Learning Gaelic in adulthood: Second language learning in minority language contexts

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines the learning experiences and linguistic practices of adult second language (L2) learners of Gaelic in Scotland and reflects on this group’s possible contribution to Gaelic revitalisation. In Gaelic Scotland there is now a strategic imperative to ensure greater numbers of adults learning Gaelic achieve fluency in order to help achieve target increases in the crude number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Current Gaelic language-in-education policy aims to motivate adults to learn the language and, ultimately, to become active members of the target speech community. Making the transition from being an adult L2 learner to a user, or speaker, of a target language is known, however, to be a complex and non-linear process (O’Rourke et al 2015; Nic Fhlannchadha and Hickey 2016). This chapter reports the results from a sample of 282 L2 adults who participated in an online survey in 2013 as part of a wider study exploring the effectiveness of a classroom learning programme for Gaelic, called Ùlpan (Macleod et al. 2015). The focus of this chapter is to understand Gaelic learner pathways, linguistic practices and learning outcomes. The results offer fresh insights into the disjuncture between the aspirations of minority language policy and the social realities of adults learning a minority language in the context of diminished place-based speaker communities. The findings also highlight the liminal space which minority language learners occupy both in practice and in contemporary theorising over adult language learning; their learner situation neither replicates the foreign language social context - despite the target language not being the typical language of communication in their immediate environment - nor the immersion learning context, in which naturalistic learning of the target language can complement classroom learning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGaelic in Contemporary Scotland
EditorsMarsaili MacLeod, Cassie Smith-Christmas
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
ISBN (Print)9781474420655
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • language learning
  • minority languages
  • Gaelic


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