Language is a much-overlooked aspect of most DnD campaigns, but it adds a lot of flavor and scope for roleplaying. In the real world, we have a diverse multitude of languages.
If you add to that a fantasy world’s many races and creatures, the secret languages of guilds and religions, and the numerous otherworldly creatures whose communication barely sounds like language, you have a lot to work with.
Read our complete guide to DnD 5e Languages below.
There is an assumption in the DnD rules that all races and many creatures speak Common Tongue, meaning there is no language barrier. I suggest adding some interesting roleplaying situations by making Common Tongue less of a universal language, especially once you get away from the more cosmopolitan urban centers.
Perhaps, once the characters are out in the wilderness, the ability to communicate easily with village elders and tribal chiefs, non-human denizens, and newly encountered creatures becomes harder, allowing for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Even giving orders to hired NPCs might be fraught with mishap, the word for “kill” being similar to the word for “marry” in the local language!
Choosing Your Languages in DnD 5e
But even if you decide to have Common Tongue ubiquitous and available to all in your world, there are still plenty of opportunities to roleplay language and communication. A character’s race, class, and background will give them access to languages beyond Common Tongue.
There will be national languages common to a specific empire or city; there can be academic languages, such as the way that Latin was used for law and religion in Medieval Europe, secret languages of the criminal classes or dockland slang, and there will even be rarer and more exotic languages learnable, at the DM’s discretion.
Below are the standard languages of most campaigns. Standard languages are readily available to all; class and race-specific languages come through initial choices during the character build. Exotic languages may be learned through adventuring by influential and high-level characters but will remain very rare outside their race or being.
Here is a list of Languages in 5e DnD:
Standard DnD Languages 5e
Common is the standard language of the land that every playable character is able to speak on character creation. Common is considered the language of trade and for the most part, every character you meet will be able to speak Common.
Players and DMs typically consider their native language to be the Common equivalent in DnD. Native English speakers will generally consider English to be Common and players who are native Spanish speakers will consider Spanish to be their game’s equivalent of Common.
It’s all up to the players and DM, but it’s generally just considered the language you’re currently speaking.
The language of the Dwarves is ancient. There are several different dialects of Dwarvish and most have fallen out of use. Only Dwarves and scholars typically speak Dwarvish now, and that’s only done within the presence of other Dwarves.
Dwarvish writings look like runes and even those are very rare. Any paper or scrolls have been lost to time, and the Dwarves have since taken to Scrolling important writings in stone to preserve them.
The Dwarvish language is filled with hard and guttural sounds. It can sound harsh to those not used to it, and Dwarves who learn other languages typically retain the harsh accent in whatever language they speak.
The flowing script of the Elvish language is famous throughout many areas of the world. The Elves are known for their elegant writing style as well as for their poetry and literature. This makes their language relatives widespread.
Many Bards learn Elvish to read and perform poetry and music in the Elvish tongue.
The language of the Giants is also known as Jotun. Each of the different types of giants has a different variation of the Jotun language and although many giants don’t use the written word, their writing system is based on Dwarvish runes.
Giants and Ogres speak Jotun, as well as some of the newly-playable races that were recently added to DnD source material, such as Firbolgs and Goliath.
The Gnomish language uses the same alphabet as the Dwarves but has been adapted for its own specific use.
Gnomes are known for their highly detailed writings. They are often employed for creating blueprints or for drafting treaties. Their language is highly intricate and precise.
The Goblin language is another guttural language. It’s primarily used by goblinoids and hobgoblins. Goblins typically do not keep written records but only use their written language phonetically, using either the Dwarvish script or Common.
The Halflings have their own language known only to them and it’s no secret that they use it. They don’t like to speak it to big folk or others outside their race. The existence of a Halfling language isn’t a secret, but it would be difficult to find a Halfling willing to actually teach it to an outsider.
Orc is a harsh guttural language that has no written script. When called up to write, they use a phonetic version of their language, combined with the Dwarvish script in place of any actual alphabet specifically used for the Orc language.
Exotic DnD Languages
|Deep Speech||Aboleths, Cloakers||None|
The majority of Exotic Languages in DnD 5e are rare and only spoken in very specific localities, so there’s a good chance you could play DnD for a long time without encountering any of them.
The rare locations include places such as the Heavenly Plain (Celestial, spoken by Celestials), Hell (Abyssal, spoken by Demons), the Feywild (Sylvan, spoken by Fey creatures), or the Underdark (home of the Drow), a place that most players would never intentionally travel to.
The most common Exotic Language is probably Draconic, as dragons appear relatively often in campaigns. Draconic is also used by Kobolds and Dragonborn, so with the addition of those races/creatures, there’s a good chance you might hear it sometime during your adventure.
Do the Undead speak?
Yes and no.
The Undead comprises a vast category of creatures and beings within DnD 5e. Creatures can be brought to life through Necromancy or they can even turn themselves Undead willingly for power.
The Undead as a whole, do not have a specific language that they can speak. Typically, if they can speak, they will speak whatever language they could in life.
Certain creatures that willingly turn themselves Undead (like a Lich) will sometimes need to learn Abyssal to decipher tomes that lead to immortality.
Thieves’ Cant is like a pseudo-language. It’s more of a code than a language, but it’s worth mentioning. Characters who use the Thieves’ Cant can hide hidden and coded meanings in seemingly normal conversations.
Unless proficient with the Thieves’ Cant, it sounds like a normal conversation. Those who know the Thieves’ Cant however can decipher the hidden meanings behind the code. It also has a unique writing system that can be used to leave hidden messages in the form of symbols.
Rogues gain this ability at level 1, but any character can be trained to learn to read it if they have someone willing to teach them.
Creature Languages in DnD 5e
There are a whole host of creatures in DnD and each of them has its own unique or shared language that they use to communicate, verbally or nonverbally with others.
Most of the new Races and Creatures of DnD 5e that have been added later also have their own specific language or form of communication. Some of them can be learned but most creatures will require the use of magic like Comprehend Languages or an ability to communicate with them.
One such class-specific ability is the Ranger’s Favored Enemy ability which gives characters a whole host of bonuses as well as the knowledge of one language that is spoken by your favored enemies.
Languages Learned Through Background
In addition to the race and class language options, the Player’s Handbook suggests that niche languages are available to those from specific backgrounds. This is also something that the DM can add to reflect the unique nature of the world they have created.
In the same way that Acolytes, Nobility, and even Hermits have additional languages available, you can add all languages unique to your world and reflective of its social class and political, academic, and historical structures.
This means that many characters could start with two, three, or even four languages, and even if these are all standard languages, which they are likely to be, even those will prove very useful.
Imagine if you are a human character, but you knew some Orcish because perhaps your father was a mercenary or sword maker with plenty of dealings with that race. The shared language might improve your ability to gain that race’s trust. It would undoubtedly make diplomatic discussions easier or could be used to confuse enemies by barking conflicting orders at Orc guards in the dark.
Learning a New Language in 5e
Learning a new language in DnD 5e is not an easy task. There are several different ways players can do this. There are 2 primary ways a character can learn a new language after character creation. The first way is through feats and the second way is through downtime activities.
When speaking about languages, the Linguist Feat is probably the easiest way to add new languages to your character’s repertoire.
When you take the Linguist Feat, it not only grants new languages but also gives a +1 to your Intelligence score.
Learning a language through Downtime Activities
During a character’s downtime between missions, they can find and hire a trainer to teach them a new language. It takes 250 days of training and will cost 1 gold a day to complete training in a single language.
And, even beyond these myriad possibilities, there are plenty of less natural ways of gaining linguistic skills.
If you are playing a Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Wizard, you can gain access to spells such as “Comprehend Languages,” which allows you to comprehend any spoken and written language for one hour. Several other spells are available, which can be found in the Player’s Handbook.
One of the easiest ways to deal with language is the Comprehend Languages spell. It’s a 1st level Divination spell so most characters will have access to it from level 1.
This spell gives the user the “literal” meaning of spoken word or text. It does not allow the user to comprehend any glyphs, sigils, or codes. According to Jeremy Crawford, lead rules designer at WoTC, Comprehend Languages does not grant knowledge of Theives’ Cant.
If you’ve been reading carefully you’ll notice the key word and major downfall of the Comprehend Languages spell.
You get the literal translation of whatever is spoken to you or read. It Does not translate cultural idioms, hidden meanings, or the nuances of communication.
For you history buffs, it can be like translating Latin, word for word with zero context, or having someone from a different culture speak in only idioms.
For example, the term “let the cat out of the bag” refers to ruining a surprise, and if in-game a Drow says, “Looks like you let the cat out of the bag.” in Undercommon a DM using Comprehend Languages could translate that to, “Somebody released the Displacer Beast from the pot.”
It would essentially mean the same thing, just using literal translation for words in that particular language’s vocabulary. Players may not understand the idiom, but you could gather it from the rest of the content of the conversation.
Finally, Comprehend Languages does not grant any extra abilities to communicate what they have heard or read. They’ll be able to understand the meaning of an unknown language but have no way to speak it back or write it.
These same classes, as well as the Paladin, can also learn a 3rd Level spell called “Tongues,” which, when cast on another creature, gives it the ability to understand and speak a language known by the party, as if everyone was speaking Common Tongue. Monks, too, have access to similar powers at higher levels.
Tongues is a 3rd level Divination Spell. The caster places their hand on any target that knows at least 1 one language, and they are now able to understand any spoken language they hear. While the spell is in effect, anything said by the target can be understood by any creature that knows at least 1 language.
This is much more effective than Comprehend Languages but there are limitations.
A creature like a boar or a dog that does not understand a language will not gain any benefit from this spell. In order to be affected they’ll need to know at least 1 language. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it needs to be a language.
Comprehend Languages vs. Tongues
- Gives literal meanings of spoken words or written text.
- Does not grant the ability to speak new languages.
- Does not translate code or emotional language.
- Translates languages as if the target is fluent. (Listening & Speaking)
- Does nothing for written text.
The DnD world is full of different languages and scripts. The main three are Common, Dwarvish, and Elvish.
Many of the languages in DnD worlds like Forgotten Realms have their languages come from these three alphabets. In the Forgotten Realms setting, most of the languages actually use the Dwarvish script, similar to how Spanish, German, Vietnamese, and English are written in the Latin alphabet. All are completely separate languages, but they use the same Latin alphabet.
Best DnD Languages to Pick in 5e
The best language to pick is… the right one for you.
Seriously though, that’s a question that has no definitive answer. The best language to pick is going to be the one you’ll get the most use out of, and that all depends on your DM and your setting.
If you’re playing an official DnD module, you can get a general idea of what kind of creatures, monsters, and races you’ll be encountering. If you’re playing Rise of Tiamat you may want to learn Draconic.
If you know your DM has a love for all things Elvish, it may be worth metagaming a smidge and having your character learn Elvish.
Language as the Dungeon Master (DM)
Creating Language Encounters
Languages can have an interesting effect on encounters. Sure, most of the creatures in the realm speak Common, but there are plenty of proud cultures and species that would rather speak in their own language rather than the fantasy version of Esperanto.
Giving your players inspiration or the ability to talk out encounters in an opponent’s natural language add a fun flair.
For example, if the group is being ambushed by Elves in a wood because they’re trespassing on their territory, a speaker of Elvish could persuade them into escorting them out or pointing them in the right direction. It doesn’t always have to end in a combat encounter.
How do I find opportunities to use languages?
Another fun way to use languages as a DM is to reward your players for using them.
It’s the equivalent of going up to an NPC and saying “Sprechen sie Deutsch?”
If a player sees a shopkeeper is a member of a species that has a language they’re fluent in, they could arguably go up and ask them if they speak the language. As the DM, you could go two ways with that. Have them excited to have the opportunity to speak their native tongue or get angry that somebody assumed they knew the language.
Another option might offer some hijinks, but the first option will encourage your players to look at language as a valuable skill.
Rewarding your players for using their language skills makes them more likely to attempt them again in the future.
How settings can influence the usefulness of language
This is where the world-building prowess of the DM comes into play.
You could simply have a generic setting where everyone and everything knows and speaks Common. For your first few games, I actually recommend you do that. There are enough rules for a DM to get acquainted with before getting into Language.
After you’re comfortable as a DM, you can start to build up from there. Whenever you add to your world, think of the culture or personality quirks of the NPCs you create.
Do they have an accent? Do they have quirks when they speak? Do they have enemies with other races?
These are all things you should know and language can play a part in them. Even creating encounters where nobody can speak the same language may be a fun way to explore problems solving with your group.
- If dragons are attacking the countryside, walking into a tavern and speaking Draconic may not be the best idea.
- If there’s a war between Dwarves and Elves, speaking a particular language could be the same as declaring a side.
- Eavesdropping and information gathering can be rewarded for knowing the local language.
All of these different strategies can work, but the main thing is to reward players for being creative. If you punish them for trying to use their language skills, they’ll quickly abandon them for the universal language of violence and rolling for initiative.
Language & Communication in DnD 5e
With some thought, language and communication can become critical factors in increasing the fun through roleplaying. The more challenging communication becomes, the more inventive the playing needs to be.
Also, the potential for misunderstanding increases, leading to unexpected outcomes due to unintentional insults or a simple lack of understanding.
Get inventive, and design secret societies and social subgroups. Have characters who, as a youth, worked in a great library have a smattering of Draconic, or one who was born into slavery fluent in Ogre speak. There is a lot of richness and complexity to be had in the roleplaying of language.
It allows for secret discussions to take place between members of the group, with NPC’s and even enemies when they realize that they both speak a niche racial dialect or are knowledgable in the language of a military sub-cult having both served as mercenaries in a distant civil war… perhaps on opposite sides.
Remember, it’s your world, do what you will but remember to have fun with it.
DnD Languages 5e FAQ
How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language in D&D?
It takes 250 days and 250 gold to learn a new language in DnD 5e. This also requires the use of a tutor.
What Language do the Undead Speak in D&D?
The Undead do not have a specific language. If they can speak, they speak whatever language they knew in life.
What Language do Mind Flayers Speak?
Mind Flayers are psychic creatures that do not need to use speech to communicate. They will typically be able to speak Undercommon but prefer to use their psychic abilities to communicate rather than spoken word. Mind Flayers have a written language called Qualith, but there is no spoken word form.
How Do I Speak Every Language in DnD?
According to the rules in the Player’s Handbook, it takes 250 days and 250 gold to be trained in a new language. You could also take the Linguist feat to learn another 3 languages. To naturally learn all 7 of the languages on the Standard Languages chart (not including Common), it would take 1750 days of training by a tutor and 1750 gold pieces (250 per language). However… without downtime rules, the maximum number of languages a character can speak is 25.
A much easier way to understand all languages is the level 1 Divination spell Comprehend Language to easily understand every language.
What is the rarest language in DnD?
Strangely, Dwarvish is the rarest language in the DnD universe. Dwarves will never speak their native tongue with or near outsiders. Meanwhile, the Dwarvish script is the most commonly used script in the world. The Dwarvish alphabet is used by a variety of races in such written languages as Dwarvish, Giant, Gnomish, Goblin, Orc, and even Primordial.
What language do gods speak in DnD?
Gods and deities in DnD speak a language called Supernal. Technically, Supernal is a universal language that could be understood by any sentient mind. The listener would hear the language as if it was spoken in their own tongue.
What languages are most useful in DnD?
While even the idea of this question may be considered metagaming, it’s not a bad question to consider. While characters start the game knowing 2 languages (Common and 1 other), it may be worthwhile to learn a language that can help you read texts, learn spells, and even communicate with enemies. For the latter, the best options would be Draconic, Goblin, and Orc.
How many languages are there in DnD?
There are a lot of languages in DnD. The Player’s Handbook includes 16 standard languages (8 common and 8 exotic) plus nearly 60 languages in the rest of the core books. Add to that 50 more languages in expansions and campaign settings as well as at least 30 creature languages. Beyond that, there are many dialects of different languages, such as Aquan, Auran, Ignan, and Terran which are all dialects of Primordial.
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.