New Students: Language & Accents

‘Do ye ken what I’m saying?’: as time draws closer to your arrival in Edinburgh, you may find yourself worrying about adjusting to the Scottish accent.  Fear not!  Whether you are a native English speaker, or not, accents and colloquial terms can be tough to get a hang of, which is why we have a few pointers to help ease your transition to Scotland.

English in Scotland


English in Scotland (and the UK) can vary from other English speaking countries in terms/words and by spelling; favourite vs. favorite, centre vs. center, programme vs. program, and so on.

You can change the default language for spellchecker in Word under the Review tab>Languages>Set Proofing Language>English (U.K), to help minimise spelling errors while writing papers.

We have peppered a few Scottish words throughout this post so you can pick up on the context in which you can use them.  Here is a list of some terms you may not be familiar with but will hear in Scotland and in other parts of the UK:

  • Wee= small
  • Dreich- = Dreary or bleak (normally used to describe Scottish weather!) ie. It’s a cold, dreich day!
  • Scran = food or a snack
  • Baltic = cold or freezing ie. The winter has been baltic.
  • Ken = to know something ie. Ken what I mean?
  • Braw= good/beautiful
  • Lassie/Laddie = girl/boy
  • Aye = yes
  • Cheers/ta = thanks
  • Bonnie= pretty/beautiful
  • Jumper= jacket
  • Queue= line
  • Wellies= rain boots
  • Uni= university



The Forth Railway Bridge

Accents vary across the UK and Scotland, and a range of dialects are represented across the country. Adjusting to different accents can take some time.  Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves slowly, and likewise do not be surprised if someone asks you to do the same.  By the end of your studies you will find yourself picking up on the nuances of different dialects.

Training your ear is the key to adjusting to the accent.

The best way to become accustomed to the Scottish accent is to listen to native Scottish people speak.  A fun way to train your ear, and to learn a wee bit about Scottish culture, is to watch TV series or films which feature Scottish accents.  A few of our favourites include the Glaswegian sitcom Still Game, the British-US television drama Outlander, the sharp and very funny comedy Local Hero, and the Pixar-produced animation Brave. You can also listen to BBC Radio Scotland, which in addition to training your ear, will inform you about current issues throughout Scotland.

Gaelic Language


Gaelic is the founding language of Scotland.  It originated centuries ago in the Western areas and spread throughout the Highland clans.  The language, along with bagpipes and kilts were outlawed in the 18th century after the Jacobite uprisings, yet the language is still spoken by some 60, 000 people today.  It is most common in the Scottish highlands, particularly in the Outer Hebrides, Isle of Skye and Argyll.

Gaelic is a beautiful, but difficult language to learn.  The language is pronounced differently from its phonetic spelling, thus the traditional ceilidh parties, which students will have the opportunity to attend during Welcome Week, is pronounced “kay-lee”.

If you are interested in learning Gaelic while living in Scotland, the University provides to the public, short courses for novices.  Keep an eye on the website to find out when the classes will be offered during semester one!

Remember– if you have any questions, please email the International Student Advisory Service:


Categories: New Students

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