How to Learn Scottish Gaelic

Learning Scottish Gaelic (+ resource list)

Over the past 6 years since I started learning Gaelic at university, I have encountered many people eager to acquire the language but who lack the financial means to take classes and who, as a result, never really got started. If you are one of those people, I hope that this post will give you an overview of some of the resources available and help you dive into this beautiful language.


How to Get Started

Probably the most useful resource, in my opinion at least, are the Progressive Gaelic books, the first two of which are also available as Kindle Editions. The PG series are the textbooks we used during the first two years of my university Gaelic course and, to this day, I will use them to look up grammar points if I have a lapse in memory. They contain explanations of grammar points, vocabulary, grammar exercises, short texts and dialogues. Audio files for the first book and answer files for the first two books are available through the Members' Resource site. While these books have been designed to be used in conjunction with a course, my personal experience has shown that they are also very useful even if you cannot attend a course. You can also supplement this resource with the grammar videos from the YouTube channels Gaelic with Jason and LinguaGuru Gaelic or have a look at some of the explanations on Akerbeltz or Taic. If any of your grammar questions remain unanswered, consider asking them in Facebook groups such as Let's Learn Scottish Gaelic. You may also want to use physical flashcards or apps like Anki or Quizlet to actively work on memorising vocabulary.

While the Progressive Gaelic books are great at helping you get a grasp of how grammar and sentence structure work, they particularly helpful for pronunciation or listening. The online dictionaries Am Faclair Beag and LearnGaelic feature audio files for most entries, allowing you to look up how individual words are pronounced. Glossika, which is free for minority languages such as Gaelic, is a great resource for getting a hang of Gaelic pronunciation and improving your listening skills. Two modes are available, 'full practice' and 'audio only'. The first is an active way of learning the language, using listening, typing and dictation practice. The second mode is, as the name already suggests, 'audio only'. In this mode you listen a sentence first in your source language, then in Gaelic, then there is a break for you to try and repeat after the speaker, and then the Gaelic sentence is repeated. Personally, I find this mode more useful as it allows you to practice Gaelic while doing mundane tasks such as cooking or doing dishes. 

You may be asking yourself now, "What about Duolingo?" Gaelic Duolingo can be useful for keeping you motivated and for learning some words and sentences; however, it will not get you to fluency; it risk confusing you rather than helping you, at least if that is the only resource you use, and chances are it is not the most efficient way to spend your time. If you do decide to use Duolingo, at the very least make sure to check the tips available in the online version, and join one of the Scottish Gaelic Duolingo Facebook groups.

If you would like more tips on learning Gaelic, have a look at the Progressive Gaelic Blog. They have some great blog posts on how to improve your pronunciation, how to get to a conversational level, how to create a sense of accountability, and more.

For more resources, have a look at the resource list below.

Learning Gaelic from Languages other than English

It probably comes as no surprise that the vast majority of resources for learning Gaelic is aimed at English speakers; nevertheless, there are some resources for those who would prefer a different source language. Glossika, which I already mentioned above, can be done using more than 30 source languages. Unfortunately, the other Celtic languages are not among them at this point. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig occasionally offers Irish to Gaelic courses (the next course starting on the 13th July 2021). Intergaelic is an unidirectional, Gaelic and Manx to Irish, online dictionary. Kevin P. Scannell's Foclóir Gàidhlig-Gaeilge (2016) - also only unidirectional - is available as a PDF document online.

There is quite a surprising number of German-language resources. For example, there is a textbook and a book with grammar exercises by Michael Klevenhaus as well as a German-Gaelic dictionary by Bernhard Maier. There are courses at the University of Bonn, Germany, and the Deutsches Zentrum für gälische Sprache und Kultur as well as various private courses, including one in Switzerland. As far as I am aware there are no resources in other languages, though there are plans to translate the Progressive Gaelic books into French.

German resources for Gaelic


For More Advanced Learners

While there are lots of resources for getting you started with Gaelic, there tends to come a point, once you have reached the intermediate or advanced level, when you feel like your learning is stalling. This is probably partly because you are struggling with finding resources appropriate for where you are in your language learning journey. 

Probably the easiest and most obvious ways to improve your Gaelic and expand your vocabulary is through extensive reading. While for learners in Scotland or other parts of the UK Comhairle nan Leabhraichean (the Gaelic Book Council) offers a way to buy Gaelic fiction and non-fiction books, this may not be an option for some in other parts of the world. Thankfully, there now are a variety of other ways to access writing in Gaelic. One such way is Dàna, an online magazine featuring fiction and non-fiction on topics such as language, food, film, politics, science and sports. The Gaelic Book Council's E-reader is a way to access a number of relatively short books, mainly aimed at a younger audience, for free. The Progressive Gaelic Blog also features a number of blog posts in Gaelic and I am sure we will add some Gaelic blog posts of our own in time. There is also at least one monthly shared Gaelic reading group organised by Unbound.

The other way to get input is through listening. LearnGaelic has a number of videos for intermediate and advanced learners, with scripts and translations provided. Gàidhlig na Cagailte allows learners to listen to conversations between three native speakers that closely resemble everyday situations. A transcript and a somewhat slower explanation of various grammar points, again with a transcript, are also available (for more information about this project and how to use it, click here). A variety of documentaries and interviews can be found on the Island Voices YouTube channel. You can choose whether you want to switch Gaelic subtitles on or not. If you would like to hear discussion of Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community (2020) in Gaelic, head over to our Celtic Student podcast. A bilingual episode about Gaelic in Nova Scotia will be released later on in the year as well. Tobar an Dualchais hosts several thousand Gaelic recordings on oral history, song and more. Finally, there are also a number of groups and associations, such as Comann Gàidhlig Ghlaschu and Misneachd, that run lectures and talks in Gaelic.

Resource List

Online Dictionaries:
Am Faclair Beag - probably the best online dictionary there is, especially as it tries to indicate how common a word is
LearnGaelic Thesaurus - for looking up synonyms and antonyms
LearnGaelic Dictionary - useful; however, less common words sometimes appear above the ones more frequently used

 Progressive Gaelic series - a great series for learning grammar; the first two books are also available as Kindle Editions
Online and Digital Resources: 
Akerbeltz - a great website with quite a number of articles on Gaelic grammar
Taic - another website with explanations of grammar points
Glossika - a resource that teaches the structure of the language without focusing on grammar (variety of source languages available)
LearnGaelic - a great website with a variety of resources for beginners, intermediates and proficient speakers
E-reader - free short books largely aimed at a younger audience
Progressive Gaelic Blog - a blog with English posts on Gaelic learning and posts in Gaelic
Duolingo - if you use this app, consider joining one of the Gaelic Duolingo Facebook  groups below

Lauren Rhiannon - a young YouTuber originally from Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, who has some videos for beginners
Gaelic with Jason - a YouTube channel with a great variety of videos on Gaelic grammar and more
LinguaGuru Gaelic - another YouTube channel with videos on grammar and more
LearnGaelic (YouTube) - short videos on songs, vocabulary etc.
Speaking Our Languages - an oldie but a goodie: a TV program for Gaelic learners from the 90s
Island Voices - a YouTube channel with many interesting talks and interviews in Gaelic at normal speed (some with English subtitles, automatic Gaelic subtitles can be switched on at least for some)
Facebook Groups:
For More Advanced Learners:
Dàna - an online magazine in Gaelic featuring fiction and non-fiction
E-reader - free short books largely aimed at a younger audience (with recordings)
Gaelic Resource Database - a database with Gaelic texts on a wide range of topics
LearnGaelic (intermediate and advanced) - videos with Gaelic and English transcripts
Gàidhlig na Cagailte - conversations between three native speakers, with grammar points and transcripts (for more information about this project, click here)  
Island Voices - a YouTube channel with many interesting talks and interviews in Gaelic at normal speed (some with Gaelic and/or English subtitles) 
Language and Culture: 
OpenLearn: Gaelic in modern Scotland - because learning a language also means learning about the culture
Other Lists of Resources
iGàidhlig - a resource for using Gaelic on the computer with links to various other online resources

If there are any sources that you think would be useful for fellow learners and that are missing in this list, please add them in the comments! 


Olivia Linda Klee (she/her), University of Aberdeen


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