Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What is Korean's Onomatopoeia for English Speaking?

Dear Korean,

I have a Korean workmate who has a desk next to me at work. I was asking him about Korean onomatopoeiae, then I asked him: "When you were a kid were there any nonsense words that you used to pretend to speak English? He said no at first but then I pressed him a little. The he said: "Well, we do, but I'm too embarrassed to say them in front of you." So my question is: What are the nonsense words that Koreans say when they are pretending to speak English?

A. Marris

It's either "swalla swalla" (as if saying "swallow" with the last syllable changed,) or "shalla shalla". This onomatopoeia is not limited to mimicking English sound -- it is used to describe nearly all foreign languages.

A straightforward answer for a straightforward question. If only every question that hits the Korean's inbox were like this.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. haha, thx. i remember my parents and grandparents would say that, brings back memories

  2. I once heard a mom talking with "da da da DA DA da Da da da" language to imitate the up and down intonation of English -- the way English uses up and down intonation in syllables is very different from the way Koreans put intonation into syllables.

  3. Interesting. I always wondered what the Korean default sounds were for exactly this purpose.

    In Hong Kong (and in my family), the Cantonese default onomatopoeia is "geelee gooloo." Similarly used to imitate and make fun of most other foreign languages. My relatives still do this all the time, usually at the expense of my non-Chinese speaking friends.

  4. This American guy on youtube posted himself speaking fake Italian, Russian, Chinese, etc., and asked for people to post similarly "fake" English. Pretty funny. Search "crehnquist can you speak fake English?"

  5. Oh the questions that I've never even considered before! My follow-up question would be why A. Marris' co-worker is embarrassed to say them (unless, of course, these aren't the onomatopoeia he used.

  6. Hilarious!
    I am Korean, I'm 21 and I don't even remember if I have used it but obviously I remember the sounds(words) so yea, I have used!
    When I first read the title I thought of "Ddang ddang ddang" but Ddang Ddang Ddang is more for words rather than sentences...?

  7. Reminds me of the etymology of the word 'barbarian' which was rooted in the mimicry of foreign languages (don't know which), in Ancient Athens. Originally 'bar-a-bar' (or something similar). 'Barbarian' is how I often feel in Korea, especially if I'm in the bathhouse with my hairy back and chest!

  8. I love your site, but it is really difficult for wordpress.com bloggers to post comments because of a problem on the blogger side. I have to log as a google user and then loose the link back to my blog.

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    They suggest you change your setting to, name and url. I know it's a pain but I've spent ages trying to comment on blogger and just get stuck in a loop.

    (Bathhouse Ballads at elwood5566.net)


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