1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Scottish Gaelic
  4. >
  5. How are the courses from Sabh…


How are the courses from Sabhal Mòr Ostaigh?

This is for those who have tried S.M.O's course (s)

a) Which one did you attend?

b) How good & practical are they?

c) How long was your course for - was it a short 4 to 5 days course OR have you attended a longer program?

d) Have you tried their distance course?

January 24, 2020



I've completed An Cùrsa Inntrigidh (1 1/2 years, not the accelerated version) and the 1st year of An Cùrsa Inntrigidh (both distance learning). I've also taken several on-site short courses.

My long-term goal is to fully learn Scottish Gaelic. The distance courses are a lot of work and extremely time-consuming to do all the reading/practice/exercises. You only get 1 hour/week in a phone class. You should also have some other source to get complete grammar explanations (I mainly use Gaelic in 12 Weeks and taic.me.uk) because the SMO materials don't have detailed explanations with all the patterns that you need to learn. The distance courses also have oral and written tests each term so you can get credit for having taken them. However, I learned A LOT from the distance courses. I think there is no other way to really learn a language than to be "forced" to memorize vocabulary and grammar structures; and do written exercises. I'm not very good at that on my own. So, summary is that the distance courses are great in my opinion if you have the time to spend.

The short courses are also great. I've taken them to add to my knowledge. I think it is good to hear the spoken language and grammar explanations from different people as it helps me understand better. I've found the short courses quite intense even with all the breaks you get during the day! I've also learned a lot on the short courses. You also get to meet other learners and fluent speakers on the short courses and practice real conversations. EDIT: I forgot to say the short courses are fun (!) and have additional activities planned for students in the evenings. Also, the food in the cafeteria is excellent.

As far as how good and practical are short courses and distance courses, I suppose it depends on your goals and how thoroughly you want to learn Scottish Gaelic. One of my long term goals is to be able to be successful in the higher level university courses taught in the medium of Gaelic. I think there are some people who can study on their own and become fluent (reading, writing, listening, speaking) -- but that's not me. The courses help me stay focused.



NIKHIL3 - I feel like I have inadvertently hi-jacked your thread (sorry) so the least I can do is reply to your question..

I’ve been to SMO four times so far, each time was one of their summer school 5 day courses.

I’ve done level 1, 2 (twice) and 3. I stayed in SMO accommodation each time. I believe now one has to stay in their accommodation for these courses.

I loved each course to bits. The classes I attended were never more than a dozen people, outlying middle aged to retirement age... although I don’t know if that’s always the case. The tutors I had were all fabulous.

I found the intensity of the teaching was perfect for me... in that I felt pretty immersed in Gàidhlig, by about day three I was dreaming Gàidhlig! The atmosphere of the classes was jolly but also people were working hard and enjoying doing so.

My wee fear before I first went was that I would be looked down upon by college folk for not being a ‘proper Gael” and not having much Gàidhlig. That fear was largely rooted in an experience I had, sadly, on Harris years ago .. But, as soon as I arrived that concern dissolved. In fact when I mentioned it to one of the staff she said, anyone who wants to learn Gàidhlig is very very welcome here.

There’s something to do every evening, either concerts or talks or a Gàidhlig film to watch.

I would highly recommend the Easter or summer 5 day courses.Each time I’ve been at SMO I’ve left feeling I’ve learned tons...

Yes, as someone has said here, duolingo is cheaper than a residential course at SMO, but at present Duolingo will only take you so far... SMO is there when you want to go beyond about level 2 (or maybe 3, not sure exactly). There is also the intensity, enthusiasm and companionship aspect that comes from staying there with others for almost a week.

Of course, as I know many of us have experienced, it’s when one gets home and has no-one to converse with that it feels sad, watching all that one has learned start to slip away...

I haven’t done the distance learning course as the nature of my work means I can’t attend anything that takes place regularly, on certain days and times.

Hope that helps.. and apologies again for hi-jacking your thread..


Agree. The saddest part of every SMO short course is having to leave.


Short courses are very enjoyable, but expensive. Duolingo is more efficient as a means of learning.....


I presume, though, that the Duolingo course is only going to get you so far. I'm not expecting to be able to hold a conversation with a fluent Gaelic speaker at the end of it, I think that would be expecting too much. I see it as possibly a preliminary to a nice week on Skye some time but I don't think I have the motivation to do the serious level of work that AJFJdb is doing. I admire his dedication though.


So maybe I should sound more positive! I agree that studying courses with grades isn't for everyone. But the SMO short courses really are fun. I've met people there who take one week as an annual vacation and slowly move up the levels (so I've met some people several times). The levels (1, 2, 3...) have description files on the short course main page so you can see what types of sentences are covered. I think if you've learned the Duolingo sentences so far, you'd be pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy "Gaelic 1" is - so it would be review plus a few new sentence constructions and some grammar explanations. Since Skye is so beautiful for vacations - I've met couples where one or both is in a Gaelic class, and they spend a few days or an extra week on Skye after the class finishes. There is one afternoon a week "off" so I've been able to hear other speakers, or just drive around the island. There are also evening events and concerts which are always well-attended so you can meet people in other classes. Sometimes the music/performance classes will perform something they have practiced that week.



I quite fancy that actually. Would repeatedly reviewing the Duolingo material online also be good for avoiding backsliding and forgetting stuff while living in the monoglot south?


I think so - but I'm not a teacher. I tend to forget whatever I'm not currently working on. I try to do a few Duolingo timed tests every day in addition to whatever else I'm studying (class/book). I like the timed tests because it forces me to think fast - which is something I'm not great at in conversations - knowing the Gaelic to English or English to Gaelic meanings quickly enough for a normal SG conversation.


That's always the problem with languages, isn't it! Working it out fast enough to keep with the conversation. I suspect it takes a lot of live practice. I'm not nearly at that level yet.


Hey! In the not so distant past I was a tutor for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. I found the progress in people's fluency undertaking "an Cùrsa Inntrigidh" (distance learning) to be really remarkable. The best indicator of how much someone will get out of it though is how much they do during the week.

Short courses are great and Sleat / Skye is one of the most amazing parts of the world. A wonderful environment to learn!


I’ve just come to the end of the duolingo Gàidhlig course, which has kind of upset me, as I thought I would be able to work at it and progress all through the year long subscription I took.

On the assumption that I would be continuing to progress with duolingo all thru this year, I have booked myself into sabhal mòr Ostaig’s grade 5 summer course in August. I’ve done 1,2 and 3 in the past and had hoped working hard with duolingo might get me ready for grade 5 by August. Now I discover it looks like the duolingo course won’t be progressing me anywhere..

So I have two questions....

1 - Will there be more Gàidhlig on duolingo soon (and if so, when?) or have I just paid £75 for a month’s worth of Gàidhlig ?

2 - should I cancel my SMO booking and hope I can either move to grade 4 (which would require trying to get a different week of work) or get a refund if I can’t?


Hi, we are all volunteers so there is a limit to how much we can do. Please do bear in mind that we have dedicated hundreds of hours to this voluntarily and all courses are shorter when they first come out. Gaelic is one of the biggest a course there has been at launch. As you would expect for an initial release, it is aimed at beginners.

More content is coming but as we all work full time it would be impossible to say when. It takes a lot longer to create content than it does to work through it. Are you up to level 5 for the whole tree?

The Gaelic course material is free. Obviously a plus subscription has its benefits, but the free subscription gives the same access to the course. I am more saying this in case anyone comes across this and gets the impression they have to pay to access the course in full.

The materials on learngaelic.scot are excellent - particularly speaking our language and Litir do Luchd-ionnsachaidh. Just give SMO a call. You may have seen already but you can access the structures covered on SMO courses on their website. This may inform your decision.


Thanks for that really quick reply.. In answer to your question, I guess I must be up to level 5 for the whole tree as I can’t get past that owl trophy..

I understand all you have said and appreciate it completely.. I guess my disappointment comes at not having known the course was incomplete when I chose to subscribe to a year of duolingo. Had I known I would have stayed with the free version, or perhaps subscribed for a shorter period of time.

I remain incredibly grateful for what I have experienced so far with this course. It seems to suit how my brain works really well. I look forward to more when it’s ready...and I’m relieved to know there will be more .

When the more does come, will there be any way of knowing how much of it there will be? I ask only so I can know how long to take out a sub for, in case my current one has expired (which will be Dec 2020).. I do like not having to contend with the ads so would choose that option if poss.

Thanks again for all you’ve done and I’m sorry if I sounded ungrateful... I just didn’t know...

EDIT TO ADD: I see what you’re asking now about having completed the entire tree to level five.. yes I have.. the whole tree is golden and covered in number fives. I’m going back and practicing all the levels but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that fruitfully for the remaining 11 months of my subscription.


I totally understand! No worries at all, you didn’t sound ungrateful. It’s just I have noticed that some people in the past have commented making the assumption that we are duo staff so I usually like to make it doubly clear just in case. We aren’t actually sure ourselves how long the next expansion will be but as soon as we have a more definite timescale we will try and let people know. It took around 8 months to prepare the initial 34 skills but I don’t think any small team could sustain that pace indefinitely. I am very excited about the new material though, hopefully it won’t be too far away, but it will likely be a more limited expansion of the course at first. Our aim is to increase it size dramatically in the future however.


I think that what you've done is brilliant. I particularly like the pitch of the tone of the tips. A nice blend of the lighthearted aside and the serious grammar information.


Tha mi air bhioran! I can't wait for the next part of the course (but I will :-) Most of all - Im just so relieved to hear that there will be more.

Amazing to hear that you're volunteers who are contributing to the larger body that is duolingo. You are saints.. Stiall oirbh!

I do wish that Duolingo would make it clear that new courses aren't complete though. It would be helpful, after all, to know at the start rather than when one reaches the wall.


Oh, and really pleased to know that you're working on an expansion which might be ready by the time the existing modules are embedded in my long-term memory. As only the second generation of my family to be entirely without the Gaelic, I'd really like to get as far as possible without taking on serious academic study.


I picked up an offer the other day for a year's Duolingo subscription at a reduced rate, and it came out as £45.95 plus £1.87 in transaction fees. I realised all the course material was free but I was enjoying it and thought it was worth paying for. I like the extras in the paid-for material as well. I am planning to brush up my rusty French (Higher at A grade in 1971, now struggling) and German (picked most of it up as I went along) later once I'm through the Gaelic module. If Duolingo ever get round to the Icelandic course I may try that for a bit of a challenge.

I was never expecting this to get me as far as being able to hold a conversation in Gaelic. I would quite like it if I could follow BBC Alba a bit or have a vague idea what I was looking at when I come across an article in Gaelic.

My main thought was that to go to a course at the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig it would make sense to have some basic grounding first, and Duolingo seems to provide that pretty painlessly. I don't think it's reasonable to expect college-level material on something like this and I think it's pretty good stuff for the beginner.

ETA: There's always the revision facility. I plan on making use of that every day to prevent decay of the learning I'm doing. I'm working through it pretty fast and that's not good for retention unless you also go back and keep repeating stuff.


I have been studying [distance] at SMO for 8 years [About to take degree] and have done every short course. My advice would be to not cancel, as the first morning you are there you will be assessed, and moved to an appropriate level if needed. However, the courses are fairly "stand-alone" each covering a different topic. They are only sequential to a limited extent. Hope this helps...


Thanks for that thought Robbie. Trouble with being assessed when you get there is they only do odd or even numbers in any given week, so if I’m not up to scratch for the level I’ve booked for (5) I would have to drop to 3, which I’ve already done.. I had just hoped to get proficient enough on duolingo to be ready for 5.

Maybe I should see if I can change my week and do 4 instead...

Well done you though, for your own achievement- you’re an inspiration!


If it would be relatively painless to change week then changing to level four sounds sensible. Either way I hope you have a great time. I loved teaching the short courses at SMO.


I can't say anything based on personal experience, I am just repeating things I've heard here.

I've heard people complain that the students there tend to avoid speaking with local, native speakers, so if you do go I reccomend seeking out locals to speak with and experience the culture. (A good idea for most languages really).

I also hear the gàidhlig they teach is not the local, skye dialect though. It's more like Lewis gàidhlig. Which probably doesn't help with people talking to locals... . Though I also hear that teachers like to teach at least a bit of the Skye dialect as well and talk about the differences.

I can't answer your questions as I haven't done any courses with them, I just am one of those skye gàidhlig speaking locals (albeit a rusty one oTL).


This year would be my fourth time in the college. I know Skye fairly well | and a few of the locals too, as I used to do concerts there when I was a musician. My last teacher there is a Sgìtheanach, so I assume we were getting Skye Gàidhlig from her... Like many folk from this part of the world, I think I’d be a little reticent to bother the locals by trying to converse with them in my limited, stilted Gàidhlig... I’d be more inclined to think that the locals could feel a little overwhelmed by enthusiastic beginners telling them what a lovely day it is over and over again... In the W of Ireland they call the Gaelic learners ‘Brèaghas” because they’re always telling locals what a lovely day it is! :-)

when I can hold I real conversation with someone I’ll feel differently.... and at that point I may hunt you down!! :-)

On another note, last time I was there, on the last night, I went for a walk after the cèilidh and a car stopped to ask me directions. It was a monoglot Frenchman asking for directions to the Bridge. I was able to give him directions in French... which I would not have been able to do at the start of the week... much of my schools French (from the 70s) had come back as a result of intensively working that part of my brain all week... Fascinating!


No need to hunt me down! We're generally so happy to speak it that overhearing people speaking gàidhlig in a public place and saying "Gàidhlig?" to one of them after the conversation is done can be enough to start a conversation of your own. (Ofc, use discresion.)

Learn Scottish Gaelic in just 5 minutes a day. For free.