Sometimes you want a real challenge. However, when it comes to learning another language, the challenge is already there, regardless of how similar the language is to your original tongue. However, there are some languages that are easier for you to learn than others simply because they are more similar to your own.
Language families have a lot to do with the ease at which you are likely to learn a language. For English speakers, the language family that is decidedly the easiest is West Germanic. In fact, there is only one language on this list that isn’t Germanic – it’s Romantic, and still much easier to learn than the other Romance Languages.
The languages most often learned by English speakers are French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Both French and Spanish are spoken in more than 100 countries combined, making them easy to use if you travel. Portuguese ranks in the top10 list of most often spoken languages Though not used in as many countries as the others, Italian is more closely related to Latin, a language from which nearly all western languages have their roots.
While there is good reason to learn one of these languages (and plenty of opportunities to use them), they are not necessarily the easiest for a native English speaker to learn.
Despite the name, Afrikaans is actually a Germanic language. Commonly thought of as a Dutch dialect that became a language all on its own, there are roughly 9 million speakers of the language today. As the name suggests, it is primarily spoken in South Africa and Namibia.
It is also considered the easiest language for someone who only knows English to learn. Because it began in Germany, the vocabulary and grammar are quite similar to English. The comfort you gain from having a familiar feel to the language helps when you have to learn a few new sounds and the decidedly different intonation in the language. Speech patterns will take a bit longer to learn if you speak English properly – things like double negatives are both acceptable and frequently used.
If you are interested in learning Afrikaans, you can check out the media sites for South Africa to start getting a feel for the language.
Learning Dutch is easy for the same reasons that Afrikaans is easy for English speakers – because it is a West Germanic derivative language. There are approximately 23 million people who speak the language, including in Belgium, the Netherlands, Suriname, and some Caribbean countries.
As mentioned, it is actually very close to Afrikaans (as Afrikaans has its roots in Dutch). The two languages are similar enough that if you have a native speaker for each, they can maintain a relatively comfortable dialogue by each speaking in their own language.
To add to its appeal, the Dutch actually borrow a lot of words from English, which means you will have an even easier time with the vocabulary. Of course, you will need to learn the different nuanced sounds since the words are pronounced as if they were Dutch instead of English. Those who speak Dutch commonly use regular English in their speaking as well, and that has been dubbed Eunglish. There is a good chance that you will actually understand a good bit of what someone speaking Dutch says when they do this as it will sound very, very similar to what you are accustomed to.
If you need another reason to learn Dutch, it is actually an excellent language for business and art. Rotterdam is among one of the largest ports in Europe, making it ideal for business travelers. And you have probably heard of a number of their most famous artists, such as Vincent van Gogh.
The Three Scandinavian Languages – Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish
The next three easy to learn languages are all ranked pretty much the same in terms of ease of learning for native English speakers – the Scandinavian languages. All three are considered West Germanic languages. Between Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, there are over 20 million native speakers just in Europe.
The biggest reason to learn one of these three languages is that you can easily learn the other two soon thereafter. Essentially, you can become a polyglot very easily with the Scandinavian languages. In fact, learning one of these languages means you will at least be able to more easily understand what speakers of the other two are saying.
The best language to learn is Norwegian because it is the most centralized linguistically. This will make learning the other two a piece of cake.
Probably the best thing about these languages is that their structure is pretty much exactly what you are accustomed to as an English speaker. That means that you will not need to shift the order of your words, one of the biggest issues English speakers have with most other languages. That way you can focus on the vocabulary, conjugation, and gendered nouns without worrying about misplacing words too.
They do have three more letters than we do, which is still pretty easy to learn considering you can end up a lot more than three depending on some of the other languages.
The surprise language on this list, Romanian is actually a Romance Language, just one that most people don’t think about when they think of that particular language family. It has evolved a lot over the centuries, but is still very much rooted in Latin. If you have already learned one of the other Romance Languages, Romanian will be incredibly easy for you to learn too because you already have the basics for both a Germanic and Romance language. With more than 26 million native speakers, you should be able to find someone to talk to as well.
You will need to take some time to learn the pronunciations because they are the least similar to English of the six languages on this list. However, once you can pronounce the letters in their alphabet, you should be in pretty good shape. Unlike English, each letter has only one sound.
Personally, I have encountered several people who are second or third generation Americans with Romanian parents. They are far more likely to also speak Romanian than most of the other second and third generation Americans I’ve met. It is far more likely that you will encounter someone who knows Romanian than most of the other languages on this list if you stay in the US or a country where there is a Romanian immigrant population.