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Gaelic in modern Scotland
Gaelic in modern Scotland

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4.1.2 Learning other languages

Individuals who have become fluent in two languages at an early age are often more successful at learning other languages than those who have not. This is also true of language communities (e.g. Holland or Switzerland). There are several reasons for this.

One is that having mastered a second language gives the learner the confidence to tackle, and to use, a third (or fourth). Since self-consciousness is one of the major factors which inhibits language learning in adults, this is an important advantage.

In addition, bilinguals develop learning techniques and coping strategies when acquiring their second language that they can transfer to new language situations, especially those involving immersion in a new language such as moving to a foreign country.

Research has shown that bilingual children’s ‘metalinguistic ability’ is more developed than that of their single-language counterparts, i.e. that they are better at distinguishing between the ‘form’ of language (how something is said) and its ‘meaning’ (what is said). One project, for example, tested whether children used ‘semantic’ (or meaning) cues to group words rather than simply going by the sound or shape of the word. It found that bilingual children were able to employ this more advanced approach at an earlier age.

Research on this subject continues but again there is a growing consensus that early bilingualism makes it easier to learn other languages. For a review of the research, click here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Crìsdean’s story

‘I was born and brought up on Skye in a Gaelic-speaking community but the languages we spoke at home were English and French (my father is French). I had the opportunity to learn Gaelic when a Gaelic medium class opened in Portree Primary School.’

Figure 26

‘When I left school I attended Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic college, and I have been working in the Gaelic world since then. I feel quite fortunate that I am able to speak Gaelic, as well as my first two languages.’