What language do Scottish people speak?
Published on October 26, 2022 / Updated on January 5, 2024
If you’re planning a visit to Scotland, you might be wondering what the languages of Scotland are. More than 150 different languages are spoken in homes across Scotland, but a few languages are more widely spoken than others. You’re most likely to hear English being spoken in Scotland, closely followed by Scots. You might also be lucky enough to hear Scottish Gaelic if you’re up in the Highlands. Let’s look at the languages of Scotland in more detail.
Scots is the second most spoken language in Scotland. Out of a population of around 5.4 million, 1.5 million people said they could speak Scots, and 1.1% of the population said that they spoke it at home. The language is close to English, so much so that it is often considered a dialect rather than its own language. However, Scots is recognized as a regional language by the UK government. Scots was historically concentrated in the Lowlands of Scotland, though it is now most widely spoken in The Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, Moray and Aberdeenshire.
Here are some useful words in Scots to learn:
fae – from
fowk – people
guid – good
mair – more
In contrast to Scots, Scottish Gaelic is historically associated with the Highlands, and speakers of the language are still concentrated in the north and west of Scotland. According to the 2011 census, just over 57,000 people said they could speak Scottish Gaelic. People in Scotland even have the option to receive their education in Scottish Gaelic or English.
Let’s take a look at some words and phrases in Scottish Gaelic, alongside their pronunciations.
|mar sin leibh
|mar shun leev
English is by far the most widely spoken language in Scotland; 98.6% of the population aged three and over speak English, and over 92% of people speak it at home. There are many different dialects and accents in Scotland, and together they are called Scottish English.
Curious to learn some Scottish slang? Here are a few words to get you started:
auld – old
aye – yes
bonnie – beautiful
gloaming – twilight
greet – cry
ken – know
tattie – potato
The final official language of Scotland is British Sign Language (BSL). This visual way of communicating is used across the UK and is very closely related to the sign language used in Australia and New Zealand. However, American Sign Language is a completely different language. Watch this video to learn how to sign “Scotland” in BSL.
It’s not just Anglo languages that are spoken in Scotland. Scotland is a multicultural country and many people who live there have their roots across the globe. Polish is the most widely spoken foreign language in Scotland, with just under 55,000 speakers. This number grew rapidly after Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004. Urdu and the Punjabi languages are the next-most spoken foreign languages in Scotland, with just over 23,000 speakers each.
There are four official languages of Scotland: Scots, Scottish Gaelic, English and British Sign Language. If you are planning a trip to the UK’s northernmost country, you’ll definitely want to learn some English, with a healthy sprinkling of Scottish slang. But you will be warmly welcomed if you also pick up some Scots, Scottish Gaelic or British Sign Language, and use these languages to communicate with the friendly locals.