‘Nae bother’: Glasgow migrants study Scottish dialect

From doctors and mothers to jobseekers and asylum-seekers, students in Glasgow learn the intricacies of local dialect.

Glasgow, Scotland  In a corner of Glasgow, on a grey day, students are learning the art of conversation. But these are no ordinary students, and the course is no ordinary English lesson.

“Fitba”, “Glasgae”, “braw”, “nae bother” and “aff yer heed” are just some of the words and phrases swirling around the small classroom as refugees and migrants attempt to master Scots and Glaswegian in Scotland’s largest city.

In case you were wondering, that’s “football”, “great”, “Glasgow”, “not a problem”, and “you’re crazy” in English.

Former journalist Maggie Lennon set up The Bridges Programmes charity in 2005, in an attempt to respond to Glasgow’s burgeoning use as a city to re-settle asylum seekers.

Her vision began as a humanitarian initiative to give refugees and asylum seekers back their dignity and confidence.

But the project has today developed into an educational and training-based enterprise that has seen many of Bridges’ students find work.

“Skills are not being used and people are remaining unemployed and underemployed – and that’s bad for the city,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It’s also bad for the economy and bad for people’s mental health and dignity, and that’s particularly important if you are a forced migrant and have already had a series of extremely unpleasant things happen to you.”

In my workplace, I really like the way they speak the Scots and Glaswegian language, but while I understand what they are saying, I can't speak it myself.

by Bidemi, a mother and student of language from Nigeria

A general employability lesson at the school encompasses Scottish customs and language, and is taught by lecturer Helen Jackson from the City of Glasgow College.

Students include Ted from Malawi, Rahma from Somalia, Nigerian Bidemi, and Nancy from China, who settled in Glasgow after marrying a man from Scotland.

“I still can’t understand my mother-in-law,” Nancy told Al Jazeera with a smile. “And if I speak to my mother-in-law I always use my husband to translate.”

Married mother-of-three Bidemi said her English and Glaswegian have improved since she first arrived in the city 14 years ago. However, she still struggles with some aspects of the local dialect.

“In my workplace, I really like the way they speak the [Scots and Glaswegian] language, but while I understand what they are saying, I can’t speak it myself,” she said.

Pedestrians walk past shops in Glasgow East, in Glasgow [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]
Pedestrians walk past shops in Glasgow East, in Glasgow [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]

One element of Bridges, which receives Scottish Government and EU funding, provides refugee doctors who work for NHS Scotland with the skills to become UK registered medics.

Iraqi Laeth al-Sadi first came to Glasgow to study prosthetics in 2010, with a view to returning to his home country.

But the former doctor for the Iraqi army was granted leave to stay after his life was threatened following the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

“I faced some difficulties in trying to understand the Glaswegian accent,” said the married father-of-two. “Words like ‘I didnae ken’ and ‘swally’ – but with listening and speaking to people you get used to them and people are very helpful.”

And that’s “didn’t know” and “an alcoholic drink”.

“There is something coming up which I’m really excited about,” Sadi said. “And that is to work with [Glasgow’s] Partick Thistle football club’s amputee team, with the background I have in amputation and people who have lost a limb. I was told by Bridges about it and was asked whether I’d like to do it, and I said ‘I’d love to’.”

Countering ‘aggressive anti-refugee feelings’

Scotland, a country of 5.3 million, has less experience with immigration compared to its larger English neighbour, with 10 times the population.

Still, Glasgow, a city of contrasts with large swathes of art and culture existing beside pockets of deprivation, has been the port of call for past waves of Irish, Italians, Pakistanis and latterly Syrians fleeing their war-torn homeland. 

Lennon said that she has at times come up against “quite aggressive anti-refugee feelings” from elements of the general public concerning some of Bridges’ initiatives, with critics asserting that funds “should all be spent on getting British people jobs”.

But since 2013, Glasgow has been officially branded with the welcoming slogan: “People Make Glasgow”, and has largely embraced its migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Indeed, for the likes of Ted, Rahma, Bidemi and Nancy, they might even say that their life in Glasgow has, so far at least, been “nae bad”.

Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi

Source: Al Jazeera