“A man with an Irish accent could sound wise and poetic and interesting even if he wasn’t.” - Kate Atkinson
When we think of Ireland, we often think of verdant landscapes, Saint Patrick, and U2. There’s also a passionate culture, national identity, and language. According to a recent survey, only 2% of the population speaks Irish on a daily basis.
Are you lost?
Ireland has two official languages: English and Irish. This is what we’re going to have a look at throughout this article.
Linguistic immersion is a great way to learn the English language, especially since culture and language are linked. This can turn language learning into a way of life rather than just a school subject!
In this article, we're going to take a look at how English made its way into Ireland, the differences between the English and Irish languages, how Irish English differs to other varieties of English, and how you can go about learning Irish English.
The Origins of English in Ireland
There are two main languages in Ireland. English was first brought to Ireland by English colonists in the 13th century. It took some time for English to establish a foothold in Ireland.
By the 17th century, when the Tudors conquered Ireland, English was adopted in the court, judiciary institutions, administrations, and even by businesses.
Irish speakers were considered to be poor and less intelligent than those who spoke English as their mother tongue and English became the essential language for those wanting to get ahead in this new society. As a testament to the language’s nation and international importance, it’s the most commonly taught language in Ireland.
However, Irish English, just like Scottish English, also includes a variety of different dialects. There are also regions where Irish Gaelic (known locally as just Irish) is spoken. Since Ireland’s independence, there have been attempts to increase the use of Irish in the country.
English and Irish: Two Different Languages
Both Irish and English are the official languages of Ireland. Two languages for two civilisations, a challenging part of Ireland’s history.
Currently, the Irish government attempts to make the two languages equal by giving the Irish language the status of the country’s first official language. However, Ireland is a predominantly English-speaking country in terms of its popular culture.
Furthermore, the Celtic languages (which also include Scottish Gaelic and Manx) and English are two completely different languages in terms of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
How different are they?
The differences between English and Irish adds to the rich and fascinating culture of Ireland, which has been rebuilding itself following its independence from Great Britain.
It’s definitely worth a visit. Even though the grammar and conjugations are mostly the same, Irish English is also different from other forms of English in terms of accent and idiomatic expressions. Learning Irish English is a great way to improve your English, especially if you’re planning on going to Ireland.
For example, the verb “have” is the same whether you’re in Cambridge, New Zealand, or Ireland. The main words and most common verbs used in languages tend to stay the same regardless of where they're being used. However, terms for fashion, food, and local customs are where languages really come into their own.
Irish English is distinct from other variants and you can study it by doing a language exchange, working, or studying in Ireland. As you’ll see soon enough, studying English in Ireland is fascinating.
The Particularities of Irish English
Like all languages, there are different variants of English around Great Britain and Ireland.
So what makes the Irish variant of English so special?
Here’s some advice to get you started speaking like a local. In terms of pronunciation, the vowels are softened and the consonants hardened. For example, the letter “a” is pronounced as an “ah” or “aw” in Ireland. “How are you?” would sound like “Ha ware ya?”. The same happens with the “aye” sound, which becomes “oi”: Ireland being pronounced like Oireland.
In terms of consonants, most of them are pronounced differently as to how they would be in the United States of America. The “t” in certain words is pronounced like a “ch” (tube is pronounced as choob, for example) and the “th” is pronounced like a “d” for words like “that” and a “t” for words like “think”.
The letter “g” at the ends of words is almost never pronounced: Morning and walking become mornin’ and walkin’.
Of course, this isn’t true for every region in Ireland as they each have their own local variants on the language. However, these rules are common for most dialects of Irish English.
And what about typical Irish idiomatic expressions?
They’re another useful tool when speaking a foreign language. Here are some examples:
- Cheers: a useful word that’s rather casual. While initially used for making a toast, it can also be used in a variety of different situations.
- Lad: This term refers to any “man”, but usually someone you know.
- Right: A term used to clarify what somebody is suggesting or saying.
All these terms are used in specific contexts. Generally, Irish English is spoken quite quickly, quickly but clearly. That said, it can be useful to have a few expressions up your sleeve. There are also other ways to get started with Irish English and improve your level in English.
Resources for Learning Irish English
To improve your accent, speak English better, or just get involved with Irish culture, it’s a good idea to use local media and resources.
You can turn on your TV and watch BBC Northern Ireland, UTV (Ulster Television), or RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann = Radio Television Ireland Ireland) to understand more about Irish culture, get used to Irish words, and improve your English.
There’s nothing better than popular culture when it comes to learning English, be it the radio, newspapers, travelling, or doing a language exchange where the language is spoken!
Why not read books written by the Irish?
In terms of local artists, there’s James Joyce (Ulysses), Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot, Endgame, etc.), and Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray).
Literature is a gateway to another language, its lexicon, vocabulary, and just a way to travel to other faraway lands. If you’re learning without an English teacher or language classes, burying your head in the books is a great way to immerse yourself in the language and culture.
There are also organisations offering podcasts and interviews with Irish celebrities. This is a simple and effective way for both adults and children to learn more about Irish English and improve their understanding of the language.
Bono, Colin Farrell, and Pierce Brosnan (James Bond was Irish!) are some of the best Irish teachers in the world and will help you with your language training.
The same is true for newspapers. You should try and get your hands on a copy of The Irish Times, Metro Herald, Sunday Independent, or the Metro Éireann, which will be useful for learning about the language of the country as well as the culture. With a rich linguistic landscape, a strong identity, and extra challenges for your English, learning Irish English is highly recommended for everyone!
If you're interested in learning Irish English, working with a native speaker is probably your best option. If you have a look on Superprof, you can find tutors all over the country who are ready to teach you English. Of course, you should make sure that they're from Ireland before you start working with them to improve your accent.
If you can't find any tutors near you, don't worry. You can also find online private tutors who can teach you English using video conferencing software like Skype. As long as you've got a computer with a webcam, microphone, and a decent internet connection, you can get private tutorials from anywhere in the world from anyone in the world. You just have to find the right person!
With so many tutors to choose from, finding the right one can sometimes be quite difficult. Fortunately for you, a lot of the tutors on Superprof offer free tutoring for the first hour. This is a great opportunity to see if you get along with the tutor, if their teaching approach works for you, and work out the details of your private tutorials such as the rates, location, and how often you'll need them. Make sure you try out a few different tutors before you finally decide on the one that's going to teach you how to speak Irish English perfectly!