Learning a new language from scratch can be difficult. Especially when you have to somehow fit it into your already busy schedule. For many, this means picking up whatever would be easiest.
But how do you determine difficulty when it comes to languages? There is no objective standard by which to judge a language as either easy or difficult. However, your linguistic background usually plays a huge role in this.
The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has actually created a framework by which to measure the difficulty of certain languages for speakers of English.
In this article we’re going to look at what the 4 easiest languages to learn are based on the FSI index as well as details about their grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary measured against the same in English.
Spoken by about 10 million people, this North Germanic Language is a close relative of English. The FSI puts it in category 1 of the easiest languages to learn, estimating that you will need around 24 weeks to gain basic proficiency.
But what exactly makes it easy to learn Swedish? Firstly, because it’s related to English (which is also a Germanic language) the two share many common words known as cognates. Among these are god – good, morgan – morning, natt – night, äpple – apple, bröd – bread, tre – three, and many more!
The relationship between these two languages doesn’t just stop at the vocabulary level, however, but extends to sentence structure as well. For example, a Swede might say Jag läser en bok (I’m reading a book). The pattern in this sentence is fairly standard for Swedish and it’s exactly what we’d expect in English too – Subject-Verb-Object.
On the other hand, you have to watch out for certain ‘false friends’ in Swedish or words that look familiar but mean something completely different in that language, such as fart – speed or slut – end. Another potential stumbling block are the additional 3 vowels that can make pronunciation a bit tricky.
Besides the incredible nature of the country and the very high standard of life, Swedish is also the key to a range of other very useful Germanic languages such as Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, and of course German.
Spanish is notoriously easy for English speakers to learn. This is due to the many similarities that the two languages have. As a Romance language, Spanish is rooted in Latin and uses the Latin script. This also makes it a great stepping-stone for mastering other Romance languages such as French, Italian, or Portuguese which are all only a little more difficult than it is.
While English has its roots elsewhere, it also has a huge number of Latin-derived words in its vocabulary. This results in an abundance of cognates such as Accidente, brillante, centro, increíble to name but a few.
Another feature that makes Spanish relatively easy to master is that it’s a phonetic language meaning it’s read exactly like it’s written. Moreover, with 493 million speakers around the world, getting exposed to Spanish is extremely easy. From famous Spanish soap operas to Latino hits on the radio, this language is all around us.
All that being said, Spanish is still the 2nd easiest language to learn. This is because like all Romance languages it has one very confusing feature for English speakers – noun genders. Furthermore, the Spanish are extremely fast talkers and if you’re just dipping into the language, you may get overwhelmed.
It might surprise you to see this East Asian or Austronesian language on a list of the easiest languages to learn, but there’s a good reason for it. Asian languages in general have a reputation for being overly complicated which is completely unfounded as Indonesian is here to prove.
Just like Spanish, Indonesian is a phonetic language and uses the Latin script making it relatively straightforward to pronounce. Moreover, it has no verb tenses using particles to indicate the sentence tense instead. And if that’s not easy enough for you, it also has no genders, nor plural forms using repetition instead. For example, buku (book) and buku-buku (books).
Another fascinating feature of Indonesian is that it has a root structure, which can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this makes it easy to learn new words by referring back to their root. On the other, minor changes in the suffixes and affixes of words can have huge consequences for the role a word plays in the sentence.
Bear in mind that Indonesia is a huge country with over 270 million people who all speak Indonesian and one or more of the other 700 indigenous languages. This incredible linguistic variety means that while mastering Indonesian on paper is easy enough, getting to grips with all the dialects and local variations might be more challenging.
Swahili is another category III language in the FSI framework. Just like Indonesian, it’s estimated that you’ll need around 36 hours to reach what is known as functional proficiency.
As the language of 100 million people in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the de facto lingua franca or universal language of East Africa, Swahili is incredibly useful and surprisingly easy to learn.
Though it’s closer to Arabic than English in terms of vocabulary, it still uses the Latin script and it’s still pronounced exactly like it’s written. That being said there are a few trickier sounds in Swahili such as the kh present in Arabic, Dutch, and a few other languages.
While learners of this East African language sometimes struggle with its multiple classes of nouns and tricky verb system, it is still one of the easiest languages to learn. Compared to German, for example, it has no cases and very few irregular verbs to confuse you.
The languages on this list comprise a good entry point for anyone looking to expand their linguistic capabilities beyond their mother tongue. In other words, they are not only among the easiest languages to learn but they also provide a way into other, perhaps more challenging tongues. For example, once you’ve mastered Swedish, Norwegian or even Danish will seem much easier. All that being said, your choice of which language to study doesn’t need to be dictated by how close it is to your existing skills. You can also have a look at the most spoken languages in the world [SK2] and make your pick from there. Perhaps you’d be surprised to find some overlap between the two categories.
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