ECTACO Info | The 10 Easiest Foreign Languages For English Speakers To Learn

by Anne Merritt, The Telegraph

The English language is closely related to many Germanic and Romance dialects, so when it comes to language study English speakers aren’t starting from scratch. Anne Merritt lists the 10 easiest to pick up.
 
We English speakers have a bad reputation in the world of language.
According to a European Commission survey in 2012, 61 per cent of British respondents could not speak a second language. However, with growing foreign economies and more global communication than ever before, languages are becoming a crucial skill for professionals.
 
Luckily, English is not an isolated language. Rather, it is linked to many European Germanic languages by descent or influence. It also absorbed foreign vocabulary in its earlier years; over 50 per cent of English words stem from Latin or French.
 
This means that when it comes to language study, English speakers aren’t starting from scratch. With common alphabets, structure, and vocabulary, foreign languages can be relatively easy for English speakers to learn.
 
1. Afrikaans
 
Like English, Afrikaans is in the West Germanic language family.

Unlike English, its structure won’t make your head spin. A great feature of Afrikaans, especially for grammar-phobes, is its logical and non-inflective structure.

Unlike English, there is no verb conjugation (swim, swam, swum). Unlike Romance languages, there is no gender (un homme, une femme in French).
Another feature of Afrikaans is its vocabulary, which shares many Germanic-derived root words that are familiar to English speakers. Vocabulary-building is as easy as pointing to an object and asking, “Wat is dit in Afrikaans?”
 
2. French
 
We can thank William the Conqueror for excellent, colour, identity, and about 8000 other French-derived English words left over from the Norman occupation.

Linguists estimate that French has influenced up to a third of the modern English language, from the language of the courts in the 11th century to modern terms like je ne sais quoi, après-ski, and bourgeois. For language learners, English has more in common lexically with French than any other Romance language.

This means that French vocabulary is more familiar, recognisable, and easy to comprehend. Advanced French learners may struggle with its gendered nouns and 17 verb forms, but for conversational learning, it’s relatively facile.
 
 
For language learners, a great feature of Spanish is its shallow orthographic depth – that is, in most cases, words are written as pronounced.

This means that reading and writing in Spanish is a straightforward task.
Pronunciation is also fairly easy for native English speakers, with only ten vowel and diphthong sounds (English has 20), and no unfamiliar phonemes except for the fun-to-pronounce letter ñ.  Grammatically speaking, Spanish has fewer irregularities that other Romance languages. Spanish is also an attractive second language for English speakers because of its international status.

Spanish is an official language on three continents, and with growing economies in Latin and South America, it’s a valuable professional skill. In a Telegraph survey, 37 per cent of employers rated Spanish as a useful language to know.
 
4. Dutch
 
Another West Germanic cousin of the English language, Dutch is both structurally and syntactically familiar for English speakers.

In terms of pronunciation and vocabulary, it parallels English in many ways, such as groen (green) or de oude man (the old man).

In addition to familiar Germanic root words, the Dutch language adopted many loan words from French, with familiar words like drogeren (drug) and blok (block).
 
Though some vowel sounds may be new for English speakers, Dutch pronunciation follows the English model of syllable stress, so pronouncing Dutch words is somewhat intuitive.
Dutch is similar to German, but because it has no cases and a less complicated grammatical system, many linguistic scholars consider Dutch to be the easiest language for English speakers.
 
5. Norwegian
 
This North Germanic language has consistent pronunciation and, for English speakers, some pretty breezy grammar.

Norwegian and English have very similar syntax and word order. Verbs are an especially simple feature, with no conjugation according to number or person.

The rules of conjugation are particularly straightforward, with a simple –e suffix for past tense, and –s for passive verbs.
Norwegian has the logical system of a tonal “pitch accent” to stress either the first or second syllable in matching words, as in English’s “desert” and “dessert”.
The one drawback to studying Norwegian is finding opportunities to use it.

In Norway’s top-ranking education system, English is taught nationwide, starting at the primary school level, and most Norwegians are near-fluent.
 
6. Portuguese

Portuguese is grammatically similar to other Romance languages.

One attractively simple feature is its interrogative form, which is expressed by intonation alone, not through rearranging phrases.
We’re leaving now can become a question just by raising one’s voice at the end (“We’re leaving now?”) which is a natural linguistic habit of English speakers anyway.
In Brazilian Portuguese, questions can also be posed through one catchall question tag: não é?
 Though the nasal vowel sounds of Portuguese may be difficult to pronounce at first, its rhythmic tone is easy for English ears to follow.
Also, with Brazil’s economy now ranked 6th in the world, Portuguese language skills are an increasingly valuable asset for professionals.
 
7. Swedish
 
Another Germanic language, Swedish shares many cognate words with English, such as konferens (conference), midnatt (midnight), and telefon (telephone).

The syntax is also familiar to English speakers, with a Subject-Verb-Object structure, and verb conjugations which follow the same patterns and rules as in English grammar.

What’s more, Swedish verbs are uninflected and normally constant, which makes for wonderfully simple conjugation. “I speak/ You speak/ He speaks” would translate into Swedish as jag pratar / du pratar/ han pratar.
In terms of pronunciation, Swedish is a famously sing-songy language.

Once a learner can master the four extra vowels (like ö or å) and the uniquely Scandinavian “sje,” Swedish can be a melodic language that is easy to listen to and fairly easy to reproduce.
 
9. Italian

The most romantic of Romance language, Italian has a Latin-rooted vocabulary which allows for many Italian/English cognates, including foresta (forest), calendario (calendar), and ambizioso (ambitious).

Like Spanish, the shallow orthographic depth of Italian makes it a highly readable language, especially since the Italian alphabet, at 21 letters, is actually simpler than English.

Uniquely Italian phonemes like –ace or –ghi are regular and quite easy for English speakers to master. What’s more, Italian sentence structure is highly rhythmic, with most words ending in vowels.

This adds a musicality to the spoken language which makes it fairly simple to understand, and undeniably fun to produce.
 
10. Esperanto

Esperanto advocate Leo Tolstoy claimed to have learned it in four hours.

Most linguists class it among the easiest languages to learn, especially for Indo-European language speakers.
Though not an official language in any one country, Esperanto has been recognised by the French Academy of Sciences and UNESCO, and now has an estimated 2 million speakers worldwide.

Created in the late 19th century, this nationally and politically neutral language was constructed for easy acquisition. What makes this man-made language so simple to learn? The spelling system is regular and phonetic, and the rules of grammar are simple and designed without irregularities.

Words are constructed building-block style out of regularised prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Words compound logically, as we see in birdokanto (birdsong), akvobirdo (waterfowl), akvomelono (watermelon).
 
10. Frisian
 
This language is native to Friesland in the Netherlands, and is spoken by fewer than half a million people. Still, it is English’s closest sibling, uniquely connected in the tiny linguistic category of North Sea Germanic languages.

The two parted ways, so to speak, when Old English and Old Frisian started evolving independently around the 8th century.  Despite their geographical and historical separation, the similarities between English and Frisian are uncanny, with near-identical vocabulary, structure, and phonetics.

There’s a linguistic saying, “Good butter and good cheese” (Goed bûter en goed tsiis) is good English and good Fries.” Spoken aloud, the Frisian and English versions of the sentence are interchangeable.
 
 
 
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