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 (starting at 1:37 of the video below), 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?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • 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!