Friday, September 24, 2010

Swenglish Pronunciation

I was constantly amazed at English in Sweden. The Swedes have it down to an art. They are damn good at it. They speak it well and they speak it fluently. But regardless of their level of fluency, it is not their native language. And sometimes I couldn’t help but notice.

Let me preface this by saying that I am well aware that my Swedish is by no means perfect. It’s good, but I made plenty of mistakes. And continue to do so. My pronunciation is good, but by no means perfect. I say things and occasionally realize that had I should have shortened the vowel. It happens. Doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny though.

And so, long after having left the country (and safe from the reach of the Swedes), a short list of words that made me laugh:

Unique became eunuch. Which are two very different things. One means well, one of a kind. The other means, well, none of a kind. See what I did there? None, because the man has been castrated. I am hilarious.

Cheap became sheep. At first, I found this cute and endearing. Mostly because I like sheep. Then Tele2 came out with an entire marketing campaign focusing on the play on words. And I learned to hate it.

Three became tree. It’s a tricky sound. The ‘th’ sounds. Kind of like the ‘sk’ or ‘sj’ sound in Swedish twists the tongues of Americans everywhere. I suppose it is only fair.

Skeptic became septic. When I think of septic I think of septic tanks. And poop. Of course I have the mindset of a five year old boy. When I think of skeptic I think of conspiracy theorists. Of course, they also have the mindset of a five year old boy so maybe these two aren’t that far off after all.

And, maybe my favorite, bear in mind became beer in mind. Bear in mind that if you make it to happy hour you may end up with a beer in mind. Which is a hell of a lot better than a bear. Although, both could result in a few dead brain cells.

What did I miss?

Welcome to Swedish-America. And Swenglish pronunciation.

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  1. A bowl of soap is always delicious.

    In line with the cheap/sheep ad, I remember a 90s music campaign featuring "surprices", which irked.

    I have heard several people rhyme "please" with "gris", and even laughed politely at it once.

    BTW, the confirmation code I got was "obaccula". Does this mean that things are really bad for the US president?

  2. YES.. you missed some (also out of safe reach of my Swedish friends)and given my own Swedish is ever so far from perfect, these are two that also make me giggle.

    Vegetables becomes wedgtables.
    Huge become You-ge


  3. Quite funny because I think of the same septic tank when speaking French or Spanish as skeptic is pronunced [septic] in those languages! Or rather escéptico in Spanish. To confuse things, septic is séptico - which is pronunced the same way as skeptic because Spaniards pronunce [s] as [es]. Oh well, apparently the French and the Spanish don't mind that you might confuse septic with skeptic?
    I have found that Americans are much less tolerant towards mispronunciations and foreign accents than Brits and Irish. Which seems strange as the US is also full of immigrants speaking with different accents. Sometimes it is not even mispronunciations, just pronunce the t in water and people will be confused!?

  4. Being Swedish and writing a blog in English I have noticed I miss a lot of things. Firstly the structure of sentences - is good not enough…  Secondly I have a hard time using “are” and “is” correct. Thirdly I sometimes mix the ‘correct’ British English we Swedes learn in school with words picked up from American movies. Like choosing between; organise and organize – as one example. When mixing in such a way you will upset the language fascists.

    Talking is easier and I actually think you need to really think about it to find those little wrong-sayings you mention. Most Swedes have a cute accent and the words don’t come perfectly in a sentence, but we often say the correct words.

    Having lived in Glasgow, London, Tallinn and several other places around Europe I can be very confident in my English. Calling a customer service line in England you often get to talk with people with worse English than mine. And that’s really all that matters to me, and that I can make myself understood.

  5. i think the funniest thing i've ever heard was my bf singing 'i think i'm turning japanese'...which, with his swedish accent, turned into 'i tink i'm turning yaponese i tink i'm turning yaponese i really tink so.'

  6. The soup that is soap and the cheap that is sheep are the two that come to mind but you already got those. A lot of little things, the "I"s and the "Th"s that come out wrong. But some people--well I can't even tell they're not American. Maybe I have forgotten what Americans sound like.

  7. @Petra..
    Interesting comment, because I found it to be the other way around. American's are used to all sorts of accents different pronunciations (which are wider than the ocean!), especially if you live in Los Angeles..where no-one can understand those from Mexico attempting to speak English...but alias we try.

    It has been some Swedish friends living here in the USA that have been the most critical and claiming to know English better than the rest of us native speakers. The problem is...he does not..but insists he know more.

  8. hahahha, love it.

    Swedes do have an issue with the "ch"..

  9. Yellow or Jell-O ?. Swedish as I am my Canadian girlfriend always made fun of me when I used the word yellow,to her it sounded like I was saying Jell-O, Maybe it's just me and not a general "swedes speaking english thing"

  10. I think it's especially funny when people from Småland speaks english. They just can't let go of the Småland accent. :)

    Ingvar Kamprad for example:

    Peepel (people)
    Fax (facts)
    Somesing (something)
    Geroup (group)
    Cörrect (correct)

    I don't even know how to transcribe some of the things. And Ingvar is not the worst by far.

  11. I have lived in Sweden less than 2 months and making constant errors. My Swedish is good enough to sound like I know what I am saying to begin with until a blank expression emerges when I realise I can't quite keep up with everything that is coming back at me. I am constantly being forgiven by the kindly Swedish people (they are mycket snälla!) Usually, we chat over a cup of "kawwfee".
    It was funny to be asked: "Do you think she would mind if I followed her to the meeting?" meaning would it be ok to come along/accompany her... I guess this comes from translating "följa med"?
    As I am within following distance of several Swedes I will end any criticisms there! I am not serious but only "yoking" after all!

    Ha det så roligt!

  12. ice = eyes and I know in Sweden instead of a hard ch they say sh instead but I can't think of anything else mainly because I didn't have many Swedish friends when living in Sweden

  13. My first generation Swedish American Grandfather said, "tree" for three til the day he died.

    I am very fond of that memory because it links me directly to his mother tongue brought to the USA in 1882 by my Great Grandparents.

  14. Thank you, you always make me laugh!

  15. This isn't really about pronunciation but in my experience people often use "effects" when they mean "affects".

  16. Guys! (And dolls!) While I've heard most of these mispronunciations myself and may even admit that some of my fellow Swedes may, once or twice, have uttered them, everyone reading this comment has to agree that Swedes are hell of a lot better at speaking English than English speaking natives are at speaking any foreign language. Generally speaking, of course.

    By the way, Carl-Henric Svanberg, current chairman of BP, butchered the English language in a well known statement about "the small peepel" (lilla människan or småfolket in Swedish). Pretty funny stuff.

  17. I had a linguistic haha moment when I noticed so many signs along the waterfront not far from Stockholm City Hall stating "slut" (in Swedish).

    So what makes a Swedish "slut" an English "end", hmm :-) ?

  18. A very common mistake for Swedes is to pronounce "j" as "y".

    Yay instead of Jay
    Yoke instead of joke
    And as someone mentioned: yellow instead of Jell-o

  19. That Girl Possessed said...
    ice = eyes

    I've been 13 years in California and I had to look up the pronunciation of these two words to become aware of the difference. The difference is supposedly that "eyes" ends with a buzzing "Z" sound. I had no idea. Trouble is, that after one becomes proficient enough to make oneself well understood, the learning of this kind of subtler details does not continue. I probably speak the same English now as I did five years ago. Perhaps it's a diminishing returns issue, as I don't need to spend the effort to make myself better understood.

    Another reason might be that the distinction between certain sounds are more important in some languages than others, and we tend to pay more attention to the differences that are important in our native tongues. The "s" vs. "z" distinction doesn't seem very important to me because Swedish does not have a "z" sound.

    In Swedish, vowel sounds are very important, such as the distinction between "I" and "Y" (as in "bita" vs "byta"). The difference is one that many Swedish learners must have pointed out to them, because the distinction is not an important one in their native languages. Still, they will usually make themselves understood without being to careful about the difference.

    Perhaps only someone who is intent on becoming a perfect "cultural chameleon" would spend the effort to erase the last few mistakes.

  20. As a Swede at college in California, I was politely interested when my Korean-American classmate told me about her Swedish friend who was at jail (she has a Korean mother after all, and I couldn't expect her to get all her prepositions right). I figured I had to keep the conversation going and asked what she had done to land her in jail, to the great delight of the students around me. Turns out (again) that 'j' and 'y' sound more different to American ears than they do to Swedish ones, and that being in jail is not considered quite as impressive as being at Yale.

    Enjoying your blog immensely,

  21. I met a lovely chilean and invited her to the butterfly pavilion. "Quieres ir conmigo al museo de los maricones?"


    "Sabes, el museo de los maricones."