What Are the Easiest Languages in the World?

Imagine you're learning a language that's so easy that you're having full conversations within just a few hours. The vocabulary makes sense, the grammar feels natural...it's all just very easy. You've found the holy grail of languages...the one that you'll find so easy that you'll master it in just a few hours.

Listen to the latest podcast episode to hear Lindsay and me discuss this topic with lots of surprising insights and our own hit lists of top 5 easiest languages.

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Here are a few of the factors that determine if you will find a language easy or difficult:

Language Families: What Is Similar to What You Already Know?

Familiarity is the most obvious way to guess whether a language is going to be easy for you to learn. The closer its structures and vocabulary are to your native language, the easier it should be to understand and learn them.

The idea: Languages in your language family are the ones that give you the least new material to learn. With less to learn, that means you don't have to work as hard. It's easy!

What You See = All You Get?

The language families theory works perfectly, but it has one flaw: Without knowing about the languages you don't know...how can you tell that those familiar ones really are the easiest?

For example, speakers of a Latin-based language like Spanish will list Italian and Portuguese as their easy languages... but fewer people mention Romanian. Romanian is less popular, but it is still Latin-based and fairly accessible.

Many people start to mistake languages that are widely spoken with languages that are easy. And that makes sense in terms of access - how easy is it to find materials for your language? How unusual do you feel when you’re learning this language?

But is the most popular language really the easiest? Maybe there's more to it!

Language History: Where Have Languages Been Designed to Ease Communication?

Sometimes, a language emerges because it needs to create ease of communication quickly and often this leads to simplified grammar structures. Languages designed to aid communication are Pidgins and sign languages, for example. They’re considered easy partly because they are based on existing languages.

In the podcast, we discuss whether a pidgin or a sign language could be the easiest language in the world...or maybe not?

Learner Situation: Which Language(s) Have You Learnt Before?

In my Facebook group, one learner replied to my question “Which are the easiest languages for you?” in an unusual way. She said:

"I think the easiest three are often your last three, because you develop your language learning strategy as you work out which things help you learn"

It's very true. Languages can be easier or harder depending on you and where your skillset and mindset are at.

A bad experience in the past (like in school) can give you the impression that a language is hard, when it may have been more to do with your learning environment.

In addition to this, some languages just call to you and that motivation makes the complex grammar or weird vocabulary a joy to learn rather than a burden.

So What Makes a Language Easy or Hard?

It's personal to you as the language learner, so there is no general answer. What you know and the languages you know are also limited, so...in a way you won't ever have the answer until you try.

But remember: It’s hard not to confuse “easy” with “available".

What Were Your Top 5 Easiest Languages?

Listen to the podcast to hear our lists of easy languages and share your views in the comments below

Which Language Should I Learn?

img ©srhabay.wikispaces.com

img ©srhabay.wikispaces.com

So you have decided that you want to learn a new language. This is big. This will change your life. If you are wondering which language to learn, here is a little bit of help. Here are a few thoughts that you might find useful:

1) Ignore Thoughts of “Easy” and “Difficult”

Here are some common reasons why you might hold back from learning a difficult language:

The New Alphabet

You might know that my current language learning journey is learning Russian. But this is my 7th foreign language. Until I was 28, I never even considered learning Russian. I thought it was difficult. But then came my first business trip to Kazakhstan: A country where street signs look like this:

Kazakhstan street sign

No English! No Western script! I had to find my way around the streets, and it showed me just how quickly learning a new alphabet can be done. I had been scared of this all my life, and it turned out to be a really small problem.

The New Systems

Now, what about the fact that some languages are just naturally difficult or easy? This is partly true if you measure languages by how similar they are to English. You may find that the ideas listed in this graphic are going to work for you:

But if you have an understanding of the English grammar, you already have a basic understanding of language and you will very quickly find that your existing knowledge makes learning easier. Any langauge makes more sense once you know grammar.

The Bad Experience

Many people tell me that they are not interested in learning German or French because they had to study at school and they were bad at it. It is almost as if a bad grade in school was a message to these people, telling them that they are not allowed to try again.

If you have similar thoughts, please adjust. Language learning is not about how you did in school, or about what you found difficult when you were 13. Most adult learners now look at languages from a different point of view, and as a teacher I have often experienced that even the most basic knowledge of a language will be reactivated when you come back to it after many years. So in other words, if it was difficult at school you must not expect it to be difficult after school.

2) 1000 Speakers Is Enough

Many people decide that they want to learn a popular language spoken by many people everywhere. But did you know that even minority languages like Irish Gaelic or Maltese are spoken by over 100,000 people around the world? This means there are more people than you could speak to in a lifetime.

When you decide to learn a new language, choosing the popular language can help you find more native speakers makes it easier to find materials and fellow learners. But there are also advantages to learning the rare language. For example, native speakers will appreciate your effort so much more. Plus, rare languages can actually boost your career! My friend Mike is a native English speaker and found that his skill in Finnish helped him start his translation business in a smaller market and attract bigger clients a lot more easily. This would be a lot harder if you were working in a language spoken by millions.

3) Your Interest is The Best Guide

The first and strongest bit of advice I can give you is to choose a language that truly interests you. This matters more than the number of speakers, the career prospects, the difficulty or anything else. If you are fascinated by the desert palaces of Rajasthan in India, you should not be looking at learning Spanish!

Every expert will tell you that learning a language just gets so much better when you can make it come alive. Obviously, this means speaking in most cases. But even if a language is hardly used in modern times, you can still become extremely passionate about it. Latin learners will enjoy reading the smart (sometimes really funny) writings of Ovid, and if you are in Europe it will give you a new perspective on your own country. This can be fascinating and rewarding, and we haven’t even started to talk about how useful Latin is for learning Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian and so many more.

So, Which Language Should You Learn?

In my life, I have so far studied 7 languages. It never felt like a waste of time. Now that I am studying Russian I know that each and every one of the other 6 is making it easier for me. But the important thing was that I stuck with those languages, and I didn’t start more than one at the same time. My best advice would be to just make a decision and start learning. Stick with your language. If you become interested in a different one in the future, you have not wasted your time because language study is connected, and teaches you a new way of looking at the world.

Stop wasting your time choosing the easiest language, instead choose the most interesting one.

There is just one thing to think about when you want to learn a new language: You will learn nothing if you stay lazy. New languages are always a lot of work, and the only way to keep going is to motivate yourself all the time. This can be because of cultural reasons, but the interest in your own achievement is just as powerful. For example, I never learnt French because I wanted to move to France. But at the same time, I never gave up on French and I committed my time and effort. Now I am fluent in French, and still have never lived in France. French culture is not my passion, but being able to speak French has always been such a strong goal that I just kept going. The formula I would share with you is a bit like this:

Interest * (Commitment + Engagement) * Time = Fluency

If one of these is zero, you will not achieve fluency.

I hope this article helped you make up your mind. Which language do you dream of? What’s holding you back from studying it?

Further Reading:

So, are there easy and hard languages - or not?

Today I want to share a Youtube video created by Richard Simcott, a native English speaker who has studied an inspiring 16 languages!

Richard is a helpful language learning speaker, consultant, and also one of the founders of the Polyglot Conference (see you there next year?). The video he presents guides viewers through a great summary of why a language is considered hard or easy to learn for native English speakers.

But wait, you said there are no hard languages!

If you rewind a little bit through the archives of this blog, you will see that I have happily proclaimed "There are no hard or easy languages!" So before I go contradicting Richard's very valid points, let me explain what I mean:

The reason why you will find a language easy or difficult to learn can vary. There are the tangible factors of grammar, pronunciation, writing system and how familiar the words are. Those can't be ignored, they'll make your life easier or harder every day. But there is another attitude, much closer rooted in your own mind: The learner makes his or her learning easy (or difficult).

You are in charge of what's easy

Positive thinking is highly effective in language learning. If you believe that you're tackling a language that is difficult to learn, you may have a harder time. Instead, look at your motivation, consider why you're on this adventure and make yourself look at the bright side.

  • An unfamiliar writing system - did this attract you to the language in the first place?
  • A completely foreign vocabulary - could you consider this your new secret code, a fresh way of looking at the world?
  • When you catch yourself dwelling on the difficult parts of your new language, try going back to something you're already good at until the confidence returns.

Okay, so I admit this won't make Korean any easier than Spanish, but hopefully it can help fend off any big worries if you find your language in a class 1 or 2! Which language are you learning these days?