Gaelic Word of the Week – International Mother Language Day

Each week we publish the text of our Gaelic Word of the Week podcast here with added facts, figures and photos for Gaelic learners who want to learn a little about the language and about the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. This week we are looking at International Mother Language Day.

The 21st of February is the UNESCO International Mother Language Day – which is  Latha Eadar-nàiseanta nan Cànanan Màthaireil in Gaelic.

International Mother Language Day – Latha nan Cànanan Màthaireil – has been observed since 2000 and aims to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

But what is a Mother Language – a Cànanan Màthaireil? A mother tongue is simply the first language you learn to speak!

The Gaelic for language, as we’ve seen in previous Words of the Week is cànan. Scotland – Alba – has always had a range of Cànanan Màthaireil – mother languages. We’re ioma-chànanach – multilingual – with English – Beurla, Gaelic – Gàidhlig, Scots and British Sign Language – Cànan Soidhnidh Bhreatainn as national languages. This is as well as the many languages – cànanan – that have arrived in Scotland more recently – over 150 languages are now spoken here according to the most recent data!

The Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba has a Gaelic Language Plan, a BSL plan and a Languages Plan to enable people to interact with their parliament in their preferred language, whether that by their Cànanan Màthaireil or otherwise.

This year’s topic for Latha nan Cànanan Màthaireil is Education – foghlam.

Since the Education Act of 1872, Gaelic speakers were unable to gain an education in their own language and were instead educated through English. This means that many Gaelic speakers historically have not been literate – litearra – in Gaelic.

In 1985, Gaelic-medium education – foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig officially began in Glasgow – Glaschu – and Inverness – Inbhir Nis. Gaelic-medium education – foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig – is education where children are taught their subjects through Gaelic. Some of those entering Gaelic medium education will have Gaelic as their Cànan Màthaireil but other will have English as their Cànan Màthaireil and learn Gaelic at school. Pupils don’t have to start school already speaking Gaelic as pupils are immersed in the language in the classroom. As a result, pupils become fluent and literate both in Gaelic and in English –Beurla.

At present there are over 6,000 children in Gaelic medium education – foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig from nursery to secondary level and the language is offered in schools in 14 local authorities throughout Scotland both in the Highlands – a’ Ghàidhealtachd – and the Lowlands – a’ Ghalldachd. The largest numbers are in the Highland Council area, Glasgow, na h-Eileanan Siar and Edinburgh.

If you would like to see statistics for number of children in Gaelic education in Scotland, you can learn more on the Bòrd na Gàidhlig website. And if you might be interested in choosing Gaelic medium education for your children, check out the information about it on the Education Scotland website.

Education – Foghlam – is a devolved matter and the Parliament has often discussed and legistated on matters relating to Gaelic education. We also provide a wide range of education resources in Gaelic for Gaelic schools or if you’re looking to learn!

You might also try the new Duolingo Gaelic course, with over 500,000 subscribers, or visit to find even more resources to help you learn!

We also have some simple Gaelic parliamentary phrases for you in our Abair Beagan booklet on our website.

Another encouraging sign in recent years has been an increase in the number of literate Gaelic speakers and the fact that more Gaelic is written and read now than at any time before, both through Gaelic publishing and the social media.

This week’s Gaelic Word of the Week is Latha nan Cànanan Màthaireil.

This weeks Gaelic Word of the Week has been written and read by Alasdair MacCaluim, Gaelic Development Officer, whose mother tongue is English – Beurla – but who has been speaking Gàidlhig for so long that he feels more at home in Gaelic!

Alasdair MacCaluim