Do foreign languages sound louder?

For some reason, when I hear people conversing in a language other than English, it sounds louder to me. Also, certain languages sound louder than others; for example, Spanish and Chinese (I can’t tell the difference between Mandarin & Cantonese, but they both sound loud to me) both sound louder than, say, German, French, or Japanese. I figure that other languages aren’t really spoken louder than English, but only sound that way to me because they are unfamiliar. Anyone else notice this phenomenon?

It’s 'cause they’re unfamiliar, basically.

Also, it’s worth noting that Americans are notorious for having the loudest regular speaking voice of pretty much everywhere.


There were some French dudes wandering around talking to each other and I thought they were loud as hell. But I’m going with andygirl, I think it’s just because they’re unfamiliar.

Notorious among whom?

Everyone. :wink:

In one of my ling classes we had a discussion on relative voice volume and it was mentioned that 'mericans had a very loud base volume.

And FWIW, when I was in Europe I was told on a regular basis that I didn’t sound American because I spoke quietly. I’d venture a guess that it’s a common perception among various europeans.

Where I live, a great many people are bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish. It has been my experience that when people switch from English to Spanish, their volume (and speed) go up. A friend and I once pointed this out to our bilingual boss, and she had no explanation – though she admitted that we were right (in her case at least)

When I’m on the subway in Korea, I’m surrounded by mostly Korean conversation, but if there are other English speakers in the car, their conversation always stands out to me. It isn’t unfamiliar to me, but it is different from the rest of the ambient noise. True, the English speakers are sometimes speaking a bit loudly, but I seem to be able to pick out English conversation from the other end of a crowded subway car, even if it isn’t loud.

Maybe if one is surrounded by a familiar language, the unfamiliar one stands out, but if one is surrounded by a less familiar language, the familiar one stands out. What’s different catches my attention, whereas I tend to ignore most of the ordinary stuff. (I try to ignore it actually, since what I pick out is usually stuff like, “Sure are a lot of foreigners here lately,” and “Yeah, and they’re so hairy,” and “You think that’s a real tattoo on his arm?” They assume that I won’t understand, and I’d usually rather not hear it.)

This is a common topic of conversation at school. The two dominant languages are English and Chinese. The Chinese speakers just seem So. Amazingly. Loud.

The rational part of my brain accepts that it’s really just because it’s unfamiliar. But the Chinese just seems so loud - moreso than the other languages spoken from time to time. It’s probably just that I’ve decided that the Chinese is so loud that I tend to notice it more.

Some people are loud and some people are not, even within cultures.

I travel in Mexico at times. I have been on rural buses, full of rather poor Mexicans, and it would be very quiet. Nearly every person on that bus would be in a conversation (mostly Spanish but some native languages too), and it was just a quiet murmurr. But the ‘fresas’ (middle class preppie types) in the bigger cities would be some of the loudest damn people you’d ever hear.

Yes, foreign language people seem to sound louder. That is why you have to SPEAK ENGLISH AS LOUD AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE TO MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!


I have exactly the same experience. Cantonese speakers are supposedly notoriously loud speakers, but I find that on the subway I usually can’t hear any one conversation loud enough to understand it, while now that I have gotten used to Cantonese being the language I hear around me all the time, English speakers have me thinking “shut up, shut up, shut up!”

Not In Anger - You got me ROTFLMAO! I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to many and various lands over the years, and I find that most folks from the U.S. become rather irritated and highly agitated when trying to converse with the citizens of the host country. Usually, the U.S. travelers will speak LOUDER and s l o w e r in an attempt to be understood. And many times, they will add an “o” at the end of each word. It’s humorous in the extreme to watch, but I sometimes feel embarrassed for the clueless tourist - they’re visitors fer chrissakes! As I was told many years ago by a very wise person: Each of us is an ambassador for the U.S. when we visit a foreign country - the people we meet will judge our country by what they observe in us. So, learn how to say, “Another beer, please.” in the local language and you’re good to go.

Aw, Space Vampire beat me to it. But I’ll second that Cantonese is supposedly spoken rather loudly, especially in HK, and particularly by old men. But I’ve gotten used to it (even though I can’t understand most of it).

radar ralf… its silly, but that does have some logic to it. I took 3 years of french, if someone from france came up to me I would ONLY be able to grasp what they said if they talked very very slowly.

Yeah, I forgot to mention that. To me, Spanish sounds not only louder than other languages, but faster. Of course this is all on average; I’ve certainly heard Spanish spoken softly and slowly, and English spoken loudly and quickly.

I agree, sorta. Foreign languages sound louder to me, but only if they’re foreign to the language being used by most of the people around me. Japanese just blends into the background murmur, but Chinese, Korean, English (my native language), French, etc., are all easy to pick out, even halfway down a packed subway car. I think it has more to do with the rhythm of the language jarring with what everyone else is speaking than with the volume. Although I do encounter plenty of tourists and visiting businessmen that make me want to start twisting parts of their faces to see which one controls the volume.

Eso si que es?