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I am flying to Glasgow tomorrow. English isn't my mother tongue. In spite of living in London for the last 10 years, I still struggle with understanding different accents.

My main concern about the time I'll spend in Glasgow is that I won't be able to communicate well, simply because I can't understand what they say.

What is a polite way to inform all the people I deal with there that I can't understand what he/she says and it's my fault, NOT his/hers?

  • 40
    Try "Yer bum's oot the windae!" :P – chx Dec 13 '15 at 19:51
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    Is there something about "I'm from Finland and have trouble with Scottish accents. Could you speak a bit slower?" that doesn't seem workable? – Louis Dec 13 '15 at 21:10
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    @Joulupukki Don't believe everything you hear. Go there and try it for yourself. – JoErNanO Dec 13 '15 at 21:44
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    Nobody will think twice about someone with a noticeable foreign accent struggling to understand the Glaswegian accent. Doing the same with an upper class English accent might be seen as less polite, of course! – djr Dec 13 '15 at 21:55
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    "I ken nay enderstand yeh" – user30997 Dec 14 '15 at 2:08
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I'm English and lived in Glasgow for 4 years. Understanding many (but certainly not all) people will be tricky (even us native speakers struggle), but they'll be very willing to try to help you understand, and it won't cause offence.

You probably won't even need to explain: as soon as they see look of blank incomprehension and hear you begin to say "Err, sorry" in a non-Scottish accent they'll usually laugh and know what's going on. It's a common situation. A few things to understand about Glasgow:

  • They're used to it. It's a running joke in the UK that the Weegie accent is especially hard to understand. I certainly struggled more than once, and I'm a native English speaker. Everyone in Glasgow is familiar with this. Heck, plenty of people from Edinburgh struggle to understand Glaswegians (to the delight of many Glaswegians, who take it as proof that their Edinburgh rivals are less truly Scottish...). It's a very familiar situation.
  • It's actually somewhat exaggerated - most Glaswegians are very easy to understand. So much so that Scotland generally and Glasgow in particular is a popular place for companies to house call centres - it's a very expressive accent, and studies find people respond well to it, it sounds honest and warm. But when an individual Glaswegian is difficult to understand, and many are, they're very difficult to understand - and you will encounter several such people. It won't be everyone you meet, or even the majority, just a very memorable, sizeable minority.
  • They take pride in being helpful to foreign guests. Glaswegians take a lot of pride in being welcoming to outsiders (especially non-English outsiders... :-) but surprisingly welcoming to us sassenachs too), and particularly to Scandinavians (many pro-independence Glaswegians feel more affinity to social-democratic Scandinavia than they do to the London-dominated, more conservative UK). The Refuweegee project is a topical textbook example of Weegie pride in being warmly welcoming to foreigners. Most Glaswegians will be very happy to try to help you out.
  • They're very aware of the difference between their speech and standard English, and tend to be rather proud of it. The idea that Scots dialect is not a dialect but a wholly separate language to English is pretty popular in pro-independence Glasgow, and there's even a term for and books about Glasgow's unique "patter". Scots spell differently when writing in Scots as opposed to formal English: Scottish Twitter is great, and there are even English-Scots online translators. Glaswegians take a lot of pride in having a good sense of humour and being able to take some stick, and also in being a bit different to everywhere else. Something like this won't cause offence.
  • They may have had the same experience themselves. Not only are Glaswegians familiar with others struggling to understand their accents, they're also familiar with struggling to understand other, even stronger Scottish accents themselves. For example, there's the potentially-offensive Scots word Teuchter (pronounced like Choo-chter, with the second ch like Loch), which a Glaswegian friend cheerfully translated to me as meaning "Those bampots from up North who we cannae understand what they're saying"; before doing an impression of a Teuchter accent (north highland Scottish) which, to me, was actually slightly easier to understand than her normal speech... Scottish accents are very varied, and it's not uncommon for Scots to have experienced struggling to understand other Scots.

While getting people to try to help you understand will be easy, getting them to succeed in helping you understand them is a different story... Luckily, if all else fails, Glaswegians tend to be very expressive with their body language :-).

You're very unlikely to cause offence (unless you accidentally get your country names mixed up and talk as if Scotland is a part of England, or imply that you think Edinburgh is in any way Scotland's most important city... those common tourist mistakes will cause offence!)


One thing to be aware of is, if you're used to Londoners, Glaswegians tend to be much more direct and expressive. In general in the UK, the further North, the more directly people say what they mean.

Don't panic if a Glaswegian says something blunt or confrontational that a Londoner would only ever say to a mortal enemy - it's usually just friendly banter and a sign they trust you have a good sense of humour too. If the laughing stops and someone starts being very precise and pointed about what they say, that's when to start being careful.


Update - Mast posted a comment above suggesting practicing with a native to get used to the accent. If that's hard to do, there are several famous Glaswegian comedians who have medium-strength Glaswegian accents. Look for videos of:

  • Kevin Bridges
  • Billy Connolly  
  • Frankie Boyle (warning - not for the easily offended)
  • (fictional character) Rab C Nesbitt (also possibly not for the easily offended)
  • Episodes of the sitcom Still Game
  • Karen Dunbar
  • Limmy
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    1. I'm from southern England and learned the term Weegie when I lived in Aberdeen for 2 years. When I went back to southern England, I called my colleague a Weegie and she'd never even heard the term (though she got it straight away.) 2. When my sister visited me, she found the Teuchter accent in the rural areas away from Aberdeen city highly entertaining, and kept people talking just to hear more of it. 3. Regarding your link to Teuchter: that's the first time I've seen Uncyclopedia quoted as a reliable reference source! 4. For listening practice: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rab_C._Nesbitt – Level River St Dec 14 '15 at 1:28
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    @steveverrill I read the Wikipedia article on "Teuchter", and the Uncyclopedia article, and the latter was much closer to how the term is actually used in Glasgow! – user568458 Dec 14 '15 at 1:30
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    It's exactly how the the Glaswegians think of the Teuchters! I was told once when waiting to board a plane for Glasgow Prestwick Airport: Ye Lav en Aberdeen? They got a new use for sheep up there. It's called wool! – Level River St Dec 14 '15 at 1:47
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    To be fair, pretty much everyone across the UK makes similar accusations about whoever their more rural neighbours are. There's a popular rumour that it dates back to medieval times when, allegedly, the penalty for stealing sheep was death but the penalty for "intimacy" with sheep was a few years in prison - so quick-thinking thieves caught stealing sheep would reduce their punishments by hurriedly dropping their trousers. – user568458 Dec 14 '15 at 7:59
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    And don't fail to check out Stanley Baxter's Weegie As A Foreign Language series "Parliamo Glasgow" youtube.com/watch?v=TfCk_yNuTGk – Grimxn Dec 14 '15 at 13:54
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This is a personal experience answer. I am Dutch, so maybe a bit more blunt than you, but my solution works well.

I had that same problem last summer. I had arrived in Edinburgh one day, went to visit Glasgow the next and the first person talking to me was hard to understand.

I explained to the woman that English is not my first language and I had not adjusted to the accent yet. She understood and talked a bit more slowly and that was enough for me.

Mostly when you take the blame on yourself, 'my understanding of English is not very good' people understand that you do not want to blame them. And people in the different parts of the UK are used to tourist not understanding them. But they also know that they do not speak much (or anything) besides English, so they do appreciate your speaking their language, however limited.

Funny side note, in the past I have translated for a Scot in France. We were a group of volunteers (with English as only common language) and the guy had to read a list of jobs and ask for the number of people needed. I had been there before and more or less knew the list, at least the regular jobs. And the guy the year before had had a mild Scottish accent, so I was used to the sound.
Many of the other volunteers had never heard anybody with a strong Scottish accent and did not know what to expect. Specially the Americans in the group did often mention not being able to understand it at all. Fun and it did improve my English, certainly the understanding part. I was only 19 or 20 at the time and not yet fluent in English, so I was rather proud it worked.

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    Indeed - 'my understanding of English is not very good' is totally acceptable, whereas 'your pronunciation of English is not very good' is both offensive, and mistaken - they are not speaking 'English' (see @user568458's fourth point). – Grimxn Dec 14 '15 at 13:44
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    I typically identify myself as an "Ignorant American" who only speaks a "bastardized version" of slang English, and maybe they could help me be less stupid with the real version of the language that I butcher daily. This helps if you are a native speaker having trouble understanding English from people who learned it properly outside of America. – Mark Dec 14 '15 at 15:03
  • The last part of this answer is very relevant - we Brits are well aware that we're terrible for learning others' languages, and usually appreciate the fact that you've bothered learning ours well enough to save us the effort. We'll gladly speak slower in the UK in gratitude for not having to learn your language when we visit your countries! – Jon Story Dec 15 '15 at 11:00
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I'm English myself, but ive grown up with Scottish people and have a few friends I still communicate with on a daily basis. I also now live in America and I have a heavy accent so its sort of the same thing. This is my experience with this matter:

One thing that most people prefer is honesty. If you're having trouble understanding what someone is saying, just tell them. There's nothing like explaining a long story or giving someone instructions just for them to tell you after the fact that they couldn't understand a word you were saying. I get this all the time in America and it drives me crazy, I would rather they stopped me after the first sentence if they were having problems so I could adjust for them.

I think as long as you aren't rude you'll be fine. The best thing to do is to make a joke out of it and don't be afraid to make fun of yourself, explaining its you and not then. Everyone loves a good bit of banter.

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From personal experience I can say that asking politely to repeat what they just said helps the most. "Beg your pardon?", or "I'm sorry, what?" or "I'm terribly sorry, but I didn't understand you" all worked very well for me. I never had the feeling that I offended the speaker.

protected by JoErNanO Dec 16 '15 at 13:18

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