Languages of Scotland

15 January 2021
Three students talking on colourful steps in Aberdeen

English is truly an international language, spoken all over the world. However, did you know that English isn’t the only language spoken in Scotland?

Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom – along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland – meaning its official language is English. But thanks to a long history and a strong sense of culture, other languages have remained as minority languages in certain areas of the country.

Main languages spoken in Scotland

English

English is Scotland’s main language. It’s what you’ll find used on all official documents and in the streets around you. Spoken by the majority of Scottish residents, this is the language you’ll use at university and in your daily life. Like everywhere that uses English as a main language, you’ll encounter different accents and dialects across Scotland.

Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic, or Scots Gaelic, is a Celtic language spoken in Scotland. Most of what is now modern Scotland was Gaelic-speaking in the past – and you’ll find evidence of this in your every day life, from place names to aspects of local history. Scottish Gaelic is not considered an official language of the UK, but it is an important one, and is protected as an indigenous language. Gaelic is still an important part of Scottish culture, and you’ll particularly notice this in the Scottish Highlands.

Scots

Scots is another historical language of Scotland. It is considered a West Germanic language, and was historical spoken mainly in the Lowlands. Scots is an important part of Scottish identity – and as such as many people consider it a dialect of English rather than its own language. Despite being a minor language of Scotland, you may hear Scots used as slang by many Scottish speakers when speaking in English.

Language of Aberdeen

Certain parts of Scotland even have their own local dialect – which is usually an important part of local culture and history. In Aberdeen, this dialect is called Doric. Although Doric is not often used in modern day Aberdeen, it has been extensively documented through literature, poetry, ballads and songs. Even modern local poets and writers sometimes choose to write in Doric as a way to celebrate their culture.

A country full of languages

Outside of these different Scottish languages and dialects, you’ll hear a whole range of other languages spoken on the streets of Scotland. Scotland is a multicultural place and is home to people from all over the world.

The same is true in Aberdeen, where the University welcomes international students who hope to study in Scotland.

Understanding the Scottish accent

The Scottish accent is one of the most distinct accents in the UK. You may worry that you’ll struggle to understand native speakers around you, but this is unlikely. Like all accents, it may be hard to understand them when you first hear them – but this will quickly change with exposure and practice.

Scotland is home to many international students – each year, over 58,000 international students from 180 countries choose to study in Scotland, and Scottish people are welcoming and accommodating to them. Listen carefully and ask people to repeat themselves if you need to – people will be happy to help you. Talk to us any many local people as possible and you’ll be sure to pick up the quirks of the local Aberdeen accent – and maybe even learn to mimic it yourself.

Useful Scottish phrases

To hear the Aberdeen accent in action – and learn some fun phrases before you arrive – check out this video from the University of Aberdeen, as they explore the campus and city, using local Doric phrases.

Here are some other useful phrases you may come across in Scotland:

  • ‘Aye’- yes
  • ‘Bonnie’- beautiful
  • ‘Canny’- cannot
  • ‘Craic’- fun
  • ‘Eh?’- do you agree?
  • ‘Scran’- food

Study abroad in Scotland with the University of Aberdeen International Study Centre

You can experience the joys of the Scottish accent for yourself by studying abroad in Scotland. Although you may not come away from your studies being fluent in Gaelic or Scots, studying at a Scottish university will help to develop your English skills.

At the University of Aberdeen International Study Centre, you’ll be able to study the subjects you love and improve your English skills before transitioning to an undergraduate or postgraduate degree at the University of Aberdeen. Visit our programme page to find the right programme for you, allowing you to transition to your chosen degree at a top-ranking university.