Thrown in at the deep end - pupils must immerse themselves in Gaelic
He told last week's parliamentary education committee that Bord na Gaidhlig was working on an action plan to refocus some of its resources on specific measures to build up the number of Gaelic speakers.
Having spent 30 years learning Gaelic, he was a "wonderfully visible example of how not to do it", Mr Russell told the committee. "It would have been better if I'd learnt Gaelic the same way I was taught to swim, which was to be taken to the deep end of the Troon open-air swimming pool in the freezing cold and dropped in the water. It made me swim; I do not know how many children they lost," he joked.
On a more serious note, he said: "We need to immerse people in the language and give them opportunities - we do not give people enough opportunities - so that they can learn to do it reasonably quickly. We also need to make sure that the circumstances in which they can use the language are as many and varied as possible. All those are my ambitions for our Gaelic policy; we now need to focus on how to do it."
The Scottish Government also had to persuade people of the importance of learning Gaelic: it was part of the nation's cultural inheritance and it would be a human rights issue for Gaelic-speaking Scots if the language was allowed to die out, added Mr Russell.
In Edinburgh this week, however, measures to promote Gaelic by introducing bilingual road signs and Gaelic translations on council stationery came in for criticism, mainly on grounds of cost when the city council faced a pound;90 million deficit over the next three years.
Councillor Iain Whyte, leader of the Conservative group, said he would find Gaelic "as foreign a language as French or German".