For those of you out there who are interested in learning a new language from scratch, but are daunted by even the prospect of choosing which one (it is estimated that there are up to 7,000 different languages spoken around the world), then here at BLS we have compiled a list of the five easiest languages for English speakers to learn (along with the reasons why) to help you on your way.
Afrikaans, like English, is in the West Germanic language family. For those who find the prospect of lots of grammar tedious and hard, a great feature of Afrikaans is its logical and non-inflective structure. Unlike English, there are no verb conjugations (e.g. sing, sang, sung) and unlike romance languages, there are no genders. Taking a look at some basic Afrikaans sentences, one can see the similarities in vocabulary with English too:
Wat is jou naam? – What is your name?
Hy is in die hospitaal, maar hy eet nie – He is in the hospital, though he isn’t eating.
However, one thing that a British learner may find bizarre when learning Afrikaans is the use of the double negative. So for example, an Afrikaans speaker might say: “He cannot speak Afrikaans not”.
It is estimated that English speakers who have never studied French already know 15,000 French words with 1,700 words being identical in both languages. This is all down to William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, who invaded and conquered England in 1066 and brought with him a form of the modern-day French language. At the time, French became the language of the Royal Court, the ruling and the business class. In the 14th century, English became dominant in Britain again but many French words remained and influenced the English language as we know it today. During the Norman occupation, some 10,000 French words were adopted into English, three quarters of which are still in use today. More than a third of all English words are derived directly or indirectly from the French, including ‘excellent’, ‘colour’, and ‘identity’.
Similarly, English pronunciation owes a lot to French as well (e.g. ‘mirage’) and also contributed to the diphthong (e.g. ‘boy’). Another rare but interesting remnant of French influence is in the word order of expressions like ‘secretary general’ where English has retained the noun + adjective word order typical of French.
For language learners, the easiest thing about Spanish is its shallow orthographic depth – meaning that in most cases, words are written as they are pronounced. For the British learner, reading and writing Spanish can therefore be a relatively straightforward task. Plus, grammatically speaking, Spanish has fewer irregularities than other romance languages which can often be a stumbling block when learning a new language. Pronunciation wise, Spanish only has ten vowel and diphthong sounds (English has 20) and no unfamiliar phonemes except for the fun-to-pronounce letter ñ (‘ny’ as in canyon).
Another West Germanic cousin of the English language, Dutch is structurally and syntactically familiar for English speakers. In terms of pronunciation and vocabulary, it parallels English in many ways, for example ‘groen’ (green) or ‘de oude man’ (the old man). In addition to its Germanic roots, Dutch also adopted many words from the French which will be familiar to English learners such as ‘drogeren’ (drug) and ‘blok’ (block). Though some vowel sounds may be new for English speakers, Dutch pronunciation follows the English model of syllable stress, so pronouncing Dutch words is somewhat intuitive too.
Norwegian is our fifth easiest language for English speakers to learn and our first North Germanic language, because it has consistent pronunciation and, for English speakers, some fairly simple grammar. Norwegian and English have a very similar syntax and word order. Verbs are an especially simple feature, with no conjugation according to number or person. In fact, the rules of conjugation are particularly straightforward, with a simple –e suffix to indicate past tense, and –s for passive verbs. What’s more, Norwegian has the logical system of a tonal “pitch accent” to stress either the first or second syllable in matching words, as in the English words “desert” and “dessert”.
However, the one drawback to studying Norwegian is finding opportunities to use it. In Norway’s world-ranking education system, English is taught nationwide, starting at primary school level, so most Norwegians are near-fluent.