How English Sounds to Non-English Speakers

This post could also be titled, “How a language sounds when you barely know it.” If you’ve never spent time in a place where your native language isn’t spoken, try watching that video and imagining that everyone around you is talking like that.

This video reminds me of how German sounded to me when I was first learning it … or even how it sometimes sounds to me now. (Sigh.) I’ve spent my entire life learning languages, and I’ve lived abroad before, but I never had so much empathy for non-native English speakers in the US as I did after moving here. It’s so hard to move to a new country and start learning a new language from scratch. Especially when you don’t particularly love that language. You study and listen and catch a familiar word here or there, but the rest just jumbles together incoherently.

It’s also interesting how languages have particular sounds that identify them. Walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant, I can sometimes trick myself into thinking that I’m hearing English around me. But then an umlaut comes out and declares itself to be German! Likewise, I can be surrounded by German speakers and then, across the sounds of the crowd around me, hear the rolling lilt of Spanish. Even when I can’t hear the words, I recognize the sound of it.

And so, with that idea in mind, you might enjoy the song “Prisencolinensinainciusol.” It’s complete gibberish that’s meant to mimic the sounds of American English — and it’s also a bit more light-hearted and entertaining: