An ESL professional’s view of Glasgow School of English

Anabella Chavez (seen here with Andrew Lennox, the President of the school) works for ESL, a major international agency in the world of English language teaching. She is based in Panama but recently came to Scotland for the first time, where she is studying for a few weeks at Glasgow School of English. Given her industry background, it was interesting to meet up with her and find out what she thinks about Scotland in general and the school in particular.

She began by telling me that she knew about our country through her job, as ESL send students to study here. She is particularly interested in our history and in seeing our landscapes. The romantic image of the Highlands, with their famously beautiful scenery, is something she wanted to see for herself.

When asked about her first impressions of Scotland, she said that, coming from Panama, there were two things that really stood out. Firstly, and most importantly, “It’s lovely to be able to walk almost anywhere and feel safe. Sadly, that’s not always possible in my own country.” Secondly, she noted that the weather was very different from home, saying that it was very hot in Panama while it was cool and wet here, and it took her a few days to get used to the Scottish climate.

As someone who has to make critical decisions about English language schools in her job, Anabella has found that Glasgow School of English is a very good one. She says the teachers are excellent and they prepare very well for each class. She explained that they go around the class and help each student individually and, rather than just telling you what to do all the time, they ask you to think about what you’re saying and try to work out the answers yourself, which she thinks is good way to learn and understand a language. Finally, she said that the other students are very friendly and it’s great to meet people from all over the world.

We discussed studying and living in Glasgow and, again, she said the fact that it’s so safe to walk around in has made the biggest impression on her. She had been told that Scotland was friendly before she arrived, but she has been really impressed by just how nice everyone is. Anabella’s English is very good and it helps that, as she said, “I’m not frightened of trying to speak English so I am happy to ask questions. Here, in Glasgow, people will help you or speak to you, even if they’ve not met you before.”

Finally, she said she would love to come back to Scotland again, perhaps to work here for a short time. Anabella finished our chat by saying, “I really do love the country and the people. It has been a great experience.”



The legend of Nessie – the Loch Ness Monster!

The legend of Nessie has been around for hundreds of years. One of the earliest sightings was on October 1871, when a Mr Mackenzie saw a ‘log-like’ object in the waters of Loch Ness. Since then, dozens of other people have seen ‘something’ in the Loch. But is she real – or just a myth?

There are lots of websites dedicated to the Loch Ness Monster. One of the most interesting is, from which we’ve taken a lot of information for this blog.

Loch Ness is a very large, freshwater lake (lakes are called lochs in Scotland). In fact, it’s so large that it contains more water than every other lake in the UK put together. It is 22.5 miles long and up to one and half miles wide, with a depth of 754 feet. It holds 263 thousand million cubic feet of water and has a surface area of 14,000 acres. In other words, it’s a VERY large place with lots of room for a monster to hide!

Join us next week for more information on Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster.








One of the very best things about learning English in Glasgow is…

Glasgow School of English has a wide range of students from all over the world. I recently met four of them – Omar Alqurnas from Saudi Arabia, Victoria Orlova from Russia and Corrado Fossati and Antonio Marrocco from north and south Italy respectively. Here were four bright, enthusiastic young people from very different parts of the world, all chatting away, sharing their experiences of their time at our School and showing just how easy it is for people from different cultures and backgrounds to get on with each other. If only the world’s politicians could learn from them! They all agreed that one of the best things about studying English abroad is that you meet such a wide variety of new people and learn about their countries, cultures and lives, and, of course, get to know about another new country – Scotland.

Loch Lomond

None of the four had been to Scotland before, but they had all been to England and some had studied at other schools of English there. I asked what was different about Glasgow School of English and the general view was that everything here is better organised. There also seems to be more care about the lessons in Glasgow School and there is a far greater emphasis on the quality of the teaching. Also, unlike some other schools, students with different levels of skill are not all put into one class. Instead, the test that all students have to sit before beginning their studies here ensures that each class has students who are all at the same level. For example, if, like Antonio, you are studying for IELTS level 7, you’ll be placed into a class alongside other people studying at this level.

We talked about the things they most like in Scotland. Corrado said that, for him, it’s the people. “They are really friendly,” he said, “and the Scots and the British generally are very welcoming and virtually everyone is honest, decent and well-behaved.”

Victoria agreed, saying she also thought the countryside and the landscape is amazing, especially around Loch Lomond. She had been there on a trip with the School and was really taken by how beautiful the loch and surrounding mountains are. The architecture here also impressed her and she really loved how clean the streets are in Glasgow.

Fish and Chips

Antonio said that one thing he would always remember is Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. “It is fabulous,” he said, “especially the famous Salvador Dali painting of Christ of St John of the Cross.” One other thing that he has come to love in Scotland is … fish and chips!

Omar said that for him it’s his friends. “When I studied in London and Manchester, it was hard to make friends, yet here everyone is so friendly and I have a lot of Glaswegian friends. They even got me wearing a kilt and when I posted the picture on Facebook all my friends in Saudi said – what are you doing wearing a skirt?”


Highland dancing: a lady in a kilt!

All four are graduates and all speak very good English. They all want to study further at university and intend to develop their careers into new directions, Omar and Victoria in languages/linguistics and Antonio and Corrado in finance. I’d say they all have a very good chance of succeeding in whatever jobs they go into in the future and if Glasgow School of English has helped them then we’ll be very happy to have done so.

With the value of the pound sterling, it’s a great time to come to study English in Scotland!

Especially when 99% of our students say their English has improved after studying with us!

The fall in the value of the pound means it’s a lot cheaper to come to study English in the UK than it was a year ago. That’s good news for all our students, but did you also know that it’s much more cheaper to study in some parts of the UK than others?

In particular, it’s much cheaper to study and live in Scotland than it is in most other areas of the UK, especially London. You don’t have to take our word for it: there are lots of studies that show how much cheaper it is to live and work in Glasgow than London. For example, look at the differences in these prices:


  • Rent prices in London are up to 60% higher than Glasgow.
  • Restaurant prices in London are up to 13% higher in London than Glasgow.
  • Grocery (food and drink prices in supermarkets, shops) are 5% higher in London than Glasgow.

Our figures here are taken from these independent, third-party websites, where you can find our much more about the difference in the cost of living between London and Glasgow.

Expatistan (Glasgow v London)
Numbeo (Glasgow v London)

Not only is it cheaper, but virtually all our students in Glasgow tell us that Glasgow is a very friendly place and that the public transport is very good so it’s easy to get around. They also tell us that the School is excellent. A recent survey by an independent firm showed that 99% of our students say that studying with us has improved their English!

If you’d like to find out more about studying at our school, please email: and/or go to our website:



Scottie, the kilt and the bagpipes (part 2)

If you read our last article, then you’ll know that the Scottish kilt, the “skirt” that is worn as part of “Highland Dress” is actually the invention of an Englishman! Don’t tell Scottie – our Schools’ mascot! However, we did promise that we’d tell you a bit more about Scottie’s kilt and, in particular, about his bagpipes.

Scottie’s kilt is made of one of the most famous and best-known tartans, called Royal Stewart. However, there are, literally, hundreds, if not thousands, of other tartans. Mostly, they are associated with a Clan (a family grouping) and referred to by the surname of the Clan, such as the Stewarts, MacDonalds or Campbells. Tartan cloth is now famous worldwide and often used in the fashion industry to make attractive clothes (not just kilts but trousers, jackets and hats) for both men and women. Here are some examples of tartans. From the left, they are: MacLeod, Royal Stewart and Black Watch. The Black Watch is a very famous Scottish army regiment. All the Scottish regiments wear kilts in their own, often very distinctive, tartans.

Another thing that amazes many people about the kilt is just how much material is required to make one. If you look at the kilt more closely, you can see that the material is pleated, which means it is folded together so that the cloth forms ‘pleats’ which overlap each other. This means there is a lot of cloth used: eight yards (over seven metres) for each kilt. This makes the kilt very heavy to wear. The cloth is made from wool, woven into the tartan patterns.

As well as wearing his kilt, Scottie loves playing the bagpipes. There are many different forms of bagpipes all over the world, from Malta to India, but the Highland bagpipe is probably the largest and best known. If you come to study with us here in Scotland, in either our Glasgow or Edinburgh Schools, you’ll often hear and see bagpipers playing in the streets for the tourists (especially in Edinburgh).

The bagpipes consist of a bag, traditionally of leather but now often of artificial material, with three long ‘drones’ that come out of the top of the bag and make the background ‘droning’ sound; a ‘chanter’, which is the stick that hangs below the bag and on which the notes are played; and a ‘blowstick’, which is in front of the drones and is for blowing air into the bag. By keeping the air in the bag at a constant pressure (by a mixture of blowing into the bag and squeezing the bag with the left arm), the piper is able to regulate the pressure of air passing over the reeds in the drones and chanter and these are what create the noise – the droning background from the drones and the actual notes from the chanter. The picture below shows a selection of reeds: the ones on the left are for the chanter and the ones on the right are for the drones.

There are only thirteen notes on the chanter, from C to a high A, but from these thirteen come some memorable and stirring music, which often shows the origins of the Highland bagpipe as a instrument used in battle.

Interestingly, until 1996, the Highland bagpipe was legally regarded as an instrument of war in the UK – a weapon in other words. This was because the Highlanders were often led into battle by a bagpiper. There are many famous stories of very brave pipers leading soldiers into battle, one of whom won the Victoria Cross – Great Britain’s highest award for bravery – as a result of his actions. You can read more about the bagpipes’ military role at this link.

We’re not sure if Scottie is brave enough to win any medals, but we do know that he’s very popular with our students, who often take him with them on their trips to see popular landmarks, museums and buildings in Scotland


Syrian Students are learning English in a new home in Scotland

We all know that Syria has had a terrible time in the last few years. A lot of people would like to leave, but relatively few have been able to do so.

In partnership with North Ayrshire Council, Glasgow School of English has been delighted to welcome a number of Syrian refugees recently. In the picture below, they are, from left to right:

Abdulsalam Idlebi, Ahmad Al Turkmani, Safwat Idlebi, Andrew Lennox (the School’s President), Thanaa Aldiri, Lida Al Shaar.


Two of them, Safwat and Ahmad were prepared to meet and talk briefly about their experiences of Scotland and the School.

Although these young men are not (yet!) fluent in English, they have made good progress and are improving every day.

Safwat is from Homs and Ahmad from Aleppo. They both live in North Ayrshire now; Ahmad with his mother and Safwat with his mother and brother.

When asked if they had studied English at school in Syria, Ahmad said he had, but Safwat had not.

They both said that learning to speak English is not too difficult, but writing it is very difficult as they are used to using Arabic characters, not the English letters.

They are both happy to be studying at Glasgow School. “It’s very good,” said Ahmad, “and the teachers are very helpful.”

Both young men said they found the people in Glasgow very friendly, although they said that the buildings in the city are very different from the ones they were used to in their home cities in Syria. We then talked about the differences in the food in Scotland and Syria and they both agreed they love our fish and chips. They haven’t tried haggis – the Scottish national dish – yet!

Not surprisingly, they found the weather in Scotland different too. However, although most people here in Scotland might think that Syria is very hot, they said that it’s actually quite cold in the winter, but not as wet as it is here.

Finally, like most young men the world over, they are keen on football. This was where they had their only disagreement. Safwat supports Real Madrid but Ahmad prefers Barcelona. However, when it comes to Scotland, they have both decided that Celtic is the team for them!




Scottie, the kilt and the bagpipes (Part 1)

Scottie, the School mascotIt’s a subject of great interest to many of the students who come to study with us here in Scotland why some Scotsmen wear what appears to be a woman’s skirt or dress. In most of Europe and North America only women wear skirts. However, in Africa, India and indeed parts of Europe and Asia, male “skirts”, in the form of a length of material, sometimes called a sarong, a veshti or mundu, are often worn. So why do we do it here?

Scottie, as you may know, is one of the Schools’ mascots. He wears a kilt. In fact, he wears traditional “Highland Dress”, the combination of kilt, sporran, jacket, feather bonnet (hat), socks and shoes recognised across the world as “Scottish”. How Scottie – and the Scots – began to wear the kilt is a very interesting story…

The history of the kilt in Scotland goes back to the seventeenth century at least. Originally, it was a much bigger garment than the modern kilt. This “great kilt” was also called a “plaid”, and consisted of a large, woollen cloak which could be wrapped around the body. It was worn mainly in the Highlands – the northern, mountainous part of Scotland.

Nowadays, everyone associates the kilt with tartan cloth, with each different tartan identified with a family or “Clan”. However, in the earlier centuries different patterns (tartans) of cloth were associated with a region, not a Clan or family grouping. These ancient tartans were not really like the modern, more colourful tartans (like the one on Scottie’s kilt), which are a much more recent invention.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the modern, shorter kilt evolved from the “great kilt”. Many people are surprised to discover that the modern kilt was invented by an Englishman, not a Scotsman! His name was Thomas Rawlinson and he came up with the idea of a shorter kilt in 1728 when he was living and working near Inverness. This new kilt was much easier to work in and soon became popular.

The Scots who lived in the lowland areas of the country began to wear the ‘short’ kilt and in the nineteenth century Queen Victoria, who loved coming to Scotland, helped make it even more popular by dressing her sons in it when they came to stay at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire in the summer.

It was also in the nineteenth century that modern tartans – and their association with different Clans – began. Many people refer to this as the “Balmoralisation” of tartans, because the British royal family was very keen on Scottish culture and when they came to Balmoral Castle encouraged the wearing of “Highland Dress” amongst the Scottish gentry (the rich men who owned most of the land) and their families.

We’re not sure if Scottie is a member of the gentry or not, but he does look very smart in his kilt! If you haven’t been to Scotland before, it’s important to tell you that we don’t wear kilts all the time (unless we’re playing the bagpipes), but when you do come to study in Scotland, with any of our three Schools of English, you will see people wearing kilts and also hear the bagpipes.   We’ll tell you a bit more about Scottie’s kilt, and about his bagpipes, in our next article.

Andrew Lennox, President, Glasgow School of English