Have you ever had a conversation with someone and noticed that they may pronounce certain words differently, or even call things by different names? Well, I did when I got to Ireland. Even though the language spoken here is English, I had an incident where I misinterpreted a word and in the end created a pretty funny memory!
Have you had funny moments as a result of language barriers?
It was the first day that I was volunteering at a local primary school in a first class classroom, which would be the same age range as second graders. I was helping some of the students write their daily news in their journals. As I was circling around to a different group there was one little girl, Gina, who raised her hand and said to me, “Aley, I really need a rubber.” I thought she was asking for a pony-tail holder and so I looked at her hair, which was braided, and I say, “You have one right here in your hair, silly goose!” She looked at me, a little funny, but by that time another student had asked me how to spell and word and my attention was shifted away from Gina.
A few moments later I was sitting with a different group when I heard one of the boys ask to borrow his neighbors “rubber.” I looked over just in time to see his neighbor hand the little boy his eraser! Oh geeze, not really a pony tail holder after all. I grabbed an extra eraser and brought it over to Gina and explained that in America a rubber or rubber band is what some people call a pony-tail holder and that is why I didn’t help her find an eraser before! She and the rest of the students found this very amusing and could not stop laughing but at least now I know that a “rubber” in Ireland is an eraser!
I went back to see the students and they remembered the story and began to ask me what words were different in America. This then led to a whole conversation that consisted of them naming things and me responding if it was the same or called something different in America. Here is a list of some of the most interesting ones, with the Irish words listed first, that we came up with:
hob = stove
chips = french fries
crisps = chips
rubber = pony-tail holder
pearer = (pencil) sharpener
sack = backpack
wellies = rain boots
pants = underwear (accidentally told one of the girls I like her pants…everyone started laughing…)
petrol = gas
jumper = sweater/sweatshirt
bin = trash can
gaff = house
rashers = bacon
notes = bills (money)
craic = fun
guards = police men and women
knackered = very tired
cheeky snake = devious person
During my first few weeks here I would have to ask the locals to repeat things several times or explain something more in depth because I simply did not understand their accent or the specific words they were using to answer my question. It is said that Cork people’s accents are very hard to understand. They are one of the most difficult to understand in Ireland and they almost have a “sing-songy” quality to them. At first I did not quite understand what people meant by sing-songy and then I made a few friends from other parts of Ireland and realized that I could understand their vocabulary and accents much faster because their voices were somehow lower and they emphasized certain letters differently than some of my Cork friends.
Having to learn the “lingo,” or slang, of Cork is what I think it might be like for a new immigrant student coming to the US. Even if the student did know English, the vocabulary is different everywhere and takes time to learn the lingo in a new location. I was so extremely thankful for the kindness and patience of Cork people in general. Everyone that I stopped to ask for directions or inquire about something that was happening in the city they were always very eager to explain things to me in a way that I understood. The majority of my conversations like asking directions, which would normally be very short in the states, sometimes turned into quite lengthy conversations. Once people heard my accent they were very curious to learn where I was from and what I was doing in Cork.
Patience and an open-mind are the keys to helping people who have just arrived in our communities that may not speak fluent English yet because you never know who needs your help and who you might meet in the process. I can speak from experience to be on the receiving end of someone’s patience and kindness when it comes to asking for directions or asking them to explain something for the fifth time really means a lot and totally eases the stress of perhaps being lost or stuck in a tricky situation.
What is the value of speaking a language other than your native tongue?
The value of speaking another language other than your native tongue is priceless. The more you know the better. In my experience even knowing just a few key phrases is priceless knowledge. For example, I do not speak any French, but when we visited Paris I practiced a few key phrases before I left thinking that I probably would not have to use them, but was soon extremely grateful that I had taken the time to learn them. Even though I probably pronounced everything incorrectly the locals were more likely to help us after they heard us attempting to communicate with them in their native tongue rather than just assuming that they spoke English.
I also can speak un poco, a little, Spanish and know that when I travel to Spain it will be very helpful in understanding the locals as well as feeling more at ease because I can somewhat comprehend what is going on. There are endless possibilities to what you can do and where you can go if you know another language. I hope to continue learning Spanish when I go back to college in the fall. I hope that my Spanish language skills will be enable me to join the Peace Corps and teach English in South America.
Also many colleges now are looking for students who can speak another language because our world is continually becoming more and more intertwined and the fact that you can communicate with more than one group of people is priceless.
Try and immerse yourself as much as you possibly can while learning a new language. The best things that worked for me were talking to my roommate only in Spanish, watching Spanish films, listening to Spanish music and reading children’s books aloud that were written in Spanish. Whether you are learning a new language, studying abroad or helping a person whose native tongue is not English, patience and an open-mind are the keys because I can tell you from experience, it is much appreciated and you never know who you are going to meet!