AN initiative to boost the numbers of Gaelic speakers has reached half a million people since it launched last year.

SpeakGaelic, described as Scotland’s biggest Gaelic initiative, is a multiplatform campaign to teach Scots Gaelic, with podcasts, a BBC Alba programme, social media posts and online resources at learners’ disposal.

The first instalment of the project was aimed at total beginners and those with little knowledge of Gaelic.

Now, SpeakGaelic has returned for season two and it’s aiming to build on the success of the first rollout.

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Speaking to The National, BBC Alba’s SpeakGaelic presenter Joy Dunlop said the team were “blown away” by the response to the initiative.

Dunlop said: “We were all blown away by the response to SpeakGaelic. There have been over half a million people reached since its launch. And you could definitely feel that, particularly on social media that folk got really involved.

“This is a new way to learn Gaelic... There's a website, programming and podcasts, resources. And I think it's time for Gaelic learners to try something new.

“We've had some wonderful courses in the past. But it definitely felt like there was an appetite out there to get involved particularly after a lockdown and with the success of Duolingo. So many people had been doing a wee bit anyway on their phone and it was the next step for them.

“People really jumped in there and embraced every part of it and it was really lovely to see.”

BBC presenters Joy Dunlop and Calum Maclean said there is a big demand for learning Gaelic

Joy Dunlop said she has been 'blown away' by the response to SpeakGaelic

Dunlop said there has always been an interest in Gaelic but it has been increasing over the years.

She said SpeakGaelic gives people everything they need to learn the language, calling it the most “ambitious learning project for Gaelic that has ever existed”.

She said it’s not just in Scotland but across the world that people are interested in the Gaelic language, as well as its culture and heritage.

Calum Maclean, who also presents the show on BBC Alba as well as social media coverage for the initiative, said SpeakGaelic allowed people to learn the language at their own speed.

BBC presenters Joy Dunlop and Calum Maclean said there is a big demand for learning Gaelic

Calum Maclean is a presenter for SpeakGaelic on BBC Alba

He told The National: “There’s a big demand for it. Even before Duolingo, where it went mega wild, there was demand for people who want to learn Gaelic but had never been quite clear where to start. Especially if you want to learn it while living your own life and not have to go somewhere for the year.

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“Having everything in one place hopefully makes it easier for everyone.

“SpeakGaelic is your best opportunity to learn Gaelic or to improve in the Scottish Gaelic you've got.

“You can do it at your own speed so if you are a mega quick learner and want to fly through stuff you can do that but if you’re someone who needs more time you have that too.”

Mohoko Pooley, a Japanese learner who lives near Edinburgh, is making Gaelic her third language after Japanese and English.

She told The National Scotland: “I started learning Gaelic six years ago because my son started going to a Gaelic school. I am Japanese and my husband is English so we don’t have any Gaelic at all.

BBC presenters Joy Dunlop and Calum Maclean said there is a big demand for learning Gaelic

Mohoko Pooley is making Gaelic her third language 

“When I moved to Scotland I didn’t know there was a language called Gaelic.”

She said she was learning Gaelic “basically to help my son with his homework”.

She continued: “Gaelic is very different from Japanese and English. So at the beginning I found it very hard to follow the grammar. And there are sounds Japanese doesn’t have.”

Pooley said Japanese also doesn’t have sounds that Gaelic has, such as the sound at the end of words such as loch.

“And we don’t differentiate L and R so making sounds is very, very difficult for me and the grammar is very different," she said. "After two years of learning it I stopped, but then during lockdown I found a Gaelic chatting group online.

"I thought because my son wasn’t going to Gaelic school because of lockdown I had to support his Gaelic at home. So I was attending online classes and chatting groups and then I got to know more people and started liking it more and more.”

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Mohoko said learning Gaelic has also allowed her to make new friends.

“The people I meet are always very friendly and they try to help me. I meet lots of adult learners and I find it really fun to chat with them. I’ve made a lot of friends and have lots of Gaelic-practicing friends all over the world now.”

For those who missed out on the first round of SpeakGaelic, the team urged people not to worry as all resources will remain online.

The second rollout of SpeakGaelic launched on Monday with programmes being released every week. People can find out more information and sign up for the classes at

This article first appeared on our sister site, The National in Scotland.

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