It’s not a fair question, of course. The factors are many. The characteristics that distinguish languages are diverse. And everybody learns differently. How can we pin down one that we all agree is the easiest language to learn?
And yet, we must try. Something compels us. The question gnaws at our linguaphile minds. So let’s look at some of the candidates. Since you’re reading this, let’s assume we’re starting from an English speaking background.
English is one of the most connected languages around. Over half of it comes from a branch of the Indo-European language family tree called the romance languages. Here English shares Latin roots with Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian, among others. Perhaps the easiest language to learn is among these?
But then, English is really a Germanic language, and therefore is cousins with German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish as well.
We’ve also received recent influences from a variety of cultures, especially in the melting pot of America. English has adapted accordingly by lifting loanwords like the Sino-Japanese tofu and the Yiddish klutz, or the upper-middle class Caucasian namaste.
So for a native English speaker, what are some possibilities for the easiest language to learn, and why?
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A surprising candidate for the easiest language, to start things off. Norwegian is also from the Germanic family, so it shares a lot of vocabulary with English. If you can ski down a slalom in a fjord, you’re already speaking Norsk. Whether these are loanwords from Norwegian, or we share a common root, it makes them easy to learn.
Norwegian also has very straightforward grammar. It has only one verb form per tense and the same word order as English. Thus, Norwegian is absent of many of the obstacles that make learning a language tricky.
Plus, a variety of accents makes pronunciation forgiving. Even if you jumble a word or two, there’s probably somebody in Norway who says it that way. Uff da!
Here’s the one you probably expected as the easiest language to learn. And not without reason. As one of the major global languages still in place from colonial times, Spanish is prevalent. That means you have easy access to practice opportunities.
It’s especially close at hand in the U.S., which has more Spanish speakers than any other country besides Mexico! This gives you lots of opportunity to practice, and easy access to Spanish media. Day Translations founder Sean Hopwood learned Spanish at a young age in part by listening to Latin American music!
Spanish is phonetic, so words are spelled like they sound. This will be a relief to English speakers who can read a book close and close the book they read, or write a lead in pencil without using the right lead. Clear, consistent spelling and grammar makes Spanish a strong contender for the easiest language to learn.
A romance language with Latin roots similar to much of English, Spanish has many cognates. That’s a fancy word for word-cousins that stem from the same root. Just think of perfecto, excelente, and delicioso, words you’ll need when you’re putting salsa picante on your tacos de pescado in Mazatlán.
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If only there was a language with no conjugation, no genders, and no pronouns. If only you could just memorize vocabulary, stack it all together and call it a day. Oh, hey! That perfectly describes Afrikaans, a language spoken in South Africa and some of its neighbors. Great. Throwing out the grammar books as we speak.
Afrikaans is phonetically comfortable for English speakers. No tickling your tongue over French fricatives or stumbling through the tonal acrobatics of Mandarin. You won’t have to give up that half swallowed mumble you’ve perfected over the years in the back rows of college classes! Just the memorize a bunch of a familiar, West Germanic vocabulary, (it’s based in friendly Dutch) and leef die droom.
See if you can decipher this mind bending conversation:
Jules: Hallo, my naam is Jules. Wat is jou naam?
Jim: Hallo, vriend. My naam is Jim. Hoe gaan dit?
Jules: Goed, en met jou?
Jim: Goed, dankie.
Jules: Oh, goed.
Boy, this is going to take a lifetime! Or it could just be that for a native English speaker, Afrikaans is the easiest language to learn. But wait. There’s just one more candidate...
The Winner of the Easiest Language to Learn is:
The results are in. Drumroll, please:
An international auxiliary language constructed by a late 19th century Polish eye doctor? With the express purpose of being easy to learn and similar to all romance languages? Done and done. What, you don’t trust a doctor?
Dr. L.L. Zamenhof, winner of the 1887 Best Name Award, invented what would later be called Esperanto. It’s a language without a nation. It’s a language for all people. It’s a product of intention, not blind evolution. And that intention was “to render the study of the language so easy as to make its acquisition mere play to the learner.” Zamenhof’s own words!
Though it’s native to nowhere, Esperanto is popular in parts of Eastern Europe and China. It’s particularly useful for international communication. And that’s the whole idea. It’s the easiest language and the most international language by design. It has an estimated:
- 1,000 native speakers
- 10,000 fluent speakers
- 100,000 active speakers
- 1 million serious students
- 10 million students
To learn more about Esperanto, and to get started learning the world’s easiest language, you can visit esperanto.net.
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Now you know the easiest language to learn. Rejoice! Finally, you’ll be able to add that second language to your Linkedin profile! And more importantly, you have a few easiest language options to chose from that won’t demand too much focus and discipline. Because after all, Dr. Zamenhof was right--learning should be fun! Right?
And now you have a few good answers when anyone asks you what’s the easiest language to learn. Got a different pick for the easiest language to learn? Leave us a comment, Tweet us, or Facebook us yours!