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Language School Event | Burns Night | Poetry Reading by June McEwan: photo credit Blue Noun

The Cultural Language of a Language School Event

Does your English language school celebrate national events like Burns Night?

Read our blog to find out why Blue Noun Language Hub absolutely does – but not with flag-waving or cheap props.

Rather, we use important dates in the Scottish calendar as an opportunity to celebrate and explore the past and contemporary culture of our nation, inviting friends in our local community to join us and share their stories across good food and drink.

It’s why we call ourselves a language hub – a place where good conversations happen, cultures mix and life-long friendships are forged. Real experiences – in other words – not role play in a classroom.

We do things differently at Blue Noun: from how we engage with our language learners (as friends) to language school events like Burns Night.

 

Free English lesson!

English learners: read on to the end of this post: as usual, we have a practice exercise for you to get your English skills working to explore the concepts we talk about in our blog.

“It makes me cringe to see other language schools put cheap costume hats and flags into their students’ hands for photographs, expecting language learners to care about an aspect of culture or a significant date with little explanation.”

Ruth, 2020

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Burns Night Traditions 01:  Poetry Reading

Friends of Blue Noun Language Hub joined up with our current group of students for a non-traditional Burns Supper.

 

In case you don’t know, this night is an annual celebration of the life and works of Scottish poet Robert (Robbie) Burns.
 
We have a bit of a horror of flag-waving nationalism, so we were keen to add contemporary touches and international flavours to our party while sincerely honouring and respecting the spirit of Burns Night.

There is much to learn from commemorating the people of the past. Burns poetry is remarkable and funny and beautiful – and we wanted our guests to get this flavour, without spending too much time on language which wouldn’t serve them well to learn. 

Today’s Scotland is very much a multicultural land, and we wanted our celebration to be about that too.
 
We asked all our invited guests each to read something from Scottish literature. The wonderful local artist June McEwan read poems by ‘the bard’ himself – which typically happens at a Burns Night celebration.

Here’s a taster:
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A Break from Tradition: Spoken Word Performance

As a language school event, we have to acknowledge that a whole evening spent exploring Burns Poetry (written in Scots) has limited appeal for English language learners –  unless we take the spirit of the poetry  – the romance and humour – and put it into simpler language. 

Fabulous Edinburgh Fringe comedian and storyteller Lolie Ware told a story about a time that the lyrics of a Del Amitri song chimed not only with her life but with Edwin Morgan‘s poem, ‘One Cigarette‘. It was very funny and heartfelt.

Here’s just the intro…
Artist (Edinburgh) Imogen Waibel had written a poem for the occasion in the style of Burns, about a ‘wee skelf’ (a splinter).
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Language School event Burns Night 2019  meal
Language School Event | Burns Night: photo credit Blue Noun
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Burns Night Tradition 02: A Meal (Haggis, ‘neeps’ and ‘tatties).

We made sure the traditional fare was there for the purists but we had many extras too.

Our menu took traditional Burns Night fare (haggis, neeps and tatties), but embraced the international influences which shape contemporary Scottish cuisine. 

One of the many reasons to repeat this meal through the ages is to remember that the history of Scottish people was one of extreme hardship and poverty.

Haggis these days is a bit of a designer item. It certainly wasn’t back in the days of Burns, but although made of entrails, it was one of the few ‘meats’ that people had access too and it was a luxury for this reason.  

Arguably, a Burns Night should keep these flavours – which have travelled over generations pure. However, we adapted to our modern audience too.

 

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Burns Night Tradition 02: ‘Tartan Tapas’

We decided not to promote one culture exclusively and open our hearts wide to traditions worldwide.  

To begin with, at least half our guests were vegetarian. Yes, you do get ‘vegetarian haggis’, but as haggis is a celebration of having meat to eat when you are starving, it seemed best to go for a different celebration of food.  

We decided to celebrate international influences, and went for ‘Tartan Tapas‘ this year!

 

Guests were greeted with tartan garlands, as arrivals to Hawaii are greeted with flower leis, and from the moment they arrived, the whisky was flowing.
 

 

The dishes we served at our language school event for Burns Night included seafood kedgeree, vegan kedgeree, haggis pakora, turnip dim sum, patatas bravas with tomato and paprika sauce, vegetable sushi, colcannon, and plantain pancakes.

 

We chose a Spanish red wine for the table.

 

For pudding, we had a quite boozy cranachan (and Charmaine made an extremely boozy vegan version).

 

Lynn’s legendary trifle stole the show!
 
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Burns Night Traditions 03: Whisky to ‘Toast the Haggis’

In the spirit of a true Burns Supper, we also had a selection of whisky to discover, including featuring our local distillery (drink local they say!)

 

These Glenturrets were savoured throughout the meal.
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The evening’s whisky in Blue Noun Language Hub : photo credit Blue Noun

“We had such good company this Burns Night – and we’re not (just) talking about the whisky.”

Ruth, 2020

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We Modified Traditions

For our non-drinkers, we had Whissin, a Spanish no-alcohol whisky substitute. Delicious.

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Burns Night Tradition 04: A Piper and Bagpipes

For some things, we just needed to start our own traditions.

 

Kenny was in charge of playing some of our favourite Scottish musicians.

 

Tradition dictates a piper should lead in the hot, steaming haggis at a Burns Supper, but we chose Martyn Bennett‘s fabulous track Chanter: a haunting tribute to the timeless quality of Scottish pipes, and as a tune, quite simply one of the best reasons to be alive that I know.
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Our guests enjoyed an evening of superb Scottish music – but not the traditional Scottish pipe band sound you might expect.

Contemporary Scottish Folk music is rich in references to the sounds of the past as – well as modern-day and international influences.

Playing music like this gave our guests a more interesting experience of contemporary Scottish music – playing them music we adore and music that will keep them interested in Scottish culture way beyond their English language holiday.

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Next English Language Holiday Red Kite Photography
Next English Language Holiday Red Kite Photography

Our Playlist

Martyn BennettGrit
Malcolm MiddletonWaxing Gibbous & Bananas
Pictish trailFuture Echos
The Phantom BandStrange Friend
James Yorkstonthe Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society & The Route to the Harmonium
King CreosoteFrom Scotland with Love and Astronaut Meets Appleman,
The Beta BandThe 3 Eps
Steve MasonMeet the Humans
Callum EasterHere or Nowhere
Edwyn CollinsGorgeous George
Primal ScreamGive Out But Don’t Give Up

 

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More About Our Neighbours | The Glenturret

The Glenturret Distillery is the oldest continuously working distillery in Scotland. It’s based just outside Crieff, making beautiful whiskies from the rushing water of the River Turret.

Friends as well as neighbours, at Blue Noun English Language School we often take our language learners on their excellent distillery tour as part of our Meet the Makers activities.  English learners discover traditional processes and craft – combined with modern technology, marketing and presentation.

 

Another language school event we offer is a weekly whisky tasting to all our students, featuring The Glenturret whiskies. 

It undoubtedly helps the whisky taste even better to tour the distillery and gain a sense of the time and the craft of whisky-making.
 
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swift in flight Logie Kirk by Blue Noun English language school
swift in flight Logie Kirk by Blue Noun English language school

At Blue Noun we love chatting about all things art and celebrate having excellent, talented people all around us to do it with. We facilitate real cultural and creative exchanges happening, whether it’s in our language learning space – the Blue Noun Hub – or out and about visiting studios and workshops and places of cultural interest.

We also love showing off the beauty of our region and the food and craft produce that is making it world-famous. Our whisky tastings are legendary!

Our business is also intended to be of benefit to the artist/maker economy of Perthshire. We bring our international creative guests into studios for a genuine exchange of cultures and art-making. Yes it’s an English lesson, but it is so much more!  (Plus we pay all our artists and guest speakers for their time)

Come and join us for an English language learning holiday and grab a taste of Perthshire! 

Find out more about June McEwan’s artwork here

Read more about Burns Night here

 

Discover The Glenturret here

 

 

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We hope you’ve enjoyed us sharing our Burns Night with you.

Got a taste for contemporary Scottish folk music now? Read about Blue Noun seeing the amazing King Creosote in Perth Concert Hall.

Learn English in the UK | From Scotland With Love

 

Your English Language Challenge

We offer you a practice conversation opportunity with every blog.

Today, we are asking you,

Did we strike the right balance?

Should we have kept traditions pure and only served a traditional haggis Burns supper? If we break traditions, do we lose the point in the celebration entirely? Should we only have had medieval flavours or do our international flavours successfully represent the contemporary Scotland that we want to celebrate?

At what point is it cultural appropriation to include symbols and flavours from other cultures?

As usual, if you want us to correct any sentences, just write CP (correct please at the end of your comment).

Did we strike the right balance?