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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.

 

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Taking a break…in Ireland!

I'm looking forward to exploring Galway on my own. Looks like my kind of town!
I’m looking forward to exploring Galway on my own. Looks like my kind of town!

Hello readers,

As of the date this post is published, I will be taking a bit of a break here for a while. As I write this, I’m about to leave today for a 10 day trip to Ireland. I’ll be in Dublin for half the week, and then in Galway and the Aran Islands for the other half of the week. I’m very excited, and even a little nervous. I haven’t been out of the US since September 2000, and Ireland is a new country for me to visit. I’m sure I’ll get over the culture shock quickly, and I usually understand the accent as I have my GPS set to an Irish male voice speaking. 😉

Understandably, this is the first real vacation I’ve taken where there’s no husband or son, and no tech comm conference involved in many years! The history geek in me is going to be let loose to enjoy and soak up the culture! While there, I will still have my handy-dandy iPad, and if inspiration hits to write a blog post or curate a cool article, I will. But it’s not a high priority. I’ll also have my handy iPhone, and I’m planning on taking plenty of photos and video, and most likely much of it will end up on social media.

I’m still waiting for my final grade for my Rutgers course. I still haven’t heard back, and I think much of it has to do with Rutgers’ servers going down for long stretches this past week due to cyber-attacks. (That’s very reassuring, isn’t it?)

I also have a lot of exciting things going  on once I return from my trip coming up, which I’ll discuss more when I get back. Some of the news isn’t official yet, so I have to wait to say anything, but I’m anxious to share with you!

salthill2
Salthill beach, here I come!

So, enjoy your first half of May 2015. I’ll be missing the warm weather of New Jersey and the late arrival of Spring while it’s expected to be cooler and rainy in Ireland. I guess the tradeoff is that even in the cooler weather, Galway City is just a 20 minute walk to the beach, so I can literally saying that I plan to have some beach time! 😀 It’s time for some rest and relaxation–the rest of 2015 is going to be busy, so I need to re-charge and clear my brain for a bit!

Talk to you soon!