but my husband supported the decision, although the homework responsibility does fall on me.

    I couldn’t have managed without Gaelic4Parents — and a lot of parents will say the same. The website is great and we’ll always listen to the audio of the latest schoolbook on Gaelic4Parents before having a go at the pronunciation ourselves. They have a live homework support service too, between 5pm and 7pm during term time, so you really needn’t be stuck.

    There is a lot of support out there for non-Gaelic speaking parents of children in Gaelic Medium Education… but I would say it’s still a bold step. You can’t know how it’s going to play out when you enrol them but the research is there to prove that it works, so trust the process.

    Off all the parenting decisions I have ever taken, choosing Gaelic Medium Education is the one that I am most proud of. I believe it’s the best thing I could ever have done for my children.


    The Thig a chluich project is one of only five groups in the STV North area that has been shortlisted to compete for the public vote and up to £50,000 of Big Lottery Fund cash in ITV’s The Peoples Projects TV Competition.

    Thig a chluich will make a bid for viewers’ support to win the £ 50,000, with the public voting online to decide who wins the prize. On Thursday 3rd March 2016 Thig a chluich will feature on the STV North 6pm news. The project focuses on running bilingual play sessions for 0-3 year olds and parents throughout the Western Isles. It reaches remote and isolated communities where families are restricted to what is available to them and their families. It’s open to everyone, irrespective of whether they are fluent Gaelic speakers, learners or families who are just beginning to show an interest in Gaelic.

    Iona Mactaggart the Project Manager states:

    “Our Thig a chluich project aims to reach out to the community and enable parents/carers to come to a relaxed and informal group in their own local area. The group encourages the use of Gaelic between parent and child and by keeping it local it means bonds and friendships are formed within families in the same geographical area . Bonds which will hopefully be in place right through to their school years.

    Families living remotely can come along and let their children play with new resources, develop self-confidence, enjoy a fun social activity and make new friends . If we win, the money will be used to purchase a new transit van which will enable us to travel to more areas on a more regular basis to deliver more fun sessions. So Vote for Us and let us Grow”

    To support Thig a chluich - Come and Play visit – www.thepeoplesprojects.org.uk

    Online voting opens at 9am on Monday 29th February and closes at noon on Sunday 13th March

  • Katie MacInnes

    Another excellent testimony. Here Katie MacInnes, who is a pupil in the Nicolson Institute, tells about her GME experience and the many opportunities made available to her through being a GME pupil.

    I am currently in 5th year in the Nicolson Institute and will be sitting my Highers in May. Before Secondary School I attended the Gaelic medium unit at Stornoway Primary and I think that experience has shaped a lot of who I am today.

    We were always encouraged to participate in Mods and Fèisean, knowing the language through music and song is a great thing. It gives you a connection to people of different ages and backgrounds. Today, as well as studying Higher Music, I am a member of the band Faram and this has led to amazing opportunities such as playing at Celtic Connections and at the Trad Awards.

    Having ability in another language is a strength and I have never regretted being in Gaelic Medium Education. When I came to the Nicolson Institute I carried on in S1 and S2 with Gaelic medium in classes such as Science, Home Economics, History, Geography, and Tech. In S2 we had a school trip to Ireland where we met up with pupils in Irish Medium in Galway and

    In S3 & S4 I chose to do National 5 History through the medium of Gaelic along with National 5 Gàidhlig and in September of last year several pupils from my History class got an opportunity to go to Ypres in Belgium with Pròiseact nan Ealan’s highly successful Sequamur production. Along with visiting war sites and taking part in the play we were asked to sing a Gaelic Psalm at the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony. This was an incredible experience and one of the times where I reminded myself that the main reason for getting such an opportunity was that I was able to speak Gaelic.

    This year I took part in the National Gaelic Debate competition, it was great to be in Stornoway with twenty other teams from all over Scotland. After debating in the Council Chambers in Stornoway we had a ceilidh in An Lanntair making new friends whom I am sure we will meet with again as we move into college, university or work. I think it does not matter who you are or what you do, having Gaelic just adds to it. Have you ever heard anyone say “I wish I didn’t speak Gaelic”?

  • Finlay & Ruairidh MacRitchie

    Having been brought up in a Gaelic-speaking home in North Uist, I was bilingual at four years old. Both my parents were Gaelic-speaking secondary teachers, and I always expected that Gaelic would be an obvious choice when it came to educating my own children.

    Despite having no formal Gaelic education in Paible Primary School (GME started there in 1990), but thanks to a number of dedicated teachers who spoke Gaelic naturally, and faithfully, to all pupils whom they knew were from Gaelic-speaking homes, myself and my peers enjoyed much success at National Mod Singing and Drama competitions throughout primary school. I graduated with an Honours Degree in English/Gaelic in 2001 and went on to become an English/Gaelic secondary teacher in 2002.

    In 2011, we had to make a formal decision as to whether Finlay – our elder son who has been spoken to solely in Gaelic since birth - would start school as a GME pupil. I was undecided…for months! I knew there were many clear benefits of GME…but, similarly, I suspected there may be social disadvantages of distancing him from his pre-school peer group. Would he have as many friends as he would have in the equivalent EME class? Would he suffer, socially? Would a so-called “language barrier” hold him back? Would he be seen as “different”?

    Around that same time and while attending an education conference in October 2011, I listened to the following inspirational lecture from Dr Antonella Sorace, Professor of Developmental Linguistics at Edinburgh University: https://vimeo.com/33168932. Instantly, my concerns were allayed and my decision regarding Finlay’s education confirmed.

    He commenced GME in Paible School in August 2012 – and was completely bilingual by October 2012! Ruairidh, our younger son, bilingual at four years old, started GME in Paible in August 2015. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying it was the best thing I have done thus far for my children. I believe Finlay and Ruairidh, to date, have more confidence than their EME peers and they also have more opportunities (such as Mòds, Fèis) to perform and are both immensely proud of their bilingualism. They are confident in both languages and the fact they can ‘switch’ from English to Gaelic easily, better equips them for reasoning and problem-solving activities. Although English is not introduced formally to GME pupils until the final stages of Primary 3, this is certainly not a disadvantage. In a very recent English reading assessment, Finlay read at the same high standard that he reads in his native language: midway through Primary 3, he has transferred his reading skills with ease. The same theory applies for Mathematics. As far as I am aware, GME pupils are not in any way disadvantaged in Maths by comparison to their EME peers, in fact they are often ahead of their EME equivalent.

    Our sons have the huge advantage of coming from a Gaelic-speaking home; they have knowledge that the learner does not. It is far easier for children with Gaelic to pick up new sounds – they understand how the language “works” in a word. Gaelic-speaking children are also a useful tool in every GME class – a teacher can have natural dialogue with the fluent child which in turn, aids the other learners.

  • Katie MacKinnon

    Testimony from Hannah MacKinnon whose daughter, Katie, attends Daliburgh school on South Uist.

    "Despite speaking very little Gaelic at home both my children have been fully immersed in Gaelic Medium since Primary.

    Educational benefits of bilingualism are well documented and enhance a child's opportunity of successfully learning more creatively and flexibly.

    As a none speaker of Gaelic, I am fully aware of the advantages of immersion education and there is always plenty of support for parents, through our school, including teacher support, parent homework clubs and advisory schemes, over and above the wide range of information available on-line."

  • Faye and Seumas Smith

    Both my husband and I are native Gaelic speakers and when it came to deciding which education system to choose for our children there was no doubt in our minds that we would choose GME. Research shows that bilingualism is a huge advantage in terms of learning and beyond. We both also felt it was important to support our language and culture. The children will always have English, it surrounds them every day and by primary 3 they were capable of reading the same book in English as other children not in Gaelic medium – as well as being able to read and write in Gaelic.

    The GME unit at Stornoway Primary has worked very well for us, from when they first attended pre-school to now being in upper primary. The children are confident and can switch between languages with ease. The opportunities that they have had through GME have been excellent, things like Mods, participation in radio and tv programmes, Gaelic camps at Scaladale etc. have contributed hugely to their wider learning and confidence. There is always support for homework if it is required.

  • Alasdair and Fiona Langley

    We moved to Reinigeadal in North Harris from the Midlands in 2009. Neither of us has any Gaelic background but we were keen that our children should have the benefit of having as much exposure to the language and culture as possible. We knew that they would learn some Gaelic from attending school here, but believed that it would be particularly helpful to put them into Gaelic Medium education. Both attended Cròileagan before starting school so their immersion into Gaelic started at age 3.

    We had the same concerns that probably all parents in our position have, which was how we might be able to help if the children were struggling in Gaelic, particularly with homework. As it turns out we had no problems at all – the school were really supportive but we found that the children took to it quite easily and didn’t need a great deal of help from us. There is also plenty of online help available for parents. We had been told that young children would readily take to a second language and this has indeed been the case - they are like little sponges. It didn’t occur to us at the time that having Gaelic could help their long term career prospects, but we see now that there may well be employment opportunities where having Gaelic is an advantage. We definitely made the right decision and would recommend GME to anyone.

    Alasdair (P5) says ‘I like doing Maths in Gaelic because it feels easier. Now I prefer doing it in Gaelic than in English. The teachers are very good and they help if we get stuck. They are very good at encouraging us to speak Gaelic to other people who have Gaelic, and in other places too like in our village. I like being in the Gaelic choir and going to the Mod every year. If you are in Gaelic medium you can go to a camp every year called Sradagan which is great because we do kayaking, gorge climbing and other fun stuff. Tha Gàidhlig spòrsail!’

  • Joanne Mitchell

    Dylan and Lewis Pryer attend the Gaelic Medium Unit at Sgoil nan Loch. This is a testimony from their mother, Joanne.

    Dylan is now in P5 and still loves school. As his Gaelic has progressed, we are finding that we need less support for homework as he understands himself what is needed and is able to complete it with little or no help from us. However, support from the school is still readily available and Gaelic4Parents still provides back-up when needed. The on-line help each evening is particularly useful. Dylan has been a very active participant at the local Mod over the past few years as well as taking part at Fèis Eilean an Fhraoich. These opportunities outside of school really help to cement his Gaelic as an important part of his identity and not just as a language he uses only at school.

    Lewis is now in his second term in P1 in GME. Having completed two years in the Gaelic nursery within the school, he has been able to settle very quickly into the routine of school and is happy to be with classmates with whom he spent the last two years. We have found that the experience of early Gaelic exposure has made him feel quite comfortable with the language. At the moment he seems to understand more than he speaks but he is always asking what such and such is in Gaelic. I think he views Dylan as a walking dictionary! The support from school has been excellent and we always feel confident that we can call on them if we have any concerns.

    Overall we are happy with our choice of Gaelic Medium education for both of children and feel confident that working together with the school we have given them the best possible start.

  • Peggy Ann MacMillan

    A testimonial from Peggy Ann MacMillan who’s children go to Sgoil Dhalabroig in South Uist.

    Fraser is in P2GM and really enjoys school. He has lots of friends that he has known since nursery. He has an excellent understanding of Gaelic as this is his main language at home and at school. Fraser regularly has homework which he usually manages to complete without support. However, if help is needed, we use online resources such as Stòr-dàta and Gaelic4parents. Sgoil Dhalabroig has also offered a homework support club to assist parents with any issues that arose.

    Fraser attended and very much enjoyed an After School Club last winter. The variety of activities offered by staff allowed Fraser to develop a wide range of skills. The school plans to run a similar programme in January 2016.

    Fraser likes Gaelic singing and enjoyed preparing for the local Mòd. He also attended Fèis Tir a' Mhurain. These opportunities are helping him develop a good understanding of Gaelic culture as well as the importance of the language in the community.

    Help is always available from the school staff and I feel confident in all aspects of Fraser’s education

    Kirsty is pre-school age and attends Sgoil Àraich Dhalabroig which is part of the school campus. Like Fraser, Kirsty has a good understanding of Gaelic and is very comfortable speaking the language. Kirsty is preparing to start school next year. The school has an excellent transition programme in place which is enabling her to form positive relationships with staff in the main school. The support from both nursery staff and school staff has been very good and I am confident that Kirsty will enjoy school as much as Sgoil Àraich.

    Fraser and Kirsty have a younger brother Mìcheal Iain who will be starting in the nursery when he turns three. Overall. I am very happy with the progress that both my children are making in GME. I am very confident that with the support they are given at home and from the school staff they will become successful individuals.

  • Elly Welch

    Elly Welch’s daughter, Dusty, attends Stornoway primary school GMU. Here’s Elly’s experience of Gaelic Medium Education:

    I moved to the Western Isles in 2002 as ‘an adventure’ away form the South of England. Thirteen years on and I am still here with two children to add to the mix. Now I feel that the islands are our home and every day I become more aware and interested in the local culture and more keen to integrate. For my family Gaelic Medium education has been a big part of that.

    When my children were born I lived in a very remote, strongly Gaelic area where, unfortunately, there was no Gaelic Medium provision beyond cròileagan for my son. After a while I moved for work and a bonus of this was that my daughter, not then in school, could join a Gaelic Medium primary School. My only regret now is that I didn’t my son into it too (he was in P2 by the time we moved and I worried he would not adapt - which, with hindsight, now know that he would have).

    My daughter, Dusty, now 9, has thrived in the Gaelic Medium environment. From a shy and unsettled child who wasn’t sure about going to school she has gained confidence, a lovely group of close friends and, academically, I think she has excelled within this system. Small classes with mixed ages and fabulous teachers have combined to create an energetic learning environment with lots of opportunities - from the Mod and plays to music and out of school clubs in Gaelic. But at the same time it doesn’t stop them mixing with non Gaelic speakers either.

    When it comes to homework there is plenty of support out there and as a prospective Gaelic medium parent I would not let the thought of complicated spellings put you off. In fact its a good learning experience for all of you and, if you are a non speaker like me, you will soon feel left behind by your child as they start to forge ahead without needing your help. The teachers are very supportive of all parents - I have never felt ostracized for being a non Gaelic speaker.

    Dusty herself has never questioned the language or reasons she is be doing it - its just part of her life, even though we don’t speak it at home. Far from being isolating, it has given her an identity that she accepts as the norm. Nowadays I hear her speaking Gaelic with her friends (yes its a good secret language and way to show off to her brother) and trying to teach inquisitive grown-ups a few words (not always the right ones, admittedly…!)

    I hope that, in the long term, Dusty will make use of Gaelic and that it will help her to learn other languages and to have a broader understanding / feel integrated within the society she has been raised in. I also hope that it will help her to learn other languages and become a happy citizen of the planet as she grows up. I would urge all parents to put their kids into GM education - there is nothing to lose and a huge amount to gain. In fact, if I had my way, all primary education in the islands would be in the native tongue. Kids adapt, they learn and they will carry the language through into the future.

  • Christine Davidson (Parent)

    My two daughters, Emily and Iona, attended the Gaelic Medium unit at Barvas and then at the new Sgoil an Taobh Siar. Our house is mainly non-Gaelic speaking as my husband is from Banff. I am a semi-fluent learner although my parents were both native speakers. The reason I wanted Emily and Iona to go into the Gaelic Medium was to ensure that they both felt confident speaking Gaelic, which I never did, although I always wished I had. I did have some reservations at first, worrying that it may impede their progress and that they might not reach their full potential. I need not have worried. I was amazed at how they soaked it up and it was not long before they were correcting my Gaelic.

    I believe that it has actually been beneficial for them to have been immersed in it from P1. There is a lot of research to suggest that being bilingual improves learning in all subject and I now feel very confident that it was the right choice.

    I always hoped that my girls would be able to appreciate the wealth of poetry, song and literature that has been written in Gaelic through the generations, some of it by their own ancestors. I am so glad that this is now possible and something that will be available to them all their lives. I don't believe they will ever be non Gaelic speakers.

  • The Pryer Family – Carl, Jo, Dylan and Lewis

    When we decided to move to Lewis in 2012 the choice of Gaelic or English medium education was one we thought long and hard about. Moving from England and with no Gaelic in the family the obvious choice would have been English. However, we had researched the Gaelic option and, alongside the obvious educational benefits, we wanted to give our children every opportunity to experience the language and culture of the island.

    The first few days were hard, but Dylan settled very quickly and we were amazed at his progress. He is now midway through his second year and would now rather speak Gaelic than English! Although he is only in P2, he has told us that he plans to continue his Gaelic as much as he can at Secondary School!

    The Gaelic Medium Unit is well integrated within the school and whilst Dylan has naturally found his closest friends within his class he also has many friends who are in English Medium.

    Initially we were concerned about our ability to support his learning but we receive a lot of help from the school – providing English translations of homework for example, and the Gaelic for parents website is a brilliant resource. We also encourage him to speak Gaelic whenever he can with friends and neighbours who are native speakers. I am now confident that our lack of Gaelic is not holding him back in any way.

    One aspect of Gaelic Medium that Dylan has really enjoyed is singing. He was lucky enough to be chosen to perform a solo in last years’ local Mod, as well as participating in the play with the rest of his class. These sorts of opportunities really enhance his education experience and help to develop his confidence.

    When choosing a nursery for our younger son, Lewis, we had no hesitation in placing him in the Gaelic Nursery within the school. He is already counting and identifying colours in Gaelic and has made friends with other children who will be his classmates when they start school.

    Overall, we would recommend Gaelic Medium Education to anyone, even if, like us, you have no Gaelic in the family. Young children are like sponges and this is an opportunity to give them something which will benefit them throughout their whole life. As someone said to me, it really is a case of buy one get one free!

  • Julie Olley (Parent)

    Gaelic Medium Education is available to all children in the Western Isles regardless of whether or not they are from a Gaelic speaking background. Here Julie Olley tells of her experience of Gaelic Medium Education.

    ‘I studied in France and my eldest son then five years old lived with me and was schooled in French. He quickly became fluent in French and I realised the value of teaching young children another language. We moved to Harris in spring 1999 with every intention of our children learning Gaelic. We were fortunate enough to have three children, Etta, now 11, Fin, 9, Ellen, 8. All three attended Cròileagan and then Gaelic Medium at Leverhulme Memorial School; all are now fluent Gaelic speakers. They are confident in both Gaelic and English and have won prizes in the Mod, with a short story by Etta and friend being shown on national television, she also got a first at the Mod for reading unseen prose. We are very proud of all their achievements both with their understanding of the language and the culture of the society we call home, especially as neither of us are Gaelic speakers. They wouldn’t have achieved this without the dedication and enthusiasm of all the staff at LMS.’

  • June and Eddie Graham (Parents)

    June and Eddie Graham enrolled their children in Gaelic medium education, here June explains why they made that decision. “My father is a Gaelic speaker from Skye, but I was born and brought up in Glasgow, and so Gaelic wasn‘t passed on to me. As a young adult, I missed not having two languages. When I was in my twenties, I felt a great sense of loss that I knew only a word or two of my father’s native language, and I began learning Gaelic.

    I have been living in Stornoway for just over two years and my youngest son was born here. My two older children were born in Switzerland where my husband and I were working at the time. We spoke English at home and the children heard German in their nursery, and they became fluent in both languages without any problem. We moved back to Scotland when our daughter reached school age, and because of my interest in Gaelic, I was really happy when my husband got a job in Stornoway.

    All the same, it wasn’t easy to decide which language our children should be educated in. Eddie, my husband, learnt Irish Gaelic at school, but he knew no Scottish Gaelic before we moved here. Our daughter missed almost a year of school because of the difference in the school systems, and started school near the end of primary one. We worried that catching up on school work and learning a third language would be too much for her. On the other hand, Gaelic was very important to both of us. Having lived in Switzerland, where there are four official languages, it was also very difficult to imagine our children growing up with only one language.

    After discussing the choices with the head teacher, we decided to place Ailsa in the Gaelic medium class, and we have never regretted the decision. I was familiar with the difficulties of learning a language as an adult and I worried that Ailsa would have similar struggles, but because she started young, she learnt Gaelic very fast and it seemed to come naturally. The teachers are very dedicated, and she has taken part in a lot of interesting projects such as learning about World Cup countries or having making clothes out of recycled materials. Being in a Gaelic class, has in no way narrowed her learning experience. She has had the chance to act in local and national mods, and this has really increased her confidence.

    Because I had been learning Gaelic for some time, I had no problem helping my daughter with homework. Notes from the teacher on projects or upcoming events were in English so that all parents could be kept informed. When our son Daniel began school just over a year ago, Eddie decided that he would help him with homework and use this as an opportunity to learn Gaelic. So far he has been able to keep up with the homework and Daniel usually puts his Dad right if he makes a mistake. There is a website which offers homework help and recordings of reading books if families are struggling and the Comhairle also offers support. We found that Ailsa was able to do her own homework by the time she was in Primary 4 although she had to be reminded to do it.

    We are planning to send our youngest son, Brendan, to a Gaelic nursery when he is old enough. He goes to a Gaelic playgroup as this is a great opportunity for both of us to pick up some Gaelic. One parent who did not come from a Gaelic speaking family said to me, “I’m afraid of languages, but I’m sending my children to Gaelic Medium Education so that they won’t be afraid of learning them.” There are many reasons to give a child this valuable opportunity of learning a second language when they are young, but that seems as good as any.”

  • Donald Lamont (Former Pupil)

    Donald Lamont was raised in a Gaelic home and community and his enrolment in Gaelic medium education seemed like the natural progression in his language acquisition. As part of the third school intake of Aird Primary School in Point’s Gaelic Medium Unit, Donald was one of the first children in the Western Isles to enrol in Gaelic Medium Education.

    Iona Mactaggart, Information Officer Gaelic Medium Education spoke to Donald about his experiences as a pupil of Gaelic Medium Education.

    How do you feel Gaelic Medium Education benefited you?

    Having recently finished a course at University I can now fully appreciate the benefits Gaelic Medium Education gave me. Being fluent in two languages is a great advantage when learning other languages and helped me while studying French and Latin. However I feel that the main benefit of Gaelic Medium Education was to help develop my confidence. It gave me experiences and opportunities which developed my skills to a high level. What opportunities were available to you throughout your education?

    Throughout primary school we were given opportunities to participate in radio shows, TV programmes and performed regularly at both local and national Mods. From a young age we were given exposure to how the media worked and given the skills and confidence to participate. Through this I was fortunate to have had several roles in Gaelic television dramas and to the present day I contribute regularly to radio shows, including being a football pundit!

    I learned many skills through these experiences which gave me the skills required to take part in the BT Scotland National Gaelic Debate when I was on 3rd and 4th year in secondary school. This experience really helped me when I later took part in English National Debates during my time at University. Without the confidence and skills gained in primary and secondary school I do not feel I would have been able to take part in this. The educational advantages of Gaelic Medium are well known and many in my peer group who went through Gaelic Medium would have similar testimonies to my own. However, a less well known advantage of Gaelic Medium is the social aspect and the opportunity it gives children to have their eyes opened to other cultures. Whilst still in primary school I took part in an event called ‘Iurosgoil’ which brought together children from across Europe who were from minority language cultures. We spent a week together learning about each other’s language and heritage.

    During my time at the Nicolson Institute, partly due to my ability to speak Gaelic fluently, I was chosen to take part in an exchange trip to Pendleton in South Carolina, U.S.A. More recently, during my University years, Gaelic gave me the opportunity to play shinty for a Scottish select in Ireland on two occasions. These are just a selection of the many examples of events and situations in which I made long lasting friendships through Gaelic and I owe Gaelic Medium Education a lot for that.

    Gaelic Medium offers children a high level of education while giving them opportunities to broaden their horizons beyond what would normally be possible. I feel I gained a richer experience through Gaelic Medium Education and I leave University very thankful that my parents sent me there.

  • Donna Barden (Teacher)

    Donna Barden is a Gaelic Medium infant teacher in Laxdale Primary School on the outskirts of Stornoway. Christina Stewart, Early Years Worker spoke to her about queries parents may have about Gaelic Medium Education and also the benefits of Gaelic Medium Education.

    How can parents with no Gaelic support their children at home and help with homework?

    There are CDs available which contain the Storyworld Reading Scheme which is the reading scheme which we use in the classroom. Parents can use these CDs to help their children with reading homework. Parents can request these at any time.

    When is English introduced?

    English is introduced on primary 3 when pupils begin reading and writing in English, as well as also reading and writing in Gaelic.

    What do you see as the advantages of a second language?

    There are many advantages of having a second language. Research has shown that pupils with 2 languages gain in many ways, educationally, culturally and socially. They pick up their second language easily and pupils have been shown to overtake monolingual pupils in their language abilities. I would recommend that parents interested in Gaelic Medium Education read research produced by Prof. Antonella Sorace who is an expert in this field. Prof. Sorace is professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. She is a world leading authority in the field of bilingual language development.

    How quickly do children pick up language?

    Children pick up language very quickly as they experience complete language immersion when they are in the first 2 years of Gaelic Medium Education. They soak up the language as they learn and play in a Gaelic medium setting. Pupils are made to feel at ease speaking Gaelic and are soon able to converse with their teacher and peers in Gaelic.

    What opportunities are there to develop language out with class?

    There are many opportunities for pupils to develop language out with class as they can take part in short Gaelic radio pieces, concerts and also local competitions such as the local Mod and Fèis. Community links are also important for pupils to develop their language as children can talk to relatives and friends in their community in Gaelic which can be a rich and important experience for all parties concerned.

    I find it extremely rewarding and enriching to hear young pupils speaking Gaelic as they do so quite naturally after a few months in primary 1. It is wonderful to feel that I have in a small way helped them on their incredible language journey.

  • Mandy Gillies (Parent)

    Mandy Gillies lives in Tong, has one child in Gaelic Medium Education at Sgoil a’ Bhac and two children who attend Gaelic Medium pre-school. Mandy had never considered Gaelic Medium Education (GME) until attending a meeting where Iona MacTaggart, the Gaelic Medium Information Officer, was the guest speaker. As Iona spoke about the benefits of GME, Mandy began to think that this was something she should consider for her own children. Mandy approached parents who had chosen GME and the more she learnt about it the more she thought it was the best thing for her children.

    Christina MacLeod, an Early Years Worker with the Education and Children’s Services Department, spoke to Mandy about her experiences putting a child through GME.

    What concerns did you have about enrolling your child for Gaelic Medium Education?

    At this time my oldest child, Tyler, was four and had started his second year of pre-school education and I thought that I was perhaps too late to start thinking about GME. I discussed my concerns with the Head Teacher who was very supportive and told me that children have been know to enrol in Gaelic Medium at primary 2 with no previous experience of Gaelic and cope well. Historically my family have attended Tong School and my nieces and nephews would have been in school with Tyler, and it was a tough decision to look past my local school. My husband has no Gaelic and being a Gaelic learner myself I was concerned that we would not be able to support the children with homework. I spoke to parents without a Gaelic background who had put their children through GME with great success so this reassured me. I have found the Gaelic4Parents website (www.gaelic4parents.com) an invaluable resource. It has all the reading books as audio files and also has a parent forum for support and advice. As Tyler is learning only Gaelic for the first two years of primary I was worried that this would affect his abilities in English. However, research has shown that being bilingual enhances your ability to learn other languages and do just as well if not better in other subjects too. I also see from his interaction with his cousins and other non Gaelic speaking friends that his social skills in an English medium situation are not compromised.

    What do you feel are the benefits of GME?

    English is introduced on primary 3 when pupils begin reading and writing in English, as well as also reading and writing in Gaelic.

    What do you see as the advantages of a second language?

    Tyler can read and write and hold a conversation in Gaelic which he would not have been able to do if he was in an English Medium class. Although he has not been taught to read in English yet, he is able to read simple words because he has learnt the skill of reading through the medium of Gaelic.

    Tyler has taken part in the Fèis, has competed at the local Mod and loves to sing Gaelic songs and recite poetry. He also enjoys teaching his younger brother and sister how to say new Gaelic words. My younger children attendGaelic pre- school and I continue to be amazed at how quickly they are learning Gaelic.

  • Angus Ferguson (Former Pupil)

    Angus Ferguson is 23 years old and lives and works as an agricultural consultant in North Uist. Donalda Campbell, Early Years Worker spoke to Angus about his experience of going through Gaelic Medium Education and how he felt it had benefited him in his career.

    What school/college did you go to? My education started in Paible School Gaelic Medium Department. From there I went on to Sgoil Lionacleit to complete standard grades and highers. After School I took a year out and then continued on to further education at the Scottish Agricultural College in Aberdeen where I gained my BSc (Hons) Degree in Agriculture.

    Is Gaelic spoken in your family? My father, brother and Grandparents speak Gaelic. My mother doesn’t speak much Gaelic but she understands what we are saying.

    Do you think Gaelic Medium helps you in your current job? I am employed by the Scottish Agricultural College as an agricultural consultant. I find that being able to speak Gaelic is an invaluable asset. When dealing with Gaelic speaking crofters and other Gaelic speaking members of the community it can help break down barriers and makes people feel more at ease.

    I know several people who went through Gaelic Medium Education around the same time as me who have gone on to work in the Gaelic sector both in media and in education. The good thing about Gaelic Medium Education is that whilst providing the same opportunities as those available to children going through English Medium Education, Gaelic opens up further opportunities, provides a useful additional skill and addition to your CV.

    I really enjoy speaking Gaelic and it has been a huge benefit to me both personally and professionally. When people call the first question that is often asked when they hear my voice is, “A bheil Gaidhlig agad?” I feel very proud that I am able to speak the language and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Julian Lane (Parent)

    Julian Lane and his family moved to the island 5 years ago and on their arrival one of their first tasks was to find their youngest daughter a nursery place. Julian shares his family’s experience below -

    We found out that the nursery, beside the school our older children were attending, was a Croileagan. The supportive staff of the Croileagan reassured us that having non-Gaelic speaking parents would not affect our daughter’s progress and on this reassurance we enrolled our daughter in the Gaelic Medium Croileagan. Before coming to the island we considered moving to North Wales and had already decided that if we did move that our daughter would be taught in Welsh, we felt that two languages were better than one. Once our daughter had enrolled in Gaelic, we were amazed at how quickly she progress with the language and was not fazed by it all. She just carried on as she did at her mainland nursery with the advantage of having two languages!”

    Our daughter is now 9 and is in Paible School being taught through the medium of Gaelic. When she first started school there were weekly meetings with parents to support us with homework which were invaluable. The school have also encouraged us to use a parent website (www.gaelic4parents.com) and CDs & DVDs. The school couldn’t have been more helpful and supportive, responding to any queries immediately! Our daughter has embraced the language, and all the culture and singing that goes with it. When we go to the local shop our daughter chats in English & Gaelic to our friends and neighbours. The community have been very helpful in encouraging our daughter to speak Gaelic and helping with homework if required.

    We would recommend Gaelic Medium Education to all parents – we feel it makes no difference whether parents speak Gaelic or not. Having a child in Gaelic Medium Education has added a new dimension to our lives and encourage any parents who were undecided about enrolling their child to speak to parents already in GME.