Check out our updated Community
Community Tutor
Ooh, I can't say that
Learners, if you don't understand this post, read the easy version in blue.

There is a very unique moment in the language student's learning journey when a new type of awkwardness, as opposed to the usual awkwardness, takes over. They're expected to say something but instead, there's a hesitation. You, the teacher, ask them "is everything OK?" and they say "yeah, it's just that it sounds like xxxxx and that's not a word I would want to say in my language".

I know, it's completely irrational. It's just a sequence of sounds. The meaning depends on the language. It's not a huge issue but it bothers some learners. I'll admit it, I swear in my native language from time to time. Maybe that's why I don't really struggle with this in other languages, even though there are some rather delightful matches, especially with German. Die Kurve, der Kunde... And having my English always running in the background, even der Fahrt makes me giggle.

Among the words that English speakers blush over in Czech are:

  • the omnipresent "fakt" pronounced very much like /fʌkt/, meaning "really"
  • a numerous group of infinitives ending with "-šit" /ʃɪt/
  • words like "bič" /bɪtʃ/ or "krab" /krap/

German speakers don't seem to like the expression "in the picture" - "na fotce" (do they, Miriam?), the "tce" sounding like the German "tze".

Do you have any similar examples? And how do you feel when you come across such words in another language? Do you hesitate for a bit? Do you just switch to the other language and get on with it? Or do you think you might not even notice it?

Easy version:
When you learn a new language, you sometimes hear new words that sound funny or rude in your native language. Is it hard or easy for you to say these words? Is it easy because you know it is a different language? The words above are examples between Czech, English and German.

To everyone: Please refrain from using actual swearwords in your comments. I don't think it would go down well.
May 11, 2020 10:17 PM
Comments · 47
Hehe .... VERY nice!

I have a volunteer activity running here, where I aid German language learners in a conversation group, and there was a lot of hesitation and giggling talking about "Immanuel Kant" ... =}
May 11, 2020
Good thing you collected yourself. I like "general elections" :)

That sounds a bit like how Czechs hear the name Paco. The Czech word is not terribly offensive but it is associated with lower intelligence and overall craziness.
May 12, 2020
Well, I'm not Bavarian but Franconian and what got me cracking as a kid when in 1998 the movie Blade came out and I heard a radio commercial saying "Wesley Snipes is Blade". "Blade" sounds like the Franconian pronunciation of "blöd" which means "stupid". It could have only been better if they had said "Johnny Depp is Blade" as "Depp" means "idiot" in German.

Once I was teaching an advanced German learner from Japan and there was a word she would refuse to say out lout. It was "Manko", the German word for "shortcoming". If you wonder what it sounds like to Japanese people, think of človek's students who giggled about the name of our great philosopher...
May 12, 2020
Well, Chinese has a lot of one-syllable morphemes, but Modern Standard Mandarin doesn’t have any words ending in P, T, K, or M, so that leaves out most of English’s 4-letter words. Other variants, such as Cantonese, are more conservative and retain those final consonants (this has to do with the famous "entering tone", so important in Tang poetry). This may be juvenile, but I’ll admit, the final two syllables of 祝福語 (“greetings”) struck me as somewhat amusing the first time I heard it. For the most part, however, when thinking in one language, definitions from unrelated languages actually never seem to enter my consciousness. I guess it’s like when talking with friends about, for example, a certain Pedro, none of the other Pedros that we happen to know ever come to mind. Now it’s time to get back to my Cantonese studies. Thanks for starting another interesting thread. No comment on where I may have heard your K-word....

May 11, 2020
Oh, you've got to love the old Kant.
May 11, 2020
Show More
Language Skills
Czech, English, German, Italian, British Sign Language (BSL), Swedish
Learning Language