What are the easiest languages to learn?
The easiest languages to learn are those that have vocabulary, grammar rules, spelling, and pronunciation that are similar to your native language. Easy-to-learn languages often belong to the same language family (groups of languages that are historically related). The easiest languages for speakers of English will then be other languages in the Indo-European language family – check out the image below to see what we mean. English is most closely related to Dutch and German, followed by Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish. But as you may know, English has also been influenced by the Romance languages (i.e. Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Romanian), which makes these languages good candidates too.
Graph showing how proto-indo-european languages are related
Interestingly, it’s possible for two languages to have some elements in common, and so be easier to learn, without actually being in the same family! Some examples (relative to English) include Indonesian, Malay, Haitian Creole, and Swahili.
So, what do you think? Have you decided you want to learn one of these easy languages? Are you just interested in learning more about what makes a language “easy”? Keep on reading, because we’re about to break down 14 easiest languages for speakers of English to learn.
Buckle up and let’s go around the world to find out more!
Table of Contents
Dutch is one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn. Dutch is a Germanic language (like English!). According to Ethnologue (https://www.ethnologue.com), which is the source of all speaker numbers in this article, it is spoken by a total of 24 million people across the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. It is also spoken in Suriname, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world, and it is similar to Afrikaans, one of the languages spoken in South Africa. By learning Dutch, you will have access to so many cultures!
One reason why Dutch is so easy for native English speakers is because the two languages have a lot of vocabulary in common (about a quarter according to britannica.com). Let’s see some examples of this. Can you figure out what these Dutch words mean: vader, moeder, dochter, kinderen, drinken, spreeken, vinden? If you said: father, mother, daughter, children, to drink, to speak, and to find, you’re on the right path!
Another reason why Dutch is easy to learn is because its grammar is not particularly difficult. You should be prepared to run into irregular verbs and noun genders (the categories nouns fall into), but there are almost no grammatical cases (the forms nouns take depending on their position in the sentence). Get ready to have fun with the word order that sometimes sends the verb to the end of the sentence. Sometimes you’ll have to “wait until the speaker finished has” in order to understand what they are talking about. But despite these features, Dutch grammar generally shouldn’t pose much difficulty for English speakers.
Spelling is not difficult either: Dutch uses the same script as English! Although there is not a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds (so it’s not perfectly “phonetic”), spelling is pretty regular. Comparing Dutch spelling to English is a walk in the park.
One area which may be challenging is pronunciation, since Dutch has a strong “h” sound that comes from the bottom of your throat. But as with everything, it’s just a matter of practice to master.
Let’s get down to the numbers now: How long will it take you to learn Dutch? According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), learning Dutch takes about 24 weeks or 600 class hours. This means that if you dedicate 5 hours a day to learning for six months, you will be ready to have a cup of coffee in a tulip garden!
And learning Dutch may give you a leg up if you feel you would like to expand your repertoire of Germanic languages later on to include languages like German, Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. How cool is that?
So why not get started with Mango’s Dutch course today?
Like Dutch, German is a Germanic language (obviously?) but it is a bit more involved than Dutch. One reason for it being relatively easy is because many German words have similar counterparts in English – think Buch and book. German also has a fun way of forming new words by simply adding words together, so if you know one of the words in a compound, you may be able to decipher its meaning. What’s more, German spelling is not hard to learn. Although it may not be straightforward, there are only a few rules you have to learn and then it is regular. And while German pronunciation may need some practice, there are only a few sounds, like “h”, “ü”, and “ö”, that you’ll need to master.
We left grammar for the end for a reason! German grammar is a bit challenging: There are four cases, three genders, irregular verbs, and other features that you will need to master. But there is logic behind everything, and you will find some similarities with English (e.g., verbs which are irregular in English are also irregular in German). Plus, since it is a widely spoken language (134.6 million speakers worldwide!), there are plenty of resources and means to practice it.
While German may be tougher to learn overall (about 36 weeks of study or 900 hours to reach working proficiency), it’s still easier than 80% of languages on the FSI rankings. And it’s definitely worth the effort: it will give you access to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Plus, German is very similar to Dutch, Yiddish, Afrikaans, and the Scandinavian languages that we will discuss below. So if you want to learn any of these languages, knowing German will definitely help you out! Start your journey today with Mango’s German course!
Norwegian, like Dutch and German, should be easy for English speakers to learn because it belongs to the Germanic family of languages. However, Norwegian belongs to the North Germanic subgroup while English and Dutch belong to the West Germanic subgroup – check out the image above to see the difference. Because of this, there are fewer similarities with English in terms of vocabulary. However, its grammar is very simple: verbs have one form in every tense and word order is similar to English. As far as spelling is concerned, you will find some unfamiliar letters, like å, but generally speaking, it uses the same script as English. Finally, in terms of pronunciation, Norwegian has some challenging sounds but in all it is not difficult.
There are two main very similar written forms, Bokmål and Nynorsk. Norwegians learn both but learning Bokmål is a sure bet as it is closer to the dialect spoken in the area of Oslo and it is used by 85% of the population.
Like Dutch, Norwegian takes around 24 weeks, or 600 class hours, to reach working proficiency. Learning to chat with the 5.3 million speakers of Norwegian can open the door for you to learn Swedish and Danish, since they are very, very similar to Norwegian. You can start your adventure today with Mango’s Norwegian language course!
Danish is another North Germanic language that should be easy for English speakers to learn. It is the language of Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, and is spoken by around 5.6 million people. And although the wish of the little mermaid from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale to become human may be a tall order, learning Danish is certainly not. This is because Danish grammar is not demanding and its vocabulary will remind you of an English word. The main difficulty with Danish is its pronunciation: it has more than 20 distinctive vowel sounds and reduces the consonant sounds. In fact, it has even been suggested that it takes Danish children a bit longer to learn their first language on average! The difficulties with pronunciation are offset by the spelling, since again, it uses the same script as English with some unfamiliar letters, like å.
Danish is one of the easier languages to learn according to FSI: it should take around 24 weeks (or 600) hours before you are ready to have an ice cream while looking at the little mermaid in Copenhagen! It is also said that Danes and Norwegians can understand each other perfectly well, so learning one language will help you with the other. So why not start your Danish learning journey with Mango today?
Our last easy language in the Scandinavian trio is Swedish. The 13 million speakers of this language mostly reside in Sweden, but Swedish is also an official language in Finland! Like the other two Scandinavian languages, Swedish is easy to learn because it has similar vocabulary to English. What is fisk, for example? If you said “fish,” you are absolutely right! Swedish also has simple grammar (two genders, and practically one case!) and spelling. As for the pronunciation, Sweidish has a singing quality you will love and may increase your motivation to learn it.
As with Norwegian and Danish, it should take 24 weeks of study (600 hours) to reach working proficiency in Swedish. And while Norwegian and Danish share more similarities than Swedish, in their written form all these languages are mutually intelligible! This means that learning just one of them will make it easier to learn the other two if you so wish. Swedish is also offered by Mango, so check it out today!
With this, we are done with the Germanic languages, all of which have many common elements with English and should be easy to learn. But English has taken a lot of vocabulary from the Romance languages, which affects how easy they are to learn. These languages sound romantic, but have nothing to do with Valentine’s Day! They’re called “Romance” languages because they originate from the language spoken by the Romans, vulgar Latin, who spread it in several parts of Europe. Let’s take a look!
Spanish is the most widely spoken language of all the Romance languages, with about 548 million native speakers across the Americas and Europe. If you are from the US, you probably know a few words or you are fluent since it is the most commonly taught foreign language in schools and more than 40 million Americans speak Spanish as a native language. Spanish is considered easy for native English speakers because its vocabulary has many parallels with English. In fact, it is estimated that two-thirds of the English vocabulary comes from Romance languages like Spanish. Words from Romance languages tend to be the “fancy” versions of Germanic words:
fatherhood is Germanic — paternity is Romance
buy is Germanic — purchase is Romance
get is Germanic — receive is Romance
The pronunciation of Spanish is also pretty straightforward: you only need to master the “r” sound. Spelling is easy too because each sound corresponds to one letter.
Spanish grammar, on the other hand, may be a bit new to English speakers, and thus cause some problems. Nouns are masculine or feminine (el hombre, la mujer), adjectives change depending on the gender of the noun (el hombre alto, la mujer alta), and there are more verb tenses than in English, and that’s not even mentioning the infamous subjunctive! But just remember that Spanish holds the key to many other similar languages, like Italian, French, and Portuguese.
According to the FSI, Spanish takes roughly the same time to learn as most Germanic languages: 24 weeks or 600 class hours. At that rate, you should already start packing your bags to go to Mexico! Get a jump start with Mango’s two Spanish courses (Latin American and Castilian)!
Portuguese is also considered an easy-to-learn Romance language that is spoken mainly in Latin America (Brazil) and Europe (Portugal) by around 257 million people. Like other Romance languages, Portuguese is easy because it shares lots of its vocabulary with English. Additionally, if you speak Spanish, you already know 90% of the Portuguese vocabulary. Hooray! Its spelling is not as easy as Spanish but is regular. Like Spanish, Portuguese grammar has features that are not shared with English, but again, if you get the hang of one of these languages, the rest will be a piece of cake. Portuguese pronunciation is a bit challenging because it has nasal vowels, that is vowels (like a, o, e, etc.) that are pronounced with the air passing through the mouth and at the same time, through the nose.
Like Spanish, the FSI predicts that you’ll need 24 weeks or 600 class hours before you are ready to go to Ipanema! Start your journey with Mango’s course on Brazilian Portuguese!
Fun fact: Portuguese speakers are called Lusophones because Portugal was called Lucitania in the Roman times.
Italian is another easy-to-learn Romance language spoken by 68 million speakers around the world (mainly in Italy, San Marino, and Switzerland). Italian shares many features with other Romance languages, so it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to learn. For instance, there is a good amount of overlap between Italian and English vocabulary, as with the other Romance languages. Italian spelling is not difficult either–there are just a few rules to remember. The pronunciation of Italian is also quite easy and (to me) sounds pleasant. Italian grammar, however, is a tad more involved than the grammar of Spanish or Portuguese, because it is more closely related to Latin than the rest of the Romance languages.
Although Italian may have a few more rules to tackle, it can open the door (and your mind!) to the world of arts, music, fashion, luxury goods…and let’s not forget food! Learning Italian takes 24 weeks or 600 class hours–not a bad deal at all. Check out Mango’s Italian course today!
French is also considered relatively easy to learn. It is spoken by 274 million people in France, Canada, Belgium, and 30 other countries around the world. The fact that a good portion of English vocabulary comes from French contributes to its classification as an easy-to-learn language. After all, French was spoken in England for 300 years after the Norman conquest in 1066, so it makes sense that a lot of words came to England and stayed. The grammar of French is a tad more difficult than the other Romance languages, and its spelling may be tricky: aime, aimes, aiment are all pronounced the same (“ehm”) but have different meanings (I love/she/he loves, you love, they love). French pronunciation could be challenging as well because it has nasal and oral sounds that are totally new to English speakers. Again, practice makes perfect!
Unlike other Romance languages, it takes 30 weeks or 750 class hours to learn French (although it is still classified as an “easy” language). But once you put in a little extra effort, you’ll be ready for un petit café while looking at the Tour Eiffel. As with all the languages above, you can learn French with Mango Languages.
Although it may be a surprise, Romanian is a Romance language – it’s in the name! – and as such, it is considered an easy language to learn. Spoken by around 24 million people (mainly in Romania and neighboring Moldova), Romanian shares lots of features with the other Romance languages, e.g., recognizable vocabulary (although with fewer similarities) and grammar with lots of tenses and endings. Spelling and pronunciation follow simple rules.
It is a fairly easy language to learn, so you can put in just 24 weeks (600 class hours) of study before visiting Bran Castle or hiking in the Carpathian mountains. And no surprise here: Romanian is offered by Mango!
With this, we are done with the languages that are related to English (i.e., Germanic and Romance languages). Now let’s move on to some other languages that do not belong to the same language family, but are nevertheless fairly easy to learn: Indonesian, Malay, Haitian Creole, and Swahili.
There is a lot of debate about whether Indonesian (spoken by 200 million people in total) is easy or difficult to learn for English speakers. It’s true that Indonesian is easy to pronounce and spell since it uses the Latin script. Indonesian grammar also lacks the genders, plural forms, and tenses that frustrate learners of the Romance languages. However, English speakers might find Indonesian grammar challenging because of its affixes–little word elements that are added to the beginning, end, middle of a word to give it new meaning. For example, you can use the prefix ter- to give a verb an unintentional / unplanned meaning:
terbakar ("to be unintentionally burned")
Luckily, Indonesian affixes are regular, so once you learn them and become familiar with the meanings they convey, you’ll be good to go. Indonesian vocabulary is also difficult for English speakers because there is little overlap outside of borrowed words like gawn ("dress"), isu ("issue"), stroberi ("strawberry"), or target ("target").
You should know that Indonesian is lingua franca, a language adopted by most Indonesians as a common language. However, there are over 700 local languages across the 17,000+ islands of Indonesia, so it may be difficult to understand others depending on where you go. But even if you can’t perfectly understand someone else, being able to express yourself in the lingua franca is a great start!
These are the reasons why Indonesian takes a little more time to learn than other languages – 36 weeks or 900 class hours. Give it a try with Mango’s Indonesian course!
Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, spoken by 19 million people worldwide (mainly in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore), is about as easy to learn as Indonesian. Both Indonesian and Malay have derived from a common source but have developed differently due to colonization and other reasons. Malay has been influenced by English and Indonesian by Dutch. For this reason, Malay may sound more familiar to English speakers in terms of vocabulary. Malay uses a Latin script to write and is easy to spell since each letter represents one sound. Pronunciation is straightforward as well. As far as grammar is concerned, Malay does not have genders, plural forms, or tenses, all these features that may be familiar to English speakers. The main difficulty with Malay are the affixes it uses, like Indonesian, to convey meaning. A quick example:
di– is used before the verb to convey passive voice
dimakan (to be eaten)
Again, however, these affixes are systematic so once you learn the meanings they convey, you will be able to understand new vocabulary and also attempt to create new vocabulary yourself.
Like Indonesian, Malay is a standard language in a region where a wide range of dialects are spoken. So although you will be understood if you speak Malay, you may have difficulty understanding the locals. At any rate, it’s a good start.
For all these reasons, Malay requires 36 weeks or 900 class hours to master. Malay is offered by Mango, so why not check it out?
Haitian Creole should be easy for English speakers because it’s based on French. Haitian Creole started as a pidgin language (created to facilitate communication between different groups of language speakers) and over time it has evolved into a fully-functional language and is now spoken by 8 million speakers, most of whom live in Haiti. English speakers should be able to recognize lots of Haitian words that come from French, even though their pronunciation may be slightly different (parler (FR), pronounced “parLEH” → pale (HC), pronounced “pahLEH” and meaning “to speak,” for example). Spelling is also easy since it is a simplified form of French spelling (Did I hear you say “YES!”?). Here are some examples:
manger (FR) → manje (HC) (to eat)
est-ce-que (FR) → eske (HC) (This phrase is used to form questions)
What a difference!
Grammar is likely its most difficult part of Haitian Creole because it’s based on the language’s African roots. Things work very differently from English. Some examples are:
Tense markers, used for tenses, are placed before the verb
The definite article (“the” in English) is placed after the noun, but changes depending on the final sound of the preceding noun
Along with German, Indonesian, and Malay, it takes 36 weeks or 900 class hours to master Hatian Creole. Haitian Creole is offered by Mango!
Swahili, spoken by around 71 million people in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo and Uganda, is the only African language on our list of easily learned languages. The easy parts of Swahili are its spelling and pronunciation. Swahili uses a Latin script, like English, and is pronounced exactly the way it is written. All consonants have English equivalents, but there are combinations of a nasal and of another consonant (e.g. nt) that might be tricky. The difficult parts of Swahili are its vocabulary and grammar. Swahili vocabulary will be mostly unfamiliar to English speakers. However, since the areas where Swahili is spoken were Portuguese, German, and English colonies, you may recognize some words. Swahili grammar has unfamiliar notions which could confuse English speakers. One example is “noun classes.” Noun classes are groups of nouns, for example, people belong in one class, body parts and languages belong in another class. These classes use different prefixes for the singular and plural. Another example: Verbs are formed by using affixes for the subject, for the negation, for the tense, and more!
In all, Swahili can be a not-so-easy language to learn, but hakuna matata (no worries)! It opens up lots of opportunities to learn other languages of Africa and takes the same time to learn as German, Malay and Indonesian (36 weeks or 900 class hours). And best of all, Swahili is offered by Mango!
Which language speakers learn languages easily?
Speakers of languages that share vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and pronunciation with the target language will learn it more easily. Languages that are related to English and easy to learn include most Germanic languages (Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and German) and Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Romanian). Apart from this, knowing a language related to the target language can make it easier to learn!
Why are some languages easy to learn?
Some languages are easier to learn because they belong to the same language family and have similar features. Germanic languages are easy to learn for English speakers because English is a Germanic language at its core. English sentence structure and grammatical irregularities are similar to other Germanic languages, and English vocabulary is approximately a quarter Germanic.
Romance languages are also easy to learn for English speakers because of shared vocabulary (two-thirds of the English vocabulary is Italic or Romance) and spelling systems. In addition, the pronunciation of Romance languages is not very difficult, apart from French. Because of this, the second language family that an English speaker can try out is the Romance group.
Non-Indo-European languages are easy to learn for English speakers because either the spelling or the pronunciation do not pose great issues for an English speaker or because they are spoken by a large number of people and hence one has plenty of opportunities to practice. Some easy-to-learn languages in this class include Indonesian, Malay, Haitian Creole, and Swahili.
How long does It take to learn easy languages?
It takes between 24 to 36 weeks (600-900 class hours), studying 5 hours a day, to learn an easy language. This number is based on estimates by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), an organization within the U.S. State Department dedicated to training U.S. Diplomats and other professionals for careers in foreign affairs. They categorize languages based on how long it takes a student to reach the highest level of proficiency in the ACTFL or CEFR scale. For your reference, in this article we have discussed language in FSI Categories I and II.
24-30 weeks (600-750 class hours)
36 weeks (900 class hours)
Now, there are other factors that influence how long it takes to learn an easy language. For example, few people can dedicate 5 hours a day to learning, so it will likely take longer than 24 to 36 weeks to master easy languages. Other factors include your motivation, as well as the techniques and tools you use.
How Common are Easy Languages?
Languages that are easy for English speakers are generally common in Europe and the Americas, meaning that they have large numbers of speakers. This also means that there will be plenty of resources to practice them. The ranking of these languages by number of speakers worldwide is:
Spanish (548 million)
French (274 million)
Portuguese (257 million)
Indonesian (200 million)
German (134.6 million)
Swahili (71 million)
Italian (68 million)
Dutch (24 million)
Romanian (24 million)
Malay (19 million)
Swedish (13 million)
Haitian Creole (8 million)
Danish (5.6 million)
Norwegian (5.3 million)
Even if you choose to learn a less common language like Norwegian, it can still be a stepping stone for a slightly more difficult language that is spoken by a larger number of people (like German!).
In this post we discussed the 14 languages that are easy for an English speaker to learn. We examined their grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and pronunciation to see how the similarity of these features with English will contribute to learning them.
In all these languages, at least two of these features were similar to English, which made the journey to learning them light.Start Learning
Trecca, F., Christiansen, M.H., Bleses, D., Madsen, T. O., Højen, A. (2020). When too many vowels impede language processing: The case of Danish. Sage Journals, V663, Issue 4, 898-918.