“A man with an Irish accent could sound wise and poetic and interesting even if he wasn’t.” - Kate Atkinson

What do you think of when you think of Ireland? Perhaps emerald-green, rolling landscapes, St Patricks Day festivities, Guinness beer, or even U2! There is also a fiercely beloved culture, language and national identity. 

However, according to a survey conducted recently, not more than 2% of Irish people speak Irish every day.

Wait, what's Irish?

Ireland has two official languages; Irish and English. We'll introduce you to both during this article! 

Since culture and language are so intimately linked, linguistic immersion works wonders for learning the English language. This helps language learning become a way of life, rather than a dull subject at school.

In the following article, we'll be looking at how English spread through Ireland, the difference between Irish and English, how Irish English is different from other types of English, and how you can learn Irish English!

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English Arrives in Ireland

Ireland has two main languages. English arrived in Ireland in the 13th century with the English colonists. However, it took a while for English to become widespread in Ireland.

Learning Irish English
Ireland has a unique English dialect and rich culture (Source: MetsikGarden)

The Tudors had conquered Ireland by the 17th century, and at that point, English came to be the language of administrations, the court, judiciary institutions and many businesses.

There was a widespread stigma against Irish native speakers - Irish were generally considered to be lower class and not as intelligent as native English speakers. In this way, it became imperative to become fluent in English to get ahead in this changing society. The importance of English has persisted over the years, and English is now the most widely taught language in Ireland.

However, just like Scottish English, Irish English has a diversity of dialects. In some regions, mostly the Irish Gaelic language (known simply as Irish) is spoken. Although English remains the dominant language, ever since Irish independence, there have been many programs aimed at increasing the use of Irish in Ireland.

Why not get online English courses? Find the nearest ESOL courses.

The Difference Between Irish and English

 

Ireland's two official languages are Irish and English. The mixing and tension between these two languages and two civilisations deeply inform Ireland's history and national identity.

Conversation lessons for Irish English
Sit down with a coffee with a native Irish speaker to brush up on your accent and comprehension! (Source: Engin_Akyurt)

The Irish government is currently attempting to close the gap between English and Irish use the country by naming Irish as the country’s first official language. That said, Ireland is still mostly English-speaking in daily life and popular culture.

The different languages of the British Isles are many and varied. These include the Celtic or Gaelic languages (Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic) and they are completely different from English in terms of vocabulary, grammatical structures and pronunciation, not to mention all the different vowel sounds, consonants and phonetics.

But just how different are these languages?

The difference between Irish and English contributes to the fascinating and rich Irish culture, which has been reestablishing itself since Irish independence from Great Britain.

To really enrich your English language skills, Ireland is unmissable on your travel itinerary. Learn Irish English if you have a trip to Ireland planned, and to improve your English comprehension overall. The verb conjugations and grammar are very similar, but Irish English stands apart from other types of English when it comes to idiomatic expressions and accent.

For example, the common verb "to have" will be the same no matter if you're in New Zealand, the USA or Ireland. The basic words and common verbs will tend to stay the same no matter which part of the Anglo world you are visiting. However, local words for food, fashion, and regional customs will vary a lot from place to place.

Whether you'll be working, studying or doing a short language exchange in Ireland, Irish English is a fascinating dialect.

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Special Features of Irish English

There are many different forms of English spoken in different parts of Ireland and Great Britain.

Beautiful Ireland has a rich linguistic history
If you plan to visit Limerick, Donegal or Galway, brush up on your Irish English first! (Source: MemoryCatcher)

So what's so special about the Irish dialect?

Here's our best advice to start you off speaking like an Irishman! 

When you pronounce words, the vowels tend to be softened and the consonants are harder. The letter "a" may be pronounced with an "aw" or "ah" sound Ireland. Thus, "How are you?" might sound more like "Ha ware ya?". The "aye" sound changes as well - this time into an "oi". So Ireland will be pronounced "Oireland"!

Consonants are pronounced quite differently to American or Oxford English! The "t" sound in some words changes to a "ch". For example, "tube" will be pronounced "choob". The "th" sound becomes a "d" for words such as "that" and becomes more like a hard "t" sound for words such as "think".

You can also drop the "g" sound from the ends of words; for example, walking and morning become walkin' and mornin'.

Of course, accent and pronunciation and unique syllable stress, and even some spelling and nouns, will from region to region in Ireland. These are simply some common rules for most Irish English accents.

Idiomatic expressions are another useful tool for expressing yourself in a foreign language. Here are a few useful expressions...

  • Cheers: a casual word to express gratitude or positive regard. This was originally a toast, but can be used in many different situations
  • Lad: this can refer to any man, but often denotes a person you know
  • You're grand: this is to express that something is fine or okay

Have a listen to Irish English native speakers for the context of these terms. Irish English is generally spoken clearly, but very quickly.

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Learning Irish English: Some Resources

Get involved in Irish culture, speak better English and improve your accent by consuming local Irish media.

Learning Irish English over a coffee
Explore all the forms of English and soon people will think it's your native language! (Source: 6689062)

You can go online to access videos from BBC Northern Ireland, RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann = Radio Television Ireland), or UTV (Ulster Television). This will help you familiarise yourself with Irish words, explore Irish culture and generally improve your English.

Consuming popular culture will turbo-charge your English learning, so be sure to check out newspapers, TV shows, the radio. Travelling or completing a language exchange will help you brush up on your speaking skills.

What about famous Irish literature?

You can travel to Ireland through the gateway of literature. Even if you don't have an English tutor yet, immersing yourself in literature is a wonderful way to experience the culture and language.

If you already speak great English, check out James Joyce (Ulysses, Dubliners), or for something a little simpler you may like to read short fiction by Oscar Wilde. Or why not go see a place by Irelands most famous playwright - Samuel Beckett?

There are plenty of organisations who offer interviews with Irish celebrities in the form of podcasts or online videos. This is a great way to improve your comprehension of Irish English and learn more about the culture.

Online newspapers open up another door to Irish culture, politics and identity. You could check out Metro Éireann, the Sunday Independent, the Irish Times or the Metro Herald. Irish English is a rich linguistic landscape for you to explore and challenge your English.

If Irish English interests you, nothing beats working with a native speaker. Check out Superprof to find tutors ready to teach you English with an Irish accent.

If there aren't any native Irish English speakers near you, no worries! There are plenty of private tutors online offering English classes via programs like Skype.

Before your first online lesson, ensure your computer's microphone and webcam are fully functional and check that your internet connection is strong. With the wonders of modern technology, you can receive lessons from anyone anywhere in the world! Now you just have to find a tutor you click with! 

There are so many tutors out there to choose from, you may find yourself overwhelmed with options. Finding a tutor who suits your learning style can be tricky. Lucky for you, many tutors listed on Superprof will offer the first hour of lessons for free. This is a great way to "try before you by" and see if you click with the tutor. You can decide if their approach to teaching works for you, and hammer out the details of your tutorials such as the location, rates, and frequency of lessons. You could even try out several different tutors before you make a final decision and choose your perfect Irish English tutor!

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Erin

Erin is an Australian musician, writer and francophile living in France.