Easiest Languages To Learn

According to the US State Department. More difficult languages are here.

  • JT

    Interesting. Where is English on the list?

    • SolM

      The list is intended for native English speakers.

    • DumbHairyApe

      The info graphic is based on knowing english and learning a second language…though, you may be making a (fantastically sarcastic!) joke about how poorly many Americans speak their own tongue….

      • JT

        Right, and so there might be a completely different ordering for native speakers of other languages.

    • Baltimatt

      This list appears to be ease of learning for English speakers, not the absolute ease of learning.

    • Chris Baker

      Why would anyone need to learn English? Isn’t that the language everyone is born speaking?

      • JT

        “That’s the way people THINK!” 😉

      • Baltimatt

        It’s the language God wrote the Bible in.

        • JT

          “It’s the Word of God!”

        • Ted.OR

          Which brings up the point: Shouldn’t Glossolalia be the easiest language to pick up? Just let the Holy Spirit ™ infest your body, then Glossolalia comes out automatically. Of course, only god understands you, but what else do you need? /snark

          • RoFaWh

            I’d love to ask a glossolalist just what language she is speaking. After all, the speaking in tongues at Pentecost was the first step in spreading the gospel in different languages. One infers that glossolalia must produce some extant language; otherwise, what’s the point?

            Of course, it’s just babble.

          • Ted.OR

            Some Pentecostals once wanted to save my soul, and told me about someone in church speaking in tongues. And it just so happened that a rabbi was passing by. He went into the church, and said, “That is the most beautiful Biblical Hebrew I have ever heard.”

            Of course, no one had actually been there when it happened, but a friend of a friend of a friend saw it….

          • Piet

            Hah! “Infest” – perfect choice of words.

          • Ted.OR

            Oh my! Did I say that? How could I have made a mistake like that? (In my most sarcastic voice.)

        • Steven Leahy

          LOL even before Eng existed at that!

          • Baltimatt

            That’s what an all-knowing God can do!

          • JT

            “It was god’s plan from the beginning to create the great US of A to have dominion over all things and to speak his own language, Murkan.”

      • Halloween_Jack

        It’s the one everyone speaks in Star Trek (except for Tamarians), so it’s literally universal.

    • English is notoriously the most difficult of all languages for a non-anglophone to learn. Partly because of its enormous vocabulary, partly because of its inconsistent orthography, and partly, if not largely, because there are so many varieties of it.

      • JT

        I know. I used to give help to non-native speakers. The idioms are what really cause them problems. We did have lots of laughs about their mistakes though, especially when I explained to them what they really said and how different it was from what they meant.

      • Stev84

        It has a large vocabulary, but you don’t need a lot of it. A lot of the words are synonyms, because there is often one version that originated in French, one from Latin and one from some Germanic language. The number of words you need to get by in everyday life is relatively low though. Idioms/slang are where it gets more difficult.

        English also has a very simple grammar and a low number of irregular verbs.

        • No, you don’t need the full equipage; but the “redundant” words have remained because they express different shades of meaning from the “basic” ones. Take, for instance, sovereign, as opposed to king or queen. In ordinary usage, king or queen (an Anglo-Saxon word, despite its Latinate spelling) will suffice, and we can dispense with sovereign — but to speak of the kingly People of the United States is not only risible in itself, it leads to the “I want MY country back” stuff we hear from the teabaggers.

          Or mutton, hogget, and even lamb, all of which mean “sheep meat”, a perfectly acceptable phrase — but you would have hard words for a chef who served you mutton when you expected lamb.

          And, of course, there are all those basic words that have several different meanings, of which shade and hard are only two.

          To speak any language fluently is to speak it idiomatically, and that is where what the French call le langue du cahier so often betrays itself.

  • Stev84

    I don’t know. English borrowed a lot of vocabulary from French, but it simplified the grammar to almost the absolute minimum. French grammar is overly complicated. You’ll spend most of your time memorizing verb tenses.

    • 2guysnamedjoe

      Do what my husband does — just learn the present tense. That’s all you need for traveling, 99% of the time.

    • Steven Leahy

      Correct – English did borrow lots of vocabulary from French/Latin but English grammar is extremely Germanic.

    • BobSF_94117

      “over complicated” = “able to convey nuance with clarity”

      🙂

  • helen s

    The language of Love; reckon where it falls?

  • Bj Lincoln

    I took ASL for my foreign language requirement. It was easy for me. The problem with learning anything is to keep using it or you forget. I ain’t gotthe goodist English so a spoken language was out of the question.

    • DumbHairyApe

      Huh?

      • Bj Lincoln

        ASL is American Sign Language.

      • Bj Lincoln

        I love your name but it is far from true. 🙂

    • madknits

      I used ASL for my language requirements for one of my degrees (used Hebrew for another one). I love ASL, and at one point was dreaming and thinking in it. I’d love to go back and learn more.

  • Phil in Colorado

    Esperanto is by far the easiest language to learn! It was made that way. (Of course I couldn’t find anyone to speak it with me…… 🙁 )

    • Tipsy

      I believe they just added Esperanto to the list of languages in that Duolingo learning app.

      • Phil in Colorado

        I saw that, thanks! Going to check it out – it’s not always easy to find good resources for learning the language.

    • RoFaWh

      That’s only true for native speakers of Indo-European languages. Look into the origins of Esperanto and you will see that Zamenhof based it almost entirely on European languages.

      If you are interested in language in general, it’s worth acquiring a smattering of ignorance about languages in other families. It’s really quite remarkable how different languages represent the same thought. For a fun linguistic roller coaster ride, study the grammatical concept of “aspect”.

      Wikipedia is very rich in linguistic articles, btw.

      • Steven Leahy

        Agree. You clearly see words with a generally Germanic, Romanic, or Slavic origin in much of it.

      • Speakers on non-Indoeuropean languages not only find Esperanto easier than the natural IE languages, and a great help for learning an IE language, but I’ve even heard claims from Asian Esperantists that they found Esperanto easier than other Asian languages.

        Simple is simple.

      • David Kerlick

        Modern Turkish has Esperanto influence, since Attaturk solicited their help in developing it.

      • Phil in Colorado

        Like John Dumas stated in his reply here, ‘simple is simple’…. Zamenhof was largely influenced by European languages, but the actual construct of the language is much easier to grasp, and didn’t suffer nearly as much as other languages did when cultural and regional differences complicated the language. So much slang and ‘exceptions’ in languages were created (English, for example), that Esperanto stands out as probably the closest example of a consistant ‘universal language’. I’ve heard linguists pretty much hate even the idea of Esperanto, prefering language to always develop ‘naturally’. But I can’t help but be impressed by the effort it took to create it, and the fact it continues to be used today, about 128 years after its creation and surviving attempts at eradication from Germany, Spain and Russia.

        • Linguists don’t so much “hate” the idea of Esperanto. After all, there are some similarities between Esperanto and Modern Hebrew (Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, did his research on Hebrew).

          Most linguists aren’t interested in Esperanto, since in modern linguistics they really study the speech patterns of societies, that is groups of native speakers. There’s no location with a large concentration of birth speakers.

          You might say for linguists, Modern Hebrew wasn’t a language until it was spoken by the second generation of birth speakers. While there is at least one third-generation birth speaker (that is, his great-grandparents learned the language as a second language), he’s not part of a settled Esperanto community.

          • Phil in Colorado

            I’ve heard a few snotty comments from linguists about it, but I will definitely admit my sample size of language professionals isn’t big enough to draw any vast conclusions…. 🙂

    • Vi povas parole espernte kun mi. There’s a large crowd of Esperantists, even gay Esperanto speakers, on the web. You just gotta know where to look.

      • Phil in Colorado

        Saluton! 🙂 I have to admit, my first exposure to Esperanto was that not-so-great William Shatner film, ‘Incubus’. But the language fascinated me and I started learning where I could, which meant sporadic YouTube videos and some antiquated books from the library. I was getting pretty good at it, but it suffered from not having the connections, especially here in Colorado. The Duolingo app that ‘Tipsy’ mentioned above sounds very promising and like you said, I have to know where to look. I’ve just started taking it up again, so I hope to be ‘conversationally ready’ soon 🙂 Any good links you have to Esperantists and absolutely, gay Esperantists would be very appreciated! How long have you spoken it?

        • Mi eklernis Esperanton en 1981. I started studying Esperanto in 1981. Lately, I’ve been blogging about the history of Esperanto in the United States at my blog, impofthediverse.blogspot.com

          There are a number of resources for people wanting to learn Esperanto, the best current one is Duolingo (as mentioned elsewhere).

          There are many Esperanto groups on Facebook, including one for gay Esperantists (I’m an admin of that one). There’s also an Esperanto presence on Google+.

          There is an organization, the Ligo de Samseksemaj Geesperantistoj (http://lsg-esperanto.org), which was founded in 1977. Their official social media page is on Google+.

          • Phil in Colorado

            I was able to find your blog earlier today! A lot of good info! I’ll start hunting around Facebook for the ones you mentioned. I poked into Duolingo this morning and started a little – looks like a good program.

          • Feel free to contact me through the blog.

          • Phil in Colorado

            Thanks!

  • Chris

    Where is German? It’s closely related to English and has more speakers than any other Germanic language besides English.

  • Baltimatt

    I think learning foreign languages helped me understand English better as I delved into the grammatical peculiarities of each. It also taught me that some languages show different thought patterns with things such as word order.

    • Learning Brazilian Portuguese in my late 40’s had a number of benefits

      1. it weirdly improved my Spanish
      2. ruined my typing (damn those accents and weird thingys)
      3. found me a husband and allowed me to immigrate to Brasil

      Its a beautiful language to speak, and a real bitch for me to write in…

      • JT

        The pronunciation difference between the language as spoken by Brazilians and by Portuguese is amazing.

        • agreed… the regional accent here in Minas is even more beautiful… e bom demais da conta, uai!

          • Octavio

            Eu aprendi Português porque vamos de férias que ao longo das praias do Rio Grande do Sul e Santa Catarina. Ele não melhorou o meu espanhol. Infelizmente, eu não aprendi a falar a língua corretamente. 🙁

          • In my TEDx talk (shameless call to attention) I talk about our accent, I need all the hits I can: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=anZNPNEgmUs#at=36

          • Octavio

            Você é fabuloso! Você ainda usa disentaria para permanecer magro? 🙂

          • Obrigado cara!

          • wineflask

            What a wonderful presentation! [On a personal note, I’ve always wanted to teach mathematics (which is my job). So keep asking!]

          • Thanks man! It was a few years ago, and has only a few hits… the amazing lady I sat next to has something like 50,000 hits… she was amazing. They edited out my intro (we had to give it twice and so they could edit). It happened the day after Prop 8 was over turned and while millions of Brazilians were protesting World Cup and transportation fares and corruption… I actually began, “If a gay man were to stand up here today and not acknowledge the events of yesterday while millions of people in the streets in Brasil are protesting, no one would take me seriously” It was great… after wards some gay kids came up and thanked me… VIVA!

          • Roger

            Looks like you are speaking it very well, from where i´m reading!

          • Octavio

            Nope. I’m out of my comfort zone. But thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

          • Roger

            Acredite! Na sua frase só tem um único pequeno erro. But as for your trip decisions… praias do Rio Grande do Sul??? reeeeally?? Florianópolis é fabulous, mas litoral do Rio Grande SUCKS big time.

          • Gil

            LOL exactly, bom demais da conta! I’m from Brazil as well, I’m sure u love the pão de queijo and doce de leite!

            But I have to disagree with the government assessment. 24 weeks to be proficient in Brazilian Portuguese?! Swedish?! Dutch?! Lol no fucking way.

            At most, one would be able to read a newspaper (which would be great in itself), but particularly in Brazil, there’s a huge difference between the “correct” written language and what people actually say in the streets or at home or at a dinner party. I’m sure it’s the same for Spanish, Italian and other Latin-based languages. Not sure about others though.

          • Malouco, uai! I have been working on this since 1992!

            Eta trem bão so!

          • Roger

            Êta and sô would have accents… sayz the caipira (redneck) portuguese dialects grammar nazi… huahuahuahuahuahuahua
            mas pelas minhas contas goiabada cascão e cachaça ganham de pão de queijo e doce de leite (mas por pouquissíma vantagem…).

          • James

            I love “pão de queijo” but when I ask for it at a bakery I sometime’s ask for the baker’s “pau” instead because of the nasal sounds being difficult to pronounce. Sometimes, if the baker is hot, it’s an intentional mispronunciation. (Pão is bread but pau is stick/something else).

          • no way exactly… it has taken me years to get here…

        • Roger

          Most brazilian agrees as well. I watch portugal´s channel on TV and sometimes I don´t get a word the´re saying. It reallys look like they are speaking another language a lot of the times…

      • Kruhn

        Set your keyboard to US international.

        • Baltimatt

          I have my computer set up for both the US English and German keyboards. My keyboard is missing a key next to the left shift, so I can’t do the angle brackets when set for the German keyboard.

        • Macs are super easy… that is not the problem, its when to remember to use which accent thingy where and when in Brazilian Portuguese. What kills me are all the a á à ã â for each vowel, which are hard to hear… for example:

          Grandpa = avô
          Grandma = avó

          I have resorted to asking my nephews to “ask your uncle’s mother” as too often I’d say one thing and get the other… its pretty funny in our family.

      • Roger

        I don´t think this post is quite right… portuguese spanish and french are NOT easy for english speaking natives. As you said below OuroPreto2011, the accents, the more complex grammar structures (we use to joke that we have more exceptions then rules in portuguese) are not that easy. And french grammar and accents are even more maddening even for us native latin language speakers…

        • Roger

          Oh and german looks much more related to english, at least from my portuguese/english speaker point of view. I could trace paralels from english to help me navigate the language basics when I went to germany.

          • English is about 50/50 Dutch and French. The difficulty with German is the grammar. Articles change depending on how a noun is used. It’s a nightmare and I finally gave up trying to do it correctly. Then while living in Germany I realized…they fuck it up too! *sigh*

          • Baltimatt

            Das ist der Wahrheit!

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKzCrh0kC98

            It should be “Das ist die Wahrheit!” (feminine), but we can excuse Bruce Darnell, as he’s an American. That grammatical faux pas has become his trademark.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Darnell

          • When I lived in Germany one of my friends there had a partner who was a professional translator (English and Spanish to/from German). He could even do the simultaneous translation in trials. Impressive! Anyway he was always noticing grammatical mistakes on billboards and in ads. I think sometimes it was to imitate some bit of popular slang (like we do in America) but sometimes it was just that the grammar is complicated. Like how dative/accusative can depends on whether the object is stationary or moving (with certain prepositions)? So yeah, very complicated.

            What was interesting for me as an American in Europe was that in Belgium is that the cadence of the Dutch spoken in Flanders (I was told not to call it Flemish) sounds a great deal like English so long as you don’t pay much attention. It has a similar cadence which is not true of either German or French. Also, in Belgium since signs are in both French and Dutch between the two you can figure out what the sign says because almost every English word is from a French or Germanic root. It really is about 50/50. I read that the closest language to English is the dialect spoken by the Frisians (people who live on islands off the coast of Holland) but alas English was hopelessly corrupted by the conquer of the isles by French speaking descendents of the Vikings. Even now the fancy versions of things have a word with a French origin while the everyday things are Germanic. Mansion/house, for example.

          • Baltimatt

            Yes, the dative vs. accusative with some prepositions can be tricky. Also, some verbs take dative objects, which is generally the case used for indirect objects. Helfen (help) and glauben (believe) are like that. But if you use glauben with the preposition an, it’s accusative. Glaub’ mir! vs. glaub’ an mich!

            Belgium also has a small German speaking community in the East, and German is an official language in Belgium.

          • Steven Leahy

            Belgian Dutch (Flemish) is generally softer and less gutteral than Holland-Dutch. I was in Friesland and some of the words are similar to English but really, modern Frisian (still spoken by a few hundred thousand people) is very much to me at least like modern Dutch.

            A lot of linguists are now thinking of English as sort of a creole with multiple roots. English really kind of straddles north Germanic and west Germanic with a huge dose of Romance loanwords, especially compound words and more complex language.

            The whole thing’s really interesting.

          • If you find versions of English that predate the Norman invasion, it looks much more Germanic. (I don’t know how sure we can be of what it would have sounded like.) And then the Normans came and for several generations French was the official government language of England. That’s where most of those Romance loan words come from.

          • RoFaWh

            Your mention of “cadence” reminds me of an introductory “Learn Russian” textbook published in the old Soviet Union for the benefit of students attending university in Moscow or Leningrad. One of its earliest lessons dwelt on the pitch variations Russian uses in different kinds of sentences (not different in spirit from English, actually). It was something I’ve never seen in any other language textbook.

          • Ireyon

            It might just be the accent. Oh, and it’s not just the way words are used. Nouns each have one of three genders (der, die, das) which have to be learned by heart because there are almost no rules for how they are assigned.

            In german, the article before “girl” is genderless (das Mädchen, the girl) while the turnip is female (die Rübe, the turnip). But if you talk about the turnip’s taste, it changes to male (Geschmack der Rübe, taste of the turnip). I always found it delightful.

            Aren’t you glad english has just “the”?

          • Robincho

            In this case, “der ” is the feminine genitive — “of the turnip”.

          • Steven Leahy

            Well I think the vocabulary is 50/50 or maybe even 60/40 romance/germanic (I wouldn’t say Dutch specifically) but grammatically English is strongly Germanic and resembles really the Scandinavian languages the most, then Dutch, then German. There are lots of Dutch words that are very similar to the English ones at least in spelling if not so much pronunciation, Most of our most commonly used words are germanic in origin and the more complex ones are of Romance origin. Agree with you German is a bear. Dutch is better and the structure is simpler, but the word order still awkward for an English speaker. Scandinavian is the easiest IMO aside from some peculiarities such as the suffixed definite article (example Norw. tre = tree, treet = the tree; hus = house, huset = the house), but once you get used to it it’s no big deal.

          • I have a friend who is half Swedish. he calls Swedish “German for Dummies”. it has a much simpler grammar, but the pronunciation can be a bit tricky. I have been learning Swedish because there are so many Sibelius songs I want to sing that are in Swedish. Plus things by other composers. I find that a lot of Swedish is German without the diphthongs. Mein Frau becomes min fru, etc.

          • McJakome

            I first thought that the Dutch national anthem was a German folk song because I could understand about 45%. I mentioned that to a doubtful German and played it for him. He recognized fewer words than I had.

            Someone mistook me for a Dane and I thought she was speaking English until the sentence finished and I realized I hadn’t understood any of it.

            Both of these anecdotes tend to support your observations.

        • Compared to the next set of languages? Yes, easy. Ever tried to learn Russian? Swedish (which I know a bit of), French and Italian are not that hard. Part of the problem is that too many Americans barely speek English correctly. I lost count of how many class hours in my language classes had to be wasted explaining to people with college degrees the difference between a direct and an indirect object. *eyeroll*

      • soyunaj

        Ouro your story is oddly similar to mine…learn Portuguese in late 40s – check, improve Spanish – check, trouble with accents (though love getting pao and pão mixed up, kkkkk), met hot Brazilian half my age by being able to speak Portuguese – and how. Not yet moving to Brazil though (he just moved here).

    • Mark

      Having been stationed in the Azores for almost 3 years….I loves me some Portuguese! And, quite frankly, once Mom dies – I may well go back to paradise!

    • Robincho

      Hawaiian lacks the infinitives “to be” and “to have”. Hamlet would’ve had terrible trouble translating his soliloquy into Hawaiian. He might have succeeded, but his brain would’ve had to work in an entirely different way — at which point he would no longer have been Hamlet…

      • Kevin-in-Honolulu

        I am a speaker of Hawaiian, and not having a “be” makes communication more direct.

        But there are other facets of the language that people struggle with – I don’t know whether I truly believe in “easy” and “difficult” languages, because it all depends on individual perspective.

  • Oh’behr

    I didn’t know that more people spoke Portuguese that French. Interesting. (At least to me)

    • Baltimatt

      A lot of that has to do with Brazil.

      • JT

        Yeah, the former Portuguese colonial territory remained one country and didn’t break up the way the Spanish one did.

        • Octavio

          Point of fact, more South Americans speak Portuguese than speak Spanish, because Brazil’s population is slightly larger than all that of the combined populations of Spanish-speaking countries on the continent. IMHO, if you decide to learn Portuguese learn it from Brazilian speakers/teachers/videos/film. It’s substantially more fluid and musical. And Brazilians have expanded the language by incorporating new words and expressions that are uncommon in Lisbon. For example, quilombo, a particularly useful noun incorporated into modern Portuguese from Kimbundo (the language and tribe of Africans once harvested for slaves in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It has even escaped Brazil to mean several useful things in Rioplatense Spanish. 🙂

          • Steven Leahy

            I’ve read though that Brazilian Portuguese has diverged a lot more from the European variant than we see in English or Spanish – to the point that understanding between Brazilians and Portuguese is sometimes tough – can you speak in that at all?

    • TampaZeke

      One reason; Brazil!

  • BearEyes

    I found Swedish relatively easy to learn. Conjugating is much simpler. It’s the equivilent of I am, you am, he am, etc. The literary tenses in French drove me nuts.

    • wineflask

      The first neo-Latin language is always the hardest.

      • GanymedeRenard

        I think French is not quite the first neo-Latin language. If anything, that title should correspond to Italian, wouldn’t you agree?

  • TampaZeke

    I’m a polyglot (that sounds dirty!) and the hardest language I’ve ever tried to learn was Vietnamese. MUCH harder than Russian or Greek (which it shares a “medium” difficulty ranking with) and I think it’s even harder than Mandarin Chinese. I speak some Russian, Greek and Chinese but I gave up on Vietnamese after about a week.

    I’ve always heard the Icelandic is the most difficult language to learn.

    • B Snow

      One of the things you need to learn a language is to even be able to HEAR the language. I mean, to be able to distinguish sounds enough to know what the words are. Vietnamese….when I hear it, I can’t even HEAR it, if that makes sense. Although I suppose that might be true for almost any language someone is completely unfamiliar with. FWIW, I’ve studied French, Spanish, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese. As difficult as Chinese is, after a few months, I was able to understand one complete sentence in a movie, which I consider a huge accomplishment. 😀

      The Basque language might be difficult, too, since it doesn’t have roots in any other language group.

      • TampaZeke

        You NAILED it! That was exactly my problem with Vietnamese. I pride myself on my ear for language but Vietnamese shot a huge hole right through that pride. My friend would say “ma” seven different ways (and they were seven different words) and I could only differentiate about 3 or 4. There are actually NINE distinctly different pronunciations of the letter “a”. Oy vey! I decided to bolt before it completely shattered my self confidence as a linguist.

        • Kevin-in-Honolulu

          I’ve been following your discussions here Tampa-Zeke… and have enjoyed them.

          Of course, a huge group of languages have been left out of this discussion – the languages of Native America.

          When I was an undergrad at UC-Berkeley, my advisors in the Linguistics department were scholars of the Iroquoian languages, and opened up my eyes to the incredibly polysynthetic languages that once flourished in the United States – languages that packed each utterance with infixes, affixes, and suffixes that depended on whether the speakers knew each other well, the time of day, or time of year.

          Marianne Mithun told us once of a possible 270 combinations of a single thought could be made depending on an entire host of external conditions – Many Native languages took in a lot of natural phenomena into account.

          • TampaZeke

            I’ve read accountings of some of these complex native American languages. It’s absolutely fascinating. My great-grandmother was Mississippi Chocktaw (literally straight off of the reservation). She spoke fluent Chocktaw and taught me some basic conversational phrases, however I was never able to use them with anyone but her. I don’t think Chocktaw is one of the extremely complex native languages that you’re speaking of though. It seems to be one of the relatively simple native tongues.

      • Steven Leahy

        Icelandic is highly inflected, like German or worse Latin, but worse, and has a different alphabet. Very few non-native words have made it into Icelandic. Norwegian has a really simple grammar like the other Scan languages, verbs within a tense don’t conjugate.

      • RoFaWh

        I have a theory…. okay, people, stop laughing and pick yourselves up off the floor….that a good way to prepare yourself to learn a new language is to watch YouTube videos in that language. Lots of videos!

        You can bootstrap this process by jamming a significant English word through Google translate, then using the translation to search Youtube.

        Example: English “tsunami” turns out to be Japanese 津波. Searching Youtube for the latter delivers innumerable Japanese language videos of the extraordinary tsunami on 3 March, 2011.

        As for Basque, one hypothesis held by some linguists is that Basque, some of the Caucasian lanugages (e.g. Georgian), Burushaski, and a few other language isolates scattered across Eurasia are the remnants of a single language that was spoken everywhere in Eurasia in prehistoric times. This theory is rejected by the majority of linguists, I gather, but one who accepts the hypothesis points out that most linguists know their native language and only a few other languages, often just one that they specialize in, hence don’t have the broad knowledge necessary to evaluate the hypothesis.

        • Baltimatt

          A great thing about the internet is the availability of foreign languages in the comfort of your own home. I can listen to German radio or read German news. Back when I first started learning German in the 1960s, getting German reading material was much harder and one was limited to staticky short-wave broadcasts to hear it on the air.

          • Kevin-in-Honolulu

            One of the great things about the Web – all of this data is within easy reach!

        • Steven Leahy

          Hear hear on that. I watch videos all the time for the languages I am interested in and use GT. Many of them (the videos) have subtitles so you can follow along and make better association.

        • wineflask

          That’s how one of my kids speaks US English, and is thus made fun of by his UK English speaking siblings. All of them, of course, make fun of _my_ English – I’m a visual, not aural, learner.

        • Kevin-in-Honolulu

          Yes, language isolates are very, very interesting – and there are precious few of them in the world.

      • Piet

        I have a friend who is tone-deaf who told me she’s never been able to learn a language because she can’t hear them – they become gibberish. She recognizes foreign words on paper, but has never been able to learn to pronounce them because the noises don’t make sense to her.

      • Kevin-in-Honolulu

        The most difficult first hurdle in language learning when learning by ear (and not having an accompanying text) is where one word ends and another begins.

        “I-really-love-hot-dogs-and-I’ll-tell-you-why-is-because-my-momma…” Say that or something else really fast without pausing to someone learning English and they’ll just look at you.

        Of course, they can do the same thing to you in their language as well.

        • B Snow

          Yes, exactly. If you can’t even hear what is a word, it’s rough going. That’s why just listening to a language will help, even if you don’t understand it yet. Learning the rhythms.

          (And actually, now I’m reminded of Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. I was worried I wouldn’t understand it (event though I sort of knew the plot line already), but somehow just the *way* the actors delivered the lines made those lines comprehensible. Good acting, good directing, or a combination of both, maybe.)

    • Kruhn

      But then, why Norse, its kissing cousin is considered easy?

      • Kevin-in-Honolulu

        If Norwegian and Icelandic are similar in some ways, why might one be “easier” (Again, according to whom?)

        One word: Isolation. Though sailing ships traveled between Iceland and the European mainland, languages evolve over time.

        In the discussions above about “easy” Norwegian, one fact was left out – there are many, many Norwegian dialects in the mountainous north of the Country, and even Oslo people struggle with understanding them. Isolation over time lends to languages evolving, sometimes markedly, from an original source.

        Look at written English 300 years ago and tell me if you don’t scratch your head at times trying to figure what is being said. I really don’t like Shakespeare – I’m an embarrassment, I know – everyone raves about his English, which I find very difficult to understand.

        How words are spelled often throws people off…

        On many old European, maps, the Islands I call home were spelt “Owhyee” – their way of sounding out and writing the word “Hawaii.”

        • RoFaWh

          “Owhyee” — any relation to “Owyhee”, the name of a river in eastern Oregon?

          • Kevin-in-Honolulu

            Hawaiians were travelers, and many settled in the Pacific Northwest, so it is entirely possible that the river was named by them.

  • GunnaHurt

    Ad placement fail.

    • B Snow

      Fail? Or win??!!

    • Steven Leahy

      Well I guess we now know what he likes 🙂

  • Ireyon

    French? French is supposed to be easy?

    • Phil

      Oui, c’est tres facile.

      • Octavio

        Je suis d’accord à cent pour cent. Mais le subjonctif peut être difficile. 🙂

        • Versailles

          Aurait-il fallu que je le susse! The French don’t use it much as they avoid l’imparfait du subjonctif. Given that the English “as if I should have known” is so well translated, I use it with my tongue firmly in cheek. My accent, which isn’t very pronounced, also allows me to play with merci beau cul. Other languages are fun!

      • Ireyon

        Not to offend, but I found it impossible to comprehend. It sounds beautiful and looks pretty, but the language itself…

        If you hear someone speak french it’s almost impossible to write down what he said because of those silent letters. It’s as if two people wanted to create a language that should be artfully written and spoken and just stopped talking to each other during the process. Then they tried to make the pieces fit in the end.

        Perhaps I’m just bitter about the whole “Being forced to learn french in school” thing. And to my consternation all the french I’ve actually met are terribly nice people which makes me feel guilty for disliking the language.

        • RoFaWh

          Tibetan is notoriously difficult to learn because the spelling was fixed centuries ago but the pronunciation has changed a great deal since then.

          Indeed, it’s hard for linguists to find written examples of colloquial Tibetan.

  • Scott Alger-Hortelano

    If not for the written part, Japanese is not that hard. If you really want to read and write you would need to learn a minimum of 1,000 characters. Unless I was going to live in Japan for the rest of my life, I do not see that happening.

    • RoFaWh

      Anyone interested in learning Japanese on their own is pointed to Japanese Grammar Guide.

      The author of the website impresses me as someone who knows what he’s writing about. He insists that you have to start learning kanji (the Chinese-derived characters) right at the beginning. Otherwise, as he puts it, when you get off the plane in Tokyo you will discover you can’t read any of the signs. Is this a brothel I am entering or a confectionary? Is that the price for fried squid or cornstarch pudding?

    • JB

      I agree. Japanese isn’t that difficult… all open syllables, only two irregular verbs. The syntax makes for a nice word salad in most native English speaker’s head and then there is the whole concept of ‘particles’ which have no meaning whatsoever and exist only to separate clusters of action, thought and the interrelatedness of everything else with each other… because Japanese is NOT a linear language . You’ll understand this quickly if the writing system/s are learned concurrently. All three of them.

    • Dicky

      The thing is, those 1000 characters are super common. You’ll see them everywhere if you do your practice on normal websites and non-fantasy manga and video games. So you’ll eventually get them down if you keep at it just from the ubiquity.

      If you take the roundabout way like myself and one of my classmates in Japanese back in college and head for fantasy video games first, you get a lot of super fluffy characters that are really common in RPGs and fantasy manga, but not as great for the modern world. But at the very least, finding a way to keep focused on your goal is always a good thing.
      From the top of my head, it’s ~1000 characters for ~75% of daily writing and ~2000 characters for ~97% of daily writing.

  • Baltimatt

    Remember about ten years ago when that video of the guy singing the “Numa Numa” song came out? Most people just laughed. I kept wondering what language it was. I did a little digging and found it was Romanian. The song was Dragostea din tei by the Moldovan band O-Zone.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4xc3dXDE5I

    • Kruhn

      At Spanish gay parties the Numa Numa song was popular because of the chorus which sounded liked “marica tú, marica yo, marica tú, marica ah ah”

      Now “marica” is a derogatory term for gay people in Spanish but among gay men is used kind of liked the “n” word so don’t use it.

    • Ted.OR

      Another fun song in Romanian…
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zzvfUDMfHc

  • Adam Schmidt

    The top two languages I’d like to learn are German and Swedish. If you know English and Swedish, you can pretty much survive anywhere in Scandinavia. And German just because it’s an interesting language and closely related to English so I’m hoping it will be easier to learn.

    • zhera

      If you know only English you can survive in all of Scandinavia. 😉

    • RoFaWh

      German won’t be easy for you. English is considered an “analytical” language, where grammar is usually expressed via word order, whereas German (like Latin and Russian) is an “inflected” language in which grammar is expressed via suffixes.

      The above statement is a gross oversimplification.

      • Adam Schmidt

        Well, I went to Catholic high school and when it came time to choose a language (I could pick Spanish, French, or Latin), my father rather insisted that I learn Latin. Given that it’s been 30 years since high school, I don’t speak it any more (I barely spoke it then) but it did introduce to me the idea of languages that use suffixes to denote verb subjects. And I did do an aborted attempt at learning Japanese which is probably one of the more structured languages I’ve ever seen.

    • Steven Leahy

      I found German structurally very tough. Dutch has a similar structure to German though not nearly as complicated.

    • wineflask

      If you know English well and some German, learning Swedish is really easy. As a bonus, you can then read Danish and Norwegian and even understand spoken Norwegian (spoken Danish seems to have no vowels and is hard to grasp). In any case, a minor effort to learn Swedish enhances your life quality if three countries :).

      • Adam Schmidt

        Yep, I stayed in Sweden for 5 weeks with visits to Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Amsterdam… It was amazing to see how well you could get by knowing Swedish and yeah, they have about 95% fluency with English so while you don’t need to speak anything other than English there, it seems polite to learn.

  • Kruhn

    Interesting that Dutch and Afrikaans are easy to learn, but German (its kissing cousin isn’t) and that Norwegian is considered easy, but Swedish and Icelandic isn’t despite the fact that I once spoke to an Icelandic woman who told me they can understand each other in their native languages.

    I speak fluent French and what drives me nuts is that the language had no rules as every single one is full of exceptions that they’re practically pointless.

    • zhera

      Swedish is in the Easy category.

      About the Nordic languages: Norwegians and Swedes can understand each other. Icelanders can understand Norwegian, maybe Swedish as well. Danes can possibly understand N. and S. but spoken Danish is really hard for the others.

      Nobody understands Finnish.

      Icelandic is much closer to Old Norse than modern Norwegian is. Oh, and Scottish has quite a bit of Norwegian influence.

      • Phil

        Finnish, Magyar (Hungarian) and Estonian, belong to a different family of languages than any surrounding countries. Its origins are still debated.

      • Steven Leahy

        I read the highest intelligibility is Norwegians understanding Swedish (like 89%), and lowest Swedes and Danes understanding each other (in the 20%’s). The written languages between all three I am sure are pretty easy to follow. Interesting 🙂 As a native English speaker I find Norwegian the clearest and easiest to follow.

      • Kruhn

        That’s why I purposely left Finish out of the list. I understand it had more in common with Turkish and Hungarian than with any other language.

    • Steven Leahy

      Danish is not hard from a structural standpoint at all. The pronunciation is a bear and Danes speak really fast compared to Norwegians and Swedes. Also, Danish (like English) is not phonetically consistent so a given vowel will have multiple sounds as it does in English depending on the word.

    • RoFaWh

      Some language experts consider that in Georgian, all verbs are irregular.

  • Baltimatt

    Mark Twain: “The Awful German Language”

    http://www.kombu.de/twain-2.htm

  • disQusTed

    Don’t forget the health benefits of learning another language!

    http://www.rosettastone.com/blog/worried-about-alzheimers-learn-a-second-language/

  • disQusTed

    This is a great article for those who think they can’t learn another language.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/opinion/16alexander.html

    • Baltimatt

      Thanks for that!

  • Soren456

    I had Latin in high school. It did two things for me:

    1) When finished, I knew English inside out, and

    2) I learned Russian (in college) very much easier—both are inflected languages, and knowing Latin helped to understand the structure of Russian.

    (I tried Mandarin Chinese, but it was impossible.)

    • Steven Leahy

      I find inflected languages very tough, though agree with you on Latin.

      • RoFaWh

        I took three years of Latin in high school, which got the class up to reading a little Virgil. But now, many years later, clutching my copy of Bennett’s New Latin Grammar to my bosom, I have concluded that the really hard parts of Latin are (a) fluent use of the subjunctive (Bennett studied the Latin subjunctive in great detail) and (b) the many small particles used to assemble complex sentences.

        The agonies of infleciton are minor in comparison.

        Some of you may know the Latin tag line “Timeo danaos et dona ferentes”, “beware Greeks bearing gifts”. Turns out that in this phrase, “et” doesn’t have its usual meaning “and’, but is a shortened form of another word and the line means “even when bearing gifts”. This is buried in Bennett but isnt’ indexed. Hard to find!

        • Steven Leahy

          LOL I remember Latin from high school too. I was a Latin geek. Very good at it then but only remember bits and pieces now.

          • Soren456

            I thought that I would read The Satyricon in Latin, but ended up with a pony instead.

            Still, it was the first gay dirty book I ever read.

    • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

      Ditto: I didn’t understand English grammar (despite it being my first language) until I started studying foreign languages. One of my English teachers (who also taught German and French) told us we’d learn more about English studying a foreign language than we would studying English and it turned out to be true!

      • Soren456

        I had an English teacher in high school who had us diagramming sentences.

        I guess that that’s an old-fashioned approach (that was 2005), but I loved it.

  • Phil

    I’ve always heard Gaelic (Ireland, Brittany, Wales, Scotland) is hardest for English speakers. Don’t know if that’s true or not. I found German the easiest, but I also had three German speaking grandparents, and numerous of their friends/relatives. They discouraged learning it though.

    • Kevin-in-Honolulu

      Exposure as a child probably helped a lot, Phil, and since you were a kid, you had no idea of “easy” or “difficult.” Sorry that your progenitors had that silly idea of keeping their language apart from English for fear of “confusing” you.

  • Jack

    I took French in junior high and high school.

    I took German in college.

    Before I went to Italy for the first time I read a Berlitz book to learn some Italian. A few years after that trip I did a little study on my own.

    Then, as an adult, I took a bunch of Spanish classes.

    A few years ago I did a series of tapes to learn Brazilian Portuguese and I’m currently plodding my way through Duolingo.

    And those are the easy ones?

    Oy.

  • Yeowe

    Thai and Vietnamese are ‘medium’ and Korean is ‘hard’???

    • Kevin-in-Honolulu

      That’s why Web sites like these are really useless.

      ‘Medium’ and ‘hard’ according to whom?

  • Steven Leahy

    The Scandinavian languages are the easiest for an English speaker, hands down, IMO. Danish pronunciation is really tough but otherwise is about 90% the same in written form as Norwegian. I learned Dutch first in Holland (lived there) and then took Swedish formally at university level, and casually have studied Danish and Norwegian for many years. Dutch is traditionally regarded as “the closest” genetically, but in reality English shares more in common in terms of structure, grammar and word order with the Scand. languages. Of course there are differences, but overall it’s pretty obvious to someone who has some knowledge of one from each group (North Germanic & West Germanic).

    • gast

      Swedish and Norwegian are the easiest languages to learn among the European languages. Icelandic is one of the most difficult. Danish is much more difficult than Swedish and Norwegian. ( Finnish is not a Scandinavian language and is very difficult )

      Same song from 1988, with the same lyrics in Swedish “Tusen bitar” and in Danish “Tusind stykker” (which means ‘thousand pieces’ )
      enjoy!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9fjt8FVgWY
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_UI2Ia57w4

      • Steven Leahy

        Danish is tough because of the pronunciation and in that it’s spoken quickly and much of it’s swallowed while spoken making it hard for a non-tuned ear to follow. Other than that, in written form, it is really no more difficult than Norwegian. Agree with you on Icelandic though.

        Thanks for the links 🙂

        • NorskBamse

          Dansk er bare en vanlig språk med en varm potet i halsen. 🙂

          • Steven Leahy

            I have read that 🙂

          • Luis De California

            With some accents more potatoey than others :p

        • Kevin-in-Honolulu

          From my travels in Norway and Sweden, Norwegians and Swedes agree they can understand each other with some effort, but both agree they have greater difficulty with their cousin down South… =] One Norwegian said if the Danish took out the fleece in their mouths, they would be somewhat more understandable – written Danish appears to be easier to deal with, however.

      • Baltimatt
  • Ted.OR

    Indonesian and its cousin Malay should be on the “easy” list. No verb tenses, the ending of a verb does not change to agree with the subject, no noun gender, no articles, repeat a noun to make it plural, written with Latin alphabet (Malay can be written with the Arabic alphabet, but it isn’t common), straight-forward orthography. It does have some tricky elements, e.g., counting classifiers, and (like many Asian languages) the pronoun to use depends upon a person’s rank (makes French “tu” and “vous” look like child’s play.)

    • As a native Malay speaker, I concur. Malay is like a super-simplified English. Literal translation of some Malay phrases – You eaten? Want eat what? I not hungry. Let’s walk-walk in park. LOL

      • LonelyLiberal

        So this is a language even language-dumb me could learn in seven or eight years…

        • Ted.OR

          Oh, I embarrassed myself in Malay in much less time than that!

      • Ted.OR

        Did you ever hear “True like a mangosteen”? (I forget the Malay version.) I haven’t found anyone else who heard that, but it is supposed to refer to a person who is up-front and honest. It comes from the fact that the number of sections in a mangosteen is the same as the number of points on the star on the bottom.

        • No, I’ve never heard that expression before. I googled it and it’s predominantly an Indonesian saying, ‘as honest as mangosteen’.

          • Ted.OR

            Thanks for clearing that up. I heard it while learning Malay, but maybe my teacher had ties to Indonesia. I’m just like a frog under a coconut shell. 🙂

    • JB

      Betul, setuju!

      In heavily Islamic Northern Sumatra, particularly Banda Aceh, one commonly sees Arabic script used to phonetically write out Indonesian and Acehnese in public address and place names. When I was there I travelled with my partner who could speak/read Arabic. When we encountered such usage of mixed script/language I would have him speak phonetically the phrase then translate the Indonesian into English. It was the first time I had encountered such a thing but the Acehnese feeling proud of their past history identify far more with Islamic Middle East
      than any European colonizer ( Netherlands) and their writing system.

      And yes, even though Indo/Malay are classified as Austronesian languages they share the concept of classifiers like most Asian languages I have encountered. My way of getting around this was to always speak ‘up’ to the person being addressed. This made for some awkward situations particularly when once being called out as pretentious by a rice farmer who stood before me still muddy from the field wearing nothing but a thread bare sarong.

      • Ted.OR

        When I was in the area, a bazillion years ago, most of the people in Malaysia handled the “rank” issue by just using English pronouns, which were considered neutral. This led to conversations like, “We pergi makan A&W. You nak datang-kah?” Of course, the answer was “Can-lah”, although I much preferred the local cuisine.

  • RoFaWh

    Interested readers should also look at The World Atlas of Language Structures.

    http://wals.info

    Among the exciting news there, Hindi turns out to be the least idiosyncratic language of all those included in the Atlas.

    Really interested readers should scare up a copy of Edward Sapir’s “Language” and read it. Repeatedly.

    • Steven Leahy

      The link didn’t work for me

      • RoFaWh

        Fucking Disqus intefering with one’s attempts to embed a link in text.

        I’ve fixed it.

        • Steven Leahy

          LOL thanks.

    • JT

      And yet Hindi is implicated in the production of Jindal, a man so idiosyncratic as to be unintelligible much of the time.

      • Piet

        Perhaps that’s because he’s trying really, really hard to speak Latin in his daily life but his Louisiana accent gets in the way?

  • Publius

    This is awesome. I recently convinced my husband–who understands French precisely 0.0%–to let us move to Québec. He’s expressed a willingness to learn the language, and I’m so grateful that French is so close and so much easier to learn. Language shouldn’t be a barrier; there’s so much world to miss by not reaching out to other cultures and languages.

  • Rebecca Gardner

    I speak English, French and German. I also understand enough Italian to get around. I really would love to understand Arabic and Japanese.

    • disQusTed

      I found Arabic to be very challenging, but it has some cool, almost Klingon-like sounds that don’t exist in English. The lack of short vowels in written words makes it difficult to know how to pronounce things.

      I found Japanese to be relatively simple once you learn the two alphabets. Having to know 2,000+ Chinese characters is a daunting task though.

      • Roy Wilson Jr.

        I’m conversationally fluent in Japanese and read at roughly a 6th grade level. The real problem with Japanese is that you cannot skip learning the 2076 (what they consider “every day Kanji” characters, as those are what are printed in newspapers/books.)

        As if that isn’t hard enough, most of those characters have multiple “readings” depending on the context in which they’re used, which is akin to English homonyms (although in the Japanese case, they don’t change meaning)

        Also, they don’t put spaces between words, which is why knowing the kanji characters are so crucial to learn to read the language.

    • McJakome

      The Grammar of Japanese is very close to that of Korean, and there are many loan words from Chinese in both. Korean is a language which requires knowledge of the age, gender and social status of someone in order to use the correct structure and vocabulary.

      For example to translate bon appétit->

      to a child – mogo, to an older child or close friend – pam mogo, older or higher tanking person – pabul mogo shipshio, to a very old or important person – chingirul manhi mogoshipshiyo. Family relationships are individually labelled instead of categorized as brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc,

      Thank goodness neither is tonal. Korean has an alphabet but Japanese doesn’t and requires four different writing systems. They are fascinating but take to an extreme the dictum that Language cannot be divorced from culture.

  • Baltimatt

    ABBA released Waterloo (and other songs) in French, German, and Swedish in addition to English. Probably other languages, too.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMA6cE7T8P8

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8Ngdxtv7zA

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdkEAx59NYA

    • gast

      I guess in French that song was not so popular
      😉

      • Steven Leahy

        I liked it. ABBA in Swedish is better than I expected too

  • LonelyLiberal

    I’ve managed to pound a little Spanish into my head, and a touch of German, but I’m really very language-deaf. English is the only one where I have any proficiency, and I’ve tried…

    • Octavio

      Learning the basic niceties of a language such as thank you, please, hello, where is the bathroom is worthwhile. But beyond that it’s best to just move to a country and immerse yourself in a language while taking formal language classes. If you don’t use a language to name your immediate world and get things to keep you alive (food, beer, toilet paper), learning another language can prove rather hopeless unless you happen to be an idiot savant of some kind. It also helps to have a partner who refuses to learn or speak your primary language. Hence, you learn everything in the new language necessary for making love, pleasuring one another and arguing. It’s especially important to learn to argue in a foreign language. 🙂

      • LonelyLiberal

        The pair of Portuguese sailors I picked up made do with pointing and grunting. And there was a lot of grunting.

        • Octavio

          And if you’d kept them around for an entire week just imagine what else you might have learned. 🙂

          • LonelyLiberal

            I wouldn’t have minded, but from the miming they were going to ship out the next day.

            Or they needed to go do laundry. I’m not sure.

      • Steven Leahy

        LOL and swear….though use that judiciously 🙂

        • Octavio

          Swearing is VERY important. I’ve had more than my share of experience as an EFL instructor and I always handed out a list of the most common obscenities and vulgarities. If a student doesn’t know them, how will they recognize they are being insulted? It’s just common sense. 🙂

        • wineflask

          If you want to swear you should learn Italian. Tons of dialects, each chock full of swearwords and blasphemes (also used as swearwords).

  • Gyeo

    Notice though that all those language are indo-European. I am guessing they are the easiest to learn because they are structurally related to English. My mother’s tongue would be hard because of the phonetic differences and there are grammar rules that don’t appear in English.

    Actually the easiest language learnt is the language you are exposed to early in childhood. Young children brains are malleable and readily picks it the grammatical structure of a language. On other countries that’s how you get students who speak two language well (the one they use the most is obviously going to be better). We do a disservice in the U.S. in keeping our young monolingual.

    • Gregory In Seattle

      Yeah, I noticed that, too. Someone who grew up speaking Mandarin, Arabic or Korean will not find any of these languages easy.

    • Mordoc

      If you follow through to the original post, you’ll see that this is a list made by the U.S. Government of the easiest foreign languages to learn as a native English speaker.

      • Gyeo

        Which is why I made that comment

    • Kevin-in-Honolulu

      Just curious – what is your mother’s native language?

      The US has woefully been a monolingual country for many years, but that is changing. Here in Hawaii, it is estimated that between 25-30% of island residents speak a language other than English at home.

      Bi/Multi-lingualism is a good tonic for the brain, making it easier to understand abstract reasoning, pattern recognition, and logic.

      • Gyeo

        Khmer. Of the mainland Southeast Asian languages it is probably easier to learn for English because it is not tonal like the other major languages.

  • Gregory In Seattle

    Dutch is easy? Seriously, that language is like trying to gargle thistles.

    • Steven Leahy

      LOL Yeah, the g, ch and Sch are all gutterals. Sometimes the “r” is rolled, sometimes gutteral, and sometimes almost like an American or Irish English “r”. I learned it while I was a teenager in the Netherlands and Belgium so fortunately was easier. Grammatically Dutch is pretty close to English but with that German-style word order I always had trouble getting my head around.

      • Kevin-in-Honolulu

        Hawaiian word order is Verb-Subject-Object – only 10% of the world’s 6700 languages are VSO, and that took practice, and just writing lines over and over, until now, I don’t think about it.

        Some languages are topic-comment like American Sign Language

        Beans I like them.

        Your dog his feet are dirty.

        Each language leaves a listener hanging until the end of an utterance when the listener puts it all together.

        In English “I like …..” (listener waits for what is liked)

        In ASL “Beans….” Person waits for what will be said about the beans.

        • RoFaWh

          Sapir, in his “Language”, offers an interesting example from Nootka, one of the Pacific Northwest Indian languages he was specially interested in.

          In his example, the concepts house, fire, small, plurality, in-ness all form one word, the pieces being indivisible from the whole, but you can’t tell if it’s a noun or a verb until you reach an appropriate suffix tacked on at the very end.

          To me, this is the most fascinating aspect of language: different languages assemble their utterances in totally different ways. What’s a verb in one language is an adjective in another, for example.

          • Kevin-in-Honolulu

            Very interesting!

            As a graduate student in linguistics, I got involved with the University of Hawaii Language Documentation Center – as you know, languages all over the world are going extinct – one or two a month at least.

            Our job as students was to find languages with no documentation on them, and go into the field, record, take down stories, videotape if possible, and give the people the resources needed to document their languages before they go, because so much is inculcated into language – the language I documented was spoken by about 500 people in Micronesia, and they have so many names for types of fish in different stages of development – very useful for scientists.

            Languages are absolutely fascinating – thanks so much for messaging me on this! =]

    • Kevin-in-Honolulu

      I love the sounds of Nederlands – Nederlands people do joke about their own language in this way also.

    • RoFaWh

      A Dutch guy once told me that to speak Dutch all you do is put a hot potato in your mouth and then speak English as fast as you can.

      • Steven Leahy

        I’ve heard that abut Danish.

    • McJakome

      To me Dutch sounds like an Englishmen trying to speak German while gargling [or under water].

      Portuguese sounds to me like a Frenchman trying to speak Spanish with a Slavic accent after a few drinks.

      When travelling in Turkey, someone came to my table and asked me a totally incomprehensible question. I responded with, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that in English.” I understood only one word in the angry reply as he stalked off, “Strine.” I had had no previous experience with Australian, much less Outbackish.

      I found Korean easier to learn than German, BTW.

  • TomF.

    Why is German not listed at all? Not even in the “Hard” category…?
    I do know that Mark Twain said that German was invented so that you could spit on people while talking to them.

  • Steven Leahy

    Here’s an example of a simple Swedish song with Eng. subtitles so you can follow along. Yeah sounds kinda religious-y maybe but maybe not :-), still kinda pretty. At any rate you can get an idea of simple Swedish structure, Norwegian is similar.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBHKVqt5NUA

    • Kevin-in-Honolulu

      Thanks Steven for including this. I find trying to understand a language sung, even with subtitles, difficult, because the singer can take so much license extending words to match the beat. Though I speak Hawaiian reasonably well, I still have trouble with Hawaiian songs – there are many people who write Hawaiian songs that cannot speak the language in daily situations.

      My focus now is learning Swedish and Nederlands (I’ve never cared for the English word “Dutch”), after a career in Hebrew and Hawaiian, and American Sign Language. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to trade my knowledge of the previous three for the latter two…but I’m trying anyway! Best to you!

  • Dean

    I took German and Russian both in high school and in college. German was a walk in the park compared to Russian, although six weeks in Russia gave me the ability to argue. After one week in Japan I had learned the hiragana, katakana and a few kanji, and could ask directions and prices, but in five weeks in Shanghai all I could manage was “Good morning” and “Thank you.” I basically gave up on that one. Depending on the speaker, I can tune in to Spanish on occasions, and if I read and hear it at the same time, can understand French. For some odd reason the language that I have a great deal of trouble with is mathematics.

  • Baltimatt

    Great to see all the interest in language among JMG readers.

  • Why is German not listed at all? or am I blind and it’s staring me in the face?

    • Baltimatt

      No, it’s not there. I would guess it falls into the medium category. As I and others have discussed below, the declensions and plurals can make it tricky.

      • Steven Leahy

        Agree. Easy-medium in my opinion -)

    • Dagoril

      The State Department used to list German in its own difficulty category. According to them it took about an extra 12 weeks to learn, compared to Spanish or French (if my memory serves me well).

      I’ve worked through a bunch of languages on the Duolingo app, and German is by far the biggest pain in the ass hehe. Even Turkish is easier for me, and I took a year of German in high school.

  • rednekokie

    I found Danish terribly easy to learn (native English) when I lived there 8 months in 1957. Norwegian is similar – and, because I had an American style of pronunciation, I was commonly mistaken for Swedish when I spoke Danish.

    • Steven Leahy

      I wouldn’t have predicted an American would speak Danish with a Swedish accent, LOL.

      • rednekokie

        I wouldn’t either — but that’s what they said I sounded like. Go figgur.

      • Joe

        When I lived in Sweden, as an American, Swedes thought I was Russian. I guess I spoke Swedish with a Russian accent.

  • StevenMN

    They should also mention at what age learning a second (or third) language is easiest. I would suspect that the younger the better. My mom spoke English, and German as a second language. She studied Latin in her teens and seemed to have a basic understanding some other European languages.

    I, on the other hand, grew up in small school in a rural area that had few opportunities for learning foreign languages. Later I struggled with Spanish in adult education courses but had little luck except for reciting common phrases.

  • sequel

    I didn’t expect to see my first language, Afrikaans, on the list, because of the relatively small number of speakers. Baie dankie dat julle ons by gevoeg het, US State Department 🙂

    • Baltimatt

      I noted way below that Afrikaans has more native speakers than English in South Africa, and that most of the Afrikaans speakers are not white. I was surprised when I learned that. English, of course, is widely used in business, education, and government.

      • Steven Leahy

        Also ironic in that Afrikaans was traditionally seen as the language of the white-minority oppressors as well.

        • Baltimatt

          One of the causes of the Soweto uprising was the mandatory use of Afrikaans in education. However, about 75% of the “coloured” (mixed-race) population speaks Afrikaans. Unlike the US, mixed race people were considered a different group from blacks.

          • sequel

            Don’t put coloured in quotation marks just because it sounds the same as an American term. The origins of coloured people (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coloured) might have been mixed a long time ago, but they now have a culture and heritage that is distinct.

            In South Africa, if your mom is white and dad is black, you tick “mixed” on the census form. You tick coloured if your mom is coloured and dad is coloured. (Though legally you can identify with whichever race you want for census purposes.)

          • Baltimatt

            Didn’t mean to offend you. I was debating whether to use the quotation marks, and decided to go ahead to indicate that was the actual term used, and that I wasn’t using the outdated US term with a different meaning.

          • sequel

            No offence taken, then or now 🙂

          • Baltimatt

            Thanks. I realize the terms are spelled differently, but we have a lot of Canadian posters here, and people are used to seeing British spelling.

          • sequel

            We generally use British spelling. Neighbour, colour, flavour, etc., so my guess is that the context rather than the spelling difference, is thing that should indicate the meaning.

            For instance in Dutch, the adjective “Afrikaanse” means African, but in Afrikaans (and I think in Dutch as well), when the word “Afrikaans” is used as an adjective, it is “Afrikaanse”, using roughly the same language rule. (Eg. “Afrikaanse les” translates to “Afrikaans lesson”) As a result, it’s often difficult to convince a Dutch person that you don’t speak Zuid-Afrikaans or South African, but Afrikaans. At least these days you can point them to the Dutch wikipedia entry on Afrikaans, titled “Afrikaans” instead of “Zuid-Afrikaans”.

            The term Coloured itself originated as a translation of Kleurling, the Afrikaans name for them, which doesn’t have the same ambiguity as the English term, but still has kleur (meaning color/colour) as its root word. The British spelling just came along with the translation. In South Africa it is also context that distinguishes whether you are talking about coloured in the sense of “a multi-coloured pack of paper” or coloured in the sense of “my Coloured friend”…. not that you would classify your friends by race 😛

          • Baltimatt

            Some of my best friends are Coloured. 😉

        • sequel

          The apartheid government was mostly Afrikaans. Obviously that doesn’t imply anything about Afrikaans speakers’ views and racial demographics in general. White Afrikaans people in the North were generally racist, and in the South less so. Still a long way to go, but great progress has been made.

      • sequel

        From personal experience, I can vouch that those proportions are probably correct. Afrikaans is mostly spoken by white and coloured people (different to the American meaning of “colored people”). Other than Afrikaans and English, there are 9 other official languages, mostly spoken by black people. And other than white and coloured people, the other significant minority racial group is Indian people.

  • e jerry powell

    Did anyone notice that German is not included at all in any of the three charts? You figure that the Scandinavian languages are all rooted in German (yes, even Danish — which is also not on the list).

    I can work out how to read Greek, and enough word in English are borrowed from Greek. Being able to read Greek (however tenuously) makes it easier to deal with languages that use Cyrillic, Having even a faint grasp of the principal language of a region plays into mutual intelligibility. Do I understand Czech? No, but I can recognize it and pick out words that are similar to German and kind of pick out phrases.

    I studied etymology as a kid, because I was the spelling bee aspirationalist.

    • Baltimatt

      Several folks brought that up.

      • e jerry powell

        It’s kind of disappointing that the State Department leaves so much out.

    • RoFaWh

      The Scandinavian languages are not directly descended from German. They are all cousins, all members of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family.. As is English.

  • GanymedeRenard

    I believe that each and every language is difficult in one way or another. It may well be because it has a different alphabet/writing system. Or because of its different syntax. Or because of its orthography. Or because of its phonology. Or because of its declensions or conjugations. Or because of the various layers of meanings that its words may possess. So a language can have a different alphabet, but its grammar may be really easy to grasp; or its sounds can be a challenge to the ear, but its orthography can be very simple.

    That being said, there would seem to be a widespread preconception that Spanish is an easy language because it’s the language of the immigrants—and we all know that the immigrants are ‘stoopid.’ Nothing can be more distant from reality, and my students know this oh too well. Granted, modern Spanish may not have, say, the intrinsic phonetic diversity of French, to compare it to one of its sister languages. However, that is untrue if you take into account the wealth of phonetic peculiarities around the Spanish-speaking world.

    For example, in Spain, both the ‘z’ and the ‘c’ are pronounced like ‘th’ as in ‘think’, which is of course different from the sibilant ‘s’, absent from any other Spanish-speaking country—except, perhaps, for Colombia. That leads some people to wrongly assume that the Spaniards lisp per defect. And then there’s the double ‘l’, a sound that in Spain and Bolivia is like ‘ly… + vowel’ as in “million”, but can also be pronounced like a ‘j’ (as in “joke”), or more like ‘sh’ as in ‘show’ but only in Argentina and Uruguay. So, the next time you read ‘tortilla’, know that there are at least three different ways to pronounce it.

    And then there’s the letter ‘x’, pronounced ‘kh’ in some cases (as in the Yiddish “chutzpah”), or like ‘sh’ in Guatemala, or like an ‘s’ in some other cases, or like ‘ks’ most of the time. In Medieval Spanish (or old Castilian, more accurately), there was a difference between ‘z’, ‘c’, ‘ss’, ‘x’, and ‘ç’, each one of which represented a different sound. The cedilla (‘ç’) was a medieval Spanish invention, by the way, just like the eñe (‘ñ’). While the cedilla disappeared from modern Spanish in the late 18th century, its use was adopted by various other languages, including French, Portuguese, and even Turkish. The eñe has been adopted by the Basque, and the Breton languages, as well as by other non-Western languages such as Guaraní. Also by the way, the arroba (@, or ‘at sign’), was a commercial sign invented in the Spanish kingdoms in the late 16th century if memory serves.

    And then there’s this much richer conjugation system with its plethora of tenses. For instance, the future subjunctive, which Spanish has, doesn’t even exist in French (but it must be noticed that its use is becoming obsolete, and is only practically used in juridical or legal contexts). Moreover, the imperative mood has its own conjugation set in the negative form, as opposed to just using the infinitive plus the word “no”, like in Italian. What about the “imperfecto de subjuntivo” (past subjunctive), one tense that has TWO different sets of conjugations for itself, and they mean the exact same thing, whereas in French one conjugation is used for both the imperfect indicative and the past subjunctive.

    Not to mention the second grammatical person, both plural
    and singular, formal and informal: “tú”, “usted”, “ustedes”, “vosotros” (all of which mean ‘you’ in English), among which you must count the “vos” form (which is now informal, but it used to be formal in the royal courts of Spain). They all have their own different conjugations! And it’s a pity that the “vos” form is rarely taught in schools, when the reality is that its use is not limited to Argentina and Uruguay; it’s very much alive in Paraguay, parts of Venezuela and Colombia, the Mexican state of Chiapas, and it’s practically the norm in Central America. Interestingly, this form is now extinct in the Iberian peninsula!

    And then there’s also the order of words, slightly different in the Caribbean. So no, Spanish is by no means an easy language. I have friends who are native speakers of English and have learned Spanish to the extent that they teach it at college level, and yet can’t still master the right uses of the preterite and the imperfect (which is also difficult to master in Italian, French, and Portuguese for an Anglophone). A Turkish friend of mine whose native language is Kurdish asked me once the reason why there is such a thing as the conditional of courtesy in Spanish (also present in English, French, Italian, and most European languages). “In Kurdish”, he said, “there aren’t those formalities. Being a language of shepherds and mountain dwellers, we just say: ‘I want that’, as opposed to “Would you please…”. Gosh, I hope I didn’t bore anyone! Cheers to you all fellow polyglots!

    • sequel

      The infographic isn’t about which languages are easy, but which are easy for an native English speaker. English has plenty of vocabulary that has close cognates on that list of “easy languages” and a similar grammatical structure to them, so it’s easy because your basis is already strong.

      Serbian is listed as having a medium difficulty, but if your first language is Bulgarian, Serbian would be easy and most of the languages on the “easy” list would be medium…

      • GanymedeRenard

        True that. My looooong post was merely motivated in part by some of the comments I read below, which appear to suggest, in my modest opinion, that Spanish is easy to learn (without distinctions of any kind). The title of this post seemed, to me at least, to point in that direction as well. But thanks for reminding me what this post was really about. Cheers!

    • Steven Leahy

      Interesting post and some good points. I don’t think Spanish is by any means “easy to learn” and definitely has nothing to do with immigrants. We have Chinese, Russian, Arab and Indian immigrants too and not many would suggest their languages are easy. I will say Spanish is consistent and logical especially if your mother tongue is a Romance language, and very phonetic, although of course with any language there are regional variations. I think you can speak a language WELL and still speak with an accent.

      I think languages are “easier” if they resemble one’s native tongue in terms of structure. An Italian would likely find Spanish really easy compared to a German or Englishman. A lot of English Speaking people, especially Americans, might perceive Spanish as easy because a lot of the vocabulary is similar to English (due to borrowings from French) and exposure to Spanish in many parts of the US is high, but I would venture basic conversational Spanish with correct use of tense and person would be very difficult for an average English speaker. I mean, language is more than just stringing words together, right?

    • Baltimatt

      The common practice on German talk boards is to use the familiar du, even though it used to be a big deal in German to move to du from the polite Sie. However, when the poster/moderators put on their moderator hats, they switched to the polite form on one board I used.

    • Kevin-in-Honolulu

      I’ve been a linguist for 30+ years and I agree wholeheartedly.

      A most disturbing trend on the Web in the past few years is the attempt to simplify (“dumb down”) down to a resume skim – in 30 seconds or less, everything is explained for you on a given topic.

      The Web site is like many others – in its attempt to encourage language learning by describing what is “easy” and what is “hard” to learn as an English speaker, a number of factors must be taken into account.

      1. Their definitions of “proficiency” and fluency.
      2. Their detailed description of language teaching and learning pedagogies
      3. The Similarities and differences between the language an individual speaks and the language an individual desires to speak.

      There are many more questions, but let’s start with these.

      If an adult seriously wants to learn a language as fast as possible, the best way and only way in my opinion having worked in this field for many years, is total immersion.

      Seriously, Hebrew is considered a moderately difficult language? One past learning Hebrew characters, the language is surprisingly regular, word order is Subject-Verb-Object, and there are no seriously difficult sounds one needs to make. Swedish and Norwegian on the other hand, have vowels that, when combined with pitch accents, are challenging to master.

      What is great about the rise of the Web is that one can easily grab content on the language they want to learn in written, video, and audio form – something that was well nigh impossible before.

      It’s great Joe includes topics like this on his blog.

    • McJakome

      The main reason Spanish seems easy to English speakers is not prejudice against immigrants. it is because the sounds are not terribly different or difficult to master, and because the orthography is, like Korean, very closely tied to the sound [dialectal differences not withstanding]. If you see a word written in either language, the sound can be much more accurately predicted than in English.

      There is also the crutch of Latin based words [prefixes, stems and suffixes]. I couldn’t understand what people were saying in Spain [except in cases like informacion], but could often read things especially in a pharmacy.