Please click each section heading for the full text of that section. Footnotes link to the bottom of this page.
 In the 2011 Census, 1.7% of the population in Grampian did not speak English well, and 0.3% did not speak English at all. For people born outside the UK (aged 3+), the figures were 9.4% and 2%, though English proficiency was higher among people who came to the UK at an earlier age. For example, nearly 80% of people who arrived before age 16 speak English ‘very well,’ while this was the case for only half of people who arrived after age 50. Figures for the whole of Scotland were broadly similar.
In 2020, there were 8,344 pupils across Grampian whose main home language was not English – this is a considerable increase from the 2017 figure of 7,157. For some, English was a secondary language at home, and among the 7,910 who had English as an Additional Language (EAL), 13% were new to English, a fifth were in the ‘early acquisition’ phase, nearly a third were ‘developing competence,’ a quarter were ‘competent,’ and 14% were fluent.
In Aberdeen City schools, pupils spoke 92 different home languages, in Aberdeenshire they spoke 59, and in Moray, 43. 165 languages are spoken by pupils in schools across Scotland. The main three home languages after English in Aberdeen City were Polish, Arabic and Russian; in Aberdeenshire they were Polish, Scots and Lithuanian; in Moray they were Scots, Polish and Portuguese. This has not changed since 2017.
Qualitative Data from Relevant Local Research
Aberdeenshire Council Equality Outcomes, Interim Engagement Analysis (2021)
While data was not collected on participant ethnicity in the Community Survey or Citizens’ Panel Survey, both had participants who felt that a lack of translation and interpretation services make it difficult for people who do not have English as their first language to access services (33% and 50%).
Research from 2018 and Earlier
For a more in-depth summary of this research, including sample sizes and other details, please see How Fair Is North East Scotland 2018, available on grec.co.uk/research.
Syrian New Scots in Aberdeenshire
The top concern for Syrian New Scots was language learning. Many felt that provision was inadequate, citing classes at limited times and locations, lack of opportunity for progression, or conversely, classes that began with sentences and vocabulary, rather than starting with the basics of letters and sounds. There was also frustration with a lack of Arabic speakers at ESOL classes who could help explain grammar, and lack of childcare provision or gender-segregated classes.
GREC ‘Life in Aberdeen’ and ‘Life in Aberdeenshire’ Surveys, 2018
Less than a quarter of ethnic minority participants felt they could not understand the local accent/dialect, and nearly all rated their spoken English skills as ‘good,’ ‘very good’ or ‘native speaker’. A handful of Scottish/British participants (6.6%), including a few who were born in Aberdeen/shire – also struggled with the Doric accent/dialect.
SSAMIS 2017: Migrant Language Learning in Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire
Language was a key issue for participants, cutting across every sphere of life, with a significant impact on their experiences of moving to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Language affected what kind of jobs they were able to access and their ability to connect with the local community, and language difficulties caused problems on an everyday basis for those with low levels of English. Knowledge of English also played a big role in how confident migrants felt in Aberdeen/shire, and thus to their wider emotional wellbeing. Low levels of English could compound social isolation.
ESOL provision did not always meet participants’ needs, in terms of class timing, location and lack of childcare provision. Some participants were able to access classes and informal English lessons through theWorkers’ Education Authority (WEA), church groups, and through work colleagues. Many participants turned to private interpreters for language support during medical appointments or help to fill in welfare or mortgage paperwork. There was also a crossover with interpreters providing services for Police Scotland and the local courts, and migrant volunteers and local community workers provided free ad hoc help in Citizens Advice Bureaux and community cafés.
GREC, The Economic Experiences of Different Ethnic Groups in North East Scotland, 2016.
Both SSAMIS research and EHRC/GREC research indicates that access to classes can be problematic in terms of timing and childcare requirements, and there werespecific concerns about decisions to remove the provision of beginner classes in Fraserburgh. The elements that participants found most effective for improving their English included conversations at work or study; English language classes; conversations at home; watching/listening to programmes or reading media; and opportunities to volunteer in charity shops to practice English in a workplace setting.
Summary & Priorities
Qualitative research, mainly focussed on regeneration areas in Aberdeen City and Shire, and among Syrian New Scots, highlights challenges in accessing English classes, as well as barriers that arise when English learning has stalled. A key issue is the necessity to adapt certain aspects of language classes to facilitate access and improve the learning process.
The evidence above highlights the importance of English language learning for successful integration. As in previous sections the broader, region-wide data does not highlight disparities between Grampian and the rest of Scotland, though recent figures show a considerable increase in pupils across Grampian whose main home language was not English.
The qualitative research, mainly focussed in regeneration areas in Aberdeen City and Shire, and among Syrian New Scots, highlights challenges of accessing English classes, as well as barriers that arise when English learning has stalled. A key issue is the necessity to adapt certain aspects of language classes to facilitate access and improve the learning process, and though the project Home-Hame-Дом-Dom (see summary on page 34) was not focused in improving language proficiency, some of the adaptations implemented (e.g. practical activities and informal methods such as images and videos) were positively evaluated, reinforcing this argument.
- Gain an understanding of how English language provision is working, particularly in areas with high levels of ethnic minorities working in low-skilled jobs (where English proficiency is often not crucial), and consider whether changes in approach are required.
- Learn from best practice in other parts of Scotland in terms of English learning and integration initiatives.
 Scotland’s Census 2011, Tables DC2105SC and DC2803SC. Pupil Census 2017 and 2020, Tables 5.8 and 5.9.
 Syrian New Scots website, partnership notes.