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Photo by lemasney

Even if you don’t speak a word of a language, chances are you can identify it based on the sounds you hear.

GLOTTAL STOPS, LILTS, PITCH – there’s a lot more to hearing a language than just the words. Do you speak German? If not, do you know when you hear someone speaking German? Probably so.

And what about English? More than once, I’ve attempted to hear English through the ears of a non-speaker by eavesdropping on a conversation and going into an almost meditative state, focusing on the sounds and not the words. It only lasts for a few seconds at a time.

This short film, entitled “Skwerl,” gives us an idea of what English sounds like. I have to applaud these actors for managing to get through this without laughing. Their “English-ish” language seems to be a mix of actual English words and sounds in a nonsensical order. (See if you can catch “Elton John” and “make the pope cream.”)

Language Learning

 

About The Author

Michelle Schusterman

Michelle is a musician, writer, and teacher just trying to see the world while doing what she loves for a living. She's taught ESL in Salvador, Brazil and kindergarten in Suwon, Korea, and now she's a full-time freelance writer living in Seattle (just to keep the city alliteration going). She'll try pretty much any food once and believes coffee is its own food group.

  • http://www.feellikeyoubelong.com/ Alan Headbloom

    I am struck by two things: first by the wonderful capture of English stress and intonation among many nonsense syllables and second by the power of image and gesture to capture emotion when lexical content is low.  Terrific project!

  • Franklin41071

    This is wonderful! I have wondered for decades what a person who couldn’t speak English would sound like imitating English. The way monoglots impersonate/mock other languages.  Say, go to the Olympics where you could get a great variety of nations on camera.  

  • http://www.theorangebackpack.com The Orange Backpack

    This is great! It kind of reminds me of the sounds you hear when you play Sims….the way they “talk”.

    • Michelle Schusterman

      Ha – I didn’t even think about that! It DOES sound like Sims!

  • wat

    Holy shit I don’t understan NOTHING

  • http://idrinkmyteasweet.com/ Abhi

    Wow. What a brilliant thought – to listen to a language we know from the ears of someone who doesn’t know. 
    And very well done by the actors! This must have been so tough! And it’s amazing how much information the gestures, tone, and flow convey with the words making no sense at all.

  • Abay

    Sounds like he calls someone a “butter-face”. haha

  • http://www.canvas-of-light.com/ Daniel Nahabedian

    Love it! A total mindfuck I’d say :)

  • Jason Berger

    adriano celentano did something like this in the 1972:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZXcRqFmFa8

    • Michelle Schusterman

      I’ve seen that vid, Jason! It’s trippy. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Hilliard/1834076590 Robert Hilliard

    I listened to this in headphones while doing something else (without watching), you’ll hardly even notice that its gibberish.  I actually had to put it on a second time to notice what they were doing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laurelle-Walsh/602622555 Laurelle Walsh

    Good one – but why is the soundtrack French?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=528661046 Rocky Bergen

    I love how the words foreigners  are likely to know come out in real English.

  • Spenceju

    After watching this I’m reminded of Dutch.

  • http://www.comicbookandmoviereviews.com comicbookandmoviereviews

    This is a funny film clip. 

    Now if you want to have some impact on television – check this out - http://www.comicbookandmoviereviews.com/2011/10/untitled-jersey-city-project.html

  • Hank
  • Chris Neumann

    I’m hard of hearing and this is what the world sound like to me sometimes.

  • http://thebogotimes.blogspot.com TIM

    now you hear english, now you don’t.. amazing.. 

  • Dave Ash
  • Icollecthippos

    As far as what English sounds like to foreigners, nothing beats this. And it’s so catchy too!!!! 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcUi6UEQh00

  • Kelly Schroeder

    Perhaps I missed the point of this, in all honesty I’m certain I did, but why are they speaking gibberish?  I get the idea of trying to “hear” what a non-english speaker hears, but if I hear a language I don’t understand I can go look up what they said, this is just complete nonsense.  Though, I have never been a particularly artsy person so maybe something is “lost in translation”… haha the pun was right there, I had to :P

  • Klsfb

    ive Always heard english is very ugly sounding, like german or russian. ican see what they mean now.

  • kellin

    Is it bad that I understood this and put what I thought they said in the spots where it’s nonsense?

  • Keshti

    It would have been interesting if one could hear a single word over the bad background music…..unless that was the point?  Schtoopid.

  • Guest

    I don’t know if it’s the way they’re enunciating the gibberish, but I kind of hear an Irish accent

    • Lala

      It’s because the Dutch really pronounce their Ts and Ds, just like the Irish.

    • Jazz Musician

      The guy does sometimes have a bit of an Irish accent, but the woman sounds very much American.

    • Random Guest

      The actors are Australian, I believe.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_G7IZ2UMKJITQVCKISPTI5VXUAM Adriana C
  • Rafael

    Funny!  I am a foreigner, but I have been living in the US for the last 20 years, and yes this is how iEnglish sounded to me for the first two years  : )

  • Guests

    Not sure if anyone else has said this but watch the video with the CC turned on…makes it even better.

  • Arasine

    Great and interesting concept :)

  • theridingdutchman

    Awesome! I do the same thing – the eavesdropping – with my Dutch language :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/mathew.povey Mathew Povey

    Did Serene Bransen write the script for this?

  • Nique

    It’s like I know they’re speaking english and yet I can’t understand anything they’re saying! wtf haha that’s my first language.

  • Se3

    I definitely heard “b*ner face* @ 1:03

  • Kwangjoo

    This is super cool! As a linguist, I love this kind of stuff. I currently live in South Korea and Korean to me (as someone who doesn’t understand it) sounds EXACTLY like the Sims. Eerily like the Sims. And agreeing with the previous comment, the man’s accent does sound like 3/4 North American and 1/4 Irish.

  • JANNELLEM

    ive thought about this for soo long! good stuff

  • Christopher

    I feel like my  brain just got a little bigger :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.kilcoyne1 Kevin Kilcoyne

    Such a sad movie! :’(

  • http://www.jasonsdeli.com/events/planning Liza Miller

    That video really messes with you. Especially when they throw in a word or two of actual English and your brain tries so hard to put together the rest of the sentence.

  • The-spotlessmind

    this is genius am an english speaker in a non english speaking country and ive always wondered wht they hear when i speak :D

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  • Ryan01

    reminds me of prisencolinensinainciuso.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU4w12oDjn8

  • http://jerryhingle.com Jerry Hingle

    That’s great acting! You really can’t understand anything they’re saying even though it sounds like English. 

  • Juliemoskal

    I wish they’d spent more time actually making the sounds rather than going for the ‘Oscar’.

  • Leannabseven

    I agree with Chris…I was just thinking this is what English sounds when you can’t hear well!

  • Waldir Leoncio

    That is so cool! I’ve always wondered what Brazilian Portuguese sounds like to foreigners, BTW. Anyone out there willing to make a video about it? :)

  • http://allaboutcabo.com Cabo

    This is pretty neat. Just as others have noted it does sound like Sims.

  • Hutch109

    Thats so interesting! It does sound exactly like English even though its not. Weird.

  • Alex

    for a second i thought that i knew no languages

  • Miltonram

    Now, I’m not entirely sure if I am off track but I saw this video with a different eye. I am a teacher trainer and I believe this video would be useful in the Celta class for teaching
    listening skills and highlight the importance of context and visuals!!!
    You see, we don’t actually need to understand the language to capture
    what people are talking about or to simply get the general gist of their
    conversation!! I believe this video will put this message across so nicely!!!!
    Brilliant!!! Thank you for sharing this!!!!!!!! PS: I know that was probably besides the producer’s point … but, ehy??

  • Mike Salazar

    Parts of it sounded a bit like German to me. Anyone else?

  • http://www.mundodelamor.com MdAmor

    This is great!Before I went overseas, I started listening toconversations differently. T o get an idea how others would hear us.   

  • Sanne

    I´m from Holland, and although I speak English fluently now, this is definitely what it used to sound like when I was a kid!

  • http://twitter.com/Comradefaysy Faysal Subhani

    Brilliant work. Though it seems the words ‘f***ing a**hole’ are universal :P

  • guest

    your video reminded me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcUi6UEQh00
    it’s a song made by italians that sounds like english but makes no sense.. !

    this whole topic really fascinates me, thanks for the post :)

  • Emkingxx

    he says “bonerface” right before “elton john”

  • Guest

    This is what many people sound like to me if I don’t read their lips while they speak. I’m not deaf but a little hard of hearing and also a visual person. Annunciation is very important if I am going to hear and understand, and people always get irritated when I ask them to repeat what they said. Darn Americans! :)

  • Guest

    what are they supposed to be saying is translated to full english?

  • Guest

    meant to say if not is

  • Ben Fullerton

    That’s so weird! It sounds so familiar and my brain thinks it should be able to understand it. Nothing sounds out of place, but you just can’t quite catch the drift of what they’re saying. It’s just like when you’re dreaming, and people are talking in words that don’t make any sense, but someone how, it sounds totally normal and you still know what they’re saying.

    It also reminds me of the poem The Jaberwocky.

  • Zazii

    I’m pretty sure he says “Shaka Khan” in 1:40

  • http://twitter.com/alefndz Alejandra Fernandez

    hehe. That’s so cool and now I understand why people thought I sounded silly while I was doing my internship abroad. :D

  • http://fashioncraz.com osaid

    Yes it is the mixer of actual English words and sounds…..

  • mhfurgason

    Incredible but it should be described as American-English.

  • http://exotikcar.com location voiture agadir

    really great,this is what the world sound like to me sometimes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jowuchka Jowii Villanueva

    Now… That was weeeird.

    • Lee

      My mind kept attempting to make some sort of sense out of the words they were saying, so I occasionally slipped and could hear a few real words. But overall, very effective! I’ve often wondered what English sounds like to a non-native speaker, never realized how much English intonation sounds…sort of Swedish? Didn’t seem quite as harsh as Russian or German sounds to my ears, but for a language that’s partly Latin-based, I was disappointed by how completely non musical it sounds! Overall, I thought it definitely seemed closest in my mind to Swedish or Dutch. So strange!

  • Paul

    I’d love to see the script of Skwerl.  How could I get it?

    Paul Meier
    paul@paulmeier.com

  • ConnieHinesDorothyProvine

    Cool!

  • http://matadornetwork.com/community/onlysky onlysky

    I have always wondered about this!  Awesome video, great to finally have an answer.

  • http://calldenverhome.com/greenwood-village-real-estate/ Greenwood Village Real Estate

    This was hysterical. It does sound like the sims though hahah. Loved it

  • Caitlinkappes

    i dont no, it just sounds like there talking rilly fast and quite, but like what is do is listen to what people are saying, and i listen to the way people say words and reapeat it out loud and you will hear how english rilly sounds its kinda cool try it.

  • Skish

    1. Would be more relevant and noticeable if these people were actually English? (Americans have done a fine job of butchering the English language with double negatives and mispronouncing words like nuclear)

    2. This isn’t what English sounds like to foreigners. The fact that we can understand most of it totally changes our perception of the words including the gibberish.  3. If you really want to know what English sounds like to foreigners, go and immerse yourself in a different culture with a different language, avoid any English (spoken or otherwise) and come back in 5 years and have a really intense conversation with someone. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it. This seems to be a REALLY “stoner-ish” thing to wonder. 

  • Kyle Clark

    Benjamin Lauzier Gaelle Vituret I always wondered what I sounded like to French people… :D

    • Gaelle Vituret

      I guess it’s pretty accurate :)

  • Angela Rose Battig

    this is pretty awesomely confusing.

    • Nicole Chaifetz

      SIMS

    • Angela Rose Battig

      hahaha I am fluent in SIMS

    • Angela Rose Battig

      jus sayin :)

    • Jarek Draven

      Good point.

  • Caitlin Dichter

    Really interesting and totally does sound like how I would imagine a typical American sounds to a foreigner…

  • Zerica Hoffacker

    shits crazy

  • Amber Loney

    It DOES sound like simlish.

  • James Cambra

    Yerom to gleech a ringle. Ive bintu shrink awily proseductory.

  • Julie Normand

    Interesting…I’ve wondered how English would sound to a non-English speaker particularly growing up in a community of those who speak French where those who do often sound like they are arguing over some triviality. I put this link aside some months ago to wait for a time where I could give this the attention that I thought it deserved. While I found it somewhat amusing I did find that my own English lexical orientation likely hindered me from gathering the full impact of what English may sound like to a non-English speaker. However, having said that…I get it and kudos to you Michelle for your brilliant creation…thank you.

  • Anonymous

    I do not get it.

  • Toni Gillespie

    this is brilliant! woowwwww

  • Jarek Draven

    Yeah, this is interesting. I can’t help but wonder the process by which it was written and performed. Is this scripted? Improvised? Some parts seemed to more accurately mimic english than others, and there were a few very obvious, real words (which I’m sure were knowingly) inserted. Especially near the end. Here’s my transcription of what I heard. I think it becomes increasingly english-like after the pause:

    M: Here’s lace. Wan me hold onto that?
    F: Sure.
    F: I bought you like thighed arounidate su pordination.
    M: Han’s good.
    M: So antioch were on the watch today.
    F: Oh?
    M: Yeah. That dole’s a rain blunner face. Can’t beray that Maury Elton John. Jew flap by the lum lat called?
    F: Yeah. I coom by the let’ring. I did that pribadium by the ronfurt line today.
    M: Oh, the razymamanetchmarine. That from in you greed that trayjun.
    F: No, the prustacean is trap. I mean, why the crest soldier for the magdalene nation is further grad so my chose it.
    M: Chose it for the magalon?
    F: Maga low my shit.
    (boty laugh)
    F: Vana pornish ran for mom’s birdation sick speaking carn bluluh.
    M: Shuh. Car…. what way?
    F: Lersday. You purlalong for that.
    M: Yeah. Sure.
    M: So I can sow that long lat yer all fer ah… fer the radchat chisnel. And yeah, chad’s a long way for the rainwork seasonal, and uh, all that kinda….
    (pause)
    M: So, so we… we uh, we’re at the burning head. Mia, we run the gay crap frell. You want to? ‘Splain for me, display the joe drink all around the massportation town, well I for mast the po for creen, and….f…
    (woman gets up, seeming upset).
    M: What’s the lie I chose foreen and all? You won for why I bleed the whole chase, patrine? You won a gat? You won a gat for what?
    (woman returns with pinapple sparkler thingy).
    F: You fucking asshole.
    M: You won a calla too shed?
    F: Shut up.

    On that note, I think “razymamanetchmarine” is my new favorite made-up word. Or maybe that should be two. Where “razy” is the adjective, describing the mamanetchmarine. lol My god I need a life….

  • bee

    What about Prisencolinensinainciusol by Adriano Celentano?

  • Louise Bose

    thats not english – thats american

  • http://raven2099.atwebpages.com Raven2099

    Ummm i understood every word

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