The 10 Easiest Languages to Learn for English Speakers
Looking for a language that’s not going to require 3-hour evening classes Monday through Friday for the next 10 years?
There are so many languages out there that are arguably easier to pick up than others for English speakers.
So if you’re curious about the easiest languages to learn, I’ve got 10 great suggestions to help you out.
Let’s take a look!
- What Makes a Language Easy to Learn?
- Linguistic Neighbors: Languages Related to English
- Effortless Phonology: Languages with Painless Pronunciation
- Goodbye Grammar Book: Languages with Simple Structures
- Why Learn a Second Language?
What Makes a Language Easy to Learn?
I have traveled all over the world and one thing I’ve noticed is that different countries seem to have strong opinions of their own native language.
Two people in the same country will tell you with equal degrees of confidence that their language is either super hard or super easy, that you’ll never learn it, or that it’s a piece of cake.
There are generally three major things that make a language easy or hard for an English speaker:
1. How closely it’s related to English
2. How complex its system of sound is
3. How complicated its grammar is
Even then, it’s not always straightforward.
Some of the languages with the fewest speech sounds are the most grammatically complex.
Others don’t have tenses, cases or inflections of any kind but are riddled with guttural sounds nearly impossible for English speakers to pronounce.
And you also must take into account the sociological and international significance of a language: How much media is available in the language and how many other speakers are there for you to reasonably practice with?
Taking all of these into account, here are 3 categories of easy languages for you to get started with if you already know English.
Linguistic Neighbors: Languages Related to English
Want to see something cool?
That is my house.
Dat is mijn huis.
Das ist mein Haus.
Dit is my huis.
It doesn’t take long to crack the code and figure out that these four lines say the same thing in closely related Western Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German and Afrikaans, from top to bottom).
This is what it’s like when you start learning a language related to your own. You’ll see cognates or words that have common origins and similar meanings—like little hints buried in a foreign language sentence.
Learning the languages most closely related to English is akin to learning with linguistic training wheels.
Here are some examples of languages that are simple to grasp for English speakers:
Dutch is practically English’s first cousin. In fact, it’s the most closely related to English out of all of the languages in this list.
Dutch is full of English cognates—drinken (to drink), kat (cat), week (week), licht (light) and hundreds more.
Once you’ve got the fundamentals down, you should be more than ready for basic conversations and children’s books.
Danish is mostly spoken in Denmark, although it’s also a protected minority language in Germany.
The grammar is similar to English, and many vocabulary words will sound familiar, like samme (same), ham (him) and op (up).
As a bonus, if you know Danish, you can pretty much read the next two languages—Norwegian and Swedish—pretty easily.
If you speak English, you’ll be very comfortable with the grammatical structure of Norwegian, so you can put most of your focus into learning vocabulary.
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.
Many native speakers of Swedish can speak English quite fluently.
Part of this is because Swedish and English are both Germanic languages, so they have similar sentence structures and even some shared vocabulary.
Swedish has 10 million native speakers, found mostly in Sweden but also in Finland.
Effortless Phonology: Languages with Painless Pronunciation
Have you ever overheard a foreign language like Arabic or Cantonese and thought that it would be intimidating to learn?
To some extent, this is just because the speech sounds of unfamiliar languages often sound garbled and meaningless to foreigners.
But in terms of phonology—the system of speech sounds in a language—not all languages are made equal. Some have dozens of different consonants and vowels and some have only a few.
If learning all the new sounds of a foreign language is your biggest challenge, you should consider starting with one of these languages:
Spanish is often the go-to language for English speakers because of its small inventory of speech sounds and user-friendly phonetic spelling system.
In Spanish, a always sounds more or less like a (even with an accent mark), which we as learners really appreciate.
It’s got a few more vowels than its cousin over in Spain but Italian’s big advantage is that most of its consonants and vowels are among the most common sounds found in world languages.
That means most learners won’t find many words they can’t get their mouth around!
It’s also an easier language to learn for English speakers than, for example, Russian or Chinese, which take much longer to learn and reach fluency.
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.
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 letter or letter combination. You say what you see.
Goodbye Grammar Book: Languages with Simple Structures
Just like some languages love to play with diverse and complicated sounds, some seem to have an endless love affair with rules and grammar.
I’ve always shied away from German for this reason. Its four noun cases, infinite list of adjective declensions and word order rules are enough to send me running to the nearest Biergarten.
Other languages, thankfully, aren’t quite so strict and demanding. You learn some vocabulary and a few basic usage rules and you’re good to go.
Here are some of those languages.
We mentioned Dutch above but Afrikaans is like a grammatically boiled-down version of its parent language.
Whereas Dutch demands verb conjugations like those in English—for instance, I am, you are, it is—Afrikaans doesn’t bother you with the details.
In South Africa it’s ek is (I am), jy is (you are), sy is (she is). What could be easier?
The language known regionally as Indonesian or Malaysian totals around 290 million total speakers, making it one of the largest and fastest-growing world languages.
Even better, it has no grammatical categories for gender, number or tense.
Basically, you learn one form of a word and you can use it just about whenever you want.
This language was invented by some linguists who were also great global citizens and even though it’s an “artificial language,” its 2 million speakers, several hundred thousand Wikipedia articles and organizations worldwide would argue that it still counts.
Esperanto was designed with you in mind: Minimal grammar, easy rules and as a bonus, lots of things that resemble many other world languages.
Why Learn a Second Language?
There are a multitude of benefits to learning a second language:
- Learning a second language significantly improves your cognitive abilities. 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 professionally and personally.
- You’ll find it much easier to pick up a third, fourth and fifth language. This changes your perspective on life and the world.
In this age of technology, the ability to learn a new language is right at your fingertips—anything you need to learn can be found online, from online courses to apps and books.
One resource is FluentU, which is a language learning app that offers more than 10 languages, including Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. It’s full of authentic language videos equipped with resourceful features like interactive subtitles and a video-based dictionary:
And, of course, you can always go offline by picking up a dictionary or a textbook in the language of your choice and bringing it with you wherever you go. The possibilities really are endless. You just have to want it enough to make it happen!
With the resources and the examples given in this post, you should be able to get started identifying your low-hanging linguistic fruits.
No matter how busy you are or how difficult you think it may be, there’s a language out there for everyone!