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Watch: Syrian refugee, 10, shows off award-winning Gaelic skills

It might be his third language – but that doesn’t stop young Abdullah Al Nakeeb from chatting away in Gaelic to people around the Stornoway community.

Abdullah, 10, is a Syrian refugee who attends Stornoway Primary School, where he has been learning the ancient language of the Gaels.

A photograph of Abdullah with a certificate he received for progress in learning Gaelic has gone viral. The picture, posted on Twitter by his neighbour Coinneach Morrison, attracted thousands of likes and retweets.

The youngster moved to Stornoway from Homs four years ago.

Now in Primary 6, Abdullah has a good grasp of the local language spoken in the Western Isles.

Arabic is Abdullah’s first language and English is his second, but he is fluent in both.

He is keen to develop his conversation skills in Gaelic, every chance he gets, by speaking to other local people around Stornoway.

Abdullah said: “I learned to say a lot of words in Gaelic, for example, ‘Ciamar a tha?’ which means, How are you?

“I like speaking Gaelic because I get to discover new words. At the start it was difficult but I kept on practising and now I’m getting used to it.


“I really like it here in Stornoway because there are a lot of friendly people. Some people speak Gaelic with me and I speak with them in conversation. It is a lot of different people.

“I teach my parents some. My dad finds it a bit tough but my mum just gets it straight away.

“My brothers know a lot of Gaelic as well. My brother Majd also got the award. I never expected me getting it but I was really happy.

“A lot of people have been saying things like, ‘Welcome to Scotland, you are one of us now’ on my picture on the internet.”

In a statement released through Western Isles Council, the Al Nakeeb family said: “We are really proud of Abdullah, he loves going to school here and Gaelic has become one of his favourite subjects. Abdullah always works really hard and it is nice to see him get praise for all his efforts.

“We never expected our son to learn the language but since moving here he has managed to pick up Gaelic very quickly. His younger brother Majd has also got a good grasp of the language and received a certificate for his progress in December.

“Hopefully Abdullah’s brothers will continue to follow in his footsteps, it would be great to have them all speaking a new language.”


Stornoway Primary Head Teacher Peigi Maclean added: “Abdullah began to learn English as a second language when he came to Stornoway and is now fluent in both Arabic and English. His first language is Arabic. Since arriving at Stornoway Primary School, he has participated in Gaelic, French and Mandarin lessons.

“He now has a good understanding of Gaelic and is eager to develop his Gaelic conversational skills at every opportunity. As Abdullah is already bilingual, he has the skills to transfer between three languages with ease.”

Abdullah’s neighbour Coinneach Morrison Tweeted a picture of the lad holding the certificate he received for progress in Gaelic.

People commenting on the post have heaped praise on Abdullah. Lyndsay Mckellar replied to the Tweet: “This is remarkable, a young Syrian lad can speak three languages when the majority of folk not wanting refugees here can barely speak one, just brilliant, I would love to speak Gaelic.”

Allyjambo replied: “Wish I had the Gaelic with which to congratulate the young man properly. He’s a credit to both Syria and Scotland.”

While Els Nicol wrote: “Well done Abdullah. The best way to understand a new culture is to speak its language! Your life will be the richer for it.”

Western Isles Council took part in a UK government resettlement scheme to house Syrians escaping from their war-torn country.

There are currently seven Syrian families living in the Outer Hebrides.

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