Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Pleasing to Korean Ear?

Dear Korean,

When I first saw Korean written, I thought it looked very cool; sleek and modern, I guess. And then when I heard it spoken, it sounded very harsh to me. In addition to English, I speak Hebrew, and whenever I ask other Americans what they think of the sound, they often reply that it sounds like a mixture of Arabic, French, and sometimes Russian. I think this is a pretty fair assessment. But, like my sentiments with spoken Korean, most of the people rated Hebrew low on the "pleasing to the ear" scale.

As an over-generalization, many Americans, myself included, like the general sound of languages like French and Italian, and dislike the sound of languages like Chinese and German. To me personally, when it comes to English and Hebrew, I have virtually no opinion one way or the other. They both sound normal to me. I don't see a pattern in terms of country of origin informing language preference, and so I was wondering what the Korean's perspective on this was. Surely, Koreans must find certain languages pleasing to the ear and others not, right? What does the "average Korean" think of some of the languages out there.

Sort of a weird question, but it was something I am always interested to find out.

Mr. Inaudible

As to the Korean himself, he has no particular feeling toward how Korean or American English sounds. Japanese, European Spanish, Italian and Cantonese sound quite pleasant, while Mandarin Chinese, Caribbean/South American Spanish, Hindi and German are little tough on the ear. The Korean's absolute favorite "language sound" is probably South African English, spoken with Xhosa accent.

The Korean is not certain if "pleasing to the ear" thing depends on the nationality, but why not ask around? Readers, have your say. What is your nationality, and what languages do you like/dislike to hear?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. my first language is english & i'm asian & have always been brought up in the the asian region. which prolly explains why i find most asian languages pleasing to the ear. i think the language i find the most (for lack of a better word) jarring would be dutch? yeah dutch.

  2. I'm surprised that you find Cantonese rather than Mandarin to be pleasing, since a lot of Chinese people I know think that Cantonese sounds harsh and Mandarin doesn't. I'm a Chinese American who knows Cantonese, and I think that Japanese, Korean, and Cantonese sound nice.

  3. Languages I speak:
    - English
    - Portuguese
    - Korean
    - Spanish

    Languages pleasant to my ear:
    - French
    - German

    Languages unpleasant to my ear:
    - Italian
    - Japanese

    Now, I think English can sound good or bad, depending on the accent.

    The most unpleasant accent has to be the Indian accent, closely followed by the Vietnamese and Korean. Filipino seasoned English is also kinda unpleasant to hear. American southern accent is also very unpleasant to me (sorry, but it makes people sound dumb).

    I like the British accent and also the French.

    I'm only talking about the accents and not the people, ok? I don't wanna offend anybody.

  4. I'm African American, and I like the sound of Hawaiian, Korean, French, German, Standard British English, and old Southern English the most. :)

    The language harshest on my ears? Uh...there isn't one. :D

  5. I'm American and speak English with a smattering of Korean, Japanese and German phrases. I love to listen to Korean. Well, Korean men. Korean women (20s-30s) often sound whiny to me. I also love the sound of English spoken with a foreign accent. Tonal languages sound odd to me. Not bad, just odd. Probably because English isn't tonal...

  6. Languages I speak fluently:
    Mandarin Chinese

    Languages I speak enough to get by:

    Languages I find the toughest on my ears:
    French (Parisian variant)
    French (Quebecois variant)
    French (All other varieties)

    Languages that I find slightly jarring:
    Cantonese Chinese
    Some South Asian languages
    Northern England dialects

    Languages I find pleasing to the ear:

    Languages that are mildly pleasant:
    Some other South Asian languages
    Southern US accents
    London/received English accents

    Languages I find neutral:
    Mandarin Chinese
    Wu Chinese (Shanghainese)

    I don't have enough exposure to other languages to judge. I used to find foreign languages a lot more unpleasant when I only spoke Mandarin, and over time I've gotten used to hearing Korean/Cantonese, but even two years of studying French cannot help my intense aversion to it.

  7. I speak:
    a bit of Spanish
    a bit of Japanese

    To me, languages that sound pleasant or smooth flowing are
    -Japanese (not the very high pitched nasally sounds made on TV and anime)
    -Spanish (not the one spoken in South America)
    -British and Australian English accent

    Sounds that sound quite harsh or can sound like people are angry when they're not:

    German and other east European languages
    Mandarin (less than Cantonese because I hear it more)
    Usually tonal languages

    Sound unpleasant or sometimes awkward:
    English accent spoken in southern/midwest States in the US
    hiphop or gangster style American English
    Some cases of English spoken by US born/raised Asian Americans (it's an accent they have. Ex. KevJumba, Nigahiga)

  8. Judging from everyone's responses above, it seems like language preference is mostly personal. Kind of like food preference -- your tastes are influenced by your culture and background, but ultimately they're arbitrary.

    I grew up speaking English and listening to a lot of Hebrew and Spanish. No one language sounds especially good or bad to me. Mostly it's a matter of the manner of speech. Spanish the way it's spoken around here -- maximum volume, 10,000 words per minute -- tends to grate, but at a more reasonable pace it's lovely. And spoken by the right person, any language can sound like the music of angels.

  9. Languages I speak:
    English, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese (Taiwanese Accent), A little of HK Cantonese, Taiwanese Minnan and Teochew

    Languages Pleasant to my ear:
    Japanese, British English

    Language I find Neutral:
    Mandarin Chinese, Korean

    I don't have any language that I think its unpleasant to my ears. Didn't really like German at first but started to appreciate after knowing some of the language :)

  10. I like the sound of the Southern US accent.

  11. For some reason,Korean is pleasing to my ear when spoken and in a rap, but I don't care for it when sung. The Chinese languages, however, are pleasing to me when sung but I don't care for them spoken

  12. I really enjoyed this post, nice to see how people think about other languages.

    my mother language is turkish, i speak english, italian fluently, and studied a little latin, spanish, korean and arabic.

    Turkish sounds weird i guess to the foreigners, to me of course it's just normal,
    Arabic is quite poetical,
    English both in british and american accent sounds nice, though british is more formal.
    Italian is like a ritmic song, loved by lots of people, artistic language.
    French sounds romantic but so difficult, while German is harsh to the ear,
    Spanish is fast and has its charm,
    Taiwanese sounds unpleasent and also chinese.
    I absolutely love how Korean sounds, maybe because i got used to it by listening quite often. especially expressions of sigh are lovely to hear.
    Japanese is an anime language for me, all sounds are like a cartoon, surprising to hear in real life.
    Slavic languages are also hard to get used to.

    according to me but these are all personal, if someone is interested in a culture, loves also its language, but if has a bad memory about it, it effects his/her interest in the language. in time people get used to every condition in this life.

  13. I'm a Malaysian and i speak :
    (in order from most fluent to least fluent)
    and a smattering of Korean (I'm into the Korean Wave)

    Pleasant : Korean, Cantonese
    Unpleasant : Hokkien (sounds a little harsh and rude to me although i'm a Hokkien)

    But generally, it really depends on who the speaker is, to me, because if he/she talks like a typical cheerleader, it is unpleasant to the ears.

    Like how young Korean girls who like to whine or being too 'aegyo' can be annoying while others may sound pleasant

  14. I wonder if the same trends go when a people of different languages speak English w/ their native accent?
    For example - to me, english spoken by native French, African, Spanish, or Italian people, and maybe Russian, still sound pleasing to the ear, even though they mess up the words and aren't fluent.

    English spoken by native Chinese, Korean, Indian, and Japanese ppl don't sound so pleasing to the ear, but I think it sounds good when they speak Korean or Japanese.

    French spoken by french Canadian -2 thumbs down.

    English spoken by Bostonians and Long Islanders - bleh.

  15. I think a lot depends on the gender of the speaker. For example, I think Spanish is a beautiful language, but very masculine and therefore doesn't suit women well. On the other hand, I find French very feminine, and pleasant to listen to when women speak it, but male French speakers sound a bit ridiculous to me.

    German is pretty awful because of all those long words and harsh consonants make it sound cold and machine-like, but it's precisely because of those that it sounds good in WW II movies where the Germans are usually the bad guys. And, of course, it sounds great when you listen to Rammstein:

    In English, it's just not the same:

    One more thing: I find that I come to like any languge in which I am fluent (even German), just because of the pleasure of being able to carry a conversation or read books in that language.

    P.S. I'm Hungarian.

  16. A lot has to do with what your first language is. People around me, mostly English/spanish/etc speakers, tell me Korean language sounds cools and soothing.

  17. Languages I am fluent in: English (American), Korean

    Languages I've studied in HS and University: Japanese, French.

    I'd have to say English and Korean are neutral to me for obvious reasons...but if we go into dialects/accents, I'd have to say I am a fan of both standard dialects..but for English, the southern drawl is a bit unpleasant..I don't mind the east coast accent (NY,MA,NJ) or the midwest (MN,WI)..and of course I'm from the Westcoast...

    For Korean, I don't mind the Northern Jeolla-do accent at all, or even the Choongchung-do accent but I'm not a huge fan of the South Jeolla accent or the Kyungsangdo (both North and South) accents..they sound a bit harsh to me.

    As for other languages, I really enjoy the sound of French and Japanese, but I am not a fan of Vietnamese, Cantonese, or Italian..

    I don't mind Mandarin Chinese, because I think it sounds a lot softer than Cantonese..and I grew up on a lot of martial arts films as a child in Mandarin, so...haha.

    Anyway, really interesting question/post.

  18. I am Vietnamese. I speak English and Vietnamese.

    Love British English! like the characters in Harry Potty movies lol
    Korean sounds smooth, pleasant to the ears.

  19. Being a Korean American, I actually like German. It's kind of sexy. I can watch German movies. I cannot watch Chinese movies though. I wish I could, but whether Cantonese or Mandarin, the language sounds jarring. Thai is another language that just sounds weird in movies and music.

    I despise East Asian-accented English but I know some who think it's cute. I could never understand.

  20. I'm American. I speak English and Korean.
    Love British English, American English (Women with the Southern Accent sound so amazing!) Korean, Russian, various African accents, Spanish, and Arabic.

    I find Chinese dialects (almost all of them) very jarring to my ears because of the tones, but I don't mind certain speakers.

    I don't like listening to Australian either...

    Japanese depends on the speaker.

    French is hard too.

  21. I speak Vietnamese, English, and Spanish. I agree that Vietnamese is quite an unpleasant language to hear because there is not much flow and many times, the person speaking it (in an outsider's point of view) seems like they are angry when they really are not. I would have to say that it is one of the most unpleasant languages to an outsider.

    French, Spanish (preferably Northern Spain accent), basically all the Romance languages, (British) English, Korean, and Japanese are the languages that I absolutely love to hear! A lot of them flow so well or sound beautiful. I am neutral on German,Chinese, Thai, Portuguese, and Russian.

    I think it all amounts to what you grew up speaking and what sounds you prefer or are used to hearing. I have met people who speak Spanish from many different countries, like Mexico, Chile, and Spain, but in the end, I love the Spanish (Castilian) accent the best! :D

  22. My first language is Russian and I have to say that even though I spoke it first, it still sounds rough when spoken by people from certain regions. I love the sound of French, Spanish and Italian, German on the other hand sounds unplesant to me. I have no feelings about English except for when its spoken by people from New Zealand or certain areas in the UK because I often can't understand what they are saying ( I'm Canadian)

  23. First language is German, and I really like the sound, intonation everything about the written and spoken Finnish.

  24. This is surprising to me-- the whole reason I originally was interested in studying Korean is because I thought it sounded beautiful and expressive.

  25. I'm a Finn, fluent in Finnish, Swedish, English and French. I'm currently studying Korean in uni and one of the reasons I got into Korean was the sound of it. Its flow is smooth and I love how easily it rolls of your tongue~ That could be also partly because I find Korean 's tone to be a bit similar to the Finnish. Of course I have a bias but I find Finnish beautiful in its expressions even though I've heard that it sounds tough and not smooth at all. "Täkin tikki tökki" isn't necessarily that beautiful...

    I find French extremely irritating, not sure if it's the r sound or what... Especially English spoken by a French native drives me nuts :D

    I enjoy watching Chinese (Mandarin mainly) movies but the (extremely) loud Chinese I hear on the uni campus never stops irritating me. Spoken in a normal volume, I love tonal languages.

  26. My first language is Russian. What is good (and bad) about Russian, it is very versatile and depending on the speaker, it may sound rough or gentle.

    For example, in English there are only two obscene and inappropriate four-letter words (f.... and c....), but in Russian there are six, and the grammar is so flexible, some people can actually have a meaningful conversation using only those six words without sounding redundant. When I hear Russian language like that I feel an urge to strangle the speakers with my own bare hands.

    However, the same grammatical flexibility allows "sophisticated" and "educated" Russian speakers to speak with ultimate eloquence, so Russian is also a very poetic language where you can really express the intricate filigree of your feelings.

    I believe that learning another language involves emotion attachment and personal experience. Words that carry emotions are usually acquired first. Just to illustrate this point, everybody on this board ought to know words like "sh...bal'" and "pabo". It probably did not take you hours of memorize them, right? :)

    I do not like the sound of German. It sounds choppy and rough. Plus it reminds me of a war-time movies where German solders would bark orders. However, my mom, who is also Russian, grew up with a German stepfather and she LOVES German and frequently sings German songs to us. To her it is the most beautiful language in the world. And she does not like the sound of English. So I guess I am okay with German because of my mom's love for the language.

    I am neutral to American English, I cannot say I like it or dislike it, but it makes it harder for me to understand the Southern drawl so it is not as pleasing.

    I do not understand British English from the North. South British is more comprehensible, but it sounds unusual, because I am so used to American English. I often ask people to repeat what they say and feel uneasy about it. Same with Australian English.

    I am neutral to French. Sounds nice.

    I like the sound of Swedish, Finnish, Estonian and Lithuanian. They all sound different, but appealing.

    I like the sound of Spanish from South American speakers, like Paraguay or Ecuador.

    Italian sounds funny to me in a good way. A very melodic language.

    I like the sound of Polish because I have a Polish friend and it sounds intriguing.

    Ukrainian sounds like a broken Russian from some babushka/ajumma, and the accent is so funny, I always smile when I hear it.

    With all its hard to pronounce sounds I still like Dutch language because I absolutely love Holland.

  27. Now for Chinese, Japanese and Korean...

    Vietnamese sounds like a person is singing a song with all those tones.

    I used to like Chinese when I was taking Chinese classes. I used to like Japanese when I was watching Japanese movies or were around Japanese people. But since I got addicted to Korean, even though I still like them, it is nothing like my feeling for Korean language.

    Needless to say, that I fell in love with the sound of Korean language. It happened after I watched my first Korean movie, "A Moment to Remember", long after my visit to Korea or being introduced to Korean culture. Every time I hear Korean, it is like music to my ears. I don't just like it - that would be an inaccurate statement. I long for it to the point of sometimes using Korean words in my every day speech. I would describe it is an obsession, I hope it will pass at some point. I even catch myself bowing from time to time :)

    I have developed a deep emotional attachment with the tone and the melody. I also have a variety of favorite words and expressions, and they change as I learn more. A couple of months ago I used to like saying Omo and yogi (I haven't learned the alphabet so I am writing what they sound to me, but my Korean students told me that my pronunciation is excellent). Recently my favorite words are 'Kidari" (wait), "keguri" (frog) and my all time favorite "kronika" (however). I also like "Odi ga yo?" "Doo goo nya?" and a word that I still struggle to understand "tan shin". I love the polite speech with all those "samnika" and "mnida" at the end. Korean Banmal also sounds nice. And I absolutely adore swear words in Korean!!! I am not going to list my favorite here, but I know enough to make a sailor blush :)

    Saran he, everyone!

  28. I like the sound of English with a Welsh accent. Most people think it sounds melodic, although the southern Welsh accent gets a bit too sing-song sometimes.

    English with a southern Irish accent is pleasing; the northern Irish accent can sound a bit aggressive.

    Scottish English can sound either pleasant or harsh depending on the speaker or region.

    I have to say I don't hear the rhythm in Korean that others have said they do. Older speakers can sound guttural, harsh and angry. Girls can sound whiny. But I'm coming round to it: if spoken strongly and clearly with an even intonation it can sound masculine.

    I love the sound of Russian, even though I barely understand a word of it.

  29. Languages I speak, read & write fluently:

    Languages I know slightly (& only conversationally):

    Languages I love to listen to:
    English, all accents because it fascinates me to hear one language with so many variations.
    French, including Quebecois.
    Korean (minus the whiney youth)
    Japanese (again minus the whiney youth)

    Languages I feel are a little jarring:
    German, Austrian, Icelandic, & Arabic.

  30. Korean American here. Mandarin is way, way, underrated. Maybe I've seen too many Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Wong Kar Wai movies, but Mandarin is, for the most part, such a beautiful, soft, lyrical, and oftentimes, playful language to my ears. I would love to learn it someday.

  31. I love this question. I personally find Mandarin very harsh to my American English ears... as I do English. Believe it or not, after living in Japan and around Asia for a few years, I find my native tongue a little abrasive.

  32. Languages I speak:
    Romanian (this being my nationality)
    a little bit of Spanish&German

    Languages I find "pleasant to my ear":
    all languages, but I kind of find it "unpleasant" when some French/Asian people have a very strong accent when speaking English.

  33. Figures my question would be posted when I am out of town and away from my computer... Just the same, it was more popular than I thought.

    I personally still do find spoken Korean to be a little rough on my ears, though I don't think it's anything with the language. I actually think it's the tone that I find a little off-putting at times. I am not sure how to describe it, but there is this one thing that Koreans often do at the end of their sentences; it's like someone started messing with the "pitch-bend" function on a keyboard. That's about as best as I can describe it. Korean itself is fine to listen to, and I like the language found in the music TK posts here from time to time.

    As for me, I find listening to Vietnamese, Chinese, and often German hard to listen to just because of the language. And this might be my Hebrew or American perception, but I really cannot stand Arabic, even though it has its similarities to Hebrew (which I am generally neutral on), and many people think they sound similar.

    One more thing: I actually do like the Southern American accent if it's from somewhere like South Carolina as opposed to Arkansas or somewhere like that. I dunno, it makes women sound nicer and men more authoritative for some reason.

    Thanks for posting my question, the Korean!

  34. I am Brazilian and American and the languages I speak are
    Portuguese (Brazilian)

    It depends how the speaker's voice sounds. If their voice is unpleasant then the language they are speaking sounds bad too. But if they have a pleasant voice then they will sound nice.

  35. Is it strange that I find one of my own languages a little harsh? I'm South African who can speak both Afrikaans and English but whenever I hear Afrikaans or an English Afrikaans accent I burst out laughing and cringe at the same time. The only other languages outside of what I know that I find harsh would probably be Italian and the Australian accent and what I find to be pleasurable to my ears would be Jamaican Patois.

  36. I think it depends on the speaker. I speak Japanese and English, and I have heard them both be spoken by a variety of different people. Sometimes it's annoying, usually it's not.

    I also hear Cantonese and Spanish on a regular basis, since I'm in NYC. Same rule applies -- when people are talking very loudly/in an annoying voice, it's grating...but usually it does not bother me.

    No particular language stands out as sounding "nicer" than others, honestly; a lot of people say French sounds nice, but I don't find it particularly pretty. Lol.

  37. So many interesting answers. I'm also surprised that the questioner felt confident that "most" Americans find Chinese unpleasing.

    Personally, the languages I find most pleasing are the ones that I've spent the most time with.

    South American/Mexican Spanish sounds nice to me, but Spanish from Spain sounds lispy and I'm not a fan.

    Mandarin Chinese spoken in movies and on TV sounds crisp, light and sophisticated.

    Japanese and Korean sound familiar to me. Especially when Korean/Japanese are used in train announcements or at airports.
    That Korean sounds soft and smooth, yet filled with soft bubbles.

    French, I guess, would be a language that I'm not that attuned to. German, also.

  38. I'm British and aside from English I can speak smatterings of French, Japanese, Korean and Welsh. I can read Old English too.

    I remember growing up surrounded by friends who adored French or Italian accents but I've always felt unmoved by them.

    My favourite languages to hear are Finnish, Old English, Welsh and Irish Gaelic (can't comment on the Scottish Gaelic).

    I was unsure about the language and sounds when I started learning Korean but the more I hear and the more I learn, the more I enjoy speaking it. I also have a wish to learn Mandarin Chinese, which I sometimes find pleasant sounding, but mostly because I think I'd enjoy producing the sounds in my mouth. I know how bazaar that sounds. A similar thing occurs with Korean but to a much lesser extent.

    I'm not overly keen on Arabic which sounds harsh to me at times. I also dislike the high pitched, nasally whine of 'cute acting' Japanese girls. I'd forgotten that some girls spoke like that until I visited there recently and I really wish they wouldn't D:

  39. My first language is "Southern" English, and a slight southern drawl is always a comfort to me. I also speak Spanish, and am learning Korean. I can usually understand German and French.

    I love English with a mild accent from anywhere in the UK (until I can't understand it). I don't like to hear Mandarin Chinese and Korean, mostly because of the whiny sound to them. I love to listen to Italian and German. (I'm rather indifferent on Spanish.)

  40. I find it interesting that many note they prefer "European" Spanish to Caribbean/South American Spanish. I'm assuming everyone is referring to Castilian aka the Spanish spoken in Spain. I'm American-born to Spaniard parents. I speak English, Castilian, and Portuguese. The languages I find most pleasing to my ear are: Castilian, the Spanish dialect spoken in Argentina and Uruguay (which is almost a mixture of Italian and Castilian). Most of my Spanish-speaking brethren seem to agree with me on this one. I don't like the Spanish spoken in any other country aside from these two and Spain.
    I like Korean and Mandarin. I find Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Thai extremely jarring to my hearing. I don't know why. I also find German very guttural and rough. Same goes for Arabic and Hebrew.

  41. I'm Singaporean Chinese, but I can't stand Mandarin spoken by some native Chinese speakers >.< It sounds harsh and sharp. Japanese sounds the most pleasing to me so far. Other than that, I guess I don't really have a preference as I'm surrounded by people who speak various languages. What I do know, though, is that Singaporeans who speak perfect English with accents are sometimes seen as arrogant here.. Most of us just speak "Singlish".

    To The Korean: I'm curious.. What do you think of "Singlish"? It's really broken English mixed with dialects (mainly Hokkien), Mandarin, Malay, etc. {See}

  42. Languages I can converse in without (big) problems: German (native language) and English.

    I have no opinion to German (of course) but English... depends on the accents: I like British English more than the variety of American English. But the longer I stay in the place I will get used to the sounds. There will probably a point it won't matter to me at all.

    Languages I don't speak/understand and which aren't pleasant to the ear:
    - Spanish
    - Italian
    - Russian

    Languages I (partly) understand and still sound unpleasant:
    - Japanese (Sorry, the pitch is just too high. Sounds awfully artificial to me) - but still after a while you'll get used to it.
    - French (First moments its sounds odd/strange - but will get used to it after a while)

    Languages which sound pleasant to me:
    - Korean (Strangely it calms me down)
    - British English
    - Chinese? (Don't know whether the language in Taiwanese Dramas is Mandarin/Cantonese or any other variant - so I dumbly call it "Chinese" - very aware that this language doesn't exist... ^^;)

  43. Speaking several languages will be difficult for me: I am not good at all. About hearing a new language, there is always a first reaction like: "like it!" or "it sounds weird to me".

    I had to study:
    -Spanish (instead of Italian...)

    Learning, now:
    -English (yes, I am still learning!)
    -Korean (absolute beginner)

    Curious about:

    I didn't want to learn German, because it sounded harsh. Finally, it's probably the language I enjoyed the most. Speaking German was fun, but I don't use it anymore.

    There is always the idea we have before learning any language and the way we learn. And don't forget: curiosity, courage and persistence.


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