General Question

Paradox25's avatar

Which foreign language would likely be the easiest for a native English speaker to learn?

Asked by Paradox25 (9981 points ) January 21st, 2014

I wanted to take both oral and written skills into consideration here when determining difficulty.

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24 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Four skills needed;

Reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Spanish gets my vote.

All of the Romance languages have the same grammar but Spanish is by far the easiest to pronounce. Speaking French well is a real challenge. German grammar is formidable as is their three-gender noun system

JLeslie's avatar

I would say German and Spanish are the top two, especially if you are including reading and writing the language.

In America Spanish would be the easiest, because it is easy to hear Spanish in most parts of our country, many stores have bilingual signage, and we have several TV stations, so you get more reinforcement and practice. Spanish rules for writing and pronounciation are some of the most straight forward with very few exceptions to rules.

Unless you live in a place like central or northern Vermont where French is used quite a bit.

tedibear's avatar

Spanish gets my vote as well. The only thing that might trip you up is that all nouns have a gender and that adjectives must agree with the noun’s gender. In Spanish it is fairly easy to determine the gender of the noun, but it does take a little time to remember to make the adjectives agree.. Sentence structure is a bit different than in English, but not unsurmountable.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I am going to take a different approach.

What language are you most likely to use? In other words, why do you want to learn it?

If you’re a techie person and you think that you might make your living in high tech, then forget Spanish. Learn Chinese or Japanese or Korean.

If you’re intending to go into politics or international relations, then learn Arabic or Iranian. That’s where the future will be.

If you’re intending to be a museum curator, then learn German or Italian.

How do you intend to USE the language?

Put another way: learning Spanish because you can order at a restaurant is NOT a good use of your effort.

JLeslie's avatar

@elbanditoroso You make a good point, but the Asian languages, we can include the whole continent of Asia, so Arabic and Farsi too, use a different alphabet, so that is one more added complication to learning those languages. Also, why not include French in your list of museum curators? I always think of the French as being obsessed with their art.

Paradox25's avatar

What about Dutch?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@JLeslie – the French have no money (thanks to Mr. Hollande). The Italians don’t have a lot, but they’re trying.

@Paradox25 – not enough people speak Dutch in the world to make it worthwhile. Only Netherlanders do. (150 years ago, things were different). But learning Dutch now – no way. It’s not a language of commerce or industry.

CWOTUS's avatar

Canadian.

ragingloli's avatar

Baby language.

zenvelo's avatar

Easiest, Italian, and then Spanish. Italian has hard and fast rules on pronunciation, even more so than Spanish does.

JLeslie's avatar

@zenvelo I never studied Italian, and the rules might very well be hard and fast, but things letter combinations like cc, ce, gn, are unusual pronounciations for English speakers. Spanish has ñ, and LL, and that is about it. The pronounciation in Spanish is only tricky because Spanish is so widely spoken and regional pronounciations and dialects affect pronounciation, but that happens in every language, it isn’t really about the rules.

Why specifically do you say Italian is less difficult than Spanish? Do you have an example?

zenvelo's avatar

@JLeslie In Italian, every vowel is enunciated:
A—sounds like a in father
E—has two sounds: short vowel like e in pen; long vowel, similar to ai in fair
I—sounds like ea in tea or i in marine
O—has two sounds: like o in cozy or similar to o in cost
U—sounds like u in rude
Tips:

Italian vowels are always articulated in a sharp, clear fashion, regardless of stress; they are never slurred or pronounced weakly.
Vowels (a,e,i,o,u) always retain their value in diphthongs.
Italian is a phonetic language, which means that it is spoken the way it is written. Italian and English share the Latin alphabet, but the sounds represented by the letters often differ considerably in the two languages.

The issue of a hard/soft G, a hard and soft C, is always applied the same way.

This makes it easier than Spanish which still has some idiosyncrasies for individual words.

1TubeGuru's avatar

The old English language was derived from the West Germanic language that was brought to England by the Anglo Saxon Germanic tribes, modern English is interspersed with the French language brought to England by the Normans. i would say that German might be the easiest for a English speaker to learn. both of my daughters took German in high school from a teacher named Frau Grimmer and they can both speak German fluently.

gailcalled's avatar

^^I suspect that anyone who studied with Frau Grimmer would learned German well.

1TubeGuru's avatar

@gailcalled .My point is that the English language is based on the German language so the languages do have a common lineage,

JLeslie's avatar

It’s the same reason I suggested German.

dxs's avatar

@zenvelo The only possible “idiosyncrasy” I can see find in the Spanish pronunciation is that fact that the diphthongs sound a bit different. But I’m not an expert or a native speaker.
Anyways, I’ve studied Spanish but can only speak Spanglish. The hardest thing is knowing what idiomatic expressions to use, like which verb is the right one to use.
Italian seems harder for me to learn because there are a ton of irregularities.

rojo's avatar

AmSLan

JLeslie's avatar

@zenvelo

In Spanish the vowels are always the same:

a – ah
e – eh
i – ee
o – oh
u – oo, except when following Q, then the u is silent, but I guess that would be a dipthong anyway.

The dipthongs are just more to learn, but they are consistent once you know them.

I guess there must be exceptions, but I can’t think of anyway. Where the accent is in the sentence can lengthen or shorten a sound. There are rules for where the accent goes, and when the rule is “broken” and accent mark lets the reader know. It isn’t really a breaking of rules.

Slurring or pronouncing weakly or singing, or chopping of the end of words, I still say has to do with region and/or socioeconomic level; the same as it is for any language.

Can you think of an idiosyncrasy as an example?

fundevogel's avatar

I’m learning Norwegian now and while I didn’t realize it when I started it is considered one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn (though Afrikaans is sometimes argued to be easier as it’s a creole which I’ve heard has simpler grammar).

From my experience with Norwegian (compared to my unsuccessful rounds with Spanish and Russian) it is much easier to decipher written text and learn grammar because English and Norwegian are close cousins. There’s a very good case for modern English actually being more closely related to Old Norse than Old English. It’s down to Nordic invasion of Britain way back but the point is that there are a TON of cognates between English and Norwegian and the grammar is really similar as well. You don’t have to deal with all the cases that flummoxed me in Russian so it’s really just the verbs and adjectives that decline and it’s all pretty straight forward. Listening comprehension takes more time of course, and Norwegian might get you there as there are a ton of dialects, but all and all it’s giving me a serious boost in confidence when it comes to language learning.

Swedish might be comparable in ease of learning, but with the benefit of a wider range of learning materials (Swedish and Norwegian are generally considered mutually intelligible). I haven’t looked into Swedish grammar at all to see how close it is to Norwegian or English though.

filmfann's avatar

Sign language. Once you learn it, you will be surprised how often you can use it.

Smitha's avatar

Spanish pronunciation would be fairly easy for English speakers. Arabic or French would also be a good choice. If you are interested in Indian culture then you can try learning Hindi too. I was surprised how fluently the Arabs speak Hindi here in Dubai.

Paradox25's avatar

@elbanditoroso I wasn’t concerned about which language was most important to learn though, just which one would be the easiest. It appears to come down to either Dutch, German, Spanish or Italian from what I had read about the topic.

Spanish would seem to be the most practical for me to learn since many hispanics and Mexicans work in my area. I was close friends with a Mexican girl too at one place I had worked at, though she speaks broken English.

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