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Young Scots Writer o the Year: tips for teachers

Authors Thomas Clark and Kathleen Jamie were on the judging panel for the Young Scots Writer o the Year Award 2022 and they have some handy tips for teachers.

Last updated: 21 June 2023

A red pencil pot filled with an assortment of coloured pencils sitting on a desk. There is also a mac computer keybaord and part of a screen visable as well as a cup of coffee in the background.

Although levels of spoken competence in the Scots language will vary massively from pupil to pupil, very few young people will have much experience of writing their own Scots down.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching young people to write in Scots, but learning resource websites such as Scots Hoose(this link will open in a new window) or our own learning resources section provide many useful starting points for teachers and pupils working with written Scots for the first time.

Below are just a few practical tips to help with supporting young writers in creatively engaging with the Scots language, particularly with reference to submissions for the Young Scots Writer of the Year award.

Don't translate word-for-word from English

Whilst there's nothing wrong with writing a piece in English first and then translating it into Scots, it's worth remembering that Scots has a grammar and a syntax of its own, and an overly literal translation from English into Scots will often sound clunky or unnatural. For example:

What did you see, can you tell me? (Standard English)

Whit did ye see, can ye tell me? (Literal translation into Scots)

Gonnae tell us whit ye saw? (Idiomatic translation into Scots)

If a young person is reworking an English piece into Scots, it can be very helpful to encourage them to do so on a sentence-by-sentence basis, and have them think about how a Scots speaker might communicate the same idea as an English speaker without using the same grammar or syntax.

Don't use apologetic apostrophes

In the past, apologetic apostrophes have occasionally been used in Scots writing to represent letters missing from the Standard English equivalent of a given word. (For example, dancin', o’, wi'.) This is a dated convention which encourages the perception of Scots as 'bad' English, and for that reason should be avoided.

Use dictionaries, but carefully

Dictionaries are invaluable resources in teaching Scots, and pupils should absolutely be encouraged to use them. There are dictionaries and thesauruses full of great Scots words, some of which are no longer used as often as they once were. That shouldn't stop young writers from using them now! Bear in mind, however, that just as when consulting a dictionary in any other language, pupils should be encouraged to make sure their Scots word means exactly what they think it means.

For example, a young person looking up the Scots word for duck in a dictionary will find both deuk AND jouk. Both are good Scots words, but the first one means the bird you might see on a duck pond, whilst the second one means to duck out of the way of something. Young writers should be encouraged to think about the context of their word use, and not simply to find-and-replace common English words with common Scots ones.

Encourage pupils to trust their own voice

Pupils should be encouraged wherever possible to trust their own voice, and to write their own Scots, particularly as regards to spelling. For those who seek them, standard ways of spelling Scots words can be found in the dictionary, but in their initial encounters with Scots, young people are apt to be discouraged by excessive focus on often unfamiliar spelling conventions. Pupils should be encouraged to judge their writing by how well it matches up with their own ideas about Scots, not by how well it matches up with the dictionary.

Don't worry about what you don't know

Supporting young people to write in Scots can be daunting, especially if you haven't done much work with Scots before! But whatever your level of experience with Scots, bear in mind that the most important thing you can offer young people who are engaging with the language is not your knowledge but your encouragement.

Many young people face barriers and challenges in their use of Scots every day, whether at school, at home, or in the wider community. Providing a supportive and nurturing atmosphere for self-expression can be of life-changing importance to these young people – and you don't need to be an expert in Scots to do it!