Language and culture are fixtures in our society. Each week, LanguageLine chooses stories to feature that accentuate the diverse society in which we live. 

For native English speakers, imagining how the language might sound to those unfamiliar with it can be an intriguing exercise. The short film "Skwerl" by Karl Eccleston and Brian Fairbairn ventures into this realm, recreating an aural experience of English for those who don't speak it.

In the film, actors Karl Eccleston and Fiona Pepper portray a couple navigating the tensions of a disrupted intimate evening. Their dialogue, while gibberish to English ears, mimics the rhythm, tone, and intonation of an English conversation:

THE MAN: "So I ran to yourk around the wash today."


THE MAN: "Yeah. That doll's areen blunderface. Can berave that mory alpen john. Joo flan by the long blatt call?"

THE WOMAN: "Yeah. I coon by the mex areen. Oh you bleed that pribadium by the ronfort line today?"

While native speakers might casually dismiss their own accents, those who've learned English as a second language or have encountered it in movies have distinct perceptions of how English resonates. Even for native English speakers, mimicking a fellow English speaker's accent can be revealing.

You can watch the video here

This phenomenon becomes more apparent when venturing abroad. Whether it's a Canadian exploring the UK or an American wandering through Ireland, the nuances in pronunciation and inflection come to the fore.

The characteristics of the English language, as perceived by non-natives, can be quite varied:

  • A melodic quality in British English versus the hard 'r's that punctuate American English.
  • The recurrent use of "s," "sh," and "ch" sounds.
  • A unique rhythmic cadence.

These and other attributes lend English its distinct auditory fingerprint.

Humorously, some voice actors attempting to recreate English intonations joke that the hard 'r's make Americans sound piratical. Others liken the "s" sounds to hissing snakes.

Languages have their unique sound inventories, and when they don't align with English, challenges in comprehension and pronunciation arise. For instance:

  • The 'th' sound, unfamiliar in languages like French, German, and Japanese, often gets replaced by alternatives such as 'f' or 's.'
  • The 'w' in English might be articulated as a 'v' in Dutch or Polish.
  • The English 'r,' which itself varies between British and American English, is another source of variation. While it's a simple roll in Spanish, it's a guttural utterance in French or German.

At its core, language is about connection. But it's also an auditory experience, a symphony of sounds that convey meaning. For those who've always spoken English, it's enlightening to ponder how the language's unique sound palette registers to global ears. Whether it's the melodic cadences, the sharp intonations, or the varied rhythms, English, like every language, offers a distinct auditory journey.

LanguageLine Can Help

With a long history of partnering with organizations across North America, LanguageLine is a trusted provider of both onsite, face-to-face interpreting and on-demand, virtual interpreting services. Our professional interpreters are available every day of the year and proficient in over 240 languages, including American Sign Language

They undergo specialized training in terminology and ethics, ensuring a deep understanding of a given field. Moreover, our interpreters possess cultural competency along with linguistic fluency, ensuring effective communication across cultural boundaries. Our on-demand interpretation service is available in video and audio-only formats, serving various needs, including telehealth and remote appointments.

LanguageLine also provides:

  • Translation of all written materials, including patient forms, educational resources, treatment plans, discharge instructions, and websites
  • Testing and training of all bilingual staff and in-house interpreters
  • Cultural competency training to help staff navigate cultural nuances, beliefs, and practices
  • Compliance and reporting to assist state mental health hospitals satisfy regulations, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

We invite you to contact us so that we can learn more about your state hospital and the linguistic challenges you may be facing.

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