How English sounds to everyone else

I got the idea for today’s post from the podcast A Way With Words. I’m super in love with this show, and I recommend it for everyone who is interested in English word origins and other language topics.

Native English speakers have ideas about how languages they do not speak sound. There are certain noises we can string together that imitate our idea of another language—noises that if we were to make to a speaker of that language would sound like gibberish.

Here’s a video of one English speaker speaking what he thinks sounds like several foreign languages:

 Ever wonder how English sounds to people who don’t speak it?

Youtube has a treasure trove of videos showing just this: English-sounding gibberish. Here’s a collection for you to enjoy.

This is a song made for Italian TV in which the singer sings entirely in sounds he interprets as sounding like English. (Also note the awesome background dancers!)

Here is a song in “fake” English from an Argentinian band:

Skwerl is a short film that plays with the same idea. In it, a couple speaks in “fake” English. One aspect I like about it is that even though they are not saying real words, the audience can still understand the emotions and ideas portrayed.

Here are more examples of foreign language speakers’ interpretation of English:

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Important travel phrases

On Monday I will be travelling to Montreal to have some fun, to soak up a beautiful environment, and mostly to practice my French. This got me thinking about the most important phrases to know when travelling to a country where a foreign language is dominant. Of course, it’s not terribly difficult to find English speakers most places you travel, but knowing some key phrases is indispensible. Plus, locals appreciate it when travelers show respect by trying to communicate in their language.

Below are some helpful phrases in some of the world’s most popular languages.

Chinese (phonetically pronounced)
Hello: nín hǎo
Goodbye: zàijiàn
Please: oǐng
Thank you: xièxiè nǐ
Where is (the train station)?: Zài nǎlǐ (huǒchē zhàn)?
Where is (the toilet)?: Zài nǎlǐ (xǐshǒujiān)?
Right: yòu
Left: zuǒ
How much does this cost?: Duōshǎo qián ne?
I don’t speak (Chinese).: Wǒ bù huì shuō (zhōngwén).
Do you speak English?: Nǐ huì jiǎng yīngyǔ ma?

Fun phrase: Why doesn’t Google work here? Wèishéme bùshì gǔgē zài zhèlǐ gōngzuò?

French
Hello: bonjour
Goodbye: au revoir
Please: s’il vous plaît
Thank you: merci
Where is (the train station)?: Où est (la gare) ?
Where is (the toilet)?: Où est (le toilette)?
Right: droit
Left: à gauche
How much does this cost?: Combien ça coûte?
I don’t speak (French).: Je ne parle pas (en français).
Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais?

Fun phrase: I would like a glass of (bordeaux) please.: Je voudrais un verre de (bordeaux) s’il vous plaît.

German
Hello: hallo
Goodbye: auf wiedersehen
Please: bitte
Thank you: danke
Where is (the train station)?: Wo ist (beim Bahnhof)?
Where is (the toilet)?: Wo ist (der toilette)?
Right: rechts
Left: links
How much does this cost?: Wie viel kostet das?
I don’t speak (German).: Ich spreche nicht (deutsch).
Do you speak English?: Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Fun phrase: Your country has very functional architecture.: Ihr Land hat sehr funktionale Architektur.

Hindi (phonetically pronounced)
Hello: hailō
Goodbye: alavidā
Please: krpayā
Thank you: dhan’yavāda
Where is (the train station)?: (Rēlavē sṭēśana) kahām̐ hai?
Where is (the toilet)?: (Śaucālaya) kahām̐ hai?
Right: adhikāra
Left: vāma
How much does this cost?: Jyādā isa lāgata kitanī hai?
I don’t speak (Hindi).: Maiṁ (hindī) bāta nahīṁ karatē.
Do you speak English?: Kyā āpa aṅgrēzī bōlatē haiṁ?

Fun phrase: It’s good that I like vegetarian food.: Yaha acchā hai ki maiṁ śākāhārī bhōjana pasanda hai.

Italian
Hello: ciao
Goodbye: addio
Please: si prega di
Thank you: grazie
Where is (the train station)?: Dove si trova (la stazione ferroviaria)?
Where is (the toilet)?: Dove si trova (la toilette)?
Right: destra
Left: sinistra
How much does this cost?: Quanto costa questo?
I don’t speak (Italian).: Non parlo (italiano).
Do you speak English?: Parli inglese?

Fun phrase: How does a country have so many beautiful women? Come fa un paese sono tante belle donne?

Japanese (phonetically pronounced)
Hello: kon’nichiwa
Goodbye: sayōnara
Please: shite kudasai
Thank you: arigatō
Where is (the train station)?: Doko no ekidesu?
Where is (the toilet)?: Toire wa dokodesu ka?
Right: migi
Left: hidari
How much does this cost?: Kore wa ikura kakarimasu ka?
I don’t speak (Japanese).: Watashi wa nihongo o hanasanai.
Do you speak English?: Anata wa eigo o hanashimasu ka?

Fun phrase: Where can I buy a robot? Koko de watashi wa robotto o kōnyū dekimasu ka?

Russian (phonetically pronounced)
Hello: privet
Goodbye: do svidaniya
Please: pozhaluĭsta
Thank you: spasibo
Where is (the train station)?: Gde (zheleznodorozhnyĭ vokzal)?
Where is (the toilet)?: Gde (v tualet )?
Right: sprava
Left: sleva
How much does this cost?: Skolʹko eto stoit?
I don’t speak (Russian).: YA ne govoryu (russkiĭ )
Do you speak English?: Vy govorite po-angliĭski ?

Fun phrase: I want a big fuzzy hat.: YA hochu bolʹshoĭ nechetkih shlyapu

Spanish
Hello: hola
Goodbye: adiós
Please: por favor
Thank you: gracias
Where is (the train station)?: ¿Dónde está (la estación de tren)?
Where is (the toilet)?: ¿Dónde está (el baño)?
Right: derecho
Left: izquierda
How much does this cost?: ¿Cuánto cuesta esto?
I don’t speak (Spanish).: Yo no hablo (español).
Do you speak English?: ¿Hablas Inglés?

Fun phrase: No more tequila or I’ll vomit.: N el tequila más o voy a vomitar.

Swahili
Hello: hello
Goodbye: kwaheri
Please: tafadhali
Thank you: asante
Where is (the train station)?: Ambapo ni (kituo cha treni)?
Where is (the toilet)?: Ambapo ni (ya choo)?
Right: haki
Left: kushoto
How much does this cost?: Kiasi gani hii gharama?
I don’t speak (Swahili).: Siongei (Kiswahili).
Do you speak English?: Je kuzungumza Kiingereza?

Fun phrase: It’s so hot I feel like I’m melting.: Ni hivyo moto mimi najisikia kama niko kiwango.