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Life in Ireland
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Life in Ireland... and how it made me a better transcriber
by Dena Page, CET (eScribers, LLC)

I lived in Ireland for about 4-1/2 years, from 2002 until 2006. I moved there with my family "for the craic" (fun). At the time, I was a behavior specialist (well, a behaviour specialist, actually) for young children with autism. I had no idea my future would ultimately lead me to a career in transcription. At the time, all I knew was that I was going on an adventure, living in Ireland.

When I arrived, there were so many things I just didn't understand. I had heard the saying "two countries separated by a common language," but I did NOT appreciate how true that was until I found myself constantly confused. It started early on with the tour of the kitchen of our new apartment: "Here's your cooker." Who knew that you cook on a cooker, not a stove. Every day, we were learning new things. New words, new pronunciations for old words, new sayings, new mannerisms.

When my daughter's stroller broke, we had to go to the city to buy a new buggy. When her pacifier dried and had to be thrown away (binned) we replaced it with a dummy. When she was ready for new shoes, we got her little baby-sized runners. How cute! We bought nappies until she was toilet-trained.

I spent a lot of time on the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) since I didn't have a car for the first few months -- an adjustment on its own. On one of my journeys, I saw a billboard I just didn't understand. It said "Carlsberg don't do losing." I was so confused that I finally asked the lad sitting next to me what it meant. He looked at me like I was an idiot, then kindly explained to me that it was due to the fierce football rivalry Ireland had with some team (I forget who, now; must've been World Cup season). That was the part I understood, though. I didn't understand the "don't do" for the singular company, Carlsberg. Eventually, I got used to this total opposite of how America views companies; here, in the U.S., a company is a single entity; there, it is a plural entity due to all the many people who work for them.

Not all the cultural changes were language-based. Driving on the "wrong" side of the street took some adjusting, particularly when entering a roundabout; I took no chances there and would tell myself repeatedly, turn to the left, turn to the left. Fortunately, I'd already had some time to adjust to it as a passenger. Still, old habits die hard. The first time I had to stop short, I flung my arm out to protect whoever or whatever was in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, I flung out my right arm, as I'd done so many times before, smashing my arm into the window so very, very hard. (By sheer luck neither the glass nor my arm broke!)

Another culture shock was realizing (realising) that I didn't know things the average four-year-old knew. Watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" was eye-opening. I couldn't get past the £200 round because I couldn't answer questions like, "Round and round the garden, like a … what?" (Teddy bear.)

Language and the culture of language was definitely the biggest challenge, though. I remember when I was working with one of the first children on my caseload, before teaching him basic vocabulary, I had to first learn how to say his name, Tomàs -- which is approximately pronounced Tomaws -- and what the right type of praise is ("good man, yerself!"). Then I had to learn what the words were called! Ketchup? Nope. Tomato sauce. French fries? Nope. Chips.

After a few months there, we moved from Dublin to County Clare. I worked in a small private school that had a student whose father was from the Aerann Islands. His native language was Irish (Gaelic), and he had SUCH a thick accent. Eventually, I could pick out about half of what he was saying, which was only slightly less than those around me, I suspect.

Another student's father was from the middle of the country, where people had a "culchie" accent (equivalent to a hillbilly accent in the U.S.). He was hard for even the Irish teachers to understand! I was so pleased with myself that after several parent-teacher meetings, I was actually able to understand about two-thirds of what he said without asking him to repeat himself. I'm so glad I never made the mistake that one of our teachers made. The father asked her if his son had been playing with that body part young boys like so much. The teacher thought he asked if his son had been playing with his new Stretch Armstrong toy and said with delight that he had played with it all day, loved stretching it.

One of my favorite (favourite) dads was a Dubliner. Amazingly, despite it being a big city, the Dublin accent is one of the harder ones to make out. To give you a sense of it, the common cheer for the local team is "Up the {insert team name here}". In Dublin, this sounded like "Oop the Doobs".

As I settled in, I developed friendships and learned casual sayings that initially confused me. I'm pretty sure about the first dozen times my friend said to me, "C'mere," I took a step toward her. Eventually, I remembered that "c'mere" actually means, "listen" or "okay, here's the plan." The worst, though, was when she'd say, "C'mere. Go away and call me later." Invariably, that had me doing a dance until I adjusted!

As my daughter grew, I fretted over her language pattern, as I'd hear things that sounded like a whiny (whingey) teen: "I need a boh-el for my soup." But I soon came to understand when I heard the exact same thing out of my babysitter's (childminder's) mouth. My daughter had simply taken on a Clare accent!

Some phrases I picked up there linger in my language today, eight years after I've left Ireland. I still use "sound" to mean "okay, sounds good to me" and I bin rubbish and I put things on the long finger (instead of the back burner). Apparently, saying a day went pear-shaped is also one of those Irishisms, though I didn't even realize (realise) it until I used it the other day and the response I got was "I don't know what that means."

By now, I'm sure you're thinking, yeah, entertaining, but what does this have to do with transcription? Well, I'll tell you. Having been exposed to the various accents of the Irish (not to mention all the accents from EU citizens who'd settled in Ireland), my ear has become very flexible. I've learned to listen to someone whose accent is unusual and get a feel for how they speak. I examine how they pronounce their vowels in words that I do understand and try to use that information to interpret words that I don't understand. For example, I can extrapolate from "Oop the Doobs" that a Dubliner who asks for a "coop" doesn't want somewhere to put his chicken; rather he wants somewhere to put his tea. This skill comes in handy with New York accents, southern accents, Russian accents, et cetera.

Also, having been exposed to so many unusual sayings, such as "pull your socks up" (essentially "get a move on"), when I hear someone say something during a hearing that really just doesn't make much sense to me, I know that just because it doesn't make sense to me doesn't mean it isn't right. (Or as a DART conductor once told us, "Just because you've never heard of Tara Station doesn't mean it doesn't exist.") I Google the unfamiliar phrase and more often than not discover that it really is a known saying. Sometimes this is a foreign saying, other times an old-fashioned saying, other times it's regional or specific to an industry, and sometimes it's just a sports reference that I just don't get.

I've also learned that just because I don't understand an accent at first, if I relax, let it wash over me, and let myself get into the groove, it'll all reveal itself to me clearly in time! Perhaps this lack of stress when faced with the unusual is the greatest gift of all!

Dena Page is the Quality Control Manager at eScribers, LLC, as well as an AAERT board member. She is married and the mother of a beautiful 13-going-on-23-year-old girl. Dena has had the good fortune to live abroad for eight years, and currently resides stateside in Cleveland, Ohio.

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