What language is spoken in Scotland? Plus some handy phrases!

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Visitors to Scotland might be wondering what language is spoken in the country – Scottish? English? Something else? Let’s take a look in this post about what you’ll hear when traveling to Scotland.

While the main language of Scotland is English you might also hear Gaelic and perhaps a bit of Scots. Scottish people also have a much different accent to English people and can speak fast which can cause issues!

Fun fact: when I moved to England after 18 years of growing up in Scotland no-one could understand me! I had to slow my speech down so much that I sound very different now, although with a gentle Scottish accent still.

What languages are spoken in Scotland?

What can you expect to hear spoken when you’re traveling to Scotland?

English

This is the main, official, language of Scotland and it’s spoken everywhere.

Even though it’s English, it might not sound like it to someone who has been used to hearing American or English accents. Scottish people can talk very fast and some words that they use can be different to what you might understand (see below with regards to Scots).

If you’re struggling, you can always ask people to slow down or clarify a word they’ve said. They might not notice that they are using vocabulary that tourists aren’t used to.

Gaelic

Another language used in Scotland is Gaelic, sometimes known as Scottish Gaelic. It’s different to Irish Gaelic but there are some similarities too.

Gaelic is more common in the Highlands and the western Islands of the country. Don’t worry if those are the areas you’re visiting, everyone will still speak English as well and will not expect you to know Gaelic.

While it might be tempting to try and speak it when visiting many of the locals might not know it themselves! If you hear people speaking it then that could be your cue to try a few words.

You’ll notice that when you’re travelling in Scotland, (in particular in the west and north) that road signs often have the Gaelic version written underneath. It’s written in italics directly under the English version.

Scottish sign with gaelic language
Welcome to Scotland / Fàilte gu Alba

You might also hear announcements spoken in Gaelic. When we’ve travelled on the Calmac ferries to the Small Isles any tannoy announcements will be spoken in English before having a Gaelic version afterwards.

Scots

The third language you might hear in Scotland is Scots. It’s a collective name for some of the many dialects that are used in the country.

You’ll likely come across aspects of Scots – there will be words used that you’re not used to or that you can’t understand and they’ll be mixed in with English. It can be confusing as an outsider!

Some Scottish people might not understand it all either, it depends where they were brought up and what others spoke around them.

One of the more famous examples of Scots is the poetry from Robert Burns – if you’re in Scotland in January and celebrating Burns night you’ll hear it!

You can read more about the Scots language here.

Some handy phrases when travelling to Scotland

just a few phrases you might hear and wonder about when visiting Scotland – you’ll hear these all over the country!

  • Aye / yes
  • Och no / oh no
  • Dinnae / don’t
  • Aye, ah ken / yes, I know
  • Cheerio / goodbye
  • Tattie / Potatoes
  • Neeps / Turnips

Phrasebooks and books to learn more:

These books will help prepare you for your Scotland trip:

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With some Scots dialect words and other words that might help travellers. The Scots Dictionary is a small book that is easily packed in luggage – perfect for a flight.

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If you’re wanting to get more involved with the language and fancy learning Scottish Gaelic then this book will get you started in 12 weeks!

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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