I arrived in Scotland recently expecting to hear all Scotsmen sounding like my favourite 007, Sean Connery, with his low manly brogue and languorously rolled “R”s. Distinct, but completely understandable to my North American ears. The reality was somewhat different upon my first conversation in Scotland – I found myself panicking when I realized that I had absolutely no clue as to what I was being asked by the friendly Scots waiter! It turns out that Scottish accents range from Scottish Standard English to a very broad Scottish accent with a variety in between. The Scots as a general rule roll their “R”s, use 5 fewer vowel sounds than most other English speakers and tend to omit syllables whenever possible. Scots also have their own distinctive vocabulary which can make their English pronunciation more difficult to understand. Interestingly, polls have recently shown that the Scottish accent is judged to sound the most honest and trustworthy in the U.K.. Researchers have also found that the Scottish accent has remained distinctive over the years, whereas other English accents in the UK are slowly becoming homogenised.
What can you do to help you tune your ear to a Scottish accent or any accent? There is absolutely nothing wrong with politely asking someone to repeat themselves or to slow down their rate of speech. Don’t insult someone as one of our fellow tourists did by rudely saying that he could not understand anything our guide was saying because of her “thick” accent and her poor English pronunciation. He received a sarcastic (and funny) response, being told that it was because he spoke that slang type of English (i.e. American English pronunciation).
Our university tour guide also had a broad Scottish accent, but was very clear in his delivery to a multinational group. When I commented that his English speaking skills and presentation were very good, he replied that one of his professors had advised him to slow down when speaking and to avoid dropping out any syllables in words. He was using a simple but proven accent reduction technique that we recommend at Change Your Accent which we call SOS – Slow down your rate of speech, Open your mouth when talking to articulate clearly and Say every syllable in a word. By doing so your accent, while still present, becomes more easily understood and you improve your English speaking skills. Possibly the most famous Scottish actor of our time, Sean Connery, is a great example of someone who has kept his accent for all his roles but whose English pronunciation can be easily understood …. and still sound so sexy.
Cheerio th' noo fur noo
(goodbye for now)