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IzzyAndHerBeans's avatar

What does English sound like to a non-native English speaker?

Asked by IzzyAndHerBeans (353 points ) January 24th, 2012

I’ve always been very curious. I lived in Japan for 5 years and whenever I’d speak English to a Japanese person, I’d wonder if I sounded like I was speaking gibberish or if I was getting my point across. To those who didn’t speak English at all, I always wondered what English sounded like to them…

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28 Answers

chelle21689's avatar

That’s funny, I wondered the same…you know how many people say Chinese is “ching chong ching chong” or that generic insult? I wonder what American-English would be!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Probably a bit like the adults in Charlie Brown shows, lol.

thorninmud's avatar

My French friends often said that American English sounds like someone talking while chewing gum.

marinelife's avatar

The same way that a language you do not understand sounds to you.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I don’t think so, @marinelife . Even though I can’t understand a language, each language has a distinct “sound”, a rhythm of some sort. To an english-speaking person, oriental languages do sound like “ching, chong, ching.” And Spanish sounds like chickens clucking (quick, short sounds). French sounds like a lover quoting poetry (the language of love). So that is the point of the question – what does English sound like? I would be interested to know as well

keobooks's avatar

When I was in China, my hosts said English sounded like this in really fast monotone:

“fetter fetter fetter fetter”

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@Aesthetic_Mess That certainly does sound like English. I guess I am so used to hearing it, that I can’t be objective about the sound.

Sunny2's avatar

Listening to English speakers sitting several tables away when I was traveling, I noticed a lot more hissing sounds than in other languages. I was surprised.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt The people speaking were just imitating the sounds of English.
I know it is difficult to actually know what American English sounds like to other people.

The video makes me laugh though. If that’s what Americans sound like to other people, we may have one of the least attractive accents ever

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@Aesthetic_Mess I knew that, but they are doing such a good job that it sounds normal to me. That’s what I mean, I can’t distinguish the “rhythm” because I am too used to hearing it.

JLeslie's avatar

My guess is English sounds full of consonants, choppy, and very enunciated.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, I just remembered Charlize Theron talks about American English here. See minutes 37–39.

Hain_roo's avatar

I dated a Persian who told me his people called English the snake language, because of all of the S sounds when we talk.

submariner's avatar

I’ve heard that Chinese also say that English sounds like the hissing of snakes.

A friend of mine was an exchange student in France for a while. Her host sisters tried to help her with her accent. She was pronouncing the phonemes ok but was messing up what linguists call the prosodic features. English has more levels of stress than French (4 instead of 3, I think) and is more syncopated (da-daaa-da-da-daaa-da-daaa), while French is more evenly spaced (da-da-da-da-da-da-daa). So the host girls spoke French with exaggerated English prosody to help her hear what she sounded like.

amujinx's avatar

I don’t understand the oriental languages sound like “ching chong ching” idea. In Japanese, almost every word ends in vowel sounds or with an n. In Chinese, while I do hear the “ng” sound often, I don’t hear the “ch” sound much, but I do hear many long a’s and o’s. Maybe Vietnamese or Korean fit the “ching chong ching” idea, but I really just do not hear it in Japanese or Chinese.

Now that it was mentioned, I do hear how much emphasis is put on s’s in English. I always think English sounds rather drawn out compared to other languages.

@Kardamom If you are going with the misunderstanding other languages jokes, I’ll go with On those trays.

JLeslie's avatar

@amujinx I think for me Chinese is more the ending ng also. If someone says ching chong, or ting tong ting, in a highish voice, I know they are simulating Chinese. Maybe the ch is because of how Americans think of Chinese last names like Chang? Or, food brands like Chung king? I don’t think the ch is really fitting either. The not so nice joke about naming a baby by throwing pots down the stairs is more of a ting tang for sure. Vietnamese sounds very very different to me than Chinese. But, growing upI was around a lot of Asians so maybe I here the differences more readily than someone who is not around Asians much. Especially if I see tye person and here them talk I can usually guess about 80% of the time which country they are from, some countries easier than others.

Nullo's avatar

Italians have told me that English has a lot of hissing noises in it. Try listening for the sound the next time you’re in a boring meeting or lecture.

chelle21689's avatar

LoL, reading everyone’s comments, now that you say it…English does have a lot of S in it. I made fun of my boyfriend’s Cambodian language saying it sounds like a bunch of R’s rolling and stuff. Thai has a singy songy sound to it…

Nullo's avatar

@chelle21689 Chinese always makes me think of rubber bands, for some reason. Which is weird, because it sounds nothing like rubber bands.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m going to listen for the s’s now. I was just thinking how awful it must be for English speaking lispers. I bet they notice every s.

Hain_roo's avatar

They do, my brother made it a point to avoid as many words with S as possible when he was a kid.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I am going to take @Nullo ‘s advice and start listening. @Hain_roo I don’t have a lisp, but I have a lazy-S when I am tired or not conciously correcting myself, and it is a problem. As far as @Aesthetic_Mess ’ video, it was very interesting to me because I have a bit of auditory nerve hearing loss, so half of my world sounds like these two people talking. Unless I am concentrating, this is what normal conversation sounds like to me. When people are talking amongst themselves and not to me, I can hear them talking but can’t make sense of it.

JLeslie's avatar

I was just thinking, we have a lot of s’s because of the conjugation of our verbs.

andrew05's avatar

To put it in plain english for you it would sound like a samoan or tongan speaking to a english in there native language.YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND.Much respect to our polynesion people.

maor's avatar

Well, my native language is Hebrew and when I only started spaking English it felt like chewing a gum… I gusee it felt that way because I had to use my mouth’s muscles much more than I was used to…it might feel so also becasue there is vowel changes in stressed and unstressed syllables

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