Phrase of the day: Nae bother

I have just come back from Scotland, where I was giving the keynote talk at the City of Glasgow College’s ESOL conference. I got given a present afterwards of a quaich – a small silver cup for sharing and drinking “a wee dram” (a small amount) of whisky (or brandy). Quaitch is originally a Gaelic word, meaning cup and I was told the objects are often called the cup of friendship. Lovely.

When I was leaving the college, I asked the receptionist to call me a cab and when I said thanks, she said “Nae bother” – meaning “No problem”. During the day, when I was speaking to one of the delegates, it was mentioned that the ESOL students were generally tested on “standard English”. I’m guessing ‘standard English’ doesn’t include Nae bother. Maybe it doesn’t include wee or dram either.

Obviously, I can understand why a coursebook or an international exam might not teach and test such things, but it seems a shame that these kinds of words and phrases might then get excluded from local exams or classes. And it’s not just something affecting English classes. A recent report suggested that language is becoming increasingly standardised across the UK. Where before each region may have had words and expressions which were particular to them, now these differences are disappearing.

So what would you like to learn if you were studying in Scotland? Nae bother or something more widely used like No problem – or both?

How far do you want to share cups of friendship and learn something of local culture?

Want to learn more about British language and culture? We have just the course for you.

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12 Responses

  1. Gordon Dobie says:

    Yer no wrang, Shug!
    Sorry, let me standardise that: You’re right, Hugh.
    In Scotland, you really do need to know that “How” also means “Why”, “aye” means “yes” and “naw” means no, “gaunnae” means “going to” but also “could you”. There’s hunners mair, I mean loads more. I’d say all of the social interaction ones should be taught for recognition at least. The same is true for Dundee, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester and all the other local forms of English. Without learning the most frequent ones, it is even more difficult to understand or strike up conversations with people, which is a sad social and acquisition loss.

  2. Francesca Di Mambro says:

    As an ex-ESOL teacher from Glasgow, I would say that teaching of the local lexis was an essential part of what we taught our students. It was the nuts and bolts of their survival English in a new city. Teaching EFL now in Madrid means that I do teach a more standard form of the language or actually more English as Lingua Franca to help my students cope with the varieties of English that they encounter. But I still hope my classes still give my students a wee dod o’ Scottish too. The cultural background any teacher brings to the classroom is fascinating to our students and insights into local language can often seem more memorable for them in the long run! Pure dead brilliant I say!

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      I’m totally with you Francesca. We all have our own imprints and influences and they’ll come out in class every now and then, whether we like it or not.
      I think it’s important for students to realise that there’s huge diversity and different ideas of wehat ‘correct’ means even within ‘native-speaker’ communities too, so kep up the good work!

  3. Irina Papkova says:

    If I was studying in Scotland I’d like to learn both Nae bother and No problem because as they say ‘Do in Rome as the Romans do’.

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I loe to hear this stuff even if I won’t be using it myself. It’s useful on a receptive level.
      And when I’m teaching here in London, I often add in things that are common here as little added extras.
      I know a lot of my students will hear things like INNIT used as a question tag, for example, so it’s worth just mentioning.

  4. First time I came across lots of Scottish words in the Outlander TV series. I really liked “wee” in particupar. It would be great if there was a book (or some web source) about the language features we may hear in Scotland as it is a really interesting and beautiful region to visit.

  5. Here in the Netherlands I teach English to mostly Dutch people. I try to make my students aware – and hopefully appreciative! – of the occurrence of cultural and language differences between regions. They are the spice of life! Even if I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of local lexis in let’s say Scotland, any opportunity that presents itself I will use to give my students a flavour of ‘what else there is’. As a teacher I’m also a learner and always will be. From that perspective I’m open and eager to learn about local lexis from any region. The internet is a great source but it’s blogs like yours that ignite a spark to find out more.

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      That all sounds very sensible Sandra. I think it’s relaly important for stuents to recognise and accept – and enjoy (!) – the richness and diversity of a language. And, by extension, of life itself.

  6. Agata Kowalska says:

    Try “norn-Iron” 😊I’m enchanted with that soft and I would say a bit “messy” speaking.

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      I had to read that comment about ten times before I realised you were talking about Northern Ireland!!

  7. Laura Umnova\Valova says:

    Hi, there!
    the pic of a cup is similar to a Scandinavian and Russian traditional old folk motive cup used even so far as by Russian pagan Duke Svyatoslav, who was quite a military man. In fact, the Slavs and other ancient nations had a habit of making such lovely cup out of the sculls of their best enemies…
    sorry i could not come though i was very much looking forward, and a strong heart to come and enjoy your lovely summer classes, but i really a lot of job at home!
    best regards, L.


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