Coffee Break Scottish English
Posted by Neal on April 11, 2007
If you’re interested in improving your Scottish accent (“and who isn’t?”, I believe it’s customary to say at this point), then don’t pick it up it secondhand from Shrek or Groundskeeper Willie. Instead, learn from actual Scots in a convenient, free, online resource: the weekly podcast of Coffee Break Spanish, “the show which brings you language with your latte.”
Actually, it doesn’t bring you language with your latte. I’ve listened to about ten episodes so far, and it has never once brought me a latte. However, you can hear authentic rolled /r/’s, fronted /u/’s (like those I wrote about here), the lowered /ɪ/’s (as in weth, defferent, and lesteners), and other phonetic properties that make Scottish English different from American English, from hosts Mark and Kara. For example, Mark might say:
There are two versions of this, depending on whether you’re using the tú form or the Usted form.
Then you can repeat the sentence, practicing your pronunciation of versions as [vε̩ɾʃəns]. Now that I’ve listened to and practiced with Coffee Break Spanish for a few weeks, my Scottish accent still probably wouldn’t fool anyone, but it has unquestionably improved.
What’s even nicer about Coffee Break Spanish is that there’s an additional benefit: You can learn Spanish from it, too. The format of the show is the instructor, Mark, giving you vocabulary, grammar, and (as appropriate) cultural information; and Kara, an apparently real student of Spanish, “learning with all of you.” Kara’s Scottish accent is still tending to creep into her Spanish pronunciation, but as far as I can tell, Mark has good Spanish pronunciation, and he’ll give pronunciation tips along with the vocabulary. They’re sometimes informal (such as calling fricatives “soft” consonants), but more technical when informal just isn’t enough (for example, talking about the tongue flicking the alveolar ridge in front of your hard palate in order to make the Spanish /r/). Also regarding pronunciation, the lessons cover primarily Castilian Spanish (something they never taught me when I took Spanish in junior high in Texas), but Mark will usually give the Latin American pronunciation of a word as well; this is only an issue for words with a z or “soft” c, which are pronounced as [s] in Latin American Spanish, but as [θ] (th) in Castilian.
In the podcasts I’ve listened to so far, they’ve covered greetings, jobs, family members, pastimes, and a few other topics. The lessons are presented with the aim of preparing you to make your way when traveling in a Spanish-speaking country, so I don’t know how comprehensively I can expect the grammar to be covered, but it’s still nice to pick up whatever I can when it’s in such a convenient, portable form. Finally, I want to say that the laid-back Mark is a much more likable host than the artificially enthusiastic salesman Peter from the other language-learning podcast I’ve sampled, JapanesePod101. But that’s another posting.