10 Animals and What They Say in 8 Languages


When I was a college junior, I spent a summer with fellow English majors teaching English in Debrecen, Hungary. We had mostly beginning English students that summer. We had a translator, not for English classes, which were held completely in English, but for some other occasions, and that translator became a good friend of ours. Often though, we did not have the help of either translator or our more advanced students on social occasions where some translation would be helpful. Knowing only very minimal Hungarian ourselves, trying to communicate with our beginner students on social occasions led to a lot of humorous situations.

Some of these funny situations involved our translator’s wife who knew almost no English. If her husband was not nearby, it was challenging to talk to her. On one occasion, at a picnic, I picked up some of her baby’s animal toys and gave her a mini English lesson on animal names. One of our advanced students was sitting nearby and had the nerve to correct me. “It is not a camel,” he announced in a posh British accent. (The summer teachers and I were all American.) “It is a dromedary,” he said.

On another occasion, at a zoo, our translator’s wife pointed to some ducks and, without using a word of English, somehow made me understand that Hungarian ducks say, “Háp-háp” and not “Quack quack.” So, it seems international animals, just like people, do not all speak the same language. So, if you would like to know how to communicate to foreign animals, here is a guide — 10 animal names and their onomatopoeia sounds in 8 different languages.

Keep in mind that the Russian, Japanese and Chinese have been transliterated into Roman alphabet.

  1. English — The duck, “Quack, quack”
Photo by Ravi Singh on Unsplash

French — Le canard, “Coin-coin”

German — Die Ente, “Quak”

Spanish — El pato, “Cuac cuac.”

Italian — L’anatra, “Quack quack”

Russian — Utka, “Krya-krya”

Japanese — Ahiru, “Ga-ga”

Chinese — Yazi, “Gua-gua”

Note: Lady Gaga’s name must sound really strange to Japanese people.

2. English — The frog, “Ribbit, ribbit”

Photo by David Code on Unsplash

French — Le grenouille, “Croac, croac”

German — der Frosch, “Quak”

Spanish — La rana, “Cruá, Cruá”

Italian — La rana, “Cra cra”

Russian — Lyagushka, “Kva-kva”

Japanese — Kaeru, “Kero, kero”

Chinese — Qīngwā, “Guō guō”

It’s interesting that German ducks and German frogs say exactly the same thing. I wonder if they have little conversations at the pond. Also, “Ribbit” has absolutely nothing in common with these other sounds.

3. English — The rooster, “Cock-a-doodle-doo”

Photo by Faiz Ahmed Jeems on Unsplash

French — Le coq, “Cocorico”

German — der Hahn, “Kikeriki”

Spanish — El gallo, “Kikeriki”

Italian — Il gallo, “Chicchirichí”

Russian — Petukh, “Kookahreekoo”

Japanese — Niwatori, “Kokekoko”

Chinese — Gōngjī, “Wō wō wō”

It’s interesting how similar most of these are. “Cocorico” and its variations sounds more like a rooster sound to me than “… doodle doo.” I’ve never heard a rooster “doodle doo,” have you?

4. English — The dog, “Woof woof,” “Bow wow,” “Ruff ruff”

Photo by Jaira Alzate on Unsplash

French — Le chien, “Ouaf ouaf,” “Wouf Wouf”

German — der Hund, “Wuf Wuf,” “Wau Wau”

Spanish — El perro, “Guau guau”

Italian — Il cane, “Bau bau”

Russian — Sobaka, “Gahf, gahf”

Japanese — Inu, “Wan wan”

Chinese — Gǒu, “Wāng wāng”

I’m thinking that a German shepherd and a French poodle could have a conversation, and an Akita and a Pekingese could have a conversation, but a German shepherd and a Pekingese might have trouble understanding one another.

4. English — The cat, “Meow”

Photo by Krystian Tambur on Unsplash

French — Le chat, “Miaou”

German — die Katze, “Miau”

Spanish — El gato, “Miau”

Italian — Il gatto, “Miau”

Russian — Kot, “Myaoo”

Japanese — Neko, “Nyaa nyaa”

Chinese — Nà zhǐ māo, “Miāo”

It seems that most of these nationalities are in agreement that cats “meow,” but Japanese cats “nyaa.”

6. English — The horse, “Neigh”

Photo by Violeta Pancheva on Unsplash

French — Le cheval, “Hiiii”

German — das Pferd, “Iaahh”

Spanish — El caballo, “Jiiiii”, “IIIIou”

Italian — Il cavallo, “Hiiiii”

Russian — Loshad’, “Igogo”

Japanese — Uma, “Hihiin”

Chinese — Nà pǐ mǎ, “Sī”

Out of these, I find the Russian “Igogo” the most interesting. It sounds like something the rider should say to the horse.

7. English — The cow, “Moo”

Photo by Amanda Kerr on Unsplash

French — La vache, “Meuh”

German — die Kuh, “Muh”

Spanish — La vaca, “Mu,” “Muuuu”

Italian — La mucca, “Muuuuu”

Russian — Korova, “Mooo”

Japanese — Ushi, “Moo moo”

Chinese — Niú, “Mōu”

With a little imagination, the Italian “La mucca” (la Mooca) sounds like “moo cow” to an English speaker.

8. English — The pig, “Oink, oink”

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French — Le Cochon, “Groin, groin”

German — das Schwein, “Grunz, grunz”

Spanish — El cerdo, “Oink, oink,” “Oinc, oinc”

Italian — Il maiale, “Oink, Oink”

Russian — Svin’ya, “Khryoo, khryoo”

Japanese — Buta, “Buu buu”

Chinese — Zhū, “Hēng hēng”

Appearance-wise, the French word for pig noises looks like a much more embarrassing English term, but the sound is very different. The “Oink” sound for Spanish and Italian seems to be influenced from English. “Grunz, grunz” seems more like an authentic pig sound than “Oink, oink.” “Das Schwein” sounds kind of harsh and insulting, but ‘il maiale” is rather pretty.

9. English — The sheep, “Baa baa”

Photo by Sam Carter on Unsplash

 French — L’agne, “Bêê”

German — das Schaf, “Mäh or bäh”

Spanish — La oveja, “Bee, Mee”

Italian — La pecora, “Beee”

Russian — Ovtsa, “Behh”

Japanese — Hitsuji, “Mee mee”

Chinese — Yáng, “Miē”

For some reason, the “Bee” sound for Spanish or Italian speaking sheep strikes me funny, and yet it isn’t very different from “Baa.” Maybe, it’s because “bee” is also the name of a honey-making insect in English.

10. English — The bird, “Tweet tweet,” “Cheep cheep”

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

French — L’oiseau, “Cui cui”

German — der Vogel, “Piep piep”

Spanish — El pájaro, “Pio pio”

Italian — L’uccello, “Cip cip”

Russian — Ptitsa, “Chikchirik”

Japanese — Tori, “Pipii”

Chinese — Nà zhǐ niǎo, “Jī jī”

The German “Piep piep” is very similar to the English, and although the Japanese bird sound is not very different from this, it does allow for some potty humor for native English speakers.