Burns Night and the “Address to a Haggis”

Today, the 25th of January, many Scots will celebrate “Burns Night” in honour of our national Bard (poet), Robert Burns, who lived in Ayrshire and Dumfries. He was born on this day in 1759.

All over the world, Scots will meet to enjoy a “Burns Supper,” at which the main dish is haggis (see picture below – and nowadays vegetarian haggis is available), accompanied by a glass (or two) of whisky, bagpipe music and often dancing as well. The one of Burns’ poems that is always read out is called “Address to a Haggis.” You can find out more about Burns Night here.

Address to a Haggis is quite a long poem and written in the Scots’ dialect of the time, so it is quite hard even for advanced students of English to understand. However, we’ll have a go! Here is the first verse, followed by a “translation” into modern English.

Original words

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.


Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.


Tongue Twisters


Tongue twisters are fun because they difficult to say and you often get the words and letters all mixed up! However, they are a good way to improve your pronunciation. Often they are hard to say because they feature alliteration, which just means using a lot of words together that have the same letter or sound at the beginning of each word, such as in the tongue-twister “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers.”

Tongue twisters exist in many different languages. Here are some examples.




Toni tagħna tani tina talli tajtu tuta tajba
Our Tony gave a fig because I gave him a good berry.


Buta wa buta no uta o utau.
The pig sings the pig’s song.


Hrvoje sa Hvara hrani hrčka
Hrvoje from Hvar island is feeding a hamster


Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiarii?
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

This last one, in Latin, is also a tongue twister in English. Here are a few more in English.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

Seven slick slimey snakes slowly sliding southward.

What noise annoys an oyster most?
A noisy noise annoys an oyster most.

And finally, our favourite, and, we believe, the most difficult. Try saying this three times, quickly!

“The Leith Police dismisseth us.”


Glasgow listed in New York Times “Top Ten places to visit in 2018”!

We’re pleased  to say that the prestigious American newspaper, the New York Times, has published its list of the top 52 places to visit in 2018 and Glasgow features in the top ten – the only British city to do so.

The New York Times article mentions the huge increase in whisky production in Scotland.  There are two new distilleries being built in Glasgow, the first for over 100 years.  These include including the $12.3m Clydeside Distillery, which will be in a restored pump house near Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum.  The article also mentions the quality of the food  available in Glasgow’s restaurants, cafes and bars.  If you are already studying here then you’ll know all about this.  If you are thinking about coming to study at Glasgow School of English then you’ll not only be coming to one of the cities that the New York Times recommends you visit this year, you’ll also be coming to a high quality English school with a great reputation, friendly teachers and a fantastic city centre location.  You can find out more about our courses here  -and lots of useful information about Glasgow here.

The quick brown fox

When you learn English, or any other language, the first thing you do is learn the alphabet. In English we have 26 letters in our alphabet, from A to Z.

Nowadays, lots of people type on a keyboard rather than write words out in longhand (longhand just means writing by hand using a pen or pencil). Did you know that there is one sentence that is often used when people are learning to type? It is, “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Do you know why this sentence is important for those who are learning to type?

The answer is simple. The sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” contains all 26 letters in the English alphabet, used only once!

New Year means different things to different countries and cultures

Well, we trust that, if you celebrated it, you have had a very enjoyable New Year. In our country, there are lots of traditions associated with Hogmanay, as we call the 31st of December, and the New Year. Perhaps the best known is “first-footing,” when neighbours and friends call round to each other’s houses to be the “first foot” – the first person that their neighbour sees on New Year’s Day. Traditionally, lumps of coal were brought, along with (as you might expect in Scotland) a bottle of whisky!

However, as a major language school, we are well aware that there are many different ways of celebrating the arrival of the New Year and, of course, different countries and cultures celebrate it in different ways and at different dates. We believe that in Poland there is a legend that Pope Sylvester captured a dragon which would have eaten everyone on earth and set fire to the skies. For the Polish people, New Year’s Eve is “St Sylvester’s Eve,” when they celebrate this story that the world did not end at the end of the year.

In Russia, it’s good luck to start the New Year without any debts, so people try to pay off their bills and other debts. In the last 12 seconds of the old year, Russians make secret wishes for the coming year.

The Chinese New Year is, as you probably know, not at the same time as ours. Instead, they celebrate between January 21st and February 20th, depending on the Chinese calendar. Some Chinese paint their front doors red, because red symbolises good luck and happiness. They also put all knives away for 24 hours, because if someone cuts themselves that would cut the family’s good luck for the New Year.

In Denmark, people like to smash plates at New Year. This is said to bring good luck for the next 12 months, so if you are in Denmark don’t be surprised to find a broken plate on your doorstep on January 1st!

In Brazil, lentils are associated with money, so at New Year you might see someone eating lots of lentils!

In Korea, the first day of the lunar New Year is called Sol-nal and it’s the day to renew family ties. You might also see rakes and sieves on the outside doors and walls of homes: they are put there to protect the families inside from evil spirits. On New Year’s Day people wear new clothes made with five colours (red, white, blue, yellow and green), symbolising a new start.

Finally, New Year is also a time when people make resolutions which they try to keep in the months ahead (most people break them, but that’s sometimes part of the fun!). However, no matter what country you are from, this is a time for looking forward and thinking about all the good things you can do in 2018. And if you thinking of coming to the UK to study English why not make a resolution to come to Glasgow School of English – we’d be delighted to see you and it could be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made!



Ali and Ahmed and their thoughts on Scotland and Glasgow School of English


Ali Mohammed Alasiri (above on the left) and Ahmed Alkhathlan (on the right), both from Saudi Arabia, have been studying at Glasgow School of English for several months. As a result, their English is very good and they were happy to meet me recently to tell me about their time in Scotland and at Glasgow School. Ali is from Abha, in the south of the country and Ahmed is from Riyadh, the capital city. Ali is a mechanical engineer and Ahmed an architect with an interest in sustainable engineering and both are studying English to help them in their careers. Ahmed is going to enrol at a course on sustainable engineering at Strathclyde University in Glasgow next year.

Ahmed told me that, in his opinion, the teachers here are very good. Ali agreed, saying that they have a good manner and take time to speak to everyone individually. They both also said that all the admin team were also extremely helpful and friendly.

I asked why they had chosen Scotland to study. Ali’s three older brothers had all been at Glasgow School of English before and that was why he was here, while Ahmed said he had come to Scotland because he wants to study that particular course at Strathclyde University.

Finally, I asked what has surprised them about Scotland. They both said that they enjoy the weather as it’s so much cooler than their own country. In addition, they both agreed that the Scottish people are very warm and friendly. Ali said that people are patient in the shops when they can see that you are just learning English, which is especially helpful for students whose level of English is not as high as his or Ahmed’s. Ahmed explained that he didn’t need to buy a car in Glasgow because the public transport system is really good.

Finally, I asked them if they would recommend Glasgow School of English. I’m pleased to say that they both agreed and would certainly recommend that if you are a Saudi student who is thinking about coming to study English in the UK, come to Scotland – it’s cheaper, better and far more friendly than London!

Did you know that Scots invented the modern way of playing football?

It is well known that England is the home of modern football. When Scotland played in the first international football match, against England, in Glasgow in 1872, both sides did not really pass the ball the way footballers do nowadays. Instead, the players tried to dribble the ball past opponents and then get near enough to the opposition goal to get it over the line. In England, some clubs began to pass the ball, but the greatest exponents of this new style of football were the Scots, who had developed a way of playing that encouraged the team to play the ball to each other rather than individuals trying to dribble with it.



Professional football (where the players are paid for playing, as they are today) had been introduced in England in 1885, but in Scotland many clubs were still amateur (this means they were not paid for playing). The English international team lost heavily a number of times to Scotland between 1878 and 1882 and this was due largely to the clever passing play of the Scots.

As a result, many English professional clubs signed Scots’ players. These Scots were called “Scotch Professors” and their influence led to a change in the way football was played which has continued up to the present day. Also, many of these Scots, and many English players too, introduced football across the then British Empire and beyond, particularly to countries such as Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Scotland and the first international football match.

Football is the most popular game in the world, played constantly everywhere across the planet. The World Cup, where international football teams compete to be the best, is one of the biggest sporting occasions in the world. Yet did you know that Scotland was where the first official international football match was played?

International football began in Glasgow. On 30th of November 1972, Scotland played England at Hamilton Crescent in the Partick area of the city.   This wasn’t a football ground: it was actually West of Scotland Cricket Club’s pitch! It is shown in the picture here and you can still go and see it today as it’s still used for cricket.

All eleven Scottish players came from Queen’s Park, who were at that time the best club side in Scotland. The English side was selected form nine different clubs. Around 4,000 spectators attended, paying one shilling (5 pence) each to do so.

Scotland had a goal disallowed in the first half when the umpires (there were not modern referees in those days) decided it had gone over the tape that was stretched between the posts (the crossbar that we know today wasn’t invented yet!). When the game ended, the score was 0-0, and international football, as we know it today, had been born.


Photo by Chris Upson, from Wikipedia.

Some Scottish Wedding Traditions

Just like many other parts of the world, here in Scotland we have lots of wedding traditions. A few of the best known are the “Scramble,” where after the wedding has taken place, and as the bride is about to get into her wedding car, her father will throw a handful of coins for any watching children to scramble for, which just means they rush around excitedly trying to collect as much money as possible. This is supposed to bring financial luck to the newly married couple.

Another Scottish wedding tradition, more common in the east of the country than in the west, is for the bride to have her feet washed, either by a woman who has been married for a long time or by her friends, using water in which the long-married woman has dropped her wedding ring. There is also an equivalent tradition for the bridegroom, where he has his legs blackened with coal or soot and water. Sometimes, if he’s really unlucky, he’s made to sit in a tub of water too!

Yes reader, I married him! Sichuan to Scotland.

Sichuan, China

Lily Li was one of the earliest students to attend Glasgow School of English, way back in 1998. She is still here – not at the School, but married to a Scot and working as a paralegal specialising in immigration in her husband’s legal firm. She very kindly took some time recently to speak to me to tell me about her experiences when she came to Scotland and how Glasgow School of English was able to help her as she settled in what was then, for her, a very strange land…

“I am from Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. My father was a professor and I came to Scotland because my brother-in-law’s older brother was a lecturer at Glasgow University. This was in the 1980s and he offered my sister the chance to come to Scotland. She was not sure if she wanted to, so, in 1988, I took her place!

“My relatives in Scotland knew Andrew Lennox, the gentleman who had founded Glasgow School of English the previous year, and suggested that I go there to learn the language. They helped me get the necessary visa to stay in the country and I started in the foundation course, with Steven as my first teacher. His wife was Chinese; she is also called Lily and she too taught at the School (and still does to this day!). I used to speak to her in Mandarin after classes. Steven was a very good teacher and his classes were interesting, academic and never dull. He helped me pass the Level 3 exam and I got an offer to go to university. However, I didn’t fancy that at the time and instead went to Stow College to do an HND in Business & Administration. I soon realised that was not for me and when I was looking for a job I was offered the chance to work at Global Connects, Andrew’s translation and interpreting company, as an interpreter.

“I remember my first job was to go to Maryhill Police Station, where the suspect was a Hong Kong Chinese who spoke Cantonese. I am a native Mandarin speaker, but I could get by in Cantonese and seemed to do all right on this first job, so Global Connects soon gave me more work. However, I quickly made the effort to become fluent in Cantonese as well as Mandarin. This ‘bilingualism’ is very useful for a ‘Chinese’ translator!

“Later in my career as an interpreter, I had to go early in the morning to a Glasgow police station to meet a lawyer and his client. The lawyer was from Edinburgh and very grumpy at having had to get up early to go to Glasgow. We worked together on this case for some time, but the person was found guilty and imprisoned. We, the lawyer and me, got life sentences. Yes reader, I married him!

Glasgow, Scotland

“I’m often asked what it’s like for someone from abroad coming to Scotland to learn English. Well, for me, it was very different. China in those days was not like it is now. Today, I’d describe China, which I visit once a year, as like a fizzy drink, sparkling with so many commercial colours. Scotland in contrast, is a simpler country. But both are very friendly places, with nice people who will usually help strangers. Scotland is an especially beautiful country and the longer you stay here the more you appreciate the countryside and nature around you. I would really recommend that if you want to come to learn English in the UK you should come to Glasgow School of English.”