PARENTS of young children in Gaelic-medium education noticed during lockdown that their children were losing fluency in the language.

A new dedicated pilot scheme for the youngest speakers now aims to make up for lost time by providing more chances to speak Gaelic in and out of the home.

Donald MacNeill, chief executive of social enterprise Comunn na Gaidhlig (CnaG), said: “The sooner young children hear and engage with Gaelic, the deeper their linguistic roots will be, and the stronger their affinity with the language.”

During lockdown, families attending online Gaelic-language parent and toddler sessions told workers that being unable to meet up and chat in real life was hampering their youngsters’ language skills. Now three national groups are teaming up to bring families into fun settings in a one-year pilot scheme that could become a permanent fixture.

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Comann nam Parant (CnamP), CnaG and Bord na Gaidhlig hope the project will create a lasting boost in the skills of Gaelic speakers – and boost the number of people using it regularly.

If it works, the benefits will spread outwith the families taking part and lead to a broader roll-out of the scheme.

Three new officers will be recruited to CnamP to work with local authorities and independent groups in different areas to help families overcome barriers to speaking Gaelic.

That includes parents’ own proficiency levels, with many of those now choosing Gaelic for their kids unable to speak the language themselves.

As well as encouraging entry to Gaelic-medium sessions for tots, the new early years assistance team will work to strengthen existing local groups to create more learning opportunities and create a “stronger relationship between Gaelic and the home”, so young learners don’t have to switch out of Gaelic when classes close.

The period from birth-to-three is already known to be key to child development. Magaidh Wentworth, national director of CnamP, says it’s also “very important” for the use of Gaelic in homes and communities.

She said: “This project will encourage new parents to enrol their children in GME, while also helping those children with their Gaelic language skills as early as possible.

“It is extremely important that they get the best start so that they can develop strong Gaelic language skills.

“It is important that Gaelic is used at home after children return from an early years session. This project will help with that too.”

Bord na Gaidhlig is putting up the money, with CnamP – part of CnaG – leading the project. Jim Whannel, education director at Bord na Gaidhlig, said: “With everything opening up again, Bord na Gaidhlig wants to make sure that effective and impactful help is offered to early years groups and parents.”