Want to know what language course Santa should put in your stocking this Christmas? We do! Here’s a list of the ten languages that are easiest to learn for British speakers.
A European Commission Survey carried out in 2012 revealed that 61 per cent of British people that were interviewed did not speak a second language. This is a worrisome development, as the world we live in today focuses more and more on international trade and global communication. Thankfully, English speakers do not have to start from scratch when learning another language, as the language is related to many other European languages.
Maybe you have heard of a language tree before – it’s a kind of tree diagram which shows what languages are related. The English language belongs to the Indo-European language tree. Two of the big ‘branches’ of this tree are the Germanic branch and the Roman branch, and as English is related to both of these, many Roman and Germanic languages are fairly easy to learn for English speakers. Anne Merit has created a list of the ten languages that are easiest for British people to learn.
Just as English, Afrikaans is a West Germanic language. However, it is a simpler language than the one we speak, as it is more logical and doesn’t have any inflections: there is no verb conjugation (such as drink, drank, drunk) and the language also does not have those pesky gender inflections that French has. The Afrikaans vocabulary is also fairly easy for English speakers to learn as many words have the same Germanic root their English equivalent has. Take for example the word police; in Afrikaans, this is simply polisie.
Thanks to William the Conqueror’s victory over the Anglo-Saxons in 1066, many words in English are derived from the French language. Words such as blue, troop and captain are all derived from the language that is spoken on the other side of The Channel. And don’t forget all the French words we use in our language, such as bourgeois or cinema! The lexical part of the language thus shouldn’t be a problem. The gendered nouns and word inflections might be a little more difficult, but if you want to learn the right amount of French to strike up a conversation with a beau garçon, it’s a relatively easy language to learn.
The easy thing about the Spanish language is its shallow orthographic depth, that is to say, the pronunciation and spelling of a word are virtually the same. Moreover, this pronunciation is fairly easy for British speakers, as Spanish only has ten vowel/diphthong sounds, which is only half of the sounds the English language has. Most letters of the Spanish alphabet are also well-known by Brits, with the ñ (in for example the word ninõ, child) being the only exception. Add that to the fact that the language has less grammatical irregularities that other Romance languages and Spanish sounds like the perfect language to learn!
Because of structural and syntactical similarities, Dutch is a fairly easy language to learn for English speakers. In addition, the vocabulary resembles the English one as well, with words such as groen (green) and oud (old). The languages both feature many French loan words, which means you can probably recognise English words in the Dutch ones. An example of this is the word blok, the Dutch word for block. The Dutch language does has a few sounds that are not found in the English language, such as the ui-sound in huis (hous) and the g-sound in gelukkig (happy). Indecisive about whether you should learn Dutch or German? Go for Dutch, as the latter one has cases and a more complicated grammatical system.
The Norwegian language has a very consistent pronunciation. In addition, the grammar is fairly easy to learn for English speakers as the syntax and word order of the two languages are similar and Norwegian verbs are very easy because they do not have any inflections regarding number or person. Norwegian has a ‘pitch accent,’ which is a system to stress either the first or second syllable is matching words. The only downside to learning Norwegian is that opportunities to speak the language are not very widespread: all Norwegians are taught English in school, so their command of English is very high.
The Portuguese language is also a good option when you are looking for a new language to learn. There are two different varieties of Portuguese; European Portuguese spoken in Portugal, and Brazilian Portuguese spoken in Brazil. Brazilian Portuguese might be the preferred one of the two, as the Brazilian economy is ranked 6th in the world! The interrogative form in the language is very easy, because sentences can be turned into questions by simply raising your voice at the end. Moreover, a speaker of Brazilian Portuguese can pose questions by adding the tag ‘não é?’ to a sentence. Portuguese sounds a little difficult, but the language is very rhythmic, which is of great help for English speakers.
As it is a Germanic language, Swedish entails many words that are similar to English. An example of this is midnatt, the Swedish word for midnight. Just like English, the language has a Subject-Object-Verb structure and Swedish verbs do not have any inflection, which means conjugations are really easy. Swedish is often described as being a sing-song language and once you have learned the four extra vowels the language has, it can easily be reproduced.
The roots of Italian are firmly implanted in the Latin language; this means there are many words that resemble English terms, such as foresta, which means forest. Similar to Spanish, the language lacks orthographic depth. This means the language is very easy to read, even more so because the 21 letters in the Italian alphabet can all be found in the English alphabet as well. There are a few phonemes that can only be found in Italian,–ace, for example, but these are easily mastered by English speakers. You might even find that Italian is even quite fun to speak as the language is rhythmic and musical because of the many words that end in vowels. Mamma Mia!
Esperanto isn’t an official language in any country; in fact, the language does not belong to a community but is completely man-made. The language has been recognized by the French Academy of Sciences and UNESCO, though, and has about 2 million speakers worldwide. The language is very easy to learn, especially if you speak an Indo-European language;. Leo Tolstoj even claimed to have learned it in four hours! The language is so easy because of the regular and phonetic spelling system and simple grammar rules without irregularities. World are essentially building blocks which you can compound in a logical way. The word watermelon, for example, is akvomelono (akvo being water, melono being melon).
Even though the language is only spoken by half a million people in the north of the Netherlands, Frisian is a good option for English speakers to learn. It is the language that is closest to the English language; the northern part of the Netherlands and England used to be in close contact due to the fact that the canal used to be dry land for a long period of time. In the 8th century, the time of Old English, the tow languages parted ways. The English and Frisian vocabulary have many resemblances, which is also true for the structure and phonetic of the languages. To illustrate this, the linguistic saying ‘Good butter and good cheese” (Goed bûter en goed tsiis) is good English and good Fries’ that, when spoken out loud, sounds exactly the same in English and in Frisian.
So, which are you going to learn?
by Elise Kuip