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Scottish Gaelic in the United Kingdom

Language designations:

  • In the language itself: Gàidhlig
  • ISO 639-3 standard: gla

Language vitality according to:

Linguistic aspects:

Language standardization:


Language Area

Scottish Gaelic speakers in Scotland based on the census from 2011

Gaelic is spoken mainly in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It is a Celtic language closely related to Irish and Manx, and more distantly related to Welsh, Breton and Cornish.

Map shows the proportion of respondents in the 2011 census aged 3 and above who stated that they can speak Scottish Gaelic. Map was created by SkateTier, and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Speaker numbers

  • In 2011, about 158,000 Scots spoke Gaelic, compared to about 59,000 in 2001 1).
  • This corresponds to 1.13% of the Scottish population, compared to 1.20% in 2001.

Language and education legislation

History of language education:

Gaelic-medium primary education was first introduced in the traditional heartlands of the language in the mid 1970's, and soon followed in the wake of Gaels who had migrated to urban and Lowland areas. Due to strong support from Scottish parents for Gaelic medium education, additional Gaelic-medium schools were opened, and in 1999/2000, 59 Gaelic-medium schools existed throughout Scotland. 2)

European legislation:

The European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages

Scottish Gaelic is covered under Part III of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Download the Council of Europe report 2013 about the United Kingdom or the UK report from 2018.

Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

The Gaelic language is also covered by the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. You can read the latest reports of the UK and the Council of Europe here.

National legislation:

Gaelic Language Act 2005:

  • names Gaelic an official language of Scotland;
  • assigns to the Bòrd na Gàidhlig the responsibility to promote Gaelic, monitor its development, and to maintain a language plan.
  • defines education a) in the use and understanding of; b) about; or c) by means of the Gaelic language3).

Every five years, Bòrd na Gàidhlig makes a National Gaelic Language Plan.

Education in practice

According to the census from 2011, 2500 children will be learning Gaelic in 2012 and 2013, opposed to 24 children in 1985.4). In 2007 MacCaluim (2007) estimated that about 700 learners obtained fluency.

For primary education, in 2018-2019 there are:

  • 58 Gaelic Medium Education departments or dedicated schools total
  • 7 dedicated Gaelic schools: 3 in Glasgow, and 1 in Inverness, Edinburgh, Lochaber, and Portree
  • 3,457 pupils total attending Gaelic Medium Education5)

For secondary education, in 2018-2019 there are:

  • 31 schools in Scotland which offer Gàidhlig for fluent speakers and/or other Gaelic medium subjects;
  • 31 schools which offer Gaelic (Learners);
  • the subjects English, French, Geography, History, Home Economics, Mathematics, Modern Studies, PE, Personal and Social Education, Religious Education, Science and Technology are taught at different levels through the medium of Gaelic6).

Learning resources and educational institutions

Mercator's Regional Dossier

Read more about Gaelic language education in Mercator's Regional Dossier (2018).

2011 census, General Register Office for Scotland
Edwards, Vic, ‘Education and the Development of Early Childhood Bilingualism’, in Voces Diversae: Lesser-Used Language Education in Europe, ed. by Dónall Ó Riagáin, Belfast Studies in Language, Culture and Politics, 15 (Belfast: Cló Ollscoil na Banríona, 2006)
Scottish Parliament. (2005). Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. Retrieved from
Goalabre, Fabienne, ‘Immersion Education and the Revitalisation of Breton and Gaelic as Community Languages’, in Policy and Planning for Endangered Languages
Bòrd na Gàidhlig. (n.d.). Primary Education.
Bòrd na Gàidhlig. (n.d.). Secondary Education.
languages/gaelic_in_scotland.txt · Last modified: 2020/09/08 10:35 by ydwine

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