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I am Scottish, and while I have no problem speaking with natives from other parts of the world, non-natives often have problems understanding me. I have made some attempt to speak clearly but unless I imitate another accent I am obviously Scottish. I wanted to know what experience other English As have of this problem, if it is a problem, and what suggestions they might have. Do I learn RP, do I pretend I am from the south of England? Is it ok to have good diction and clear pronunciation while retaining my own accent? Do American or English interpreters worry about this?

I am planning on taking a postgrad conference interpreting course this year, and am preparing myself as well as possible to get in.


asked 15 Jan '13, 09:32

vidboy's gravatar image


edited 15 Jan '13, 09:34

I'd say there is no such thing as a neutral accent in English, really... At the EU where I work, we have many Scottish colleagues, you can hear they are Scottish, and that's ok. Our listeners come from different parts of the UK and Ireland, and so do our interpreters. Some colleagues even hail from non-European English-speaking communities. Right now, it's the Irish Presidency so we hear Irish accents from the floor all the time! Admittedly, the EU is perhaps more tolerant of a variety of accents than some other markets.

You should aim at clear articulation (ex: make sure your listeners do not have to wonder whether you are talking about a mouse or a moose) and standard English words instead of Scottish ones - unless interpreting for an all-Scottish audience, of course! Good luck in June!

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answered 16 Jan '13, 17:43

Sirpa's gravatar image



That is quite interesting to know. I have looked at some videos with EU interpreters and I noticed many of them sounded 'normal,' so to speak, with no obvious attempt to hide a regional accent or do some odd RP mix. It's kind of like the BBC nowadays, where the speakers are clear but you know instantly where they are from. I'm working on articulation, although at speed it's difficult. In general I don´t use Scottish words anymore unless I go home.


(17 Jan '13, 06:16) vidboy

I'll react not as an English A, but as someone who may have to take your relay at some point ;-) A neutral accent is generally recommended, in particular in the EN booth which is followed by many non-native listeners. And if you have to provide relay, you don't want your colleagues to struggle with a strong Scottish accent. So, I'd recommend that you try to make it sound as neutral as possible. See what your teachers say next year.

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answered 15 Jan '13, 09:52

Danielle's gravatar image


Not an English A either, but we talked alot about this subject with our trainers and they all basically agree with what Danielle says. However, they all agree, too, that you should NOT force yourself to learn RP or adopt a totally different accent (even though that may sound posh) from yours. If all goes well, you wil be doing this job for a long time and working intensely in the booth. Doing so with a "fake" accent that you have to control at every moment is too much of a hassle for your mind.

We have a similar discussion between German and Austrian students, although this one concerns more than accents, it is also about the often very different dialect in Austria. Still, concerning the accent, our trainers told the Austrians to just embrace it and not try to forcibly adopt a fake "Hochdeutsch". If you listen/watch to high (!) quality radio and TV shows from your region, you should pay attention to how the journalists speak, that often is a good middle-way to a regional but understandable accent. Provided that your accent is not giving your listeners trouble, you should be fine.

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answered 15 Jan '13, 11:23

KaPe's gravatar image


edited 15 Jan '13, 13:10


Thanks! I thought about some BBC Scotland news presenters who speak well but are clearly Scottish too. I'll work on it and see how it goes in June! Neutral tends to mean softening the r, not aspirating the wh and opening some of the vowels. I'm teaching English at the moment and most students are ok, but maybe I shouldn't judge my accent on whether learners of English understand me ! Making more changes just sounds affected. I'll let you know!!'

(15 Jan '13, 15:40) vidboy

As long as you are clearly understood, it shouldn't matter. Remember though that the English booth is the pivot (usually) for relay, and that unlike many other booths, most of your listeners are non-natives, which adds an additional layer to things, so to speak.

English As themselves will not care what region your accent is from, because they know it does not matter. Non-native English speaking professors will however bring it up, depending on how much they do or don't like you (it seems the French A professors equated non-RP with backwater Quebecois during my training).

Yes, English interpreting students fret over whether they have RP or sound too working class. Caribbeans will be told they are speaking patois when they aren't. As an American, I was informed I sounded like Paris Hilton, and then, a farmer. Some teachers will find anything to pick on- as long as you speak clearly, c'est pas ton problème.

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answered 06 Dec '15, 23:35

InesdC's gravatar image


There are some great Scottish words that would provide excellent shortcuts in the booth - I am sorry we can't use them!

Well done for thinking of this ahead of time. If you articulate well, at speed, under stress, and soften any vowels that are truly different, then you should be fine. I work regularly with English booth colleagues from the US, Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, ... and none of them has any problem with the delegates. In fact, some of them even get compliments on their accent.

Keep in mind that people will ascribe other voice problems you may have (a high voice from stress, for example) to your accent, so there are other vocal ticks you may also have to keep an eye out for. InesdC is completely right, however: if someone wants to find a reason to pick on you, they will find one. Your accent will just be the easy way for them to go. Just make sure that you keep it clear and you should be fine.

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answered 07 Dec '15, 05:56

JuliaP's gravatar image


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question asked: 15 Jan '13, 09:32

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