What Does English Sound Like to Foreigners?

With most of the world vying to learn English, some native English speakers are beginning to believe that English is the most valuable language. When one surrounds themselves around the same language, and only that single language, they stop getting a sense of what it’s like for someone on the outside to learn the language. Below are two fantastic videos that give a sense of what it’s like for foreign people to hear native English speakers – specifically in an American/Canadian accent. For the North American native English speakers, this should help you appreciate the ESL experience.


1) Skwerl

A fantastic short film written, acted, and edited by Karl Eccleston, featuring actress Fiona Pepper, and directed by Brian Fairbairn. Beginning with what seems like a French romance film, you’re captivated immediately by the acting and the dialogue. It’s magnificent.

Skwerl magnificently blends real words into a sea of familiar yet nonsense syllables. It was made for Kino Sydney, which is basically an open-mic film event for amateur filmmakers, in Sydney, Australia.


2) Prisecolinensinenciousol

Adriano Celentano, an Italian singer/songwriter, comedian, and TV host, created a great music video for an Italian TV show with his wife, Claudia Mori, who also performed in it. The song was actually released as a single 40 years ago, hence the aged look of the video, but it’s still great.

The song uses phonemes and pronunciation from North-American English, but it’s all gibberish. There’s even one video on YouTube with the “lyrics,” for those of you who want to sing along.

It would seem that such a video would be quite pointless, but the reason for it is actually very interesting. According to Wikipedia:

In an interview, Celentano explains that the song is about incommunicability in modern times. He added that the only word we need is prisencolinensinainciusol, which is supposed to stand for “universal love”.

Celentano’s rationale for the song was that, after releasing albums about ecology and social issues, “having just recorded an album of songs that meant something, I wanted to do something that meant nothing”.


I hope this was as interesting to my North American readers as it was to me. I wish they had this kind of video made for every language. Hopefully that would allow people to be more compassionate with foreigners trying to learn the local language, no matter what country or language that is.

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One Response to What Does English Sound Like to Foreigners?

  1. 6 8 10 says:

    Understanding the one or two words out of the rest of the gibberish reminds me of this Far Side panel: http://soapboxrants.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/seperating-what-should-be-held-in-tension-and-the-problems-of-language/attachment/138/

    And I wish I had a video like this for Japanese so my co-workers could hear what it’s like for me when they go too fast. Much like the dog in the Far Side, I sometimes just sit and listen for my name.

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