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DnD 5E languages – everything there is to know

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Languages are required to communicate with DnD 5E’s inhabitants. Languages are a key component of a campaign. However, they can be added to the character by the DM.

Languages simply refer to the various types of speech that are used by different peoples and creatures in a world. I’ll only cover the basic campaign languages and the Player’s Handbook.

How do you choose a language?

The majority of people in normal society can understand the Common language. Common is a default language that all Player Characters can use. It’s not a language, but a gesture to indicate there is no language barrier.

However, you can learn other languages from your character’s race, history and classes. Standard languages are the most common languages that can be spoken in a world by its inhabitants, especially if they are playable. Rarer creatures speak exotic languages that are not usually playable. To speak an exotic language, you will need to get permission from your DM.

Your Race will dictate the languages that your character can speak by default. However, your Background could give you access to other languages.

Below is a listing of Standard and Exotic Languages, their native speakers, and Race- or Class-specific Languages.

LANGUAGE TYPICAL SPEAKERS LANGUAGE TYPE
Common Humans/General Standard
Dwarvish Dwarves Standard
Elvish Elves Standard
Giant Ogres and Giants Standard
Gnomish Gnomes Standard
Goblin Goblinoids Standard
Halfling Halflings Standard
Orc Orcs Standard
Abyssal Demons Exotic
Celestial Celestials Exotic
Draconic Dragons, Dragonborn Exotic
Deep Speech Cloakers, Aboleths Exotic
Infernal Devils Exotic
Primordial Elementals Exotic
Sylvan Fey Creatures Exotic
Common Underworld traders Exotic
Druidic Druids Race-Specific
Thieves’ Cant* Rogues Class-Specific

Backgrounds breakdown

Your background will also determine your initial Languages. Each character begins with Common. Depending on the Background you choose, you might be allowed to learn additional languages. Before you start the campaign, make sure that your DM has reviewed your language choices.

Below is a list listing the bonus languages available for Background (from the Player’s Handbook).

  • Acolyte: Two of Your Choice
  • Charlatan – None
  • Criminal – None
  • Entertainer – None
  • Folk Hero – None
  • Guild Artisan – One of Your Choice
  • Hermit – One of Your Choice
  • Noble – One of Your Choice
  • Outlander – A Choice of Your Choice
  • Sage – 2 of Your Choice
  • Sailor – None
  • Soldier – None
  • Urchin – None

Your Background, Race, Class and Language can be combined to make your character fluent in many languages, which could prove extremely beneficial for your entire party. Your character may be able to speak Draconic which could make encounters with Dragons more interesting. Your DM may not approve exotic languages, but having several Standard languages could be a huge asset.

Changes with 5E

Minor changes were made to language rules in the Fifth Edition. Wizards of the Coast initially separated Primordial languages into separate languages per Elemental. These languages, Auran, Auran and Ignan, were separated by Wizards of the Coast. They are now combined under the Primordial Tag and considered to be different dialects. The elemental planes’ creatures can usually understand speakers of other dialects if they can speak one language. Your DM can decide whether a Player Character is able to speak the language.

Alternatives

Languages are simple and often overlooked when creating characters. These are usually limited. However, if you’re interested in expanding your Character’s Language knowledge, you have other options.

You can play the spell first level spell “Comprehend Languages” if you choose to be a Bard or Sorcerer, warlock, Wizard, or Sorcerer. This spell will allow you to understand any spoken or written language for up to one hour. You can find more information about the spell in the DnD Beyond entry.

These classes, as well as Paladin have access to the 3rd level spell “Tongues,” which allows for targeted casting on another creature. This will allow any creature to understand and speak a language that is known to the party, such as Common.

You can always choose to be a Monk if you don’t wish to become a spellcaster. Level 13 grants you the ability “Tongue the Sun and Moon”, which allows you to understand and speak any language. This ability is not available at level 13.

To learn more languages, you can always take the feat “Linguist”, without taking race or class into consideration. This feat increases your Intelligence by 1 to maximum 20 and allows you to learn three languages. This feat also allows you to use ciphers in many exciting ways. You might be a paranoid wizard who is afraid of losing their spellbook. The cipher could help you protect the Grimoire.

These are excellent alternatives if you need more language skills than the standard allotment.

Additional Reading

Languages, despite their unique flavor, are often not used as much as they could. They are the responsibility of the DM, but if your goal is to DM your own campaign, it may be worth looking into them. Languages can also be found in other extended materials like the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything or the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica.

A campaign that uses language could be a fun way to build your character. You could even place a language handicap on your party to make it more interesting and dangerous. It’s important to have fun and work together, as always.

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