Why some speakers cant understand speakers who understand them - Asymmetric Intelligibility

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Sometimes two languages are close enough that speakers of one understand the other. But it's not always fair. It's easier for Danish speakers to understand Swedish than the other way around. Same goes for Portuguese and Spanish. Many other languages, too. How come?Subscribe for language:

ani... asymmetric intelligibility danish language language linguistics mutual intelligibility norwegian language scandinavian languages swedish language

Abraham Aloum Ruiz
In Spain there's a dialect from Andalusia (where I'm from) and we can actually understand people from Madrid but they can't understand us or have some trouble trying to figure some words out, and people north Spain people can't understand us either, it's like we've got a secret language hahaha
As a Spanish speaker, written Portuguese is easy to understand, but spoken Portuguese, barely if at all.
Adam Šulc
Czecks and Slovaks can understand each other :)
Alicja Walendziak
Suprised you didn't mention Slavic languages here.
Alyssa Miles
A number of years ago my mom and I went on a vacation to Cancun Mexico. When we were there we decided to eat at McDonald's. While standing in line we watched the order in front of us. The person behind the counter was a Mexican of course, and the customer was Australian. Both spoke fluent English, however, we watched with no small amount of humor as they struggled to communicate. The Mexican speaking fluent English could not understand the Australians accent. The biggest sticking point was a bottled water. To the Mexican, \
Ben medina gro.
this reminds me of how Italian Spanish and Portuguese sounds so similar , cool video thanks
Benno Lenno
As a Swede I can definitely say that Danish is hard as hell to understand and Norwegian a lot easier c:
Bernhard Jordan
Scots speakers can understand English speakers , but the other way around is just impossible \n\nas an example I can say \
Well, I live in Cyprus (ooofff, controversial politics). Both my parent and I speak Turkish Cypriot, however since they teach Modern Turkish in school, my Cypriot Turkish is less Cypriot than theirs. One day, while at a shop in \
Big Boy Arnold
As a Russian, I can understand every Slavic language, yet they can't. \nIt's awesome. \nKind of like how black people in America can understand everything, yet nobody understands them
I lived in Brazil for a year as an exchange student. As the Canadian student who was first there for a couple weeks, I was so frustrated when the Mexican student came and basically could speak with the other classmates in Spanish and could understand Portuguese on the first day. It was so infuriating! I remember after a few months I remember hearing two students (who weren't part of my class) gossiping about me- that I as the Canadian student really didn't talk as much as the Mexican student. The other one thankfully argued for me, saying that I could probably understand but found speaking more difficult (which was totally true). I feel proud enough that by the end of my exchange I had gained the local accent! As well, my French language skills also improved, between learning Portuguese by my host mom using French to teach me and just the fact that French and Portuguese are romance languages and related. For me, I'd say I can understand Spanish quite well now, French and then lastly Italian I can catch phrases here and there. Also, now that I have Korean (and Japanese) under my belt, learning Chinese has actually been an easier challenge for me than Gaelic! Language is so interesting- thank you for your videos! Your channel is one of my favourites!
Captain Kat
When scandinavians meet we can usually with some effort understand each other if we just speak our native languages but to make it easier we usually speak a kind of \
Carine Gaaren
Norwegians understand danes and swedes better than they understand us maybe because Norwegian itself consists of a wide specter of dialects, witch are very different in both pronunciation and words, so we are used to kind of looking for the keywords and meaning of the sentence and thereby being able to respond, and we are used to many different ways of pronouncing a word. I remember I was in Sweden and asked for the wardrobe which is \
Charlie PB
Same with Portuguese and Spanish ! Portuguese understand Spanish, Spanish don't understand anything T-T
Chef Rafi's Awesome World
Yes! It depends on exposure too. Many people are not exposed to more than one language so it is harder for them to hear differences.
My mother used to work in a shop in Tijuana as a young lady (in the early 1940s), and an Italian man walked in and didn't speak English or Spanish. My mother didn't speak Italian, but she spoke Spanish to him and he spoke Italian to her, and they understood each other perfectly! 😁
Crystal Walker
Like how Americans can't understand the rest of the English speaking world
Cyka CheekiBreeki
If you understand polish you understand most of the other Slavic languages but they don't understand you. As an example, I can understand some Serbian which sounds like an drunken bit \
D Hawthorne
Pennsylvanian \
D J Austin
I speak spanish, and once had a job as foreman for several Mexicans. One girl from northern Mexico I understood very easily; the rest of the crew started calling her \
Daniel Olai Danielsen
I'm Norwegian. I live in the south east part of the country. I also lived across the border in Sweden for some time. There are next-to-zero comprehension issues No-Se or Se-No in this region. Even where certain words are completely different (cake = kake(no), tårta(se)) or where the same word means different things (rolig = calm(no), fun(se)) there is very little confusion between the two languages as they have interacted so much in these regions. We Norwegians grew up watching Swedish TV, and the Swedes have had Norwegians over for a long time because it's a lot cheaper for us to shop and vacation in Sweden.\n\nMy Swedish home was about three hours due east of my current Norwegian home, or about an hour into Sweden. If I drive three hours west, into inner Norway, the dialect is so twisted that it took me years to be able to hold a conversation with someone (without them switching to an eastern dialect). They'd understand me perfectly, of course, as my dialect is very 'clean'. There are several parts of Sweden where the dialect is so changed that I'd also find it impossible to understand most of what was being said.\n\nAs for Danish... I simply do not comprehend even non-dialected spoken Danish. I can't even separate individual words much of the time. The times I've driven through Denmark I've had to result to English whenever I needed to have a conversation beyond \
Decius X
A whole lot of comments so far, but I’m sure this hasn’t been brought up yet: Albanians have a much easier time learning Romanian than vice versa; more specifically, it’s much easier to pick the shared words as well as the shared grammar.\nThere are a lot of influences common to both: above all from Latin (and those are the most useful, by far), then Slavic, Turkish, French and Greek. In terms of lexicon especially, the Latin stratum is very useful, since it is very large in both, especially for daily vocabulary: both languages have adapted this older lexicon to their phonology, of course, but Albanian phonology is more distant from the Latin, so the adaptation is more “original” (La: “*padul(em)” \u003e Ro: “pădure(a)”, Al: “pyll(i)”). At the same time, Albanian is often more conservative with this sort of lexicon (La: scientia \u003e Ro: știința (pron.: shtee-eentza), Al: shkenca (pron.: shkehntza)).\nI now it sounds a bit confused, but I’ve simplified as much as I could, as it is a bit more complicated, and has much to do with Dark Ages phonetic shifts.\nThere is something similar that happens with the grammar, too: often it is the case that Romanian uses sporadically what Albanian uses regularly — this part is less influenced by Latin (since Albanian *grammar* and syntax, unlike the lexicon, are relatively little influenced by Latin) and is rooted either in Ancient (“Paleobalcanic”) or Medieval developments.\nE.G.: both languages have suffixed articles (Ro: “omUL”, Al: “NjeriU”), but Romanian *at times* can have an additional, *preposed* article in the genitive (“AL omului”, but you can also have just “omului”), whereas this preposed additional article is *always* used in Albanian with genitive nouns (“E njeriut”), with almost all adjectives (“I mirë”) and even a few fossils such as “father” and “mother” (“i ati” and “e ëma”).\nThis happens with many other phenomena, so as an Albanian you get a somewhat “wider” view of the same things that happen in Romanian.\nThere are also advantages in terms of motivation and opportunity for Albanians (being a smaller country, you come in contact more often with more languages, and you have an incentive to get interested in them), so it is a particularly one-sided instanxe of what you’re talking about, I guess.
Diana The Scorn of The Moon
Lol someday an Azeri pilot says \
Dick Piano
Bulgarian people can understand the other Slavic languages like Czech and Russian but not vice versa.
Dr BlackCoffee
My Dad is a Geordie. He once went to Svalbard with Norwegian sailors and the Norwegians understood my Dad completely when he spoke Geordie. It's funny how the English can't understand them, but foreigners can.
Romanians can understand Italian very well without any formal training, but the other way around not so much
Hi! Another thing to take into account: native speakers of spanish can understand spoken Italian far more easily than written italian, and viceversa with portuguese: Spoken is far harder to understand than reading it.
Edison gaming
As romanians we understand 80-90% of italian but im sure they can't understand us at all
Fat Fuck
Save you the time : unfamiliar accents and dialects.
Fay N
Same things with arabs.. arabs have different dialects so some of us dont understand each other. But everyone understands the egyptian dialect because they have alot of movies and tv channels but an egyptian wouldnt understand me.
Felipe Cabrera
Spanish is my first language, but I also speak English and a bit of Norwegian. A friend of mine speaks Swedish and she always complains about how Danish sounds pure giberish for her ears.\nPersonally, I understand Italian and Portuguese with ease but French is pretty much unintelligible. Actually, written French is easy because of its conservative spelling system.
This definetly exists with german, Swiss and Austrian. Most (northern) germans would never understand swiss german but maybe a little bit of austrian. As southern german you should have no trouble understanding austrian and maybe understand a little bit of Swiss german. However almost all austrians and most swiss understand german. I dont know how it is with swiss and austrians talking to eachother.
There was a few times when I was reading a sentence in what I thought was Russian, until I noticed it seemed just slightly odd. After a few moments, I realized the sentence was actually in Ukrainian, and while I could not actually speak it, I could understand most of what I was reading. The same thing happens when I read Polish as well.
With Spanish and Portuguese is the same... We cand understand eachother abit\nBut portuguese have waay easier time understanding spanish than we have understanding them
Gilly Fox
So this is why I understand Italian, Portuguese and some French
Gopnik Aleks
People in Argentina have a hard time understanding Brazilian Portuguese, because of its nasal sounds, dropped vowels and weird consonants\n\nA simple phrase like \
My mum who is czech speaks to polish people in Czech and they respond and polish and they have full blown conversation and understand each other perfectly
Jacob Davis
Strange, I'm a English speaker from the USA, and I heard a Welshman talk once, and I understood him perfectly, despite the fact I never have learned any Welsh.
Janco van der Westhuizen
It's all the Danes fault, their language sounds like they're choking
Jane Za
Do this whit Balkan languages and see haw complex it is. You wold need half of your life to understand. Even Artificial intelligence hard to define because depends on input data, but we have no all the data as it is lost over time... so simplified result wold took way of mainstream conclusions. I am Macedonian and cognate whit all Indo-European-Languages from Sanskrit and Armenian over Farsi and Lithanian to Scottish and Portuguese characteristic vocabulary,grammar or pronunciation sintax.
John Galt
Like when American's put subtitles under English people talking, I always lol at that. I always assumed it was because you guys have a lot of sub-saharan African's in your population who's language skills are very poor tbh.
Jonas Pelmeni
it's really all about exposure. I live in southern sweden, much closer to denmark and I understand danish pretty much perfectly, while my friends in Stockholm for example always switch to english when speaking to a dane.
Julio Mazariegos
Spanish is derived from Portuguese. In the 11th century, Spanish and Portuguese began to diverge with Spanish having a much less complex phonology and orthography(spelling) than Portuguese , in general, it is easier for a Portuguese -speaker to understand Spanish than vice versa.
Jungkook's Glutius Maximus
yeah im slovak and slovak ppl understand pretty much 100% of czech but apparently its a bit harder the other way around xdd
I'm Canadian, and I at least used to be fluent in Standard French _in spite of_ the Canadian education system, rather than _because of._ Some years ago I was helping a guy from Québec navigate public transit; because of his Québec accent I asked him to speak English to me, and I spoke French back to him. Beautiful—each of us using our non-native language to speak to the other in their native language. =3
Lola Opal
I am an Irish speaker (not native but now kind of fluent) and I was so startled by how much I could understand from Scottish Gaelic. It is so similar, there are just a few spellings and consonants that are a little different. I wonder if it is the same the other way around
Marika Schimonová
I think it would be nice to explain why Czechs can only communicate well with Slovaks, while all the Slavic nations understand to Czech quite easily :D
Matthias Van Hecke
the belgians and dutch al speak \
Michael King
Portuguese can understand Spanish but not vice versa
I live in an Orthodox Jewish area and can speak Swiss German. I understand a lot of the Yiddish I hear out and about.
Natasa Ma
As a Serbian, I can't really understand Slovenians, but Slovenians can understand me!
Any lopsided intelligibility stories to share? :D
i was expecting you to talk about Mandarin and Cantonese. Huh.
Nessie Andrew
That's why Romanians kinda u derstand Italian, but Italians can't understand Romanian.
Nóra Pikószky
I'm Hungarian. Nobody understands us 😂
As an Australian, while travelling in the US people on the west coast and east coast had little qualms understanding me, but I ran into a lot of trouble with people in the south. At one point I repeated myself so many times that I finally emulated a stereotypical US southern accent and the gent understood me. Not really a language asymmetry, more an accent one! Also the Danish-Swedish interchangeability was touched on a few times in the 2011 TV Series called The Bridge. It's a really good police drama too, I highly recommend it.
I was born and raised in Germany, but in a turkish houshold. I kind of learned to speak turkish, but With an hooorible german accent. When i was in Turkey, People sometimes tended to Not unterstand what i was trying to say, even if my Grammar and choice of words were perfectly fine. My mother even had to Translate sometimes. Really funny if you think about it. A turkish mom hast to Translate her turkish sons turkish, so turkish People can unterstand it. Even Though my mother would never ne Able to copy my accent, seh still understands me as much as i unterstand normal turkish, wich i find hillarious
Poosky Films
When I had my first job as a cart pusher at a store, one of my coworkers was an Argentinian man who didn't speak English. I am from Italy, and for some reason, the way he spoke Spanish just clicked. I could help him communicate with everyone else, even though he couldn't understand me when I spoke Italian. It was a really interesting episode that stuck with me. Thanks for making this video to clear up the phenomenon
lol this was uploaded on my birthday
Psy Kosh
Wait, Levenshtein distance is symmetric, at least in the form of the algorithm you displayed above. How the fluff are the numbers for that different in different directions? That is, how can, say, the Danish-\u003eNorwegian distance be different than the Norwegian-\u003eDanish distance? I seem to be missing some other concept here.
We, Arabs, feel that clearly. Everybody understands Egyptian dialect (of Cairo) because it's the language of art, then comes Syrian (I believe of Damascus) because it's relatively easy, while Egyptians have a hard time understanding other dialects from the farther edges of the Arab world (Western North Africa and eastern Arabia).
Georgian here. Nobody understands us and we don't understand anyone. But for me knowing Russian as a second language helps me understand other slavic languages. Ukrainian is the closest and really easy for anyone who knows Russian. I could understand way more in Czech than in Polish. Funny thing - back in the days I was tried to study Norwegian for a year and a few times watched Swedish movies and it seemed like it would be easier for me to study Swedish instead of Norwegian but can't claim anything because soon after that I dropped all my studies and never went back.
The reason Norwegians have an easier time understanding Danish is because of history. Denmark used to rule over Norway and thus influencing the Norwegian language with the Danish. Norwegian and Swedish is in practice just very similar languages. Danish and Swedish is very similar on paper but sound very differently. Danish sounds like the words get trapped in the throat, Swedish sounds as if someone is being very patronising and/or sorry.
Simon Granroth
As me and my brothers we´re playing around as kids and the going got wild, our Norwegian family friend came and tried to calm us down by calling \
Moral of the story: Be a hot woman lol
Step Back History
Using numbers of speakers and mutual intelligibility, we should make a list of the most valuable languages to talk to the most people.
A friend of mine was lost in Italy once. She is a native speaker of English and had had no expereince speaking Italian. Another woman from the same tour was lost along side her who was a native speaker of Italian with no expereince speaking English. Both my friend and this woman had studied classical Latin, though, and they got by on that!
Trebor Saldivar
Since Spanish is so widespread, I would imagine that the different accents within a certain language would make it harder for someone to understand a related language, or vice versa. In the video they mention that the store clerk was speaking a Caribbean variety. I would imagine that it would be harder for an Italian speaker to fill in the blanks for the aspirated S in that accent. Italian in most parts of Italy stresses consonants over vowels, so this would not be a problem for him. Also, as most people might understand, Portuguese speakers have an easier time making out what a Spanish speaker says rather than the other way around. I like knowing about this stuff.
Tubmaster 5000
I think that's one reason why we English speakers have such a tough time learning foreign languages. There isn't another European language close enough to English to make it easier to learn. For example, if you speak a latin-based language, such as Italian, it's fairly easy to learn another latin-based language, such as French, Spanish or Portuguese. However, although English is classified as a germanic language, a knowledge of English doesn't make it easy to learn another germanic language, such as German or the scandinavian languages. Even dutch is hard to learn. English grammar is so different from that of other European languages.
Tímea Tarjányi
Hungarians don't understand anyone or vice versa. Sad.
Ulrik Holst
I'm Norwegian and i find swedish easy to understand, but i find danish a lot harder. It is also easier for Norwegians to understand Swedes than the other way around. When we grew up here in Norway we watched Swedish TV shows for children, so that might be why.
Vitor Oliveira
You don't even need to look up too far. Portuguese can understand perfectly well both spanish and brazilian portuguese, both written and speaking form - in most situations it's almost like we're speaking the same language, but with different accents. But the other way around, specially brazilian portuguese to european portuguese, doesn't happen; brazilian portuguese tend to not understand us europeans, even though we speak pretty much the same languange and we can understand them pretty well. Even going as far as \
Waldemir Queiroz
I have already organized a Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish seminar. I had to provide simultaneous translation I;the portuguese speakers to Spanish but not the other way around.
Xyz Aaa
It’s kind of similar in Portuguese. For me, as a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker, it’s quite hard to understand Portuguese people speaking but it’s not like that in the opposite. Indeed, for us Brazilians it’s harder to understand them because they don’t pronounce the vowels as much as we do, so (for me) it sounds like they are speaking Russian or any other slavic language.
Yamen S.
I am Syrian, and back in high school, we had a Moroccan friend. At first when I tried to approach him with my Syrian Arabic, he understood me completely, and I thought I would too, but then he opened his mouth and started making those weird, fast, French-like noises... Yeah, it turned out I needed spend a couple of weeks with him, until I become able to understand him, and whenever we got stuck I just tell him to repeat what he said in MSA (Modern Standard Arabic, which is understood by all Arabs), as his dialect is a mix of Arabic, Amazigh, and French.\nLuckily, that gave me a boost of my French, and now I speak French. :D
As a German, who has lost their mother tongue, and has adopted English as a main because of living in Spain and the U.K. From the age of 1. I understand this fully haha. someone can talk to me in German and I'll understand everything. Spanish and Catalan being my third-fourth languages has helped me speak to Portuguese and Brazilian people quite easily too, I've started forgetting losing my fluency in them too though, since I've lived in the uk for the past 8 years whoops.. Side note. French is a horrible language
Danish isn't a language, it's a throat condition.
albie zidan
this is so true I speak Bengali and loads of times I could understand what Indians were saying in Hindi but they can’t understand me and I also noticed this with Portuguese because I speak Italian my first time in Brazil I spoke zero Portuguese but I managed to understand a lot of what was going on using my Italian and even communicate with people
alva eriksson
in sweden, or maybe all of scandinavia (i'm not sure) it has to do with where in the country you live. in my county, värmland, the dialect is kind of in the middle between norweigan and \
I'm Polish and understand Czechs much better than they do us. That's because their language uses vocabulary that is Polish archaic vocabulary known from old tales, proverbs and church texts. Out vocabulary is not known to them, because it has evolved later in Poland.
Slovak and Czech are so similar that both understand each other pretty much perfectly. The only difference are a few words. Now Slovaks mostly know the Czech words but Czech people often don't know the Slovak ones. I assume it's because a lot of Czech media gets consumed in Slovakia (most Children's cartoons are only dubbed in Czech bit not Slovak) and Slovak media is pretty much non-existent.
black ops
I'm an Iraqi who probably understand many of the Arab dialects with no problem, yet when I speak with my own dialect to other Arabs, especially levant Arabs, they have a harder time understanding me. \nThis is usually because of the Isolation Iraq experienced in the last 40 years where a whole generation of Arabs grew up without being introduced to Iraqi movies and music, while Iraqis still were able to watch Syrian, Egyptian and Kuwaiti movies, soap operas and music.
Norwegians are smart and their girls are sexier.
I think the best thing about your videos, besides the amazing quality and information, is your joy and passion! Thanks so much!
I'm from Romania and I understand most Latin Languages, except Portuguese, I kinda struggle with it, I speak Norwegian, worked there for some years, and I understand Danish pretty well, since it's almost the same, but with a more pronounced Germanic accent, swedes not so much, don't ask me why, the same thing with English, I understand Jamaican, US English, UK English, Irish...etc, but my wife is a pretty good English speaker, but only understands US English (American as she calls it) One Norwegian professor asked me if I have any musical skills, and the fact is, I do, I can play simple tunes on the piano by ear, and he said that helped me learn Norwegian in less than an Year. So there are many factors that lead to the understanding of speech, for example, I know some Norwegians that don't understand Norwegian, because they were speaking old Norwegian vs new Norwegian, and had a hard time. But others did just fine, so it seems that it has more to do with our brains and ears, than the language itself.
actually, a similar situation occurs with bulgarian, macedonian and serbian — i, as a bulgarian, understand absolutely everything in macedonian, spoken or written, while macedonian speakers often struggle to grasp the meaning of even a single simple sentence in my language. it's pretty much the other way around with serbian — bulgarian is highly intelligible to them but not the other way around, so translation from serbian is always needed. i don't know, just wanted to share for my slavic peeps out there 😎👉👉
ecks dee
This is like Spanish and Portuguese, where Portuguese speakers can understand Spanish better, unless you’re Uruguayan that is , in which case you can understand both.
A very good video. I can empathize wirth it - kind of. Because I started to learn some languages, one of them is Turkish. And whenever I speak to a Turkish person (in Turkish), I have trouble understanding him/her, although he/she is speaking word-by-word. But maybe it is, too,because of my inside-my-brain-translator, what often is kind of a little mistake. I heard, that you should not translate, but understand without translation, as if it was your first language.
hunter64 0
I am from czech republic and i can understand russian but he cant understand me and even more intresting is that i can understand polish but my friend also a czech can't
me me
Poop video
Haven't watched it, but norwegians understand swedish, but the opposite is a lot harder.
raven lord
It can be like that with accents as well. General American accent is understood by most English speakers. But there are some wicked accents (looking at you, Irish and Scots) that might as well be a separate language to an average American.
ren .m
Can You make a video about Lithuania ačiū
We were four Swedes (from the north of Sweden) sharing an apartment with a girl from Denmark. None of us Swedes could understand her without her speaking very slowly and repeating things over and over again, but she understood us perfectly. After a few days she just started to talk to us in English instead while we kept speaking Swedish - it worked out great, but it was pretty strange when you think about it 😂
some one
A similar situation happened to me four years ago. I live in southern Brazil, and it's very common to have a lot of Argentinian tourist that come here by car on their summer vacation (they love the beaches in the state of Santa Catarina), well, to go to that state I usually take a road that has a long segment that is not paved but is a lot shorter to get to the beach (not many people choose that route because it is partially not paved), and I came across a car of Argentinian tourists that had problem, they hit a rock and it ruptured the fuel tank ..... in the middle of nowhere. I stopped to help them, their phone didn't work and they didn't know where they were because they \
Sometimes a language can be in the middle as well. Like how Spanish is quite mutually intelligible with both Italian and Portuguese, while Italian and Portuguese aren't that much. As an Italian, for instance, i got an easy time getting in Spain and understanding Spanish, but only when my level of Spanish got to a good level, I started understanding some Portuguese too.
x x
Can you do a video on Slavic languages?\n\nPolish is my first language but I have similar experiences with Scandanavians. IE: I can understand Russian, but Russians can't understand me--I can't understand Slovakian, but Slovaks can understand me--Czech and Poles, in my experience, communicate most easily.
ᚴᚢᚦ ᚢᛁᚴᛁ
Norwegians are the most enlightened.