Gaelic speaking staff are a unique selling point for Scottish businesses
A surge of interest in Scottish Gaelic saw more than 560,000 people sign up to learn the language with learning app Duolingo during the 2020 lockdown.
Statistics released by the company revealed that a third of learners on the site are from Scotland, with another third from the US, and the remainder from around the world, including eight per cent from Canada.
The global popularity of Scottish Gaelic comes as no surprise to Bell Ingram’s Simone Hogan who had been learning the language since 2009 having emigrated to the UK from Australia in 1995 and living in Kent before finally settling in the Highlands in 2019.
And Simone, who works as an Administrative Assistant in the company’s Highland office in Beauly, believes that Scottish hospitality and tourism industry is missing a trick by not weaving Gaelic into their business plans and employing more fluent speakers.
Says Simone: “From personal experience I know that international visitors seek out Gaelic speaking businesses when they travel to Scotland.
“For example, when a friend I met through online Gaelic classes travelled to Scotland from the USA with a group of her colleagues, she specifically sought out accommodation, restaurants and excursions which employed Gaelic speakers. As a Gaelic learner, she understood how intrinsically linked to Scotland’s landscape, history, heritage and culture the language is, and she wanted to share this with her co-workers.
“It’s also worth pointing out that Duolingo’s Facebook group alone has over 9,000 members worldwide who use the forum; combined with members of other learners’ groups, the number of potential customers exceeds 18,000. Post-lockdown many of these people will be looking for opportunities to travel to Scotland, practice speaking the language and interact with fluent speakers. So, say you have a café with a Gaelic speaker behind the counter then learners are more likely to pop into your establishment to get some practice speaking.
“The #cleachdi Gàidhlig badge is also popular with learners and when I wore mine I noticed others who did too, including at the local outdoor markets. Businesses can apply for these promotional materials once lockdown is lifted.
“The bottom line is that Gaelic groups are full of people asking about accommodation, tours, excursions, restaurants, music venues, ceilidhs, etc. where Gaelic can be heard, and spoken. In addition, there are people who take photos of everyday instances of Gaelic to post on social media; in some cases just to make the language, and culture (at least appear) more accessible. Any sign, poster, brochure, clothing, jewellery or gift that has the Gaelic becomes a collector’s item. Honestly, these pictures – together with the information on where to see and buy these Gaelic products – are shared around Gaelic groups and pages constantly.
“If you are a business employing Gaelic speaking staff, make sure you shout about it as it’s a unique selling point. Learners will spend considerable time seeking you out even if you just promote and/or support Gaelic.”
After a decade living and working in London and the South East, Simone finally made the move to Scotland permanent in 2019, working first at the port of Nigg before taking up her current position with Bell Ingram in Beauly.
She continues: “Scotland has always felt welcoming and inclusive and the first time I visited I knew instantly that I wanted to make my home here. Learning Gaelic felt like the best and fastest way to immerse myself in the culture and history of the country.
“My first time spontaneously speaking Gaelic was at Bell Ingram when one of our clients mentioned returning to Uist. As I had only ever discussed Uist in Gaelic classes, I instinctively asked (in Gaelic) if she was from North or South Uist – ‘Uibhist a Tuath, no Uibhist a Deas?’, and our conversation continued exclusively in Gaelic. It was exciting!
“Weirdly, my very first use of Gaelic in the workplace was when I was in London working for a Texan law firm. They were drafting an agreement with one of the parties having a Gaelic name, and I noticed an accent was missing during proofreading. Forgetting an accent can be dangerous in Gaelic (you might be referencing something rude!), so I made certain the correct accents were added.”
Despite the challenges of lockdown Simone is committed to improving her command and understanding of the language.
She adds: “I am aware of other learners in my area, so once lockdown is lifted, I hope to set up a Cofaidh ⁊ Craic (coffee and fun) group in the area. More particularly, I hope to find Gaelic friendly venues to host the group as well as any excursion providers who can expand our working Gaelic knowledge, e.g. walking, foraging, boating, cycling, etc.”