Watch Germans Try to Pronounce the Word Squirrel

A Blog About Language
June 11 2014 11:20 AM

Germans Have a Really Hard Time Saying Squirrel

A version of this post appeared on The Week:

itsnoteasy
Say my name!

Photo by Thinkstock

A few years ago, Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson pointed out that the best way to expose a German spy would be to ask them to say the word "squirrel," because "no German, no matter how well they speak English, can say 'squirrel.'" So naturally, someone tested the premise back in 2013 and made a video of it. Here is that video (by Tamara Lenz) of 10 Germans trying to say "squirrel":

Advertisement

But don't feel bad, Germans! While we laugh, most of the world is cringing in sympathy with you. This word is nearly impossible to get right for anyone who isn't a native speaker of English! It starts with a pretty intense consonant cluster (which isn't a particular problem for Germans) and segues right into a syllabic r—the hardest English sound—and then immediately fades to the mushy "dark l." I mean, English speakers don't even really know how they say it. Is it one or two syllables? Is there really an r in there? Skwurrrl. Skwirul. Skgrstasdfjkl. Get even the most eloquent native speaker thinking about it too much, and there's no way they won't start to fumble it.

And just to show this is all in good fun, here's a video of 10 Canadians trying to say the German word for squirrel, Eichhörnchen:

Arika Okrent holds a Ph.D. in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?