Understanding the Irish Accent as an ESL Learner

 

Learning English can open doors to new experiences and cultures. And as an intermediate to advanced learner, you could find yourself communicating with individuals who speak English with an unfamiliar accent. 

It can be a little daunting (intimidating), especially if you learned English from a different culture than the one you’re hearing. The common pronouns could be different or rearranged in structure, and the expressions and slang could sound completely foreign. 

At Magoosh, we want to shed light (make clear) on the common English accents you’ll hear. So in this blog, we’re going to take a close look at understanding the Irish accent as an ESL learner.

 

Where would I hear an Irish accent?

The obvious answer is Ireland, but let’s explore a little further.

Though you’re more likely to hear someone with an American or UK accent, it isn’t uncommon to hear an Irish accent outside of Ireland, especially in Europe,  the Northeastern United States, Australia, Canada, and even Spain! 

In addition, the Irish accent is commonly heard in movies, television, and even in the music world. The Irish culture is world renown for their musical talents, so some of your favorite musicians may have Irish roots. 

 

Understanding an Irish Accent vs an American or British Accent

To start, there are many similarities between three accents, but there’s a certain set of distinct differences we must look at in order to fully understand what is spoken in Ireland.

In written form, Irish English looks a lot like British English, but the pronunciation is totally different. 

Like American accents, Irish English has rhoticity which means that the /r/ sound is pronounced very strongly. Also, many T sounds in Irish English, also known as a ‘slender t’, sound more like a CH in American English. Therefore, a word like ‘tube’ sounds like ‘choob’ or ‘Tuesday’ may sound like ‘Chewsday’.  

Next, the Irish D sound will sound more like a J to those unfamiliar with the accent. So the words ‘dew’ (drops of water formed by condensation) and ‘Jew’ sound exactly the same. Another example would be the word ‘idiot,’ which is pronounced ‘eejit’ in Irish English.

Last, Irish English vowels are pronounced flat (term to describe the sound made when the  throat or back of the mouth tightens). So, “How are you?” sound more like “Ha-ware-ya.” Or ‘are’ sounds more like ‘air’.

 

Irish Expressions

Understanding Irish English is more than just understanding the accent. It’s important to note the variety of interesting expressions used in Irish culture. Without knowing these, you might find yourself a little lost or confused in your conversations.

“What’s the Craic?”

Craic (pronounced “crack”) is Ireland’s slang term that has a wide range of uses in the culture. It’s based on the word crack from Middle English which meant to brag very loudly, but don’t let that old definition fool you. It’s changed a lot.

If someone asks you “What’s the craic?” It’s just the Irish way of asking “What’s happening?” or “What’s up?” (American version). In response, you may hear phrases like “zero craic” or “no craic.” That just means nothing is going on or nothing is happening at the moment. It’s similar to “notta” in American English for “Not a thing.” On the other hand, if there is a lot going on or if some good things are happening, you could hear a response like “the craic is mighty.”

“What’s the craic?” can also be a way of asking “How are you doing?” In this usage, one could hear a response like “Grand, and yourself?”

Grand

This brings us to the next term to know. In Irish English, instead of saying something or a person is ‘good’ or ‘great’, they use the word ‘grand’. So, a common phrase would be “I’m feeling grand today!” instead of “I’m feeling great!”

Yoke

If you look in a dictionary, a yoke is a wooden bar that is fastened to two animals (horses, or ox) and attached to a plow or a cart in order to pull it. However, in Irish English, ‘yoke’ is another word for a thing you don’t know the name of. In American English, you might hear this used as ‘thingamajig’ or ‘thingamabob’.  

So, if someone asks you to “Hand me that yoke over there,” and they point to something on a table, it just means they want you to give them the item on the table. 

“What’s the story?”

Much like “What’s the craic?”, this phrase is another way of asking “What’s happening?” Think of ‘story’ as being ‘the news’. Someone is simply saying “What’s going on?”

“How are you?”

When in Ireland, it may seem like everyone is checking on your well-being if you’re unfamiliar with the Irish English meaning of this phrase. “How are you?” in Irish English is another way to ask “How can I help you?” So, if you’re in a bar or restaurant, the server isn’t asking about you, they’re saying, “Hello, what would you like to order?”

Though, don’t feel too bad if you misunderstand at first or on reflex. The Irish community is typically friendly and happy to chat for a little while. 

C’mere or “C’mere to me”

This is a shortened version of the phrase “come here.” However, one could easily mistake this for the British or English literal definition meaning to move towards someone. In Irish English, it’s another way of saying ‘listen’ or “listen to me.” This could save you some time if you find yourself walking over to people every time they say ‘C’mere’. 

There are many, many more Irish expressions!

While we do want to provide some key phrases, know that there are many, many more slang terms and expressions in Irish English. This list barely covers that extensive list. 

 

The Many, Many Irish Dialects

Like America, Ireland itself is full of a variety of regional dialects. In fact, there are actually 32 different dialects in the country. One for every county in Ireland! 

That’s because Ireland was traditionally a poorer nation with a lot of rural areas. Therefore, people didn’t travel very much. While that’s certainly not the case anymore as Ireland is one of the most prosperous nations in Europe right now, the dialects remain.

So while we’re covering the general sounds you might hear from an Irish accent know that there will be variations like: North Irish and Ulcer English, the Southwest and Western Irish dialects, and the Dublin Sound. Each area has its own dialect and slang terms that are simply too extensive to cover in this short blog.

But don’t worry! A quick search on YouTube or web search of any regional dialect will net you some resources you can use to understand your fellow Irishman.

Jake Pool

Jake Pool

After working in the restaurant industry for over a decade, Jake left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. He now creates content that informs, inspires, and educates ESL students on a wide range of topics. Jake also records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension.
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