Last Tuesday, I was privileged to spend an hour chatting to the latest ‘students’ at Hamilton School (part of Global School of English in Edinburgh). They are in fact English teachers from Morocco who came to develop their already exceptional English: four lovely ladies, full of fun, enthusiasm and motivation. Our discussion was wide-ranging, stimulating and fascinating.
Their names are Meriem Benoualiallah, Sara Mouyeddine, Houda El Mouatassim Billah and Asma Laffinti. That’s them, in the photo, with the school mascot, Scottie, who was strangely quiet for once, although he did ‘play’ his bagpipes later on, to the amusement of the ladies!
We talked about art, culture, language, architecture, Scotland (naturally), Morocco (naturally), dancing and, of course, English language writers. Their favourites include Jane Austen and James Joyce as well as the poets Keats, Yeats and Wordsworth.
When asked about the average Moroccan’s image of Scotland, they said that it is indeed the Scottie character: kilt, bagpipes and full Highland regalia. But they also see Scots as living in a land where there are magnificent castles and big, muscly men (I’m not sure about that!).
“It’s very different from Morocco, with so many old buildings and there is a real sense of history”, was one comment. They were surprised by but liked the size of the windows – very different from Morocco, given the respective climates. We want to let light in while they want to keep the sun and heat out!
They also noted how much greener it is here, how friendly everyone in Scotland has been (“it’s different from London in that respect”), and the slightly slower pace of life than in the UK capital.
I asked them about schools in Morocco. They said the levels of discipline vary (a bit like here) but I got the impression from the others that Meriem is the sort of teacher who can sort out any disruptive pupils!
We then discussed tongue-twisters. I introduced them to the famous “The Leith Police dismisseth us” and they recited an Arabic one, which I couldn’t even begin to try!
From this to Moroccan and Scottish dancing was a quick step! Moroccan dancing, the ladies told me, is a bit more “irrational and crazy”, or, to put it another way, “a bit like Zumba!” I gave them as good a guide to Scottish country dancing as I could and told them that the school organises trips for its students to learn our dancing. I can just imagine them all on the ceilidh dance-floor!
Finally, we discussed the benefits of learning English and how travel broadens the mind, introduces us to new cultures, allows us to meet new people and make friends, as well as learning that people are generally the same all over the world. Or, as I explained to them, using the Scottish colloquial expression, “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns”. Once I’d explained that, we all agreed it’s true!
They all said they’d love to come back to Scotland and sent a note after they had left us:
“We really enjoyed our trip to Scotland. Your country and the Scots are just amazing and friendly. Everything was impressive and terrific.”
Andrew Lennox is President of English language schools Glasgow School of English and Global School of English – Edinburgh. The International Association of Language Centres (IALC) accredits language schools in 22 countries around the world.