An American in Ireland: An experience in globalization and localization

TechCommGeekMom in front of the main building at the National University of Ireland (NUI) at Galway.

I’m now back from my 10-day trip to Ireland, and it was certainly an adventure. While there are parts of the US that have bilingual signs around due to the large Hispanic populations in areas, I think I had gotten used to hearing Spanish enough that I don’t think much about it. (I do live in a bilingual household, thanks to my Ecuadorian husband, after all.)

So it was interesting to be in a European country for the first time in about 15 years and making adjustments to both a different version of English, as well as listening to another language I had never really listened to before!

Since Ireland is a former British colony and it’s so close to Great Britain, I had to turn the “British English” switch on in my head. Using that tactic certainly helped to bridge the gap of my understanding of people and things around me. While it’s practically a sin to compare British English to Irish English, since the two islands are so close together, the language similarities are enough that you can’t deny the connection.  It’s little things like asking where the “loo” is, or seeing a sign at a store saying they are “stockists” (versus Americans saying “dealers”), or that instead of “Help Wanted” signs, you see “Required”. It’s these little nuances that you find to be important to know what people are talking about.

A sign on one of the lawns at NUI-Galway. Notice that the Gaeilge is before the English, and that this seems to be a universal rule at many college greens!

I spent half of my time in Dublin and half my time in County Galway. The famous Irish brogue isn’t that strong in Dublin, but it’s certainly stronger as you move westward. What makes much of it stand out is the pronunciation of English words with the “-th” in it. For example, the number after “one, two…” is “tree”, not “three”. It takes a little getting used to hearing, and I’ve had to stifle a giggle now and then, but you get used to it. There are a few slightly rolling “R” sounds as well, but they aren’t as clear as those “tr-” sounds. Otherwise, at least in Dublin, the accent is not that strong. You could easily mistake someone (until you hear some of those slight nuances) for being American, as compared to a London/British accent.

In Galway or the Aran Islands in western Ireland, which I spent the other half of my visit, the Gaeilge (Irish language) brogue was much stronger, and my listening skills were truly put to the test. I made sure that my flat American accent was as crisp and clear as possible as well, to make sure that I was understood and didn’t slur my words as much as I would if I was back at home, although it was easy for me to slip into a slight brogue myself.

Gaeilge is an interesting language, because for the first time in my life, I couldn’t figure out the phonetics or understand bits and pieces of it. I suppose that since it’s not a Latin-based or Slavic-based language like those I’ve studied (but never quite mastered) over my lifetime, I had nothing to compare it to. One thing I’ve always tried to do is pronounce another language decently enough not to be laughed at, and usually I can do this with Spanish, French, Polish, Russian, or some other common European languages. But Gaeilge–forget it! I couldn’t figure it out at all.  My favorite example is from travelling on Irish Rail. As we approached each stop, the speakers would announce the arrival in Gaeilge first, then in English. I swear that “Iarnród Éireann” (which means “Irish Rail”) sounded like, “Here nor there” every time I heard it, which I thought was ironically kind of amusing.

The Spanish Arch in Galway.
The sign above the arch reads:
AN PÓIRSE SPÁINNEACH
The Spanish Arch
ONE OF FOUR ARCHES BUILT IN 1584.

Through the combination of trying to employ my British English and attempting to understand some Gaeilge, I was able to navigate around Ireland without any significant issues. But I also found that culturally, Ireland is trying to still find its identity. I know there has been a very big movement nationally to bring Gaeilge and Irish culture back into predominance, especially with the 100th anniversary of the 1916 revolution just a year away. But at the same time, as a former British colony that played a huge part in British history and has a very long love-hate relationship with the country, the British influence was still rather clear. So, I think Ireland is still trying to figure out if it likes being a former British colony, especially since it still imports many of its goods, stores, and media from Britain, or if there is still a huge grudge against them. It was hard to tell sometimes.

This was a great opportunity to put my views about localization and globalization into practice as a content strategist. I know that the lack of good navigational signage was another thing that was lacking–I couldn’t find my way around if it weren’t for my handy-dandy iPhone with me helping me with maps and directions! Even so, when there were signs, most of the time they were rather clear, which was refreshing to see.  I was glad for that.

I will be returning to Ireland in July to attend the 2015 IEEE ProComm in Limerick. Having been through Ireland now, I know the “drill” and have a better idea of what to expect when I arrive in this new town. I know what to ask and look for to satisfy my needs. It makes me want to visit more countries, and see how they handle localization and globalization issues with signage and other media. I think it’d expand my knowledge to be something that I’ll better understand going forward, especially with English-language countries. After all, this was a trip that definitely proved that all dialects of English are not alike!

What do you think? Should English-language speakers try to homogenize the language more for better understanding? Put your comments below.

 

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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6 Responses to An American in Ireland: An experience in globalization and localization

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Should English-language speakers try to homogenize the language more for better understanding? While that sounds like it might be a good idea, I’m not sure it can be done. Just look at how many differences there are between U.K. English and U.S. English!

    The best we can do is something that Americans by reputation aren’t good at: understand that each country has its own way of expressing things in English, recognize those differences, and go with the flow.

    I for one am humbled and grateful that English signage is so prominent in most European countries. I recognize that the locals are doing me a favor, and I certainly won’t quibble when the signs say “Lift” and “WC” instead of “Elevator” and “Restroom.”

    • I agree, to homogenize English would be difficult to do, but it’s something that we have to somewhat strive for in technical writing, especially when we take globalization and localization in to account! I’m grateful for the British English signs when available, too. And, after all, it should be in British English, since most of the world learns British English over American English as a second language globally.

  2. Marc Gravez says:

    Interesting – you were in the centre of the world localisation industry and wrote about localisation without even mentioning that aspect 🙂

    Regarding homogenisation, I agree that it’s unlikely to happen.

    • I certainly didn’t know that I was in the midst of localisation central! I did see one translation business sign in Dublin, and several places that taughts English, Irish, and other languages, so it makes sense. Homogenisation is near impossible, I agree, but there’s a need due to translation to find some common ground–it’s a little difficult otherwise!

  3. Thank you for a really enjoyable and thought provoking post. I say this from an Irishman living in England for all but three years of my life. I have a strong cultural pull back to my mother land, yet I’ve been educated, brought up here and spent all my working life in England.

    Things are never simple in history. The Irish language underwent a resurgence in the later 1800s and early 1900s. It started in literary circles, but was seized upon by the nationalist cause. Even before that, Irish culture was strong. Even after the famines when many left the country, Irish culture was practiced even though it was frowned upon by the English.

    Your point about the Irish identity also intrigued me. Mainly because there is a similar debate in the UK about whether we should be more European. If you travel to other parts of Ireland, there is a very strong Irish identity. South from Galway is Co.Clare where there are pockets where Irish is widely spoken. On one of the Aran Islands, it is spoken everywhere by the locals. It is not unknown for Irish to be spoken in Dublin, although mainly by older generations.

    Welsh on the otherhand was slower to develop. Irish is compulsory in Irish schools. In Wales only 25% of schools teach it, although this is way up from 25-30 years ago. Like Ireland there are TV / radio stations and other media in the local dialect. Other Gaelic speakers also have their dialects (e.g. the Bretons in France and Cornwall in SW England). Let’s not forget the Scots either. They have Scots Gaelic and Scots languages depending on which part of Scotland you live in!

    From a localisation viewpoint, all this dialects are a nightmare. However I’d say that part of the attraction of visiting places are these differences. If you homogenise them, something is lost. Imagine Hugh Grant talking like a New Yorker. Best to accept our differences and cope as best we can. You obviously did this, for which those you met will have been very grateful.

    • I definitely heard lots of Irish spoken in Galway and the Aran Islands (I spent a day on Inish Mor–definitely there more than anywhere), and I did hear it in Dublin as well, just not as much. I know that Irish culture has always been strong. I think part of my observation not mentioned in my post was the strong influence it has on American culture. I feel that my upbringing was strongly influence by Irish culture due to having two Irish-American grandmothers (one was 1st generation American-born, the other was 2nd-gen American-born). I’m not saying that they don’t know who they are–they certainly do–but the British influence is confusing. One moment they are proud of the affiliation with Britain, and the next moment, they are (understandably) happy to have kicked them out 100 years ago. And you are right to talk about the other Gaeilge dialects too–I was learning more about that while visiting various museums and such between Galway and Dublin. And I wouldn’t really take the dialects away from everyone. Yes, Hugh Grant without his British accent would lose that charm (you hit a nerve since I’m a big Hugh Grant fan). But same with the Irish accent–it’s my favorite. I loved listening to my grandmother’s cousin and husband when visiting with them in Athenry, and my car GPS is set with an Irish accent too. 😉

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