I can’t say for sure whether or not I would have taken Gaelic language courses instead of French in public school. With so much of my family tree filled up with leaves named Ahern, Campbell and MacLeod, it would have been appropriate for me to learn a word or song from the culture that those leaves draw their light from. Don’t get me wrong! I have certainly benefited from my French bilingual education. I just think it would have been nice to have had at least some choice in the language that I would end up learning.
Ten years after graduating from high school that choice is now widely available! With the popularity of Gaelic-core-classes rising among students and parents, the demand for Gaelic teachers is rising. To meet that demand, St. Francis Xavier Education and Celtic Studies Departments have partnered to provide public schools in Nova Scotia and beyond with qualified Gaelic teachers. Two of those soon-to-be teachers sat down with me earlier this week.
Chelsea Cameron and Melissa Nicholson took very different paths toward studying, and eventually wanting to teach Gaelic. Melissa talked to me about how Gaelic language, songs, and stories were imprinted on her at a very young age by her grandparents. But, it wouldn’t be until high school when she would take firm steps toward learning the language.
“In 2006 I started in an after-school program with Angus MacLeod in Baddeck called Gàidhlig aig Baile.”
Melissa’s interest in Gaelic culture remained with her during her undergraduate degree at Cape Breton University. She enrolled in a science program, and went to Gaelic classes in the evening. It didn’t take long before she dropped science and earned her BA in Celtic Culture and Gaelic.
Chelsea’s path toward Gaelic culture was sort of indirect as well. It was during the first year of her undergraduate degree at St.FX when she chose Celtic Studies as an elective. That elective course soon became her major. “Once I took it, I found an identity. I knew it was in my family, but I didn’t realize that people still spoke it today and that there was this whole community behind it. I could connect with the culture and the history…and learn about what my people would have been like.”
The best teachers or professors are those who have a love for the subject that they teach, as well as a love for sharing that subject with others. It’s one thing to love golf, it’s quite another to enjoy spending hours of the day teaching a beginner. During my conversation with Chelsea and Melissa it was plain that they couldn’t wait to share their love of Gaelic language and culture with young students.
“When we finish it won’t really be a matter of replacing teachers in existing programs, but how we can start new Gaelic programs. Creating more interest in schools and have more people exposed to it.”
There are now ten schools in Nova Scotia that are offering Gaelic language classes. That’s a big leap forward from when I graduated in 2006. I don’t know what it’ll look like in 2026, but there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Gach deagh dhùrachd / Every good wish
Chelsea’s favorite word in Gaelic is, langasaid / couch—“It’s always stuck with me”
Melissa’s favorite word in Gaelic is cnap / small pile—“I like finding words that the English Language stole from Gaelic”