Photo of An Cùrsa Inntrigidh graduates 2005 and staffNearly 500 students have completed Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's Gaelic Access Course for beginners since it began as a pilot scheme five years ago, and the latest crop of 44 students were awarded completion certificates at a graduation ceremony on Saturday (6/11/2005) - some from as far away as America, Australia and Germany.

The course - which is delivered through distance learning by the Gaelic college and which is aimed at complete beginners - has gone from strength to strength since it began in 2000. Patricia Jacob who finished the Access Course, or An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, this year said: "I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in learning a beautiful language with the support of many talented and caring professionals."

The course received a European award last year for innovation in language tuition, and 13 students were present at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig at the weekend to receive their certificates in person from Alison Dix, the Head of Lifelong Learning at the college. She said: "We had an enjoyable day and it was great to see the students together after working so hard. There was a celebration after the graduation and everyone enjoyed it."

The fact that the course is delivered through distance learning means that anyone, anywhere in the world can enrol, and a number of people from abroad have done just that.

Access Course development officer Archie Campbell said: "We're delighted to have students from all over the world that feel such a bond with Gaelic. Such is the enthusiasm of some of the overseas students that they travel to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig to attend weekend schools. Some of the students who completed An Cùrsa Inntrigidh are now full-time students, and we expect this trend to continue in coming years."

The course aims to give students confidence in using Gaelic and the emphasis is placed on speaking and listening as opposed to writing skills in the language. Students receive textbooks and CDs which allows them to study during the hours which suit them best. Every week a teleconference is held to give students the chance to talk to their tutor and other students. There are then weekend schools which are held at the college for each of the three parts of the course.

Although the Access Course was designed for complete beginners, there are two streams. If someone has a little Gaelic, or has a flair for language learning then they can enrol in a course which is tailored for slightly more advanced learners and which takes less time to complete. People who have completed the course, and who have demonstrated their language abilities in an interview, can apply for the Immersion Course (An Cùrsa Comais) at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. The Cùrsa Comais is part of the first level of the Gaelic and Related Studies Degree Scheme which is offered at Sabhal Mòr and other campuses of the UHI Millennium Institute.