The joy of phonemes

I’ve been listening to Scottish Gaelic radio all day today. I don’t understand a lot yet, though can get the gist if I concentrate. As I listen, I often repeat some of the words and phrases I’m hearing – it’s a good thing I work at home most of the time, or my colleagues might begin to doubt my sanity. I really like the sound of Scottish Gaelic and enjoy trying to speak it.

Tha mi ag èisdeachd ri Raidio nan Gaidheal fad an là an-diugh. Chan eil mi ‘tuigsinn mòran fhathast, ach tha mi a’ tuigsinn an bhrìgh ma tha mi ag èisdeachd gu cùramach. Tha còrd mòr rium Gàidhlig a’ bruidhinn.

For me, one of the joys of learning foreign languages is getting my tongue round their unfamiliar phonemes. Each language presents me with a different set of phonetic challenges, some of which are more challenging than others. At the moment, for example, I’m having fun wrestling with some pesky Czech consonant clusters.

Which languages do you most enjoy pronouncing?

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning, Pronunciation, Scottish Gaelic.

23 Responses to The joy of phonemes

  1. Ben L. says:

    I’ve always appreciated the deep throated vowels and sharp consonants of Korean and Japanese. It makes ordinary sentences sound like sollemn proclamations.

  2. SamD says:

    I can see how Scottish Gaelic would be fun to pronounce; it even looks like fun to write. I enjoy pronouncing Norwegian.

  3. TJ says:

    ummmmm anyone tried Arabic? :)

  4. Harris Engelmann says:

    Yiddish and Hebrew are fun, especially khet and khav :)

  5. Josh says:

    Thus far I only have experience in pronouncing German and Russian, the two languages which I’m learning. German doesn’t have anything too exotic, but my recent excursions into Russian have been fun, if a bit trying. My English mouth doesn’t want to produce a lot of the sounds they use.

  6. Polly says:

    I love trying to pronounce Russian and sometimes throwing in an exaggeration of the soft vowels. Sort of like John Malkovich’s (fake) accent in “Rounders.”

    French is fun too, especially the “r” which is really “gh”. Is that what’s called a “velar fricative”? Too bad I don’t really speak French.

    Simon – I think the title of this post is misspelled. Shouldn’t it be “Phonemes”?

  7. ISPKN says:

    I love pronouncing Arabic because everything is so fun to say. I especially love the consonants qaf and :ayn because they are the most different sounds from any of the other languages I’ve learned. I also like pronouncing Thai because it’s so melodic

  8. AR says:

    @Polly
    The French “r” is the voiced uvular fricative (one place of articulation farther back than velar). It sometimes may be pronounced as the uvular trill.

  9. Polly says:

    @AR
    Voiced uvular fricative – got it, thanks!

  10. Mike says:

    I like speaking Chinese in my hometown’s dialect. It’s quite different from the standard Mandarin. It has a softer southern accent and some different vocabs and unique idioms. I bet Mr. Ager couldn’t understand it at all. Some of classmates are wrestling with the German ‘r’. It often sound like fighting for the last breath. And they complain that it makes them want to vomit. I enjoy reading Japanese, German and Latin when I got time.

  11. stephanie says:

    please dont tell me you learned thta much gaelic in one day — where did you find an auto-translator??

    I do enjoy the sounds of Gaelic, too.

  12. BG says:

    Ancient Greek has some weird (for English speakers at least) consonant clusters like in the words mnemonic, pneumonia, an Ptolemy (all Greek) that are pronounced as written. A funny word (it could be considered an onomatapoeia) is “μη φλυαρει” (transliterated: mē phluarei) meaning “don’t talk nonsense”.

  13. BnB says:

    I’ll second qaf and :ayn from Arabic. And I like the retroflex consonants of Beijing dialect Mandarin (they apparently don’t do them in, for instance Taiwan… I can actually sometimes pick out Chinese that come from Beijing because they speak some of the English consonants using the retroflex). And the subtle (to the English-speaking ear) difference between “sh” and “x”, and “ch” and “q”, and “zh” and “j”… The Korean liquid somewhere between r and l…

    In general, any “bizarre” sound (to us) I like to try to wrap my tongue around as a challenge…

  14. Travis says:

    One of my favorite languages to listen to is Arabic, though I don’t speak it myself. I do speak French, and love the sound of it, especially the word for ‘nothing’… rien. Japanese is fun to pronounce when some of the i’s and u’s are dropped. All the sudden the language yields heavy consonen clusters, such as shitsurei becoming shtsrei.I’ve never heard a language that didn’t have some ring to it that interested me. That goes for British English as well. For an American, British is rather suave and melodic. I have a friend from Britain who started teaching me a couple phrases. It was fun, but also challenging. Perhaps some day then, if I persist with the exercises, I’ll be able to say I speak English!

  15. Simon says:

    a Stephanie – a bheil Gàidhlig agatsa? Tha mi air Gàidhlig ionnsachadh airson mòran bliadhna, ach chan eil mi ag ionnsachadh leanailteach.

    I started studying Gaelic many years ago, but keep on getting distracted and having a go at other languages. This year I’m concentrating on improving my Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Welsh.

  16. David says:

    I enjoy pronouncing Dutch, German, French and Russian too. I like how Dutch and German are very rough, French because I feel intelligent-don’t know why- and Russian because I like the low tone of voice. I also like trying to speak like an English-speaking Canadian because I like how the tend to make their r’s very round, if you understand what I mean.

  17. Colm says:

    I enjoy enjoy trying to get my tongue around the tones and sounds of Swedish and the vowels and stresses in Estonian.

    Simon, do you find that you automatically pronounce Scots. Gaelic as if it was Irish Gaelic? Or does that just happen to me! ? :D

  18. Simon says:

    Colm – I try to pronounce Scots Gaelic as well as I can, but do tend to use Irish pronunciation when I’m not concentrating or am not sure of the proper pronunciation.

  19. Benjamin says:

    “Some of classmates are wrestling with the German ‘r’. It often sound like fighting for the last breath. And they complain that it makes them want to vomit.”

    Hehe, they have to do something wrong – because I grew up with German/in Germany and never had to vomit because of the ‘r’. ;-)

    As I’m currently studying Chinese at university I really love to pronounce Chinese. I find it especially funny how easy you can create tongue-twisters in Chinese. If you just could leave out all those “de”-particles it would be even easier to create sentences with words that all begin with the same consonant. :D

  20. Osman says:

    I love pronouncing Spanish most! It is awesome!
    I recently started to enjoy with my Turkish too. It sounds nice to me! :)

  21. ISPKN says:

    I’ve never actually heard Turkish but I love the sound of Azerbaijani which I believe is very closely related.

  22. Duncan says:

    I’d have to say Russian probably has the most appeal for me, but Scotts Gaelic runs a close second

  23. Roland says:

    I think it is a language, that I never studied, but dank’al ties proximity to french I sort of acustomed to it and read the news, so it’s spanish, I find it fine sounding (when spoken not too speedingly).
    Also Hindi/urdu I found pleasant, when I heard Lakshmi Shankar singing or Faiz Ahmed Faiz reading its own poems.
    German has ofte reputation to be harsh, but in fact it’s because of those who heard it from soldiers! whan you heard the poem of Morgenstern “Der Werwolf” said by a german woman, it’ a regal of delicacy!
    And, when well spoken (by the group Akordo for instance), Esperanto is also a pleasure to speak; for me maybe the most, chiefly for it is the only non-mother-language that I can speak fluently!!