Can't decide which new language to take up? Give yourself a break by learning one of these languages that are easy for English speakers to master!
So you’ve decided to learn a language. (Good choice! We approve.) But there are so many options. Should you go for a more widely spoken language like Spanish, a politically relevant one like Russian, or one you can use on your next vacation? These are all valid motivations, but here’s another: You’re busy. We all are. Why not tackle a language that will be relatively easy to learn? With the help of language guru Benjamin Davies from Babbel’s Didactics department, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 easiest languages for English speakers to learn. Hopefully, this will help you narrow down your options, so you can start learning right away!
This may come as a surprise, but we have ranked Norwegian as the easiest language for English speakers to pick up. Norwegian is a member of the Germanic family of languages — just like English! This means the languages share quite a bit of vocabulary, such as the seasons vinter and sommer (we’ll let you figure out those translations). Another selling point for Norwegian: the grammar is pretty straightforward, with only one form of each verb per tense. And the word order closely mimics English. For example, “Can you help me?" translates to Kan du hjelpe meg? — the words are in the same order in both languages, so mastering sentence structure is a breeze! Finally, you’ll have a lot more leeway with pronunciation when learning Norwegian. That’s because there are a vast array of different accents in Norway and, therefore, more than one “correct way" to pronounce words. Sound appealing? Lace up your snow boots and give Norwegian a try!
Our second easiest language also comes from Scandinavia and the Germanic family of languages. One reason Swedish is easier for English speakers to learn is a large number of cognates the two languages share (cognates are words in different languages that stem from the same ancestral language and look and/or sound very similar to one another). For instance, “grass" is gräs in Swedish – a clear cognate. Like Norwegian, Swedish has relatively simple grammar rules and similar word order to English. Thanks to IKEA, Swedish has something else working in its favor: exposure. English speakers around the world have been exposed to a number of Swedish words while simply shopping for furniture (and chowing down on some meatballs, I presume). The popular, minimalistic Lack tables are named after the Swedish word for “varnish." And the Stockholm rugs, of course, get their name from Sweden’s capital. Business Insider has broken down IKEA’s unique naming system in this article. Furniture lovers, perhaps Swedish is the language for you.
This pick should come as no surprise. Spanish has always been a go-to language for English speakers to learn due to its practicality and wide reach. Well, it’s also one of the easiest languages to learn. Spanish is one of the Romance languages, which derive from Latin — as do many English words, so the name of the game here is cognates, cognates, cognates. Correcto means “correct," delicioso is “delicious," and pizza is “pizza," to name a few. Spanish pronunciation is fairly straightforward. It’s a phonetic language — for the most part, its words are pronounced the way they’re spelled. But grammar-haters beware: Spanish does have a number of different verb tenses and exceptions to grammar rules which can get confusing. However, the tenses largely align with ones we use in English, so they’re not as difficult to learn as you may think. But perhaps the biggest pro to choosing to learn Spanish is its prevalence in our everyday lives. According to recent statistics, Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the world, with over 400 million native speakers. You’ve probably heard Spanish spoken on TV, on the radio, and even by members of your community. It’s everywhere, so you already have a leg up on learning it!
Dutch is another Germanic language on our list. It’s spoken by the majority of citizens of the Netherlands, as well as a large portion of Belgium’s population. It’s the third most-spoken Germanic language, after German and English, which makes sense — due to shared vocabulary Dutch sounds like a combination of German and English. A really interesting characteristic of Dutch is that many words are spelled exactly the same as they are in English, more so than in almost any other language. However, use caution because they’re often pronounced differently. For instance, the word “rat" has the same spelling and meaning in both languages, but in Dutch it’s pronounced like the English word “rot." Also, keep an eye out for false cognates, like the Dutch word wet, which actually means “law." If you stay vigilant, Dutch could still be the language for you.
Germanic languages nab three of the top four spots on this list, but English’s other cousins, German and Danish, are absent — and for good reason. German didn’t make the cut because, although it shares thousands of cognates with English, absolutely no one would describe its grammar as "easy." And while written Danish looks a lot like Norwegian and Swedish, the pronunciation can be too intimidating for casual learners. If you’re up for the challenge, check back next week for another list you might find more interesting.
The fifth easiest language on our list is Portuguese, a member of the Romance language family that’s spoken in both Portugal and Brazil. Like Spanish, this translates to a large number of shared vocabulary words, which always makes picking it up easier. But beware of false cognates. You might be really excited about getting Portuguese pasta, only to be handed a “folder." Portuguese (particularly Brazilian Portuguese) is another language that gives learners the advantage of exposure. Brazilian food, drinks, music and films have been making frequent appearances in global pop culture, giving students of Portuguese plenty of opportunities to enhance their learning.