Hey guys, today we’ve got another guest post from Jeff at Living Bilingual, enjoy:
Let me start off by acknowledging that finding the easiest language to learn is highly subjective, and that there is no one, clear-cut, hands down easiest language to learn. However, if someone were to take a stab at it, the list may play out similar to the following one I have presented here.
There are several organizations and government entities which classify language difficulties for English speakers in terms of hours needed to reach conversational fluency and various other factors. I’m sure a lot of time and research has gone into these classifications presented by the Foreign Service Institute and Department of State, however I hope to expand on their information by adding a bit of a personal touch to it; breaking it down even further.
According to the FSI and Department of State, the following languages come from the list classified in “Category 1” of languages closely related to English. This means that these languages will take roughly 575-600 class hours to get to a good level of fluency.
[One important note here: 600 class hours would mean if you studied a language for one hour per day, 5 days a week, it would take you 2.3 years to get to this level.]
The Good: Afrikaans seems to top a lot of easiest language to learn lists. A few reasons are:
The grammar is logical and easy. There is no verb conjugation and it has no gender. The languages I speak, Spanish and German, are beasts in both: Spanish is the king of verb conjugation and German has 3 genders. I can assure you all of that is very annoying. It’s a Germanic language closely related to German and English. It shares a ton of vocabulary. A lot of words are very similar; words like ‘wat’ for ‘what’ and ‘dit’ for ‘this’ are much easier to remember.
The Bad: Afrikaans is a fairly isolated language. There are not a lot of speakers and it isn’t as easily accessible as some languages, like Spanish or French, in the United States.
Native Language Of: South Africa, Namibia (Botswana/Zimbabwe)
Number of Native Speakers/Total Speakers: ~7.1 million / ~15 million to ~20 million
Famous Person Who Speaks It: Charlize Theron
#2: Norwegian (norsk)
The Good: Norwegian is another popular choice for the easiest language to learn for English speakers. Again, like Afrikaans, the vocabulary is derived from the same root Latin-based vocabulary which makes learning new vocabulary words relatively easy.
The Bad: Norwegian has a lot of dialects and variations. This makes it hard to communicate in some situations. While not as bad as languages like Arabic, this still can create confusion for language learners. Also, the relative isolation of the language and smaller number of speakers can make it slightly harder to find opportunities to practice the language.
Native Language Of: Norway
Number of Native Speakers/Total Speakers: ~5 Million (not real well known)
Famous Person Who Speaks It: Viggo Mortensen (some Norwegian)
The Good: I put Spanish on the list because it falls into the first category and it really is a fairly easy language to learn. What pushes it over the edge for me and makes it one of the easiest languages to learn is the fact that language practice abounds in the United States. Almost all movies you rent are subtitled in Spanish, there are tons of bilingual books and other resources, as well as literally tens of millions of speakers throughout the United States. It is incredibly easy to practice Spanish in the United States. This helps immensely when learning the language.
Important (and quick) side note!
If you’re reading this you’re probably learning Spanish at a beginner or intermediate level, and if so could I recommend you quickly check out a site called Yabla? They teach you Spanish using videos made by and for natives (e.g. TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, cartoons, news and documentaries originally made in Spanish-speaking countries for native speakers) coupled with a set of tools specifically designed for that purpose which are integrated into the video player:
- Verbatim subtitles in Spanish shown at the same time as English subtitles (you can turn either or both on or off)
- An integrated dictionary and flashcard system that both automatically looks up a word in the subtitles when you click on it as well as adds it to your flashcards for later review
- Exercises and quizzes about what you just watched that make you apply the new Spanish you just learned.
Check it out here (discounts for educators and institutions, by the way, I know a lot of you are teachers) or read my full review if you’d like more information (and screenshots of the system) first. Back to the article…
Technically speaking, Spanish again has a very similar past to English. A lot of words are mutually intelligible, if not exactly the same, or just need a slight variation to make them Spanish instead of English. Additionally, the close proximity to the United States makes a lot of English words work their way into Spanish. Mexicans use the English word for things like lunch, pickup, etc…
The Bad: There are about a thousand ways to say anything you want to say. Spanish has a lot of sayings or dichos as they call them. Also, the verb conjugation throws a lot of people for a loop. In addition, the subjunctive and various versions of past tense are a little difficult to get initially. It is basically the opposite of Afrikaans with genders, verb conjugations, and non-logical changes in grammar (at least for us English speakers) like the subjunctive/etc.
Native Language Of: Mexico, Spain, and almost all of Central/South America (too long of a list)
Number of Native Speakers/Total Speakers: ~410 Million / ~470 Million
Famous Person Who Speaks It: Jennifer Lopez (Why not?)
There are several languages that are all relatively the same in relation to how difficult they are for English speakers to master. While lists like this are fun to make, they really don’t get at the essence of what it means for a language to be easy. Language learning is a long process full of hard work, dedication, persistence, determination, and about a billion other things. In order to make it to the end of this long journey, you need to have the sufficient motivation. The easiest language to learn is the one you most want to learn. Picking one off this list to learn because “it’s easy” is not going to give you very good results in the end.
It’s important to figure out which language fits your lifestyle and in your heart; then go learn it. If you’re heart is screaming for two languages, try learning two languages at once!