English is a Germanic language. That’s why English speakers often find other Germanic languages easy to learn. Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, and Afrikaans are relatively simple Germanic languages.
Germanic languages are not all easy, however. Danish has difficult pronunciation, and Icelandic —which resembles Old Norse, the language of the Vikings— has complicated grammar.
Romance languages (languages that evolved from Latin) are easy for English speakers to learn. So Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and even Romanian are among the easiest languages.
Romance languages have vocabulary similarities with English because many English words come from Latin. The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 is the main reason: Old Norman (a French dialect) was used by the Anglo-Norman government in England, which led to an influx of Latin-derived French words.
Italian has a special connection to Latin. Rome, the capital of Italy, was once the capital of the Latin-speaking Roman Empire.
The most frequently used Italian words include many terms that English speakers can easily understand. Some of these Italian words have the same Latin origin as their English translations.
Even when an Italian word is unrelated to its English translation, there is often an English word with the same Latin origin and a related meaning.
Norwegian is a Germanic language that evolved from Old Norse, the language spoken by the Vikings. Over time, many of the complicated linguistic features of Old Norse have been simplified; as a result, modern Norwegian is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
Since both English and Norwegian belong to the Germanic language family, English speakers can easily identify and understand several of the most frequently used Norwegian vocabulary words.
Another factor that makes Norwegian an easy language for English speakers to learn is its straightforward verb conjugation. Unlike many other languages, Norwegian verbs are not conjugated based on the subject of the sentence.
There are plenty of opportunities for English speakers to practice learning Spanish. Not only is Spanish the most widely-spoken Romance language in the world, but in addition, there are over 40 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. — almost as many as in Spain.
As a Romance language that evolved from Latin, Spanish has quite a few vocabulary words that are similar to their English equivalents. Here are some examples:
Learning Spanish is also made easier by the close alignment between the pronunciation of Spanish words and their spelling.
English vocabulary words often have double consonants that don’t change the pronunciation (but cause spelling mistakes when forgotten); in Spanish, there are fewer double letters, and in most cases, they represent a distinct sound.
For example, notice the absence of double letters in the following Spanish words: comunicación (communication), comunidad (community), and difícil (difficult).
The Norman conquest of England in 1066 brought French-speaking Normans to England, which led to French becoming the official language of the English court and the language of the nobility for several centuries. As a result, English borrowed heavily from French, and many English words have French origins.
Take, for instance, the national motto of France “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” and compare it to its English translation: “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Notice how similar these French words are to the corresponding English terms. That’s because all three of these English terms came from French.
Among the most frequently used French words, there are quite a few that English speakers will recognize.
Dutch is an easy language for English speakers to learn because not only are Dutch and English both Germanic languages, but in addition, they belong to the same branch within that language family: they are West Germanic languages.
Many Dutch vocabulary words are similar to their English counterparts. As a result, English speakers can easily learn some of the basic Dutch vocabulary.
Here are some examples of words which are similar in Dutch and English:
Not all Dutch words are similar to their English counterparts. For example, it may not be immediately obvious to an English speaker that the Dutch sentence “Nederlands is een makkelijke taal” means “Dutch is an easy language”.
The sentence “Romanian is an easy language” when translated to Romanian, becomes “Româna este o limbă ușoară” — a sentence that may not look all that simple because of a few unfamiliar letters.
The Romanian alphabet, however, is really just a variant of the Latin alphabet used in English —but with five additional letters, three of which appear in the sentence above. Yes, those are considered additional letters rather than letters with accent marks.
Romanian is among the easiest languages to learn because it’s a Romance language. Not everyone knows or remembers this linguistic fact; Romanian has been called “the forgotten Romance language”.
Romania is in Eastern Europe, where many neighboring countries speak Slavic languages. But Romanian is a language that evolved from Latin, and although it has absorbed some Slavic vocabulary words, a large part of its core vocabulary has Latin roots.
Among the many Romanian vocabulary words that come from Latin, quite a few are similar to their English counterparts. This contributes to making Romanian an easy language for English speakers to learn.
A large part of Portuguese vocabulary comes from Latin; in many cases, English speakers can recognize some Portuguese words by comparing them to similar English words.
Take, for example, the sentence “Portuguese is an easy language to learn”; the corresponding sentence in Portuguese is “Português é uma língua fácil de aprender”.
Notice how the Portuguese word “língua” and its English equivalent, “language”, look similar. That’s because they have the same origin; they both come from the Latin word “lingua” which also means “language”.
The Portuguese verb “aprender” comes from Latin; its English counterpart, the verb “to learn”, has Germanic roots. But English speakers may notice the similarity of this Portuguese verb to the English word “apprentice” and may infer its meaning from that.
The Portuguese word “fácil” is different from the corresponding English word (“easy”). But its resemblance to the English verb “to facilitate” makes it easier to figure out its meaning.
Here is a table with some examples of vocabulary words that are similar in Portuguese and English.
There is a common misconception that Swedish is a difficult language to learn. This is understandable, considering that some words can be rather lengthy and seem hard to pronounce.
Admittedly, some Swedish vocabulary words aren’t exactly easy:
Apart from a few rather complicated Swedish words, the Swedish language is actually one of the easiest languages to learn. One reason is that verb conjugation is simple. Imagine not having to worry about how the spelling of the verb changes depending on its subject.
In English, verbs have to agree with the subject. In Swedish, the spelling of the verb remains the same:
Now, when it comes to the alphabet, did you know that Swedish uses the same Latin Script that English does? That’s right! All 26 letters that the English language uses. Plus three additional letters. But these three letters Å, Ä, and Ö, have pronunciations that are very easy to memorize.
Swedish is a good entry point to learning the Scandinavian languages because Norwegian is similar to Swedish. In addition, Danish is similar to Swedish although Danish pronunciation is more difficult.
Afrikaans is —as one can tell by its name— an African language. It is one of the official languages of South Africa, the southernmost country on the African continent.
Afrikaans is an easy language (for English speakers) simply because it’s a language that evolved from Dutch. Afrikaans is, therefore, a Germanic language (and so is English).
The Dutch settlers brought their language to the region during the colonial period; that language gradually changed, first into a dialect, then into a separate language.
The word “Afrikaans” features double vowels that are characteristic of Dutch spelling, and the Dutch adjective “Afrikaans” simply means “African”.
Afrikaans is, in some ways, an easier language than Dutch. In Afrikaans, nouns don’t have grammatical genders, whereas in Dutch they do.
Conjugation tables are particularly simple in Afrikaans: in contrast to English and Dutch, verbs in Afrikaans keep the same form regardless of their subject.
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For English speakers, the easiest languages to learn are, in most cases, European languages. Asian languages are, generally, more difficult because most do not use the Latin alphabet that English speakers are familiar with.
A few Asian languages do, however, use the Latin alphabet. Two of these are Vietnamese and Filipino, but neither is particularly easy to learn (and Vietnamese is a tonal language).
Indonesian and Malay are exceptions: they are Asian languages that are relatively easy for English speakers to learn. They use the Latin alphabet, and they are not tonal languages.
What makes Malay and Indonesian more accessible to English speakers, aside from their use of the Latin script, is the simplicity of their grammar.
For example, in these languages, verbs do not change their endings according to tenses. Instead, extra words are used with the verbs to describe when the action takes place.
If you’ve seen “The Lion King” then you have heard some Swahili phrases, because some of the characters in that animated movie speak and sing in Swahili.
Swahili is neither a Germanic language nor is it a Latin-derived Romance language. But it is still considered a fairly easy language to learn.
In many parts of East Africa, Swahili serves as a lingua franca —a language used for communication between people who have different native languages. For a large proportion of Swahili speakers, it’s their second rather than their first language.
When a language serves as a lingua franca, it often becomes simplified over time because non-native speakers often don’t use the more complex grammatical structures. So many of the complicated structures gradually disappear from the language.
In this list of the easiest languages, we have focused on languages that are widely spoken. In addition, some languages are easy to learn but less widely spoken, such as Frisian (a Germanic language) and Catalan (a Romance language).
We have also published an article on the hardest languages.