Gaelic is spreading like wildfire, thanks to a popular lunchtime club

21st May 2010 at 01:00
From bingo to drama to choral singing . a depute head's love of the language has inspired a very local Celtic revival

A teacher walks along the corridor. "Feasgar math," says one pupil. "Ciamar a tha thu?" asks another. The knowledge of Gaelic is impressive, particularly as this is not a school in the Highlands, but Caledonia Primary in Glasgow.

The city council recently launched the Gaelic Language Plan, in which it announced schemes to open up a second Gaelic school and promote greater use of the language throughout Glasgow. Scenes such as this are part of the vision of more Gaelic being spoken in schools.

Depute headteacher Jackie Mullen has created the enthusiasm for the language in the school. She runs a weekly Gaelic lunchtime club, as well as teaching phrases in assembly, and Gaelic drama sessions with the P1-2 classes.

"I have always loved Gaelic music and the sound of the singing," Ms Mullen recalls. "But I had never got round to learning it. Then in my last job I was given the opportunity of doing the GLPS course [Gaelic Learning at Primary School] and I really enjoyed it."

Keen to pass on her knowledge, as well as her love of the language, Ms Mullen started a weekly lunchtime club for children from P4 upwards who were interested in learning it.

"Adults are scared of learning a new language, whereas children don't think anything of it. It is easier for them and the parents are picking up bits from their children."

Ms Mullen has made a Gaelic wall in the school and the children can confidently read the colours, foods and short phrases on display. Today, they begin with some songs, happily singing those written to help them remember Gaelic phrases. A few have solo parts and don't hesitate to sing loudly and clearly.

In the two years it has been running, the club has built up a good selection of games and the children enjoy playing bingo in Gaelic. Drama also plays a big part and they use props to create a shop scene, with the children queuing up to buy food, conversing completely in Gaelic.

Most of the children have been coming for some time, so have built up quite a vocabulary. And if one forgets a word or phrase, one of their classmates is happy to help. For the more fluent ones, this provides them with the chance to add in extra words or phrases they have learned.

Sandy Robertson 10, has been coming to the club since it opened. "I didn't know any Gaelic before, or anyone who spoke it," he says. "I like languages and just wanted to learn a different one. Some of it is easy and some of it is hard, but it is fun."

James McDuff, 10, likes singing the songs. "It is easier to learn that way. My family thinks it is good I am learning it, and we have a friend who can speak it. I really would like to continue learning Gaelic."

Amy Fleming, 10, has just recently started at the club, having heard Ms Mullen speak it at assembly. She decided she would like to learn it "properly".

"I have taught our choir some Gaelic songs," says Ms Mullen, "and at assemblies I teach all the children basic greetings. Once a week, one of the boys comes with me to the P1 and P2 classes, and we act out scenes in Gaelic and teach them Gaelic songs. The children love it, and it's good for the boys as well. They are great with the little ones."

Class teachers are impressed at how quickly the children have picked it up. "When it comes to learning French in P5, we have found that they are more interested if they have done Gaelic. It is not as scary for them," adds Ms Mullen.

For a school with no Gaelic connections, it is amazing how much a part of the daily life it has become, and how it has filtered out from that initial lunchtime club.

Jim Whannel, quality improvement officer for Gaelic in Glasgow, says: "We are delighted at the continued success of the Gaelic Club at the school. It is really encouraging to see how the numbers have grown and how the club has sparked an interest in learning the language.

"We look forward to working with other schools in the city who have also expressed an interest in developing a club."

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