By Katie Macleod
When it comes to Gaelic education, Lews Castle College UHI has a unique offering. “We are situated in what is the strongest Gaelic-speaking community in the world,” says lecturer Angela Weir. “Nowhere else are there as many Gaelic speakers as there are in the Western Isles.”
This location in the heart of the Gaidhealtachd gives Gaelic students at Lews Castle College various advantages, from access to a faculty of fluent Gaelic speakers and a wide range of courses, to the ability to use Gaelic in the community on an everyday basis – not to mention exposure to multiple island-based Gaelic organisations.
For those students with an interest in studying Gaelic, there’s something to suit every language level, with options ranging from Masters degrees to summer short courses. The Gaelic department at Lews Castle College offers four Higher Education options: BA Gaelic Language and Culture, BA Gaelic and Development, BA Gaelic Scotland, and MA Gaelic with Education, as well as a plethora of other classes.
The BA Gaelic Language and Culture and BA Gaelic Development are similar in that Gaelic language is the foundation of both courses, and they both feature a dual-strand system that caters for fluent and learner Gaelic speakers. The former give students the opportunity to study Gaelic literature, culture, and history alongside the language itself, while the latter focuses more on language policy and planning, language awareness, and development issues in the Highlands and Islands.
For students interested in a teaching career, Angela notes that the MA Gaelic with Education “gives people a direct route into Gaelic Medium teaching,” where the first two years of the degree focus on developing language skills and understanding of Gaelic culture, while the last two are focused on education modules, which include practical teaching placements in schools. “It’s a really popular degree, and growing more popular,” she says, adding that Lews Castle College also offers the Post Graduate Diploma in Education for Primary and Secondary teaching in Gaelic Medium.
The BA Gaelic Scotland degree is taught online in English, “for those with an interest in Gaelic language and culture, but who are not necessarily Gaelic-speaking,” says Angela. In addition to Gaelic language skills, the degree looks at folklore, literature, traditional culture, and Gaelic storytelling and song.
Further Education Gaelic provision is equally as varied: Lews Castle College offers courses in Higher Gaelic; online short courses in Gaelic writing skills for fluent speakers; and summer schools for Gaelic university students on the Scottish mainland who are required to spend time in an area where the language is spoken.
The Gaelic department also teaches Gaelic locally using the Ùlpan language learning method, and lessons are delivered in the college itself as well as in the local community; public bodies such as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, NHS Western Isles, and Police Scotland have all made use of the Ùlpan lessons. Lews Castle College has also been involved in delivering Gaelic classes to Modern Apprentices.
And these advantages of studying Gaelic at Lews Castle College aren’t confined to the classroom. The recently launched student-led Gaelic Society is growing in popularity, and the success rate of Gaelic graduates is continuously high, with students moving into fields such as teaching, media, development, and tourism.
“Our graduates have a very high employability rate; over 90 per cent of our graduates are in employment within the Gaelic field,” explains Angela, noting the concentration of Gaelic Medium units in island schools, as well as the presence of Gaelic media enterprises such as MG Alba and Mac TV. When you combine these strengths in education, community, and employability, “Lews Castle College would seem an obvious choice for someone who’s interested in studying Gaelic.”