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Variation in English

When foreign learners of English first come to the British Isles, they are usually surprised, and often dismayed, to discover how little they understand of the English they hear. For one thing, people seem to speak faster than expected. Also, the English that most British or Irish people speak seems to be different in many ways from the English the visitor has learnt. While it is probably differences of pronunciation that will immediately strike them, learners may also notice differences of grammar and vocabulary.

Their reactions to this experience will vary. They may conclude that most of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish people that they hear do not – or even cannot – speak English correctly. In this they would find that many native speakers agree with them. They might even be told that, since learners of English as a foreign or second language have usually studied English in a formal way, they should know better than would native speakers what is ‘correct’.

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The Scottish people

By world standards – even by the standards of Europe and North America – Scots are very well-educated people. And although the location of Scotland, tucked away in a distant corner of Europe, might have once kept Scots out of touch with the rest of the world, they have had, since the 18th century, a distinctly global outlook. Generations of Scottish emigration means that few Scots are without relatives in countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, or America.

The Scots view of themselves is often quite difficult for visitors to understand. That view tends to be a mixture of outrageous pride and incredible cynicism. It’s a complex mixture. The complete Scottish patriot is a far rarer person than would be found in other countries such as America. And yet, any Scot who|that completely writes off Scotland will be intensely disliked.