February 2008 issue

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Scotland’s highlights

With its mountains, famous lochs and vibrant cities, Scotland is an idyllic destination for language students keen to explore a different area of the UK. Bethan Norris asks those who work in the industry what they think is special about their local area.

Scotland is often seen as a country of distinct accents, cold weather and odd traditions, such as ceilidhs –(traditional dances pronounced kay-lees) – tossing the caber and eating haggis, yet students often find a lot more than they bargained for and generally fall in love with its distinctive charm.

Jackie Furneaux from Live Language in Glasgow, says, “Scottish people are well known for their warmth and hospitality and it is this coupled with its stunning scenery, fascinating history and wealth of culture that makes it a very attractive option. There are a multitude of mountains, sea cliffs, glens and lochs that cover the northern two-thirds of the country and beautiful rolling hills and glens in the south.”

The popularity of the highlands with tourists was one of the reasons that prompted Chris Kennard and his wife to set up their school, Loch Ness School of English, in Fort Augustus in the heart of this region. “Starting an English school in the wilderness of the highlands of Scotland may appear a strange idea but it was a natural progression for my wife and I,” he says. “Before moving to Scotland, we had spent 10 years living in Japan. I spent the first five years working for a large school and then left to start my own school with my wife who is Japanese. We decided it would be a good idea to try [running our own school] in Scotland and that is how the school began.”

The school is located near the famous Loch Ness – the nearby Loch Ness monster exhibition in Drumnadrochit is a particular favourite with students – and Kennard relates that the nearest hiking trail starts from outside their front door. “We appeal to students who love nature and quiet, rather than those looking for a hectic nightlife,” he says. “Some students are worried they won’t understand the Scottish accent here but in fact the accent of this region is one of the clearest in the UK.”

Another school located in Scotland’s remote and beautiful highlands is Schoolhouse English in Ballater, situated within Cairngorms National Park and run by Cathy and Alan Low. Cathy Low believes that the beautiful scenery can add to the student’s learning experience. “There is a focus here that is hard to find amid the hustle and bustle of city life,” she says. “Students can relax into learning. We love taking students out into the stunning environment – it’s a great classroom, full of natural learning opportunities.” Low adds that as a storyteller and drama teacher, she infuses her English lessons with a unique flavour. “We love to combine language teaching with cultural experiences,” she says. “Learning ceilidh dances and Scottish songs, visiting beautiful locations with interesting stories to use as inspiration for focused language tasks, storytelling and getting out into the dramatic environment are all ways of ensuring that students get the most out of their Scottish highland language learning experience.”

With so much nature and wide open spaces on their doorstep, language schools throughout Scotland often encourage their students to take part in some of the common outdoor activities that exist around them. Password Language Studio in Glenrothes offers a business language training and translation service but Ann Morrison at the school says that they team up with an outdoor activity centre to offer summer programmes for young learners.

“Fifteen hours of English classes are provided by Password each week, while afternoons and evenings are spent enjoying the facilities of Highland Adventure Activity Centre,” she says. “We already have bookings for summer 2008 and are looking forward to welcoming 40 Italian youngsters to our school.” Students on the summer activity programme organised by Password can take part in activities such as canoeing, cycling, climbing and archery and stay in a beautiful listed building overlooking the River Isla that used to be an old hunting lodge.

Further south in Edinburgh, ECS Scotland is another school that offers students a picturesque and historical place to study as it is located in an 18th century mews building within walking distance of Edinburgh city centre. Jane McKinlay, Owner of the school, says, “Having worked for various English language schools for many years, I realised that the key to successful language learning was for students to be in small groups, in a small school. So I set up what would now be called a boutique language school along the lines of a boutique hotel. Within this intimate environment, where students and teachers share coffee and lunch breaks, each student has the opportunity to communicate and express themself as much as possible in English.”

Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city and as such contains a wealth of opportunities for cultural and social entertainment. McKinlay points out that the remains of Dolly the sheep (the first mammal cloned from a single cell) can be visited at the National Museum of Scotland while the Botanical Gardens and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art are also popular attractions. She adds, “There is a gun fired at one o’clock every day from the castle so that the Edinburgh citizens can set their watches – even in the digital age this is an important Edinburgh tradition.”

However, McKinlay advises students to visit some of Scotland’s less well-known attractions too. “Forget the highlands,” she says, ”and travel around the Scottish borders would be my advice to visitors in Scotland. My favourite places are Traquir House, Scotland’s most romantic house, still lived in by descendents of the original owners some 900 years later and New Lanark, the 18th-century cotton mill village founded by Robert Owen. Both places are unique, set in stunningly beautiful Scottish countryside, and provide a window to the past life in Scotland.”

Edinburgh is perhaps most famous for its annual arts festival which showcases music, comedy and theatre from around the world. However, Colin Dougal at EAC Edinburgh points out that the city is host to “an astonishing variety of festivals” year round, adding, “There are also some more unusual events over the year such as the Beltane fire festival – a celtic/pagan religious festival; Edinburgh’s Mela – a celebration centred around Edinburgh’s South Asian community; and of course Hogmanay – New Year Scottish style when for one week the whole city turns into one big party.”

EAC is another family-run business and Dougal says that the school always puts the student first in the classroom. “We believe in teaching real English to real people,” he says. “For all of our classes we use flexible syllabi which allow our creative, experienced teaching staff to plan communicative lessons to suit the students.”

Only a 40-minute train journey from Edinburgh is Glasgow, which has four world class universities and numerous colleges according to Furneaux. She points out that the school has formed links with local universities and colleges to help students who want to go on to further education in the city. Its location is also ideal to accommodate all aspects of student life as Furneaux concludes. “One of the nicest features of the school is that it sits on the edge of Kelvingrove Park where you can cycle for miles following the river Kelvin into the hills or just laze on the grass watching the world go by,” she says.

Agent viewpoint

“The majority of students I send to Scotland have selected this destination not only because they were interested in EFL courses but because they were attracted by the Scottish countryside, monuments and culture. Some of them have been there before and wanted to go again. They also find Scottish people very kind and friendly. Edinburgh is a particularly attractive city and its monuments and atmosphere fascinate the students. They feel happy and relaxed there which is important for the efficiency of their study.”
Karel Melzmuf, English Language Consultancy, Czech Republic

“There are two basic reasons that our students choose to study in Glasgow. One reason would be that Glasgow generally has fewer tourists than Edinburgh and therefore is considered by our students to be more authentically Scottish. The other reason would be for the quality education and accommodation you receive in Glasgow for the price you pay compared to the rest of the UK. Our students also like the fact that the city centre in Glasgow is small and you can go almost everywhere on foot.”
Larry Morello, Living Languages, Spain

“My clients who go to Scotland to learn English mainly rely on my recommendation. But a real factor that has triggered trips to Scotland is direct flights from Gdansk – two years ago my clients needed one to two changes and paid a lot for flights. People who decide to study at Scottish universities benefit mainly from free tuition for EU students. Students usually enjoy their stay at host families and the friendly atmosphere.”
Maria Banaszak, LEC Centre, Poland

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