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eastenderusvi Jul 24th, 2011 06:08 AM

Language and pronunciation in Wales and Scotland
Does anyone have any ideas on links for learning to pronounce place names in Wales and Scotland? Would like not to look like the poster child for stupid American tourist when asking directions to Balquhidder or the Ffestiniog Railway. ;-)

Also, I would like to learn a few words in Welsh and, is it Gaelic? Things like: good day, please, thank you, etc. I see that Rosetta Stone has a Welsh program, but are there other alternatives?

Thank you!

ellenem Jul 24th, 2011 06:13 AM

Here's a spot to begin:

click on the phrase to hear pronunciation

hetismij Jul 24th, 2011 06:43 AM
is a good place to start.


I wouldn't worry too much about learning Welsh for a short visit. It depends very much on where you are going, both in Wales and in Scotland which language is mostly spoken.

Ackislander Jul 24th, 2011 07:00 AM

And in Wales, the spelling on road signs may differ from North to South,to reflect local differences in pronunciation.

annhig Jul 24th, 2011 08:07 AM

Welsh is NOT gaelic. Gaelic is spoken [a bit] in Scotland [mostly in the islands] and more so in Ireland.

welsh is in the same group of languages as Breton and cornish. My DS is at uni in Wales and he gets by very well without knowing any welsh; in fact the locals where he is in mid-Wales carry on bi-lingual conversations and frequently swap languages in mid-sentence.

Everyone, but everyone in both countries speaks english, and in wales they are used to us non welsh speakers mangling their place-names. in fact, many places have dual place names and you won't be expected to know the welsh one. in scotland, there are not any strange place names to get wrong, so far as I'm aware.

there really isn't anything to worry about.

janisj Jul 24th, 2011 10:10 AM

"<i>in scotland, there are not any strange place names to get wrong, so far as I'm aware. </i>"

Well -- there are -- just like in England :) (Bicester, Worcester, Warwick, Greenwich, Fowey, and hundreds more. Heck - even the river Thames, which sounds different than the town of Thame - and they both sound different than the spelling :D )

In Scotland Culzean, Culross, Glamis, Islay etc etc etc are not pronounced <i>anything</i> like the spelling. But not to worry -- almost NO visitors will pronnounce them correctly.

flanneruk Jul 24th, 2011 10:59 AM

The rules on languages:

- In parts of Wales (essentially the most remote and Welsh speaking bits of the Liverpool suburbs in the province's extreme North West), the locals - 100% fluent in English - occasionally affect offence if the English speak English. For visitors with a proper foreign accent, they drop this absurd pretence. In neither case do they expect anyone to come out with even a "Bore Da".

- The non-English language of most Scots not routinely speaking English is Lallans (the language of Burns), which has as little connection with any variety of Gaelic as English has with Italian. No-one expects any visitor to speak it

- a tiny number of people in the Highlands and Islands speak Scottish Gaelic. I've even once met a monoglot Gaelic speaker (true daughter of the Empire, when she realised I didn't understand her, she repeated the same thing, slower and louder). None of them expect anyone to speak Gaelic either.

-Unless you're a serious linguist, there are no brownie points from speaking a few phrases in any of these languages. If you want to chat in the pubs, learn their history (and the inane distortions their nationalist rabble-rousers churn out to get us to cut their taxes)

- There is no pronunciation error an American can make (except "Edinboro") in either province that every English visitor won't make as well. You WILL annoy people if you spell their towns wrong, though

eastenderusvi Jul 25th, 2011 03:47 AM

Thank you for the links! I will start there.

annhig: Yes, I know that Welsh is not Gaelic, but I was wondering about the language(s) of Scotland. I just don't want to make really stupid mistakes.;-)

janisj: Yes, for example, Islay, which would be pronounced (with American English rules) "is-lay", but that is not right, correct?

flanner: Not a linguist, but a language person and I always like to learn a few courtesy phrases when I travel. Not expecting to be fluent, for sure! Thank you for the background info you provided, too.

janisj Jul 25th, 2011 06:57 AM

Islay is pronounced more like ila (eye-lah, long I, short A)

Glaimis is Glaams

Culzean is sort of Cul-lane or even cool-ane

Culross = Kurrous is close enough :)

BigRuss Jul 25th, 2011 09:04 AM

Don't try to learn Welsh or Scottish Gaelic. Even learning courtesy phrases is a waste. Scots speak a variety of English in daily life, not Gaelic (from Wikipedia, courtesy the most recently available UK census, "The 2001 UK Census showed that a total of 58,652 (<i>1.2% of the Scottish population aged over three years old</i>) in Scotland had some Gaelic ability at that time, with the Outer Hebrides being the main stronghold of the language."). In other words, as of ten years ago, 98.8% of the Scottish population spoke English and not Gaelic and the Gaelic trend was downward.

The Welsh have been under the thumb of Albion even longer than the Scots. You may be seen more as pretentious or a bit daft than courteous trying to speak in their near-dead languages.

Pronunciations of place names is a different issue and learning that can only help. After all, there are only so many uses of "w" and "dd" in English but Welsh is shot through with proliferations of those letters.

And the best way to translate spoken Scottish accents to English words may be to read some Scottish works that reflect the accent.


Or for a primer, see

BigRuss Jul 25th, 2011 09:09 AM

Two notes for the previous post: (1) the italicization was supplied, not in original; (2) Brookmyre's definition of "old firm" won't tell you anything -- the term refers to the two Glasgow football (soccer) teams, Celtic and Rangers, that dominate Scottish football, hate each other, and have their roots in the same Catholic/Protestant divide that has affected British history since Henry VIII.

eastenderusvi Jul 25th, 2011 01:16 PM

Big Russ:

"You may be seen more as pretentious or a bit daft than courteous trying to speak in their near-dead languages."

You think even for saying "Good morning" to a shopkeeper? Or "thank you" to a B&B host? I find that surprising because everywhere I have ever been, folks seem pleased when a visitor tried to learn a tiny morsel of culture/history/language about their land. I will heed your advice, but welcome other voices...

Again, thanks for the input and the links.

janisj: I have read and enjoyed your advice on this board for a long while. Thank you.

RM67 Jul 25th, 2011 01:35 PM

OP - learning a few phrases for countries like France, Italy etc is great, but it is absolutely not necessary in Scotland or Wales. None of my Scottish friends converse in any form of Gaelic when they go home - they just thicken their accents and speak faster! The fact that you were well-mannered enough to consider this tells me there is pretty much no chance of you coming across as an ignorant or thoughtless tourist.

Mucky Jul 25th, 2011 01:50 PM

Speaking Welsh is not essential in South Wales.

In North and parts of mid and West Wales, many places use Welsh as their first language although English is spoken too.

If you have a few greetings to use, it would be acceptable in many places. Only from the point of view that you made the effort.
Why not?

Here in Cardiff, Welsh is once again becoming increasingly important, the Welsh Assy Government have invested heavily in Welsh language schools and over the next generation Welsh language will emerge very strongly.

Have a look at these sites too, they may help.

pob lwc


BigRuss Jul 25th, 2011 02:25 PM

Speaking Gaelic in Scotland may just get you blank-eyed stares considering that about 1% of the population speaks it and most of them live on the islands. Sounds like Scottish Gaelic isn't quite intrinsic to the culture. If you learn about the importance of the Highlander regiments in British military history, the Battle of Culloden and what it meant in Scottish history, the Treaty of Union, why James I of England is James VI of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots' place in Scottish history, Burns' Night, the Scottish Enlightenment and its contributions, why Listerine is so named, etc., that's something else but speaking Scottish Gaelic when the Scots don't . . . why?

As for the Welsh, English is the official language of Wales and you have slightly better than a 1/5 chance of finding someone who speaks Welsh (about 21.7% of Welsh citizens speak the language, about 57% of those consider themselves fluent according to the Welsh Language Board itself). The language persists because of the Welsh Language Act that gives it equal footing with English in the public sector, but considering everyone speaks English and the real language of commerce and everyday life is English, speaking Welsh is like going to Western Canada and speaking French.

historytraveler Jul 25th, 2011 02:40 PM

I am currently trying to learn a little Scots Gaelic and, after studying French, German, Spanish and Russian, I am finding Gaelic, by far, the most difficult, even in trying to learn a few phrases. You will probably be put to the test just coping with the local accents/dialect. If you can manage to corrrectly pronounce the places you'll be visiting both (i.e. janisj's examples), you'll be doing far more than most tourists. Scotland and Wales are really not like other European countries in appreciating language attempts.

If you really want to learn something in the Gaelic language <I> slàinte </I> ... A toast, Cheers! Good health! is your best bet.

eastenderusvi Jul 25th, 2011 02:50 PM

Muck: Planning on Northern Wales, so I would suppose working on "Cymru am byth" would be popular? Thank you, diolch for the links.

Will go now and practice.

janisj Jul 25th, 2011 03:44 PM

oops--that should have been >>Glamis is Glahms<<

But I guess glaams <i>could</i> be pronounced sort of glahms . . . :) Just so long as you don't say glaams as in glamor

If you tell us where you're going, we can point out some of the place name pitfalls (other than Islay which we've sort of covered)

Like Edinburgh for instance :D

eastenderusvi Jul 25th, 2011 04:44 PM

janisj: We are going in and out of London next May for three weeks. Four nights in London. Then driving. The itinerary is still in flux, but I want to see parts of northern Wales, Scotland over the next two plus weeks. I realize it will be only an overview. I am interested in history.

I listen to the Edinburgh Man podcast and am working on his pronunciation...ed-in-b'rah ???

janisj Jul 25th, 2011 06:47 PM

"<i>We are going in and out of London next May for three weeks. Four nights in London. Then driving.</i>"

Ah -- then we first have to work on places names in London :))

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