Although the people in Belfast are speaking English, at times it can seem like another language. There are so many slang words and the heavy Northern Irish accent can be a challenge to understand at times. In my opinion, the Northern Irish accent is almost sing-songy due to the vocal inflection. I’m pretty used to hearing the accent because my parents are from Belfast and have an accent, but since I’ve been at Queen’s University there are people from all over Ireland and the accents differ slightly depending on which area people come from.
The common phrase, “What’s the craic?” is used as a greeting and is an equivalent to “what’s up?” In Irish, “craic” literally means “news”. It is important to note that over here, “craic” in no way refers to drugs! Way back when Ireland was struggling for independence from England, the prisoners used to speak as much as possible in Irish (Gaelic) to avoid being overheard and understand by the guards. When communicating messages and news from the “outside”, prisoners would ask “what’s the craic?” which is where the phrase came from. Craic can also be used to describe a good time or a bit of fun. My friends from Ireland will describe a night out as “great craic”.
There are a lot of other funny words that the Irish use. Some of my favorites include “nicking”, which means to steal; “wee buns”, which means easy or simple; “mates”, which means friends; “cuppa”, which means a cup of tea; and “wee”, which means small or little, but can be used to describe just about anything. Seriously, the word “wee” is used not as an adjective to describe the size of an item or person, but is often used as a term of endearment.
If I think it’s hard sometimes tuning my ear to the Irish accent, I can’t imagine what it’s like for some of my friends. I have made friends with a lot of the international students also studying at Queen’s and English is not their mother tongue. They are here to improve their English and hopefully become fluent. My German friends have told me that my American accent is very easy to understand because I speak much clearer and slower than the Irish. My friends from France have also agreed that the Irish accent is difficult to understand at times, mostly because of the rapidness of speech. I find that the French accent is also quite heavy and difficult to understand when they speak English, so when speaking to my friends on the phone or in noisy places, usually a lot of yelling or hand gesturing is required.
My friend can speak four languages and she is really motivating me to improve my Spanish and French skills, which I studied in high school. I’m confident that I will be able to travel to Spain or France over the next few summers to work on my language skills. It really is all about taking the leap and gaining the confidence to travel to a new place and learn to speak the language, which is why I’m so impressed with my friends from around the world who came to Belfast.
Not only do I have to pay attention to the Irish accent and speedy way of talking, but when writing my essays for class, I’m fighting with the computers in the library and autocorrect. Last week, while working on a powerpoint presentation for my geography class, I momentarily forgot that British-English and American-English words sound the same but are spelled differently. Like “defense” and “defence”; “splendor” and “splendour”; “favorite” and “favourite”; “center” and “centre” and lots more. Microsoft kept adjusting my spelling and the red line kept appearing underneath the words and I was momentarily confused, until I remembered I hadn’t suddenly become an awful speller, I was just using American-English and the computer was editing with British-English.
It’s been really cool to meet people and make friends from all over the world. As we explore Belfast together and plan trips to travel to different parts of Ireland (like Derry-Londonderry, Galway, the Ring of Kerry and Donegal), it is fun to compare the Irish culture with not just the American culture that I’m used to, but to hear German and French comparisons as well.
Cheers mates! 😉