If you’ve ever tried (and failed) to learn a new language, you’ll know just how difficult some languages can be to grasp. You see, success in the language learning department depends on a range of factors. Where you’re from, what you’re good at, and even what you spend your free time on influences your ability to learn a second or third language.
Before diving into the list of languages that are relatively easy to learn, it is vital to understand which aspects make specific languages more challenging to learn than others.
What Factors Make a Language Easy to Learn?
It’s in our nature to turn to our native language as a reference point whenever we learn new languages. This means that it’ll be easier for you to learn another language if it shares similarities with your native language. Many English speakers find it easy to learn French because there are about 10,000 English cognates – words that closely resemble French words.
Any kind of exposure to a foreign language means that you’ve already started picking up on bits and pieces of the languages without even realizing it. They say that where you’re from and where you’ve been, helps you determine where you’re going. This goes together with exposure.
Some languages use complex and varied writing systems that can significantly impact the difficulty of learning the lingo. Japanese and Mandarin, for example, have unique writing systems and many formality levels.
Many languages also feature various dialects and variations, like Chinese and Arabic. Even though these languages are widespread in Hong Kong and Egypt, they vary from the versions spoken in North China and Saudi Arabia.
Languages like Russian, Hungarian, and Finnish have complicated grammatical structures and many case systems. Italian, Portuguese, and Swedish, on the other hand, have more straightforward grammar rules, fewer language irregularities, and phonetic sounds that aren’t frequently broken, making them much easier to learn.
To determine if you’ll find the following languages easy to learn, try answering the following questions first:
Are there any grammatical structures that will hinder my learning?
How similar is this language to the one(s) I already understand?
After answering those questions, you should consider eight basic sentences that expose the core of any language. These sentences are:
- The ball is red.
- It is Tom’s ball.
- I give Tom the ball.
- We give him the ball.
- He gives it to Tom.
- She gives it to him.
- I must give it to him.
- I want to give it to her.
These eight sentences are conjugated based on the speaker, and they allow you to inspect sentence structures. With this insight, it’s easier to understand if the language uses subject-verb-object (SVO) or subject-object-verb (SOV). English, for example, uses SVO: “I eat the apple”. But Japanese uses SOV: “I the apple eat”.
The first three sentences also identify if the language has a noun case that can be hard to master. In German, for example, “the” can be die, der, das, den, and more, depending on whether “the ball” is a direct or indirect object and if it is someone else’s ball.
Many languages have cultural aspects built into the language. Unlike English, many European languages use different words for “you” and different verb conjugations depending on whether you’re talking to a stranger or someone familiar. Japanese, for example, takes this to the next level, using different words to say the same thing depending on whether you’re addressing your mother, your employer, or a stranger. These subtleties can be tricky to grasp and make the language even more difficult to learn.
Top 10 Easiest Languages to Learn
If your native tongue is English, the following languages might be the easiest for you to learn since they’re not too complex and don’t have too many grammatical structures. Here’s a roundup of the easiest languages to learn, ranked from the easiest to the hardest!
Spanish pronunciations are some of the easiest to learn. This language has a shallow orthographic depth, which means most of the words are written like they’re pronounced. English has 20 vowels and diphthong sounds, and Spanish has just ten. It also doesn’t have any unfamiliar phonemes except for that fun little ñ letter.
Italian is arguably one of the most romantic languages, and thanks to its Latin-rooted vocabulary that translates into many English/Italian cognates, it’s not too hard to learn. Like Spanish, most Italian words are pronounced and written the same. Sentence structure is also rhythmic, and most words end in vowels, adding musicality to the spoken language that can make it easy to understand and use.
If Italian is one of the most romantic languages, French is its boss. At first sight, French might seem like a world apart from English, but linguists estimate that the French language influenced up to a third of the modern English we all speak today. The trick with French is pronunciation, and with vowels and silent letters that you aren’t used to in English, it can be a pain to master.
Portuguese is a powerful language to learn. Because its interrogatives are relatively easy, the general rule is that if you can say it in Portuguese, you can ask a question about it. Like French, pronunciation is an issue for most people learning Portuguese, but as long as you keep practicing those nasal vowel sounds, you’ll get there!
Afrikaans, just like English, is a West Germanic language that shares many Germanic-derived root words with English. This language has a logical and non-inflective structure, which is why it’s straightforward to speak. Afrikaans doesn’t have verb conjunctions or word genders, so there’s less to learn and much fewer rules to follow.
Dutch is another member of the West Germanic language family. The great thing about Dutch is that it mirrors English in structure and syntax. When it comes to vocabulary, Dutch is very similar to English. “Groen” is green. “Oude man” is the old man in English. Many linguists say that learning Dutch is one of the best ways to get into the West Germanic languages. It’s also much easier to learn Afrikaans if you’re familiar with Dutch and vice versa.
Norwegian, as the name implies, is a North Germanic language that has consistent pronunciation and easy-to-learn grammatical rules. Verbs in Norwegian are straightforward and don’t require conjugation according to a person or number. The rules are simple: add an “e” suffix for past tense and an “s” suffix for passive tense.
Swedish is a Germanic language that shares cognates like “midnatt” (midnight) and “konferens” (conference) with English. Syntax also follows the English subject-verb-object structure. Swedish verbs also don’t have any inflection, so conjugations are easy. Many linguists say that learning the four extra vowels of the Swedish language forms the basis for learning this language if your native tongue is English.
Many English speakers find that German is a difficult language to pick up. With long words, four noun case endings, and rough pronunciation, there’s a lot of work your tongue has to do when you communicate in German. This descriptive language uses the noun by combining the object with the action. For example, der Plattenspieler – the record player, combines the words platen (record) and spieler (player) to describe the noun, but the direct translation for the word record player in German is Abspielgerät.
Although it might look way too complex to learn, many English words are of Hindi origin. Guru, jungle, karma, yoga, bungalow, cheetah, avatar; these words all hail from Hindi roots. Like English uses Hindi words, Hindi also uses English words, written and pronounced like they are in English, but just written in Hindi. Learning to speak Hindi shouldn’t be too hard but getting to grips with the writing is a different ball game.
For all goals and purposes, Spanish should be one of the easiest languages to learn if your native language is English. Everything from grammar to reading and speaking will come more naturally to an English speaker because Spanish language rules, structure, and Latin roots correspond with English.
If you’re not ready to embark on the journey of learning another language, we’re here to help you cross the language barrier. Feel free to get in touch with the Day Translations team of professional linguists for all your translation and interpretation needs!