Say something!

When other people discover that you speak a foreign language, they sometimes ask you to say something in that language. You might want to say something complicated thinking it will impress them, but if they don’t speak the language themselves, anything you say will probably do that. But what to say?

Poems, songs, proverbs, sayings or tongue twisters are all possible choices. They will sound impressive, even if you stumble over parts of them. If that happens and you just keep going as if nothing happened, nobody will notice. Simple sentences such as “My name is ….”, “I come from …”, “Isn’t it a nice day today?” or something similar are another possibility. Or if you’re feeling flippant, you could just say the equivalent of “something” or “something in [name of language]”.

When asked to perform in this way I usually just say a few simple sentences, though afterwards I think maybe I should’ve said something along the lines of, “As you don’t speak this language I can say whatever I like and you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. So I just want to mention that my hovercraft is full of eels, as well you know!”. Unfortunately I can’t always manage to construct this kind of thing on the fly.

What do you usually say when asked to say something in a foreign language?

This post was inspired by one on Corcaighist.

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

0 Responses to Say something!

  1. Rurality says:

    I’ve had that happen, and I always ended up saying, “What do you want me to say?” But of course that’s pretty short, so they always want you to say something else. That’s where I wish I’d known “hovercraft” and “eels”!

  2. Chibi says:

    I always get annoyed when this happens (“Oh, you speak German?! Say something!”), and I usually demand that they give me something to say, so I say whatever they want me to.

  3. Mike says:

    I usually ask them to give me a sentence or a word, but when they tell me to just “say anything,” I’ll usually default to, “I am speaking Japanese/German” in the appropriate language.

  4. TJ says:

    My favorite thing to say would be a proverb, the numbers 1-10 and/or “my name is…” ……….. of course beside yes and no.

    Ní hé lá na gaoithe, lá na scolb

  5. Caenwyr says:

    This reminds me of a little incident I had last week. An Egyptian friend of mine asked me to teach him a really important Flemish word, so I thought a while and eventually came up with “Godverdoeme”, which means something like Goddammit. We use it a lot where I live. Of course I didn’t realize it was a Muslim I was talking to…

    In fact another unthinking action of mine managed to cool his spirits again. He (grudgingly) decided to switch to teaching me some important Arab words, when I mentioned I knew how to write Arabic, even though I don’t understand the language. So I gave him this example: الله أكبر, or Allāhu Akbar (God is Great). This simple phrase made him produce the biggest smile physically possible. ‘You know, if you write this down and show it to any Egyptian, you’ll be friends forever,’ he said. And so we are. Until my next mistake of course…

  6. Phil says:

    With Swedish, I normally go off on a little stream of consciousness ramble and luxuriate in the language and delight in archaism. With Old English it’s a little harder, as I can read the language but have no one to talk to. I either recite riddle no 48, I think, the one about the moth or the first 8 lines of beowulf.

  7. Aaron says:

    Sometimes I’ll leave facebook comments in Arabic for my friends. They know I study the language, but have no idea how to read it, so I post things like: “there was a man who lived in a house, he worked in the day and slept at night”, and they think it’s something personal!

  8. Crwth says:

    I had a plan to learn how to say “I do not speak any ______” in every language, for exactly this purpose. Something along the lines of the Kids in the Hall skit, I Speak No English. Unfortunately, the language lessons I go through often have me say “I can speak a little _______”. Not nearly as cheeky.

  9. jdotjdot89 says:

    I usually ramble on saying something like you mentioned, Simon, along the lines of “I can say anything I want and you won’t have a clue what I’m saying.” Sometimes I have a little fun with it though, and I actually switch languages. For example, I’ll be asked to say something in Hebrew, and speak in French instead to see if they notice. More often than, they don’t say anything–they suspect something, but figure that they must be wrong. It’s amusing.

  10. Marco A. Cruz says:

    I always say “What do you want me to tell you?” in the requested language. It’s easy to tell, even though if you are a beginner.

  11. James says:

    ¿qué quieres que diga? No soy una foca amaestrada, sabes. (what do you want me to say? I´m not a performing seal, you know)

    or I just continue the conversation in Spanish until they ask me to change back.

    Or if they ask me to speak English, I just do the conversation thing. More normal is that people get me to say “Harry Potter”. this morning in my medieval spanish class (Cantar de mio Cid) they made me say “Beowulf” as the teacher has a blank and always gets it wrong.

  12. Nancy says:

    From my first Spanish class in junior high school: “¡Qué lástima! Ojalá que se mejore pronto.” (What a shame! I hope she gets better soon.) (It was tough plunging into the subjunctive like that.)

    And from listening to junior high school pals who were taking French instead of Spanish: “La France est un pays prospère en temps du pais.” (France is a prosperous country in times of peace.) (Suitable for so many occasions!)

    Sometimes I summon up a few lines of a Siglo de Oro sonnet:
    “Miré los muros de la patria mía/Si un tiempo fuertes, ya desmoronados/Por la carrera de la edad cansados/Que ya caduca de su valentía…” (Basically: Where are the snows of yesteryear?)

    Then there’s always “un bon vin blanc,” the classic test for mastering French nasal sounds.

    And I know a wonderful nonsense verse in Hebrew that I won’t attempt to translate; it has to do with an apple falling in an orchard and “exploding.” I tellya, it’s a laff riot in the original.

  13. Dreaminjosh says:

    It’s funny how this happens to everyone! I get so annoyed when people ask “Say something” and I respond “Ok, like what?” and they have no clue what they want me to say! Usually I’ll just say “Je sais meme pas ce que tu veux que je dise, alors je dirai n’importe quoi” and they’re satisfied.

  14. Alf says:

    I usually do say something along the lines of “What on earth do you want me to say?” and then sometimes ad lib on what I think about that person but wouldn’t say to their faces in the language we were speaking – hehehe.

  15. DA says:

    This discussion reminds me of when my children were babies as I always spoke to them in Welsh, and if a non-Welsh speaker was holding them and they began to cry, there would be no attempt to pacify them – they would panic that they couldn’t speak the child’s language, and therefore wouldn’t be able to comfort him. Keen to have helping hands around when fractious babies cry, I would say “oh just recite some local Welsh towns and villages and make it sound soothing, Abergavenny, Cwmbran, Casnewydd etc and the baby’ll be fine.” I’m convinced it would have worked as the sounds are as Welsh as any other words. Nobody was willing to try it though.

  16. Lija says:

    I usually recite a Chinese poem about a goose, but of course while I’m saying it, they think it’s something really complicated.

    After I finish, I usually forget to explain it because Mandarin is so familiar to me. How could anyone not understand?

  17. Daniel B says:

    庭には鶏二羽います。in Japanese or Rødgrød med Fløde in Danish. Both are tongue twisters. In Denmark we usually use Rødgrød med Fløde, for amusing ourselves with foreigners, since nearly no one can pronounce the Ø and the soft Ds properly.

  18. Stuart says:

    I always just reply with ‘something, in (Finnish/Japanese)’.
    “What does that mean?”
    “Something, in -language-.”
    “Yeah, but what did it mean in English?”
    “Something!”
    “What?”

    Sure, it doesn’t make me sound too intellectual, but people don’t ask me to say ‘something’ much anymore =)