Secondary school Gaelic immersion study launches



How the Gaelic language is perceived by secondary school pupils, and its effects on their linguistic and cognitive development, will be put to the test for the first time to further the debate on the use of Gaelic for more than just cultural value.

Dr. Maria Garraffa and a team from Heriot-Watt University, together with researchers from the University of Edinburgh, will work with senior pupils from The Glasgow Gaelic School, the largest provider of Gaelic medium education in Scotland. 

It is hoped the research will reveal that the benefits of bilingualism are not contingent on speaking a global language but are visible among speakers of minority languages like Gaelic.

"Being competent in more than one language has been associated with success in global business.

Dr Maria Garraffa, Heriot-Watt University

Dr. Maria Garraffa, Assistant Professor at Heriot-Watt University, explains: “We hope to prove the theory that the effects of bilingualism on the brain are not contingent upon the fact that a speaker is using a small heritage language like Gaelic or a global language like French or Spanish.

“Some studies have shown that bilingual individuals have a different cognitive flexibility which improves their ability to adapt when faced with a new situation, whether it's integrating themselves into a new group, switching jobs or learning a new skill. The results are still not robust and more research is needed.

"Being competent in more than one language has been associated with success in global business. Yet studies conducted by researchers in Wales have shown that pupils in immersion programmes often regard their heritage language as a subject choice they can drop when they leave school. We'll be working with pupils who will soon be leaving school for employment and we don't want them to lose their Gaelic language skills.

“We want to change how people perceive the Gaelic language and further demonstrate its applicability in a business context. We aim to promote the fact that this language makes them bilingual and help them to retain their bilingual aptitude to the benefit of their future careers. Speaking Gaelic is not a local skill but could have global applications and benefits.”

The project, funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig, will be led by Heriot-Watt University's Dr. Maria Garraffa and Prof. Bernadette O'Rourke, along with researchers from the University of Edinburgh. The team has international experience in the promotion of heritage languages.