A Guardian story by Kirsty Scott reports on a truly nutty decision by the Foreign Office:

The Scottish burr may often prove incomprehensible to English ears, but the Foreign Office apparently considers the accent so impenetrable that it has rejected a Russian student’s application to study in Scotland on the grounds that she might not understand the language.
It emerged in the Scottish parliament yesterday that UK Visas, a joint operation manned in Britain by the Home Office and overseas by Foreign Office staff, had used the excuse to deny the young woman a 12-week visa to study the English language in Scotland last summer.

Among the reasons for her rejection was one which said: “Given that you state you will need to resit your English exam in November, you cannot satisfactorily explain why you have chosen to attend an English course in Scotland rather than your other options of Oxford or Cambridge, where you should face less difficulty understanding a regional accent.”
The blunder was uncovered by the Scottish National party, who informed the first minister, Jack McConnell, at Holyrood yesterday. The SNP leader, John Swinney, urged Mr McConnell, who recently launched a drive to bring more immigrants to Scotland, to condemn “that type of attitude of institutional discrimination”.
Mr McConnell promised he would look into it.
A Foreign Office spokesman admitted it was “an error”.

I’ll say. (Via Taccuino di traduzione.)


  1. John Thacker says

    I wonder where in Scotland she was going to study? I mean, if it were Glasgow I could understand the concern. 🙂

  2. Nae, In Glasgae they speak English. Bu’ in Aberrdeen, aye, thar’s the Scots accent. Fit like?
    I was in Aberdeen for the latter half of 1994, and I remember that my first week there was a riot of incomprehension. But then the ears adjust, and it starts to sound uncannily like English.
    I can imitate a Scottish accent, but only when talking about football.

  3. That’s fitba.

  4. Sweet Sixteen, the film set in scotland by Ken Loach, had subtitles because of its heavy accents – and i, as a londoner, needed them.

  5. Scottish film:
    Lynne Ramsay is one of the best directors in the whole world. And this on the strength of two movies. “Ratcatcher” and “Morver Callar”. Amazing, amazing visual skills this young director has. And, yes, the accent does get a bit thick in places, but never mind that.

  6. That’s “Morvern Callar”, sorry.

  7. I’m almost sure it’s Edinburgh, possibly Hawthorn Edinburgh aka the Edinburgh School of English ( They advertise themselves as “the longest established EFL school in Scotland (founded in 1969).” Moreover, one can read “Recommended by the British Council” under the Hawthorn logo on the site’s front page. Hawthorn is an Australian-owned network of English schools with branches in Auckland (NZ), Edinburgh, Melbourne, Vancouver, Singapore and Muscat. None in England proper; Muscat’s being on the list seems to indicate Howard accords no importance to local accents.

  8. Nearly missed this, from the original piece:
    “The spokesman was unable to say what had happened to the Russian woman, or if the four other reasons for which she was refused entry remained valid.”
    Five reasons to reject a visa application! Either the lady failed every thinkable requirement or the Foreign Office has some rather inventive professionals on its staff.

  9. Reminds me of the Guantanamo translator they decided one day to haul off in chains on suspicion of spying; when they couldn’t even begin to substantiate that, they accused him of having porn on his computer or something.

  10. I am an Engineering data administrator for an international oil well component company that just happens to have branches in (among others) Houston (my location) and Aberdeen.
    My counterpart at the Aberdeen location is a cheerful, multi-talented, soft-spoken young engineer whose first language is some sort of uncomprehensible Scots teenage slang. He uses “canna” and “nae” when typing e-mails. He does not call me anymore because every time I listen to him I blow a mental tire trying to make out what he says.
    But I love him dearly, don’t get me wrong. I just can’t understand seven out of every ten words he says.
    Just throwing my two cents in… 🙂

  11. I am positively DESPERATE to get a decent/passing Scottish accent for the upcoming Renaissance season! I can pull off English nobility and a pretty decent cockney with enough alcohol in my system. I have mastered several accents but Scottish isn’t one of them.Kind of embarassing being that I’m 5/8 Scot!Anyway, be forewarned, anyone trying to help me learn…I am American and I understand it’s much harder for us to learn the accent! Any help out there?

  12. creme_ala_creme78 says

    I need a Scottish accent for a dramatic interpretation piece one of my friends wants me to do, I am American as well, and half Scot, but I haven’t heard enough of the accent to know even where to start, Any help??

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