Cocker spaniel learns basic Gaelic in 3 weeks

Neil Smith (right) and his hearing dog Ginger who has been taught commands in Gaelic as well as English. Picture: Hemedia
Neil Smith (right) and his hearing dog Ginger who has been taught commands in Gaelic as well as English. Picture: Hemedia
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A COCKER Spaniel has stunned members of a conversational Gaelic speaking class by mastering the necessary basics -- for a dog -- of the notoriously difficult-to-learn language in three weeks.

Four-year-old Ginger responds to “suidh” (sit) “fuirich” (stay) and “trobhad” (come here) and understands when his owner, retired Neil Smith, praises him with “cu math” -- good boy.

Mr Smith, 67, who is profoundly deaf, said he was amazed by how quickly Ginger, a hearing dog, learned to understand the native tongue of Mr Smith’s great-grandmother. It can take months or even years for people to grasp the tongue.

He credits Ginger, who is an English Cocker Spaniel (working breed), with encouraging him to continue going to weekly Gaelic speaking class classes at Strone Church of Scotland near Dunoon in Argyll.

Mr Smith, who lives in Strone, attends the group every Friday along with 23 other people.

He said today: “”Ginger learned Gaelic because he has been coming with me to the drop-in centre and I thought it would be good fun.

“He has picked it up really quickly -- it only took him about three weeks.

“It is great because I can show off that he is a bi-lingual dog - people think it is amazing that he can do that and it is a wee bit of added interest to the class.”

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison, who has officially announced that the group had changed its name from Strone Gaelic drop-in centre to Ionad na Ceilidhe - the meeting place to talk - said he was “very impressed” by Ginger’s grasp of the language that he also speaks.

Dr Morrison said: “It is great to see an older person enjoying such a good relationship with his dog where Gaelic is the medium of communication.”

Elma McArthur, who grew up in Tiree in the Inner Hebrides but now lives in Dunoon and leads the conversation class, said she, also, was impressed by the speed Ginger had picked up the complex language.

She said: “He is a very, sharp clever dog.

“It is a really good advert for Gaelic.

“I have never heard of a dog learning it as a second language before.”

Mr Smith said Ginger’s “unique” ability had encouraged him to continue his studies.

He said: “He has given me a lot of confidence because I used to be a very shy person and often felt quite isolated in company, even with family and friends.”

The former driving instructor, who is married to Eileen, said his deafness meant he tended to shy away from conversations but Ginger had “broken down barriers” for him.

He said: “Going to the Gaelic class gets me out and about to meet people and I have always wanted to learn the language because my great-grandmother spoke it but it was not passed down through the family.

“Ginger is helping to lead a family revival.”