A question that often pops up when speaking to first-time language learners is “What’s the easiest language to learn for an English speaker?”

Of course, that’s quite a tricky one to answer as language learning is not just linked to existing knowledge of another tongue. It is often a complex interlinking of cultural awareness and exposure, necessity, frequency of interaction with the languages, and let’s face it- a whole load of hard work. So the natural answer from most professors is that there is no such thing as the easiest language to learn.
However, if one were to include all these factors as constants, that every student has the same high level of necessity, commitment, awareness, etc. then, how do the languages stack up in their “easiness”? Let’s look at some of the European languages thought at the Babel School of Languages to see what could qualify as the mythical easiest language to learn!

Spanish

Spanish has some definite advantages for the new language learner- it is pretty phonetic and not too difficult to pronounce. It’s Latin origins make sure that there are quite a few words which sound or at least appear to be close to their equivalents in English. The significance of Hispanic culture in the USA has ensured that many English speakers have heard Spanish words spoken here and there and hence there is a sense of familiarity. So, is Spanish the easiest language to learn?
No.
Spanish, like every other language, has its own set of idiosyncrasies. The subtle differences between ser and estar, two verbs that both translate to be in English, is a source of perpetual confusion. The multiple tenses that are used in Spanish, the understanding of the Subjunctive, the varying accents across the Hispanic world, etc. are also possible stumbling blocks for the English speaker.

French

The most learned foreign language in the world, after English, is a definitely well-merited status for French. Having been intimately linked with the history of the English Court, French has influenced the English language in so many ways that English speakers hardly struggle with French vocabulary. Surely, all this should make French the easiest language to learn for an anglophone. Well…there are, like everything in French, a few exceptions.

French pronunciation is quite a big challenge for anglophones. Another source of anguish to the learner is its bewilderingly complicated spelling. French gender is a perennial challenge for most language learners- given its more complex nature- as is the grammar. However, French has fewer tenses in common use when compared to Spanish and hence English speakers pick it up with greater ease. Also, the ubiquity of French culture, makes sure that many English speaker come into the beginner course with substantial knowledge of French words- especially in domains such as cuisine, fashion, etc.

German

There is often some fear around the difficulty in learning German with anglophones. Mark Twain once famously wrote that “my philosophical studies have revealed that a talented person can learn English in thirty hours, French in thirty days and German in thirty years!”
Surely he was a little off-target given that German is the third most learned language in the world, competing with Spanish for its share of learners. Goethe’s language shares roots with languages like English, Dutch, Swedish, etc- called the Anglo-Saxon languages. If you speak English, you can easily pick up quite a bit of German vocabulary.

Hallo mein Freund! Komm und sieh! Das ist mein Haus, hier ist mein Garten. Das ist meine Katze.
Hello, my friend! Come and see it! This is my house, here is my garden. This is my cat.

Not too bad, eh? Also German is phonetic, unlike French or English, and hence, its spelling is pretty straight forward. Also, grammar has fewer exceptions, unlike English. However, what does boggle the mind of many English speakers is German’s unique syntax- where many verbs can be grouped together at the end of a very long sentence. Hence, one must wait for the speaker to say his complete sentence before you can interrupt- as the vital information might come at the very end!

So, which of these 3 do you think is the easiest language to learn? If you ask me, I would say all 3 or none of them. After all, it depends on how much time, passion, and energy you are ready to invest in the learning! And of course, how much fun you are ready to have with the language.

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