English As A Foreign Language

They say this song composed of gibberish words was written as a demonstration of what English sounds like to those who do not understand it.

I’ve tried to get a sense for what English sounds like by listening to my TV from the other side of my apartment where I couldn’t quite make out the words.  I imagine the experience of listening to low volume would do the trick.  But this song, “ ”Prisencolinensinainciusol” by Adriano Celentano, lets you hear clearly and still find it strange.  And it’s actually a catchy song.  Anyone have any insight into whether it’s an accurate reflection of how English sounds as a foreign language?

Your Thoughts?

  • http://funcass.blogspot.com/ Gord Cummings

    It reminds me of listening to LadySmith BLack MOmbozo. I thought I could tell what they may be singing about by the tone that they use, but later I found out that I had no idea at all. Turns out they sing mainly about being the greatest and treating women poorly.

  • Evangelos

    I remember you mentioning this (i.e. what English sounds like as a foreign language) in class one time; I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then.
    I would say this is a pretty accurate reflection of English through foreign ears. What I have to go on is my own experience with English as a child (I didn’t learn English until I was 5, and my parents have a video recording of me trying to say something I heard in English, but clearly failing) and my little cousin in Greece asking me if the sounds she made sounded anything like English words. This sounds roughly like what she and I were trying to articulate.
    I should note that the “wur” sound in world and whirl is a very English sound that stuck with my cousin.

  • Gerry

    In the immortal words of the great Pooty Tang: “Sa da tay!”

  • Corvus illustris

    Anecdotal but possibly indicative: I was a student in SW Germany in the early 1960s, at a time when English–particularly among the older generations–was not the international second language it is now. English allows its speakers to use very little energy in tone production and to run words together; American “r” and “l” are very different from their German counterparts; some sounds–not just the 4 “th”-es but some vowels too–just aren’t there. German requires “tense” production and the use of the glottal stop to separate words in some cases (fortunately for me, midwestern American English also uses the stop). Thus the sound of English, at least to the Swabian ear, was (according to my informants) a rather whiny sing-song with texture but little sound differentiation. (Never mind what other Germans say about their local dialect.) My surname contains most of the features about which they complained; if I spoke it in English the result was a bewildered expression on the hearer’s face. My given name is my mother’s family name, attested in German for centuries, so while I was there I was pretty much forced to be Herr X rather than Mr Y.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elisa.wallick elisawallick

    There are many songs(in english) that I like, but don’t understand all the lyrics. I think many people who want english as the “official” language can’t speak it, spell it, and forget about grammar and punctuation. They also have this incredibly paranoid and self centered idea that others speaking a foreign language are talking about them. AS IF
    I like this gobbledygook tune.

  • Will

    I feel like I should understand it, it actually sounds like they are speaking english in a way, can’t describe it but I felt like I should get it!

  • Peter

    A lot of it sounds like Dutch to me.

    • Will

      Actually, Dutch or Norwegian would be my guesses as to something similar to English to a non-speaker’s ears. I could be wrong, it’s just that when ever I watch a film from Norway it always feels like I should understand half of what they are saying.

    • Skylar Dunn

      I know this is a year old comment, but here’s my two cents. English actually evolved from North Sea Germanic languages in countries like Denmark, Holland, and parts of Germany.This was a little bit different from modern English, and it eventually became English as we know it today after being exposed to and mingled with French, Italian and Spanish. So if you think that things like German, Danish, or Dutch sound like English, it’s probably true!

  • Xianrox

    I’d imagine it’s something like understanding Spanish and then having someone come up to you speaking portuguese or Catalan… You want to understand and you think you should but it just doesn’t compute

  • http://Twitter.com/bruce_lloyd Bruce

    Sounds like Bob Dylan doing disco.

  • Alan.A

    It does sound like English, however I think it’s missing all the R’s that are so common. I believe that is one of the prevailing features and that fact that this particular sound strings words together very often. That, and the very particular intonation.