Scottish Government
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Growing up with Gaelic

2011 census shows a rise the number of young Gaelic speakers.

The figures, published by the National Records of Scotland, also showed that the drop in the overall number of Gaelic speakers has also slowed while 1.5 million people declared themselves Scots speakers

Minister for Scotland’s Languages Alasdair Allan said:

“While the census shows a slight fall overall, we can take real encouragement from the growth in Gaelic speakers under the age of 20. This increase in the next generation of Gaelic speakers, helped by a 12 per cent increase in pupils entering Primary 1 of Gaelic Medium Education clearly demonstrates that our investment in the language is paying off. Our efforts to support Gaelic and create more learning opportunities for all ages has also significantly slowed down the decline in the overall numbers of speakers, many of whom tend to be in older age groups.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to halt and reverse the decline in numbers of Gaelic speakers, but today’s figures clearly show our targeted investment is paying off and that our strategy of introducing children to the language as early as possible to make it an integral part of their life, their schooling and the way they communicate is also working. Such a strong response for Scots in the first time it is included in the Census is also welcome news. That around 1.5 million people saying they speak it and, even more describing themselves as understanding, reading or writing it shows that we not only recognise it as a distinct language, but one that is very much ingrained in how we interact with each other and identifies our distinctiveness.

“Recent research by Edinburgh University, on behalf of Bòrd na Gaidhlig, shows incredible support for Gaelic education and investment – among both Gaelic and English speakers. Our challenge now is to use this information to help us transform that enthusiasm, alongside £25.2 million investment into the language from the Scottish Government into more people learning Gaelic.”

Bòrd na Gaidhlig Cathraiche (Chair), Iain Campbell added:

"We know that the 2001 census figures showed a marked decrease in the decline of Gaelic speakers. This was attributable to the growth of the numbers of children acquiring the language through Gaelic-medium education. Given the growth in the numbers in Gaelic-medium education over the last two decades, we expected that the rate of decline would be further reduced as a result of further growth of the numbers of children and young people now speaking Gaelic. This is clear evidence that the policy aims of the National Gaelic Language Plan are taking effect."

Notes to editors

NRS data has revealed the place both languages played in family life showing 56,000 people saying they spoke Scots at home and 25,000 recording Gaelic as the predominant language spoken. The 2011 census recorded around 58,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland in 2011 compared to 58,652 in 2001.

This is a smaller drop than when comparing earlier censuses – between 1991 and 1981 16,662 fewer Gaelic speakers were recorded. A larger number, 87,000 reported they could speak, read, write or understand Gaelic, down from 92,396 a decade ago.

These figures also include the first ever indication of the number of Scots speakers in the country, showing around 1.5 million speakers and 1.9 million people saying they have some understanding of it.

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