Film still, credit : Blue Noun

A ‘wee keek’ at Scots poetry.

Hello English language learners and friends of Blue Noun Language Hub in Crieff, Scotland. Today we offer you tips for English learners in Scotland.

We’re going to have a look at the Scots language, it’s beauty and its history of repression.

This blog is intended for advanced English learners intending to spend a bit of time in Scotland.

What’s written here is not vocabulary for you to remember and learn, rather it’s here for you to taste the Scots language – get a bit of background and see how full of colour, fun and poetry Scots can be. 

Why bother? 

Scots is a national language spoken across Scotland every day. If you are spending any time in Scotland you will encounter it. In public service, people speak English as you know it, but when talking with each other – in bars, on trains and even writing on local Facebook forums, many people will use  a hybrid of Scots and Scottish English. 

Find here examples and our advice for being a non-native English language learner in Scotland, helping you understand and process the language around you.


“What’s written here is not vocabulary for you to remember and learn, rather it’s here for you to taste the Scots language – to see how full of colour, fun and poetry it can be.”

A river mouth, heron, ducks and flounder (a garth, hern, deuks and flunder).

This short film clip taken on our recent trip to Carnoustie on the east coast of Scotland brought to mind this wonderful poem by J K Annand. 

The heron in the film is fishing for flounder – as Young Blue and I shortly discovered (by standing on them), the sandy riverbed was absolutely covered with small, motionless flatfish.

Fishing heron, wading child.


A humphy-backit heron
Nearly as big as me
Stands at the waterside
Fishin for his tea.
His skinnie-ma-linkie lang legs
Juist like reeds
Cheats aa the puddocks
Soomin mang the weeds,
Here’s ane comin,
Grup it by the leg!
It sticks in his thrapple
Then slides doun his craig.
Neist comes a rottan,
A rottan soomin past,
Oot gangs the lang neb
And has the rottan fast.
He jabs it, he stabs it,
Sune it’s in his wame,
Flip-flap in the air
Heron flees hame.
J K Annand

Tips for English learners in Scotland | Tip #1: Don’t Panic

While it’s written in Scots, when you hear the words spoken they will make more sense.

The vocabulary is different sometimes, with a strong Germanic influence, but Scots has a lot of Scottish English within it nowadays,  which largely sounds like an old fashioned form of English spoken through a thick Scottish accent.  

Scots is one of three native languages spoken in Scotland today (the other two being English and Scottish Gaelic).  Many argue that there is a fourth language which they call Scottish English. This category legitimises the linguistic differences between regional language differences and the official English language. 


We do include exploring the occasional Scots words and Scottish English expression in our English courses, as language is so expressive of culture and we want you to experience our land (people, place, history, art, music) as much as possible. We don’t expect you to memorise them: just enjoy them. And no one goes home after an English language immersion week with a Scottish accent! 

Tips for English learners in Scotland | Tip #2: Have Fun

For example, what do you think,
‘Yer bum’s oot the windae,’ means?
(clue, I’d never say it to a guest, but Kenny hears it quite regularly!).
We tend to combine this kind of language ‘research’ with traditional food and a dram or two (whisky or non-alcohol equivalent), and as we invite a guest storyteller (or two) it all makes for a fun-filled evening.

Artist June McEwan reading Burns poetry at Blue Noun Burns Night 2020

Tips for English learners in Scotland | Tip #3: Know the Cultural History. It’s sensitive!

For many generations, forms of Scottish English and Scots were literally beaten out of children to ‘correct them’.

Scottish children failed examinations for writing in their own tongue, and the pockets of language still existing across Scotland remain linked to traditional industries and workplaces and working-class areas.

Prejudice towards spoken Scots has held whole communities back for decades.

Times are changing.

Irvine Walsh and Trainspotting triggered a cultural revolution in my generation. Academia is catching up and there are fabulous resources such as the Scots Language Centre.

“James King Annand was born and brought up in Edinburgh. His bairn rhymes continue to delight Scots children, but he was also the author of poetry for adults, and an active promoter of the Scots language.”

Scottish Poetry Library

A Cultural Shift

Heron‘, by JK Annand, is one of the poems from ‘The Kist’ – an anthology of Scots (and Gaelic) poetry and prose that was digitised by Education Scotland and gifted to the Scots Language Centre so that teachers and learners can continue to benefit from this valuable resource. (Links below.)

This investment and nurturing of the Scots language and Scottish English is a huge national culture shift and mindset shift. For many, it comes too late to rescue them from the limited choices of poor school qualifications – penalised as they were for speaking in their own tongue. 

Let’s hope it’s not too late for their descendants – and that the beautiful Scottish language will not fade away.  

Clip from the 19996 film Trainspotting, (Don’t click play if you are offended by swearing). 
swift in flight Logie Kirk by Blue Noun English language school
swift in flight Logie Kirk by Blue Noun English language school

At Blue Noun we love chatting about all things art and celebrate having excellent, talented people all around us to do it with. We facilitate real cultural and creative exchanges happening, whether it’s in our language learning space – the Blue Noun Hub – or out and about visiting studios and workshops.

We also love showing off the beauty of Perthshire and the food and craft produce that is making it world-famous. Our whisky tastings are legendary!

Our business is also intended to be of benefit to the artist/maker economy of Perthshire. We bring our international creative guests into studios for a genuine exchange of cultures and art-making. Yes it’s an English lesson, but it is so much more!  (Plus we pay all our artists and guest speakers for their time)

Come and join us for an English language learning holiday and grab a taste of Perthshire! 

Find the Scottish Poetry Library here
Find the Scots Language Centre here
Find Wall Street English: Adverbs of Frequency here



Tips for English learners in Scotland further reading red text

We hope you’ve enjoyed your English Language School talking Scots poetry.

We have lots of books to wow English learners – and we cover a broad range of topics in our blogs – some a lighthearted look at Scotland, others an in-depth look at art and culture.

There’s something for every creative!  You might want to read:

Are Books Still Good Resources for English Language Class?


Your English Language Challenge

It’s time to express your opinion.

The Trainspotting clip included in this blog is packed with juicy swearwords.

Your use (or not) of swearwords could be an obstacle in a creative collaboration. Chose an adverb of frequency from the list and let us know how often you dip into ‘bad language’ and how you feel about others doing so.

As usual, if you want us to correct any sentences, just write CP (correct please at the end of your comment).

NB: Please note any gratuitously offensive or irrelevant comments will be deleted. 


Image credit : Wall Street English

“How often do you swear?”