There’s no such thing as an “easy” or “hard” language—it’s all a matter of relativity.
There are tons of weird rules and linguistic details to which our English-reading eyes aren’t quite accustomed.
Gender nouns, reflexive verbs and a wide array of verb tense conjugations can all feel a bit daunting to the language novice who’s never known another tongue but English.
These things are tiny hurdles, no matter how challenging they may seem from the outset, and they’re not reasons to forgo learning a second language altogether.
While languages with those foreign components might seems challenging, there are plenty of languages that are easier because you already know English. They often share a common linguistic history, close geographical borders (in their respective lands of origin) and similar language structures with English. In this post, you’re going to learn about all the languages which you can learn more easily and naturally thanks to already knowing English.
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Why Learn a Second Language?
There are tons of benefits to learning a second language. For starters, it’s been said time and time again that learning a second language makes you smarter. We all want our minds to stay young and sharp, and this is a great way to give ourselves a rejuvenating boost in the brain department.
Employers love it. Corporations, international organizations and government agencies jump at the chance to hire bilingual or multilingual employees. Learn a new language and you can open a whole new world of opportunities for yourself. One day, you can even become a special agent for the CIA. We dream big here.
Still not convinced there’s value in learning a second language? Well, here’s this. Once you pick up a second language, you’ll find it much easier to pick up a third and fourth and fifth. Also, with more than one language under your belt you’ll find that you’ll want to start traveling more, meeting new people and exploring new cultures.
You can change your perspective on life and the world.
It’s time to stop hiding behind those crazy excuses: I’m too old. I don’t have the time. I’m not talented with language. It costs too much money. All of these translate to one thing: I’m afraid. Well, don’t be! Picking up a second language is much easier than you think.
In this age of technology, the ability to learn a new language is right at your fingertips. FluentU offers a nice variety of second languages that are easy to learn for native English speakers. And, of course, you can always pick up a dictionary or a teaching book in the language of your choice and bring it with you wherever you go. The possibilities really are endless.
You just have to want it and make it happen!
So, What Language Should You Learn?
Glad you asked. Let’s start with some honorable mentions.
Some of the most common languages learned by native English speakers are Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.
Next to English, French and Spanish are two of the most spoken languages in the world. They’re spoken in over 100 counties combined! Really, on any continent in the world you’ll be hard pressed to find people who don’t speak at least one or both. So they’re great languages to learn, and not too difficult either.
Portuguese is among one of the top 10 languages spoken in the world. As Portugal got in on the global expansion game early on, it was able to establish roots in many countries—especially Brazil, where it’s the official spoken language—including a few countries in Africa and some Asian countries like India and Burma. What’s great about Portuguese is that it’s extremely close to Spanish in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. Many who understand one can understand the other, so if you learn one it’s almost like getting a two for one deal.
Italian is not as widespread as the other three. The largest Italian-speaking population outside of Italy is in Toronto, Canada. However, Italian is rooted in everyday culture from music to food to art, so if you adore any of these things, which of course you do, learning Italian can give you a deeper appreciation for the beloved culture.
Now that we’ve paid our respects to some fan favorites, it’s time to explore the road less traveled. Even though the above mentioned languages will probably always have a seat at the popular kids’ table, they still aren’t the easiest languages to learn for native English speakers.
There are languages out there that are perhaps less popular but much easier for the English-speaking tongue. So, before you keep reading, run out and get yourself a chin-strap. Your jaw may just hit the floor.
Let’s get started.
6 Surprisingly Easy Second Languages for Native English Speakers
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language that was considered a dialect of Dutch and which eventually developed into its own language. It’s spoken by nearly 9 million people worldwide with its heaviest concentration in South Africa and Namibia. It has also traveled to other parts of the world and is spoken in small pockets of the US, UK, New Zealand, Belgium and Kuwait.
Reasons to learn Afrikaans
Afrikaans has been deemed the easiest language to learn for native English speakers.
For starters, its grammatical structure is much easier to pick up than some other languages. It has cut out some of the complexities of Dutch. There are no noun genders or verb conjugations. There are also only three tenses: Past, present and future. So no need to worry about imperfect, pluperfect and subjunctive—areas which often have native English speakers running for the hills.
Thanks to its West Germanic roots there are many words that are similar to words in the English language, which makes for easier pronunciation.
While the grammar and word pronunciations might be a source of comfort, the sounds and intonations of the will take some getting used to. The speech pattern is somewhat different than that of the English language. Double negatives are extremely common in Afrikaans, which is something that usually makes a native English speaker cringe—but since you won’t be speaking English it shouldn’t be too stressful on your ears.
Afrikaans is a major part of South African media and entertainment. So for those looking to get into South African film and media, you’ll be a step ahead once you learn Afrikaans. Even if you don’t plan on moving to South Africa for your career, it’s a great travel destination and you’ll be able to blend in with the locals.
This is a West Germanic language that belongs to a dialect group called Low West Franconian. It’s got 23 million native speakers in The Netherlands and Belgium, and is also the official language in Suriname and several Caribbean countries.
The Dutch also had a lasting influence in the United States, most of which can be seen in New York, Pennsylvania and the Midwest.
Reasons to learn Dutch
Dutch and Afrikaans very closely related. Many times a Dutch and an Afrikaans speaker can get by in conversations by speaking their own languages. Therefore, by learning one you’ll have an enormous advantage in learning the other.
Another thing about Dutch that should be attractive to native English speakers is that modern Dutch uses a lot of words that are borrowed from the English language. For example daten (to date) and uploaden (to upload) are instantly recognizable to native and fluent English speakers.
Dutch speakers tend to insert English in their conversations on a regular basis. It’s such a common practice that they’ve even come up with a word for it: Dunglish. Even if you’ve never learned a single word of Dutch, you can probably guess actually what the following sentence means: Dat was een beetje awkward. Don’t think too hard on it. It’s probably exactly what you think it means. If you guessed “that was a bit awkward,” you’re already on your way.
One final thing, Dutch is great if you want to get into business or if you love art. The port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe which makes The Netherlands ripe for trade and commerce. The Netherlands and Belgium are actually large trading partners with the US and UK, so there are many job opportunities for Dutch speakers. The Netherlands also has rich artistic history. Van Gogh ring a bell? Understanding the Dutch language will give you a deeper appreciation for the beautiful art by past and present Dutch artists.
Dutch uses gender nouns that tend to confuse English speakers, but like anything new, it takes some getting used to. However, if you’ve had any experience with the romance languages then you’re already used to this. There are many complex vowel sounds which may feel a little unnatural at first, but English itself loves vowel combinations so this shouldn’t be a terribly foreign concept. Practice makes perfect, so no excuses!
3, 4, & 5: Danish, Norwegian & Swedish
Welcome to the world of the North Germanic languages, otherwise known as the Scandinavian languages. Combined, there are 21 million native speakers of these languages in Northern Europe.
There are around 6 million native Danish speakers. The majority of them can be found in Denmark, and it’s also a protected minority language in Germany.
There are 5 million native Norwegian speakers in the world, most of them in Norway, though some can be found in Denmark.
Swedish comes in at 10 million native speakers found mostly in Sweden, but also in Finland.
Reasons to learn the Scandinavian languages
You’ll become the ultimate polyglot. Seriously. The similarities shared among these languages are unbelievable. If language domination isn’t really your goal, sorry. You’ll have a hard time avoiding being a polyglot even if you learn only one of these languages, because the languages are mutually intelligible.
Each respective language has several dialects depending on which region of whichever particular country you’re in. However, the differences aren’t so great that it will hinder your ability to understand and converse with the locals.
Norwegian, however, seems to be the central link for all of them. Norwegian speaker understand written Swedish and spoken Danish extremely well. So to start, Norwegian is the best bet.
Native English speakers will find that they’re very comfortable with the grammatical structure of these languages. Take a look at this Norwegian sentence: Jeg spiste egg til frokost (I ate eggs for breakfast). The Norwegian sentence can be translated word for word in the exact order as it would be said in English. This takes a huge burden off of native English speakers. In learning these languages you put most of your focus into just learning vocabulary. Once you’ve got that down you can pretty much just speak without having to put too much thought into what goes where.
If you’re skeptical about how similar these languages actually are, take that Norwegian sentence and pop it into a translator. Generate both the Danish and Swedish translations for it and see what happens.
The North Germanic languages have 29 letters in their alphabets. They’ve got the 26 Latin characters that we recognize as English speakers, as well as three added letters which are the same for Danish and Norwegian. The three extra Swedish letters are only slightly different and, really, these extra letters won’t send you over the edge. Once you learn them once you’ll never have to learn them again.
Finally, a lot of native speakers of the Scandinavian languages can speak English quite fluently, especially the Swedish. So if you’re abroad and it sounds like you’re struggling, they may switch to English to make your life easier. It’s always nice to have this fallback, but don’t let them change the language if possible. Simply explain you’re trying to improve your Danish, Norwegian or Swedish and continue on in whichever language you’re using. The Scandinavians are friendly so they’ll be glad to help, and probably also very flattered that you’ve taken such a dedicated interest in their native tongue.
People may not be aware that Romanian is one of the Latin languages because it’s not as popular as the other more commonly learned ones. Still, there are around 26 million native Romanian speakers in the world. The vast majority reside in Romania and Moldova. However, the language has spread enormously and can be heard in numerous pockets throughout Europe and even abroad.
Reasons to learn Romanian
Although it has evolved very much over the centuries, it still shares many words with the other romance languages—French, Spanish and Italian—and even English. Therefore, if you have any familiarity with the more popular romance languages, Romanian will be an easy transition.
Phonetically speaking, once you’ve learned how to pronounce the letters of the alphabet you’re pretty much set when it comes to pronouncing words. Unlike English, there aren’t several pronunciations of a singular letters or letter combinations. You say what you see.
Romania itself is a beautiful country with much to see. It boasts a wide range of destinations from striking architectural wonders and castles to the popular city Transylvania and natural attractions such as caves and mountains for those who like to wander on the wild side. Why not fully immerse yourself in the fascinating Romanian culture by learning how to speak the language?
Plus, if you happen to run into Dracula in your travels, perhaps he’ll spare your life if you impress him enough with your stellar Romanian skills.
Okay, now it’s officially time to jump in.
Expose yourself to something new and interesting.
Expand your world and your mind by learning one of these awesome languages.
You’ll thank yourself later!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
And One More Thing…
If you’re excited to dive into a second language, you’ll love using FluentU. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks.
With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos like movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.