I started studying Russian this semester. Although Russian and Bulgarian significantly differ in terms of grammar and pronunciation, our languages are in the same time very similar since they both belong to the Slavic language group (and because Bulgarians gave the Russians our common Cyrillic alphabet!). Thus it’s understandable why I sometimes unconsciously use a Bulgarian word and plop a Russian ending on it, or (mis)pronounce a Russian word like it would sound in Bulgarian. (I wonder if the Spanish, Italian, and French have the same difficulty when learning each other’s lengua/lingua/langue.)

Interestingly though, my classmates (Americans, French, and Chinese) never realize my mistakes and just stare blankly when my professor, a native Russian, and I laugh over my tongue twisters.

So I was wondering, how do people perceive an unfamiliar language and when does one start “hearing” and distinguishing foreign languages? I know from experience that learning languages can be very difficult and requires many years of study, but I also think that it’s very easy to learn to distinguish one language from another by simply listening. I am confident that I can accurately pinpoint the sound of most European and many major global languages, even though I will certainly have trouble extracting the words.

If you were ever wondering how English sounds to foreigners (and why so many of them claim to be fluent in English while you, the native speaker, have no idea what they’re saying), then take a look at this made-up-English video: