How to understand English in Ireland (accents, pronunciation and expressions)
Understand English in Ireland
Most of the time, students arriving to Ireland will come with a fair knowledge of English. We’ve all watched movies in English, studied in school, listened to music…and when we move abroad we are not too worried because, at least, we have the basics! Then we arrive and the reality of the city you’ve chosen hits you. The accent is so different from what you learnt in school and there are expressions you hear every day that you have never heard before (and have no idea what they mean!).
This will happen to you whether you move to Scotland, Canada, England or any other country but for those lucky ones that chose Ireland, here are a few things you need to understand English in Ireland.
How to understand Irish English pronunciation
The Dublin U sound.
Apart from English having very few concrete rules about pronunciation, you’ve probably learnt that U should sound like /ʌ/. However, one day in Dublin and you are already having problems being understood when asking for the “bus /bʌs/ stop”. In Ireland and particularly in Dublin, people pronounce U in a particular way. They will understand you much better if you ask for the “bus /bʊs/ stop” rather than the “bus /bʌs/ stop”. As well as this, you constantly hear “bot” /bʊt/ in the conversations and don’t know what it is… and then one day someone says to you “thank you very much” /tʌŋk juː vɛri: mʊtʃ/ and it all makes sense… In Dublin they go to the “pub” /pʊb/ and not the “pab” /pʌb/, they have a “cup” /cʊp/ not a /cʌp/ of tea, and they live in /dʊblin/ not /dʌbli:n/. To understand these strange phonetic symbols, check out this interactive phonetic chart.
Check out the video below for some Dublinese pronunciation lessons from some brilliant local school kids!
Expressions to help you understand English in Ireland
How are you? Are you ok?
During your first days in the city it feels like everyone really cares about you and how you are! Buying milk in the supermarket, the shop assistant asks you “Are you ok?”. Next thing in the pub the waiter asks “How are you?” and you reply “I’m fine thanks, and you?” and this keeps happening everywhere you go. The reality is that, as lovely and warm as Irish people are, when they ask these questions in these types of situations they actually mean “Hello”, “How can I help you?”, “What would you like to drink?”, etc. Having said that, if you are up for a conversation please do tell them that you are having a great day and they’ll surely be happy to have a little chat with you. They also love conversation!
How are you, love?
Irish people are so lovely that you will very rarely be addressed as madam or sir. They will generally prefer to call you “love”, “pal”, “buddy”…
What’s the craic?
The real Irish way of asking “How are you?” or “What’s happening?”. Foreigners are often quite confused about how you should answer this question. You’ll get there eventually. Generally if someone ask “What’s the craic?” meaning “How are you?”, the answer is “Grand, and yourself?” meaning “Fine thanks and you?”. If they mean "What happening?" you can answer "zero craic" or "no craic" meaning nothing is happening. On the other hand, if they want to say that there are a lot of good things happening they can say "the craic is ninety" or "the craic is mighty". You now have a basic idea of what the word means, but you need to live in Ireland to know what craic actually is so I’ll leave that for when you get here.
Come here (come’ere)
No, they do not want you to go and move to where they are so they can show you something. When Irish people say “come’ere” they just mean listen, no need to actually “come here”. You might spend a few days going over someone desks until you learn this (I know I did).
Your man, your woman, your one
This is a way of referring to someone without saying their name. Everyone in the conversation seems to know who “your man” is … apart from the foreigners in the group that keep thinking it someone somehow related to them. No, they are not talking about your boyfriend, girlfriend… just about your one, you know? As a rough translation “your man” means “that guy” and “your one”/ ”your woman” means “that girl/woman”.
These are only some of the things that you’ll probably notice in your first weeks in Dublin. Never mind if you are going to Cork or Galway or some other city because again, there will be different expressions and accents that you’ll need to get used to. This is the fun part of learning a language from native speakers in their own country and learning that a language is more than just lots of grammar rules! Hopefully these tips will make it easier for you to understand English in Ireland.
Understand Irish accents
Ireland's first language is Irish, which is also known as Gaelic but you will rarely meet people who speak Irish fluently and in public. Of course, you can find Irish on street signs, in buses or trains and the Irish people learn it in school, not to mention all the nearly unpronounceable names like Siobhan, Saoirse and Caoimhe.
While you might not hear a lot of Irish people speaking Irish, it is quite common to hear different types of Irish accents, while you speak to people from around the country. The major Irish dialects or accents are: Dublin English, Ulster English and West and South-West Hiberno-English. But there are also hundreds of more specific regional accents. This variety of accents can make it more challenging to understand English in Ireland.
The Dublin accent is probably the one you will hear the most. This accent is influenced by the British English due to the British occupation for over 800 years. There are different types of Dublin accents. While there are many different accents within the city the biggest difference is between the Northside and the Southside.
Ulster English is mostly spoken in Northern Ireland as its origin lies in Scotland. West and South-West Hiberno-English is spoken as the name already tells in West and South-West Ireland. In this part of Ireland they speak more Irish than in the rest of Ireland which is why their accent is more influenced by the Irish.
This video gives you some examples about some Irish accents:
And if you are interested in more you can check this (https://www.uni-due.de/IERC/index.html) out and listen to some more Irish accents.
I hope this helped you to understand most of the Irish people and maybe you want to learn how to speak in an Irish accent now.
Enjoy learning and speaking in Ireland!