Nothing can beat the gains of learning a new language: you’ll be able to communicate with people from various countries and get drawn into new adventures.
To help you pick the next language to learn, here are the six easiest languages for native English speakers to learn. Tackling one of them will help you cross one resolution off your bucket list!
Learning a new language may feel daunting at first, just like all new beginnings in life. You may be wondering which language to choose and the most efficient ways to learn it. But the thing is, millions of native English speakers have had the same concerns and many of them have learned countless languages faster than they expected!
Here are the six easiest languages for English speakers to learn:
First, let’s give you a motivational boost and start with how learning a new language can change your life more than you’d expect – because it will!
The benefits of learning a new language
Today, the world is more interconnected than ever, and communication is not a preference but a solid need.
Whether you are aiming to advance in your career or planning to visit a foreign country for your summer holiday, there are countless benefits to learning a new language.
Communicating and engaging with other cultures
Imagine you are in Mallorca chatting with a local and they tell you about secret places to visit that are not listed among the “Top 10 things you must see in Spain” in your guidebook.
Or perhaps you are in a Dutch village and thanks to your incredible Dutch speaking skills, which flourished right after you made learning the language your priority resolution this year, you are able to hear incredible stories about the history of the place.
One of the most rewarding aspects of knowing a foreign language is simply being able to connect with others.
Languages open up your world and help you engage with different cultures.
This way, you can become part of a local community much easier, deepen your relationship with other cultures, and even build lifelong relationships.
Advancing your career
You are delivering a pitch to a Brazilian company. There is a moment where your team finds it hard to communicate the key messages, followed by an awkward silence. Unshaken by this, you stand up and start talking about the nitty-gritty of the long-awaited agreement in fabulous Portuguese… Wouldn’t that make a great movie scene? You shine, not only in that meeting, but also in your career.
Unarguably, one of the keys to success is effective communication. Knowing a foreign language gives you a competitive edge in your career regardless of your occupation and expertise.
According to New American Economy, between 2010 and 2015, the number of US job postings specifically geared toward bilingual candidates more than doubled.
In the upcoming years, we can definitely expect a need for a more international and language-proficient workforce.
Improving your cognitive skills
People who speak more than one language have better problem-solving, listening, and critical-thinking skills.
Their attention spans are also improved, as is their ability to multitask.
If you are seeking more creativity in your life, the answer could be to learn a new language. It will allow you to tap into unknown zones and unconnected areas of your brain.
The reason is that learning a language has a truly positive effect on creativity and originality. Moreover, it leads to more empathy toward others and builds a global mindset.
Learn a new language with Lingvist
Learn the words you actually need, when you need them!
What is the easiest language to learn? The research so far
Over the years, plenty of organizations have attempted to scientifically measure the difficulty of various languages.
These attempts have broadly fallen into two categories:
- Data-driven studies based on the average number of hours that students take to learn each language; and
- Linguistic analysis methods, looking at the distance in syntax, phonology, and lexicon between two languages.
The most notable research in the first category was undertaken by the USA’s Foreign Service Institute, the organization responsible for training American diplomats and other officials to work abroad.
They found that native English speakers could learn a “Category I” language up to the S3/R3 level (roughly equivalent to C1 in the European system or level 3-4 on the ILR scale) with 575-600 hours of study. This category includes the Romance and Nordic languages, as well as Dutch and Afrikaans.
At the other end of the spectrum, the hardest “Category IV” languages would typically require 2,200 hours of study to reach a similar level. These include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
The FSI has an enormous amount of experience getting students up to proficiency in a foreign language quickly, but the results of their research mirror that of linguistic analysis methods quite closely.
There are two key factors not taken into account by either method: motivation and opportunity for exposure.
The FSI’s students are overwhelmingly in situations where the next step of their career absolutely depends on learning a certain language. Furthermore, the learning processes would all be somewhat similar, featuring a high degree of classroom study.
In reality, the easiest language to learn is of course the one that you have the greatest desire to speak and the most opportunity to practice, ideally with native speakers.
With that said, learning languages similar to English can help sustain that motivation, and opportunities to speak with natives are even more valuable if you already have a certain level of confidence. We should consider all of these aspects when deciding the best languages to learn.
What motivates you? For many language learners, it’s simply a question of…
What are the most useful languages for English speakers?
There are a few ways to look at this question.
As an English native speaker, you already have the advantage of being able to communicate at least a little bit with a greater number of people globally than the native speakers of any other language.
Maybe “usefulness” to you means pumping that number up even higher. In that case, you might choose a lingua franca with a small amount of overlap with secondary English speakers. That would draw you toward French, Modern Standard Arabic, or Russian.
Or perhaps you’re keen to reverse your interlocutors’ expectations and speak to them in their native language, even when they speak some English themselves. Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Hindi take spots 1, 2, and 4 in terms of total number of native speakers in the world.
But you might also ask how many users of those languages you will realistically encounter. The communities with which you intend to live and work are natural indicators of which languages will be most useful in your own life. Portuguese and German can be excellent choices if you want to feel at home in Brazil or Central Europe, respectively.
Then there’s the possibility of using a second language to advance your career. In that case, we should consider the diplomatic and business environments.
For example, if you want to live and work primarily in your native country but participate in international business deals, you might want to check the list of your country’s biggest trade partners.
Alternatively, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese are considered the most important languages to learn in diplomatic and security communities all over the world, so if you have your eyes on a public sector career you can’t go wrong with either.
Spanish is a smart choice for a career in any sector, especially if you’re young, due to the prevalence of rapidly emerging economies in Latin America.
Is English hard for native speakers of other languages to learn?
English native speakers sometimes feel ashamed when they encounter proficient speakers of English as a second language.
Doing your part to close the language gap is a wonderful idea, but you should also bear in mind the role played by the media in exposing people around the world to English from an early age. Many people pick up the foundations of English passively, giving them a slight advantage if they decide to study it in earnest.
On the other hand, English can be particularly challenging to master, even for those who speak two or more other languages. It stands out as a language with numerous exceptions to rules, homophones, homographs, and unexpected pronunciation.
Native speakers of East Asian languages like Japanese sometimes report finding the syntax of European languages overwhelmingly complex.
These problems tend to be less prevalent for speakers of Dutch, which is generally considered to be the major language most similar to English. If we widen the net to include all living languages, the title of closest language to English overall would have to go to Scots, or Frisian if we insist on considering Scots a dialect of English.
Speakers of certain languages find it easier to learn English for not just linguistic but practical reasons. The Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Portugal, Estonia, and Lithuania generally refrain from overdubbing foreign-language media, much of which is English. Instead, they broadcast TV and show movies with the original audio and local subtitles.
In short, while English is a “hard” language to learn in theory, for many people it ends up being one of the easiest languages to learn in practice, due to its status as a global lingua franca.
What are the hardest languages for English speakers to learn?
The United States Government’s Foreign Service Institute lists Arabic, Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Korean as its “Category IV” languages, requiring 2,200 hours of study for an English native speaker to reach working proficiency.
Many linguists are in broad agreement that these are the most challenging major languages over all, but some point out that individuals differ a lot. Each of us will find certain aspects of learning easier or harder than others.
Polish, for example, has a complex grammar and syntax system with little in common with English. While the Far Eastern languages are even more different, their rules are simpler. For English speakers who don’t feel comfortable with advanced logic, Polish could well be the toughest language in the world to learn, but for the typical learner, it’s only a “moderate” difficulty language. The FSI lists it as “Category III,” requiring 1,100 hours of study to get to C1.
As for learners who get tongue-tied easily, Russian is the major world language they’d probably have the hardest time with. It has a huge variety of phonemes with very little overlap with the sounds we make in English.
But those are just the major world languages.
Just as it’s easier to learn a language that provides plenty of opportunities for exposure, it’s much harder to learn a language if there are obstacles in accessing it.
For that reason, it would be a greater challenge, practically speaking, for an English speaker to attempt to learn a small minority language. Many of these have the additional characteristic of being somewhat isolated in terms of language families, giving learners fewer lexical reference points.
Basque is a language spoken by about 750,000 people in parts of northern Spain and the southwest of France. It’s interesting to linguists due to it being seemingly totally unrelated to any other living language, and it often makes an appearance on lists of hardest languages to learn.
Learning a dead language is essentially impossible. If there are no living natural speakers or audio recordings, vocalizing it will have to be based on theory rather than true exposure. Many linguists would say you’re not “learning” that language but “recreating” it. The next best thing would be trying to learn a language spoken by an isolated community that does not allow in outsiders, like the Pacific Island language Sentinelese.
There’s also a large number of Indigenous American languages that are not quite extinct but rather endangered. Some of them have no living natural speakers, but century-old audio recordings are available. Many have complex phonologies so different from English that Russian and Korean seem a breeze to learn in comparison.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are languages with plenty of natural speakers but which are rarely or never written down, like the Romany languages. These are very tough to practice with independent study, demanding deep immersion to make real progress.
Then we have polysynthetic languages like Kalaallisut, native to about 57,000 Greenlandic Inuit. The lexical variety of such languages is enormous. Linguists estimate that with most European languages, you experience around 20-25% lexical repetition. With Kalaallisut it’s closer to 4%.
In comparison, is Arabic hard to learn? Not really. But it’s also not the easiest Asian language to learn.
What’s the easiest Asian language to learn?
Among those spoken by several million people, Korean is probably the toughest language in the world for English speakers. But of course learning it can open doors to another culture, and perhaps career opportunities as well.
What if you’re drawn to Asia more generally, and want to make things as easy as possible in terms of speaking the native language?
The FSI considers the Malay language family to be ‘Category II’ – tougher than any of the Romance or Nordic languages, but easier than Polish, Russian, Turkish, or Thai. By their estimation, it should take about 900 hours of classroom study to achieve a professional level in Indonesian or Malaysian.
Malay has plenty of loanwords from English. It’s typically written using the Latin alphabet, and many things that language learners often find painful, like conjugations, gender, and verb tenses, are simply not present in these languages.
The Malay family boasts around 77 million native speakers and at least 125 million – perhaps as many as 175 million – secondary users. The major varieties like Indonesian and Malaysian have a good degree of mutual intelligibility, giving learners a lot of utility in terms of navigating Southeast Asia.
Many of these countries are also rapidly emerging economies, putting native English speakers who learn Malay in a similar category to Spanish, French, or Portuguese learners in terms of international business and diplomacy opportunities.
But suppose you’d rather learn a European language – whichever one is easiest overall. Without further ado, here is our ranking of the top 6 easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
The top six easiest languages for native English speakers to learn
English is a West Germanic language with borrowings from many languages, ranging from Latin and Ancient Greek to German and Dutch.
Despite its Germanic roots, English has a lot in common with Romance languages as well. Be prepared to hear more about some of these languages below.
We have compiled a list of the top six easiest languages for native English speakers to learn, based on language roots, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Here you go!
1. Spanish: ¡Hola!
There is a good reason why many people prefer to learn Spanish as a new language – it is practical, widely spoken, and sounds elegant.
Today, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world, with over 400 million native speakers. Derived from Latin, Spanish is one of the Romance languages. Luckily, a sizable chunk of English words come from Romance/Latin sources, so there are a lot of similarities.
There are a large number of cognates between English and Spanish, which makes it much easier for native English speakers to learn Spanish. For instance, “actor,” “admirable,” and “chocolate” are spelled the same in both languages, although pronounced a little differently, so they are near-perfect cognates.
Can you guess what “confusión” or “subversión” mean? It shouldn’t take you too long to figure them out!
One of the pros of Spanish is also that the pronunciation is quite straightforward. On the other hand, we can’t quite say the same thing about the grammar. Although the tenses mostly align with those used in English, there are some exceptions and “fun” rules to learn.
According to the US Foreign Service Institute, Spanish is one of the fastest languages for English speakers to learn.
Google “the most beautiful places” in Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, or the other 17 countries where Spanish is spoken as an official language, get your daily dose of motivation, and you are ready to start!
2. Dutch: Hallo!
If you hear someone speaking a language you do not know but that sounds like a mix of German and English, it is most probably Dutch.
On top of being one of the easiest languages native English speakers can pick up, Dutch is the third most-spoken Germanic language.
It is spoken in the Netherlands, parts of Belgium, Suriname, and on some gorgeous Caribbean islands. Just like Spanish, Dutch shares a high number of cognates with English, but here comes the same friendly warning: the pronunciation can be quite different, so be prepared to focus on pronunciation.
Another interesting fact is that along with the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese), Dutch requires about 600 hours of study to reach a general level of professional proficiency in speaking and reading. If you love riding “fietsen” (bikes), eating “wafels” (Can you guess what that could be?), and want to learn a language as fast as possible, Dutch could be the one for you!
3. Swedish: Hallå!
Before diving into the roots of the Swedish language, let’s solve a mystery that has existed since the beginning of time itself – “IKEA” is an acronym that stands for “Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd.” “Ingvar Kamprad” is the founder’s name; the rest refers to the names of Kamprad’s farm and the village he grew up in.
Swedish is a North Germanic language, spoken natively by around 10 million people.
One advantage for an English speaker learning Swedish is that the grammar and sentence structure are quite similar to English.
Another advantage for native English speakers is that Swedish also has lots of cognates that make it much easier for you to build your vocabulary. So, we believe “you can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life,” and learn Swedish in the meantime!
4. Portuguese: Olá!
Portuguese is a member of the Romance language family, just like Spanish, Italian, and French, and is spoken in Portugal and Brazil.
It is also the official language in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Did you know that it is also the official language of the Chinese autonomous territory of Macau? So, it should come as no surprise that Portuguese is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world!
What makes Portuguese relatively easy for English speakers to learn and speak is a concept which you should be familiar with by now: cognates.
In some cases, however, cognates can have totally different meanings – these are known as “false friends.” For example, in Portuguese “pasta” means a folder, whereas the delicious Italian staple is known as “massa”!
If you want to understand classic Brazillian bossa nova songs or elegant Portuguese fado folk lyrics and dream of visiting places where Portuguese is spoken, then it seems you’ve already made up your mind about the next language to learn. Good luck and enjoy!
5. Italian: Ciao!
Wouldn’t knowing a language spoken by 63 million people and being able to confidently pronounce the dish you want in an Italian restaurant feel great? We think so too.
As mentioned earlier, Italian is a Romance language. It has many cognates that you, as a native English speaker, will quickly recognize and pick up right away, which makes it even easier to learn.
One friendly tip: If you visit Italy, keep in mind that in Italian culture salutations and introductions are a sign of showing respect.
Learning to say “Buongiorno” (“Good morning”) and “Ciao” (“Hello”) is your first homework! This will pay off with lots of sympathy from the recipient.
Sounds good? Bellissimo! Why not get started today?
6. French: Bonjour
We know what you are thinking: “Wait, what? What about the pronunciation?”
As one of the Romance languages, French is spoken by approximately 76 million people as a first language, and by 274 million people as a first or second language.
The francophone world includes parts of Canada and Belgium, some Caribbean and South Pacific islands, a number of West African countries, French Guiana in South America, and (surprise, surprise) France! It is an official language in a whopping 29 countries around the world.
Although it is not as easy for English speakers as Spanish or Italian, there is still a large amount of cognates and shared vocabulary. Do “la communication,” “avant-garde,” or “journal” sound familiar?
When it comes to pronunciation, there are countless ways to enhance your speaking skills. Watching French movies, listening to French songs, or having chats with “copines” (female friends) and “copains” (male friends) would definitely help!
Where to start?
Just as every good plan starts with a clear goal, first define yours – why do you want to learn a new language?
- Is your goal solely to advance in your career?
- Are you preparing for your next holiday?
- Are you planning to move to a foreign country?
- Do you want to improve your cognitive skills?
- Do you want to deepen your relationship with a particular culture?
Once you make up your mind about what you want and why you want it, the next step is to come up with a strategy on how to learn this new language in the most effective way.
In other words, you need to find a practical and smart language learning app to help you learn what matters most, such as Lingvist!
Download the Lingvist app today and start building your vocabulary in 7 languages, including Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese, so that you can:
- Learn the words that you really need to know.
- Improve your vocabulary in as little as 30 minutes per day.
- Enjoy learning a new language on desktop or mobile, depending on your preferences!
Learn new languages smarter and faster
Learn your next language 10x faster with the help of Lingvist!