How English sounds to speakers of other languages

I am always intrigued by the number of jokes made about the way other languages sound to English speakers. Usually they rest on some tired and long-discarded national stereotype such as Swedish allegedly consisting of people saying ‘borka borka borka’, or German consisting of people gutturally barking orders at each other:

Speaker 1: Achtung! Panzer! Guderian! (‘Hello, Heinzie my friend, let’s sit and admire the fluffy clouds’)
Speaker 2: Donnerwetter! Krankenhaus! (‘Why yes, it is a beautiful day filled with poetry.’)
Speaker 1: Blücher! (‘Blucher’). [Distant sound of whinnying horse]

Of course, hardly anybody seems to wonder how English sounds to non-English speakers. So I went on a crusade to find out. The point being that English is a very silly-sounding language. (Actually, English is silly even for English speakers, I mean there is totally NO consistency in spelling, it’s jammed full of contronyms, and half the letters in my surname aren’t even sounded. But I digress…)

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021


8 thoughts on “How English sounds to speakers of other languages

  1. That’s hilarious. I recently read Bill Bryson’s book The Mother Tongue, all about the English language, how it developed, what different forms it exists in, and how versitle but also completely ridiculous it is.

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    1. Yes, English is a crazy language when you think about it. It’s as if somebody mashed up Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French and various Scandinavian languages and then somebody else like Shakespeare added a lot of zany made-up words (420 of them, apparently, including ‘zany’), all without actually coming up with a coherent rule-set. I blame Geoffrey Chaucer.

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    1. It’s possible they were simulating the kind of English used by people behind the counter in fast-food joints. 🙂 (I don’t eat such stuff these days but last time I did the conversation was something like:

      Me: Can I have a large lime thickshake to take away please.
      Droog behind counter: Sure. Smalmedorlarge?
      Me: (short pause) – er – large.
      Droog: Whaflavstrawlimarchoc?
      Me: (longer pause) – er – lime.
      Droog: Eainrtakaway?
      Me: (still longer pause) Take away.
      Droog: Ywanchipwiat?
      Me: I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
      Droog: YWANCHIPWIAT? Smamedorlarge?
      Me: No.
      Droog: Fourdolaninety.

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