Island voices: The use of videos to motivate language learning in the Hebrides (Scotland)

Author(s): European Schoolnet
Institution/Organisation: College Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Sleat (UK)

1. Profile of language initiative

1.1 Background

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is a college of further and higher education situated on the Island of Skye in the Scottish Hebrides where all tuition and the running of the college is carried out in Scottish Gaelic. It is located in an area which had been economically depressed and suffering from the emigration of its population. The College aims to change this pattern of decline through education, employment and social and cultural enrichment and works towards reversing the fortunes of the Gaelic language.

Founded in 1973, initially to provide learning facilities in Gaelic for local people, it is now a fully-fledged college offering courses in a wide variety of subjects. Early subjects included Gaelic broadcasting and multi-media, business management and information technology. In addition to these important fields, today's HE provision addresses subjects as diverse as music, literature, media studies, language planning and economic development. It is linked with the UHI Millennium Institute (which aims to become the University of the Highlands and Islands) in the provision of higher education courses leading to Gaelic-related degree programmes, and postgraduate qualifications.

Current student numbers stand at approximately 100 on full-time courses, about 160 on distance learning courses, and up to 900 enroll on short courses each year. The College has a diverse student population, with a cross-section of ages and different nationalities. Though most of the students come from within Scotland and the UK, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has welcomed students from as far afield as North America, mainland Europe and Asia. Graduates of the College have gone on to Gaelic-related employment in many industries, adding their skills to the maintenance and development of the language.

Unlike in many parts of Britain, the communities in these islands are accustomed to using two different languages in their daily life, both English and Gaelic. This gives a distinctive character to the local culture, in which Gaelic musical and other traditions are upheld and practised alongside the broader English language “mainstream”. The “cosmopolitan feel” is enhanced by the number of migrant workers arriving from other European countries to work in a range of local industries, including food processing and hospitality.

1.2 Description and practical realisation of the language initiative

The college participated with nine other partners throughout Europe in an EU-funded project - POOLS (Production on-line Learning Systems) - to develop tools for the CLIL methodology (Content and Language Integrated Learning) of language teaching as well as a guide on how to apply the tools in a CLIL context. There was a distinct emphasis on materials for the teaching and learning of less widely used and taught languages (LWUTL). Additional funding was provided by the Scottish Executive’s ICT and Literacies Innovations Fund and the Post Office Excellence Fund to support additional work in learner involvement in the generation of content.

As a result of this collaboration, the college has produced 40 short videos aimed at learners of both English and Gaelic. The videos are of two kinds. Firstly, there are short scripted documentaries with a voice-over commentary in plain language. Secondly, there are “in their own words” interviews with participants in the documentaries, or other community members. Additional examples of learner generated content can be found online at

1.3 Objective

The project aims to develop an open access contemporary bilingual oral archive, in which materials are catalogued for language learners using the Common European Framework.

1.4 Practical realization

The documentaries are generally 4-7 minutes long. In relatively simple language, they provide an introduction to a particular topic, event, or situation in the Uists. The interviews vary in length between 2 and 7 minutes. They present an opportunity for learners to listen to unscripted conversation at natural speed. As a listening exercise they are best suited to those learners who already have a good grasp of the core grammar of the language, and are looking to expand their vocabulary and train their ears to natural spoken language. The interviews represent a sample of “natural” speech and contain all the normal “performance errors” – pauses, hesitations, false starts, repetitions etc – that characterise everyday spoken language.

The Gaelic materials form a useful addition to the resources available to the college’s distance students on its Gaelic access and extension courses, and also to other bodies involved in Gaelic education including mainland universities and schools, and evening class providers. Local adult Polish and Latvian ESOL learners have also used the materials.

In the first stage the college engaged the community in putting together a series of short films covering a range of cultural and vocational themes, including local food, music and art, tourism, environmental health and social care, and rural development and sustainability.

In the second stage the college has worked with a community training partner in Uist, Cothrom Training Ltd, and other bodies, using the videos as inspiration for learners to make their own films. Examples so far include a client at a day centre for adults with special needs recording his own Gaelic voiceover for a film about the centre, and Polish and Latvian workers at a local shellfish processing plant shooting, scripting, and editing their own 15-minute film on their life and work in the Hebrides.

The main hardware items are a laptop computer and digital video camera with external microphone.

Materials have been uploaded onto various websites including and

2. Assessment of success 

2.1 Success indicators


(and see learner and teacher comments below)

The initiative won a European Award for Languages.


2.2 Success factors

2.3 Future plans

These materials were placed online as part of the Leonardo POOLS project and disseminated through the European Forum for Vocational and Technical Education and Training (EFVET). The materials are designated copyleft in order to encourage dissemination and emulation.
Most of the videos have now been collected on DVD to help those without a broadband-connected PC. Further training will be offered in simple film-making for Gaelic/ESOL tutors and community members. This will contribute to a growing contemporary oral archive for the whole community, and language learners near and far.
This model may interest small or community language teaching enterprises seeking to produce lively and contextualised materials with a limited resource base (laptop and camera), and to involve learners themselves in creative projects. In language contact situations a bilingual or multilingual approach also offers economies, and opportunities for joint working.

NB Learner and teacher comments

"Great videos in English and Gaelic... I found it wonderful! It was the first time that I had ever seen a native Gaelic speaker speaking Gaelic. If you aren't in a Gaelic community it makes it difficult to learn. These videos bring you right there!"
Elizabeth Rivera (Cùrsa Inntrigidh student), Canada

"The videos really are high quality, not too hard to understand thanks to (the) clear voice over, and the accompanying texts make them a very useful resource. The thing I like about video is that the learner has an immediate handle on the subject. When I was learning Italian, I found it very useful to watch Italian news programmes as the visuals were a major aid to knowing what the bulletin was about, particularly when they were international stories also covered by the UK media, whereas in contrast I found radio programmes hard at first whilst my vocabulary was sparse - this is definitely the case when I listen to Rèidio nan Gaidheal…"
Fred Riley (Cùrsa Inntrigidh student), Nottingham, private correspondence.


"Choimhead mi air na bhideos direach an-dràsda. Tha iad uabhasach math. …Tha an cànan gu math glan. Tha iad a' còrdadh rium gu dearbh.
(I watched the videos just now. They are really good…. The language is very clear. I really like them.)"
Wanda MacGregor, (Cùrsa Inntrigidh student), Canada, private correspondence

"Tha sin sgoinneil, móran taing airson siud! Tha e caran doirbh Gàidhlig Tbh fhaighinn anns a' Ghearmailt.
(That’s great, many thanks for that! It’s quite hard to get Gaelic TV in Germany.)"
Ronnie Wuensche, Germany

"The new Scottish Gaelic addition to your web-site is a tremendous resource in schools. I have already used it with advanced learners and plan to use it with younger fluent speakers.
I would be very happy to see more such resources filmed and made available."
Iain Cumming, Gaelic Teacher, Gairloch High School


"Chleachd mi "Hebridean Smokehouse" sa chlas seachdain-sa chaidh agus chòrd e riutha gu mòr - bha e gu math soirbheachail.
(I used “Hebridean Smokehouse” last week and they greatly enjoyed it – it was really successful.)"

Chrisma Bould, evening class tutor, Edinburgh, private correspondence

"Is e goireas air leth a tha an seo gun teagamh sam bith.
(This is an exceptional resource without any doubt.)"