Studying a new language can be exciting as it provides you with an opportunity to connect with people from across the world, share dialogue, and conduct trade. How difficult you find it to learn a new language depends on your native language, among other factors. If you’re a native English speaker, here are the 20 easiest and hardest languages to learn for you.
Why Some Languages Are Easier/Harder To Learn?
If the language you’re studying has the same origins or parent language as yours, it should be very easy to learn. For instance, if you’re a native English speaker, you won’t have a hard time learning French. This is because both languages come from the same Indo-European language family and use similar characters and rules of grammar.
However, languages like Arabic, Mandarin, and Hindi have completely separate cultural origins and language ancestry from English. They use completely different characters, have different writing styles, pronunciations, and rules of grammar.
So, whether or not a new language will be easy for you to learn depends on the language family it falls into.
10 Easiest Languages to Learn
For a native English speaker, Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn. It uses the same writing system, isn’t culturally distanced, and shares a similar ancestry with English. It is one of the Romance languages (along with Italian, French, Portuguese, etc.) and thus shares many similar characteristics with them. Some of the tones and sounds might be new for you, but most people learn how to overcome them within weeks.
Italian, like Spanish, is a Romance language with a few different tones and sounds, but the same writing system. The English language derives many words from Italian, so the transition will feel seamless when you try to speak Italian.
French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Of all the Romance languages, French has arguably had one of the strongest influences on the English language.
They use the same writing system and a virtually identical set of grammar rules, so you will be able to start reading and writing in French in a matter of weeks. The pronunciations, however, can take time to get used to.
Portuguese is often argued to be the most beautiful language in the world. It’s a Romance language that uses the same writing system as English, but the grammatical concepts are slightly different.
German is from the same tribe of languages as English. Both languages are quite closely related, with 40% of German words sounding very similar to English when you read them aloud.
It’s arguably the easiest language for you to learn if you’re a native English speaker.
Afrikaans is a creole language that has its roots in South Africa from the Dutch Colonial Era. As Afrikaans evolved from Dutch influence, its writing system is similar to that of English. It’s a pretty straightforward language for English speakers to pick up.
Dutch, like English, is also a Germanic language that includes words from both German and English. The sounds and tones are virtually identical, so you can learn to start speaking basic Dutch in a matter of weeks.
Norwegian is the official language of Norway and is a member of the Germanic language family. English and Norwegian share several similarities such as their order of words, grammatical concepts, and word meanings, making it fairly easy to learn.
Swedish is another easy language for English speakers to pick up because of its German roots. There are thousands of cognates and similarities in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. The sounds and tones, however, are quite unfamiliar, so learning how to pronounce Swedish words fluently can take some time.
Romanian sounds very different from English but it’s surprisingly easy to learn. Modern linguists suggest that 80% of Romanian has been derived from Latin, which is also where a good chunk of modern English comes from.
10 Hardest Languages to Learn
Arabic is about the furthest you can get from English. Everything, from pronunciation and writing style to grammatical structure and cultural influences, Arabic is a significantly different language than English. Learning Arabic properly can take an English speaker at least 2200 hours of classes, which doesn’t include practice.
What makes languages like Mandarin, Japanese, or Korean so difficult to learn is the writing style and the sheer number of characters you need to memorize. It’s different from English in every way possible. However, as it is spoken by almost 1/7th of the world population, it can be a very rewarding language to learn.
Japanese, like Mandarin, poses all of the same challenges for English speakers. There are over 3,000 complex characters to memorize. It also takes time to learn how to distinguish between certain symbols because of their similarities. You should expect to devote at least 2200 hours of classes if you want to perfect Japanese.
Hungarian is a part of the Uralic family of languages, which is completely separate from the Indo-European languages. The grammar is incredibly complex and so are the pronunciations. Hungarian has over 14 vowels and a very unique writing system that takes time to get used to.
Korean has a hybrid set of grammatical and pronunciation rules that makes it very difficult for English speakers to get used to. For instance, in Korean, you have to use verbs at the end of the sentence in a Subject-Object-Verb structure as opposed to the English language’s Subject-Verb-Object structure.
And like Japanese, Korean also has a lot of nuances you need to understand to speak politely and well with others.
One of the hardest to learn worldwide, Finnish is the final boss of European languages. It’s not a part of the Indo-European languages, so you won’t find any similarities here. There are also several hybrid rules for verb endings, spellings, and pronunciation. It will take at least 1100 hours for you to perfect your Finnish.
Basque is a language used solely by the Basque Southwestern European ethnic group. They live in the region adjacent to the northern parts of Spain and southwest France. Like Finnish, Basque is another one of Europe’s wild cards. It is connected in no way to any of the other European languages.
The Navajo are a federally recognized tribe of Native American people that you’ll meet in great numbers if you’re ever in Mexico or Arizona. There are roughly 170,000 speakers of Navajo living in the Navajo region. It’s a very tricky language to learn and is culturally polarized to English. It is resplendent with exploding sound and glottal stops, which are very difficult for English speakers to make.
Icelandic is deemed to be in the category of Finnish or Hungarian when it comes to difficulty. It uses a rather archaic vocabulary that’s completely divergent from the rest of Europe and is based on complex grammatical rules. Linguistic experts suggest that it’s a dying language, so it may not be worth the time.
What makes Polish particularly difficult to learn is the number of unique sounds and phonetics you need to learn how to make. It also has drastically different grammar rules. Getting the accent right is still the greatest challenge though.
5 Tips For Language Learning
There are several tricks and tips to learning new languages that can serve you universally. Follow these rules and you can achieve your learning goals much sooner:
#1. Find someone to practice speaking with.
#2. If the language you’re learning uses different characters, immerse yourself in those new symbols completely. It will be very challenging at the start but it helps you learn faster. For instance, if you’re studying Japanese, don’t use Romaji and try using Japanese characters instead.
#3. Create a list of important words or phrases and keep going back to them regularly.
#4. Sign up for a class that allows you to participate with other students and a professional instructor. Having a more interactive environment is known to help people learn new languages much faster.
#5. Read articles, media, books, or watch movies and TV shows in the language you’re learning, without subtitles if possible.