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 9 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 the 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.
This selection may also come as a surprise, but Indonesian has several qualities that make it a logical choice for English speakers. For starters, Indonesian — spoken natively by nearly 23 million people — is one of the few Asian languages that uses the Latin alphabet we know and love. Many Asian languages are incredibly difficult for English speakers to master due to the unfamiliar characters in their writing systems, but not Indonesian. It’s also a phonetic language, made up of words that are pronounced exactly the way they’re spelled. Now, Indonesian grammatical structures are very different from those in English, but don’t let that deter you! Its lack of rules make learning grammar a lot easier. There are no verb conjugations (you read that correctly!), no plurals (simply repeat the word twice), and no grammatical genders. If you’re not a fan of grammar rules, Indonesian could be a match made in heaven!
Next up is another Romance language. Though not as widely spoken as Spanish or Portuguese, Italian still has more than 63 million native speakers. Its Latin roots allow for a sizable chunk of cognates English speakers will recognize, such as futuro (“future”) and lotteria (“lottery”), two things we all wish we could controllare (“control”). Perhaps the best part of choosing Italian is the possibility to learn with food! Italian cuisine has become a staple of many Western countries, bringing a number of Italian words into our regular vocabularies. Penne all’arrabbiata translates to “angry pasta” (presumably because it’s spicy!), and farfalle (the pasta shaped like bow ties) actually means “butterflies.” Doesn’t learning Italian sound delizioso?
There’s one more major Romance language on our list, and this one is often a fan favorite. Although it’s not as easy to learn as some of its language cousins, French is spoken by nearly 76 million people in many different parts of the world (France, Canada, Belgium and Madagascar — to name only a few). As with the other Romance languages, the biggest benefit to choosing to learn French is the large amount of shared vocabulary. But this isn’t solely due to its linguistic roots. During the lengthy history of wars and conquests between France and England, key language parts were passed from one country to the other. This mostly came in the form of French vocabulary added to the English language, such as avant-garde and à la carte, although the word-sharing went from English to French as well (e.g. week-end). French pronunciation is a bit tricky, at first, but we often hear French accents in pop culture, making them easier to replicate than you may think.
The final language on our list, the “least easy” of the easiest languages, is a bit less conventional than the others. Swahili is widely used across eastern and southeastern Africa, including in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, among other countries, but usually as a lingua franca — a common language adopted among native speakers of different languages. Swahili words often sound just like they’re spelled, and the pronunciation is relatively easy for English speakers to pick up. It’s said to be the easiest African language for English natives to learn, partially because of the surprising amount of loan words taken from English, like penseli (“pencil”) and mashine (“machine”). Finally, Swahili is fairly straightforward in terms of grammar. Verb conjugations utilize prefixes in a logical way, making them less difficult for English speakers to learn. If you want to try something different, see if Swahili is the language for you. However, if you want to pick up a new language as easily as possible, we recommend starting with something from the top of the list — like Spanish, Swedish or Norwegian.