What Does English Sound Like To Foreigners?


Currently in 2021, English is considered to be the most spoken language in the world with 1.348 billion speakers. Around 978.2 million of those people speak it as a second language. With the majority of English speakers being foreigners to native English speaking countries, it begs the question: what does English sound like to foreigners?

To foreigners English can sound like the following: the slurring of words, the overuse of r’s and s’s, musical in nature, and unique with it’s use of differing inflections of voice. The different dialects of English means in some regions they will have more or less of these characteristics.

This is not the whole story. Since the best answer is incredibly varied due to the subjective nature of the question, most people determine the sounds of English based on their own notions of the language. If a fan of American culture, English will sound “cool”. If not a fan, then it may sound silly or messy. So, what does English sound like to foreigners?

Is English A Beautiful Language?

English is spoken by hundreds of million of people everyday, with the majority of them speaking it as a second language. This means people from many different backgrounds and cultures speak English, thus allowing for many differing takes on the language itself. So, beauty being a factor in language learning, is English a beautiful language?

English can be a very beautiful language in both sound and meaning. There are many dialects and accents with English, so some will sound more pleasing than others. English has a long history with Western culture and Western thought, which in itself can make English beautiful.

There are all sorts of reasons we learn languages, but when it comes to beauty, it normally follows a subjective line of reasoning. Within that however, we can still find some objective truths.

As is discuss in this article, published in Cross‐Cultural Psychology: Contemporary Themes and Perspectives, Second Edition, language and culture are inextricably linked. Due to the connection, we can determine whether or not English is a beautiful language.

If culture can be one of the main factors in deciding if a language is beautiful (meaning the philosophy and history behind it), thus this leaves us with the history and culture of the West in the case of English. How does this lead some to find English beautiful, especially to foreigners?

Why Is English Considered A Beautiful Language?

There are many different ways why any language can be considered beautiful. Some common points are related to the culture of the language, or the pure sound of it. Many people do consider English to be beautiful. Yet, why is English considered a beautiful language?

Why some consider English to be a beautiful language is mainly due to the sound and the culture attributed to the English language. Comparing the English speaking culture to others can lead some to decide it more objectively beautiful. With sound, it depends on the person’s own tastes.

The culture of the English language, is essentially the culture of Western civilization. This leads to it’s many fans and critics. Since Western Culture is linked to Christianity, and more specifically Catholicism.

Due to the foundation of where English comes from, it will be beloved and hated.

Yet, this is also not taking into account the pop-culture aspect within the English speaking world, specifically the US. Whether it’s music, movies, tv-shows, and other forms of media English is the go-to language for entertainment.

To foreigners of one of English speaking countries the language can seem “beautiful”. Anyone with an affinity for the history of the Western Culture or the current popular culture of English could come to this conclusion.

Whether or not the language sounds beautiful is where we will have the most difficultly answering such a question. Since this is significantly left to ones own tastes and preferences.

There are certain proclivities that one culture will have when considering the sounds of English, but individuals in those cultures may disagree.

English As A Beautiful Sounding Language

English can sound beautiful, and it can also sound ugly. We discussed how people might consider English as a pretty language due to its history and culture. Yet, this actually plays into making it sound better, believe it or not.

To some the harsh ‘r’ sounds and the multitude of ‘s’ sounds that permeate the language can lead to an interesting rhythm. The beauty can also be found in the historical links to different languages both of Latin origin and others. Familiarity and regularity is a major component in beauty for humans.

The more you like the cultures of the English language, and the same is true for other languages, the more your likely to consider it pleasant to the ears.

Now this is a general statement with two factors. T

  1. The first being that every person is different and as such it is difficult (besides being actually immoral to do so) to apply a broad stereotype to any individual.
  2. Secondly, some languages do sound rather “unique”, or are in a sense an acquired taste.

An example of an acquired taste would be the German Language. It is has a very guttural sound to it, thus making it not the most musical or romantic sounding language to some. Though despite this many are still fond of German with its interesting deep range.

It also depends on what language they themselves speak. This applies especially in the case of foreigners to a country or language. Coming from certain cultures will affect how you see English, whether for better or for worse.

However, the biggest reason of all on whether a language sounds beautiful to both a native speaker and a foreigner is left to personal tasted. Essentially with the sound of language, one’s own perspective comes into play. Thus leading it to seem exceptionally subjective.

So, English can sound nice, but it really all depends on the person hearing it. For foreigners, English sounding beautiful is extremely affected by if they like the English cultures. Along with their own native language, their culture might affect how they see English.

Let’s take a look at some generalities. What is a general consensus among those who are non-native English speakers when the hear it? With the majority of the worlds books and correspondence happening in English and the most language learners studying it, what is the view most have of the language.

These designations are gained from native speakers of other languages living in these cultures or coming from them. All generalities fall apart the more individually they are examined. These are meant to be a good starting point when determining how English sounds to others.

CultureSentiment Toward EnglishEnglish Usage“Sound” Of English
ScandinavianHigh in most demographicsEducation and trendsUnique but disjointed
Western EuropeanHigh among youngEducation and trendsStrange and even garbled
Eastern EuropeanHigh to moderate among youngEducation and tourismStrange and even garbled
South/Central AmericanModerate to lowTravel and businessIrregular but interesting
AsianModerate to low among youngTravel and businessUnique but difficult
AfricanModerate to lowBusiness and politicsInteresting but slurred

Of course these are generalities that come from interactions with individuals in these areas. This is no way is a comprehensive look at what all peoples in these regions think. Yet, from those surveyed, these are reported as general sentiments and views of English in their cultures.

Wanting to know more about language learning and languages? Then check out some of my other articles!

Is English Derived From Latin, Or Is It Germanic?

All languages are generally derived from an early “ancestor” language. Many different languages can trace their lineage so-to speak from these early languages forming entire “families”. A lot of languages are descendants of Vulger Latin, others from an ancestral Germanic language. What is English derived from? Is it Latin or Germanic?

English is a Germanic language, not Latin based as many might believe. To be more specific, English is in the sub-group of West Germanic. Thus being closely related to both German and Dutch. Though English possesses much of the French and other vocabularies, it still remains Germanic.

This might surprise some, but English is a Germanic language. As such it has more in common with German than something like Spanish (though they are still similar due to borrowing). Others like French are also Latin based and have many similarities with English, yet it still does not change the fact that English is Germanic.

What does it mean for English to be Germanic based? Not only that, what does it mean for it to be a West Germanic language?

English Is West-Germanic?

English is not derived from German, but rather is a “sibling” from another parent language. There are many other Germanic langauges namely around northern Europe.

Some examples of Germanic languages include:

  • English
  • German
  • Dutch
  • Danish
  • Swedish
  • Norwegian

Within the “family” there is a sub-group known as West Germanic. This sub-group has the majority of living Germanic languages today with around 41.

Some of the most notable would be:

  • English
  • German
  • Dutch

The main other sub-group would be North Germanic, with around 6 total living languages. This sub-group clearly has less languages under it’s belt. Thus meaning less speakers from this branch of Germanic languages.

The most recognizable languages from North Germanic would be:

  • Danish
  • Norwegian
  • Swedish

All of the facts relating to the Germanic languages and their sub-groups are provided by Ethnologue.

Essentially this equates to English having numerous roots similar to German, along with grammar rules. Some would stretch this and say this means that German is easier to learn for English speakers.

From my husbands personal experience, this is not the case. He says that English had so many disjointed influences that it moved in a very different direction than German over the course of its history.

To quickly point out the aspect of sound with these two languages, English and German do not sound the same. Though they do share similarities the two language remain distinct in sound.

Actually It’s not a uncommon joke among Germans that English speakers, and especially with those in the US, overuse their r’s. Basically saying that we sound like we’re trying to be pirates.

Whereas with English speakers, some like to joke about the very guttural and almost course nature that the German sound has.

Funnily enough, foreigners distanced from English and German will probably think both are right.

Why Do Some Think That English Is From Latin?

It’s not unreasonable to think that English would be Latin based (like many do) due to it’s similarities with Latin based languages. Latin based languages, or more commonly known the Romances languages, are derived from vulgar Latin. Whereas English is West Germanic.

Examples of the major Romance languages are the following:

  • French
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian

So, why is it common to think that English is Latin based? For starters, English shares a large portion of vocabulary with the French language. English is also commonly compared to Spanish as being closely related.

Much of this is the surprising tendency of the cultures using English natively to adopt the vocabulary, meaning, and even some grammar of other languages they encounter.

Sometimes this was due to occupations such as the French rule of England whether by aristocrats or political entities for hundreds of years. Other times it was due to immigration or the influence of neighboring countires.

It’s not surprising then that the U.S. Department of State, in it’s foreign language training, describes the languages: Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, and Italian all as easier to learn for English speakers. Though it still takes time and effort, at the very least it takes a significantly less time to learn than others.

From this we can start to see where people come from when thinking of English as being a Romance Language. Yet, as we now know, it still does not change the fact that it is a Germanic language.

Does English Sound Fast Or Slow to Foreigners?

Have you ever tried to hear a distant voice and can’t tell they’re actually speaking your own language? Sometimes it’s due to being in a crowd. Yet, it can be due to just someone speaking too fast with an accent. As such it’s important for learners to know whether or not a language is typically spoken fast. So, does English sound fast or slow?

English can definitely be considered too fast rather than too slow. Yet, this is not unique to English, but actually has to due with most languages that are foreign to you. The dialect also plays a part. Southern American English for instance is considered very slow with a distinct ‘draw’.

The vast majority of languages are spoken fast, with few exceptions. Most English is spoken fast, and this in turn can make it hard to learn or understand for a foreigner speaker.

This is not a problem with any specific language, but rather a tendency of people in general. We like to talk fast. With foreigners it will mean it will be harder to learn and understand. Yet, in the end it will be rewarding when you can talk fast like every one else.

British Accents vs. American Accents vs. Australian Accents

For any foreigner trying to understand all of the different accents of English, it is a daunting task. Since there are all sorts of accents, some widespread where others are more local. The main “groups” of these accents would be: the American, the British, and the Australian. How do all these compare to one another?

English accents all are noticeably different, and intelligibility becomes an issue with some unique accents within the nations. A deep southern accent in the US, a welsh accent in Britain, and the Australian equivalents can be difficult to understand especially to foreign ears.

With the fringe accents, it will be harder to understand. This applies to pretty much any language, not only English. The remote accents are going to be more difficult due to being used less and less regulated by popular consensus.

With that said, nearly all accents of America, Britain, and Australian English are comprehensible by speakers of the others. It might be harder on a foreigner to pick up on nuances, but for the most part the language remains the same across these different nations.

Why Do British And Australian Accents Sound Similar?

In the United States, citizens broke away from England on 1776. Fighting in the now famous American Revolution.

British and Australian accents sound similar due to the British colonization of Australian. Australia was originally a penal colony of England after the first Europeans came to its shores. Australian independence from England was only gained in 1901.

This allowed for a much stronger connection between Australia and England for many years. As such, the influence of the British accent would be more prevalent in Australia rather than the US.

Though the accents are different, the reason why the British and Australian accents sound related is due to the relatively recent (compared to American independence) control Britain had over Australia.

The Final Talking Point On What English Sounds Like To Foreigners…

English can sound both pleasant and ugly to foreigners. The main causes for the differing opinions are usually due to both the view of the English speaking culture and the personal tastes of the listener.

The answer to what English sounds like to foreigners is exceptionally varied due to the subjective line of reasonings needed in determining the sound of English.

If interested in more things language learning and about English then read some of my other articles!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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