English- no cases, no gender, no word agreement, arguably no grammar. The language is everywhere and can be heard, absorbed and used anywhere. Short words, verbs change only in the third person. Native speakers are very forgiving of mistakes as so many people speak it as a second language. This makes English the easiest foreign language to learn. No tutorials or tutors needed to get off the ground. Just start watching films and listing to music and step out your door and use it, it is in a word, elementary.
Easy to learn
Italian - No cases, easy clear pronunciation, vocabulary of derivative of Latin, therefore the vocabulary has congruences throughout the Indo-European Latin influenced world.
Spanish – similar to Italian in that the grammar and pronunciation is easy, also ubiquitous, everywhere, but Spanish people talk fast and you can get lost when trying to understand.
German- logical grammar but does have cases and long words as word building is important.
French – sixteen tenses and some grammar twist and a specific pronunciation that makes it a little harder the Spanish.
Esperanto – Although I respect the people who created this, I do not consider this a living language and should not be considered when ranking the Easiest language to learn.
This is in contrast to the hardest language to learn
- Some languages are just easy and some are hard to learn, that is a fact.
Languages are easy to or difficult dependent on one’s initial native language. However, they also have a range of how hard they are, based on what the human brain can process. This means some are objectively more complex and others are more basic and go into the human brain easier. Therefore, despite the relative aspect of language learning people argue, we can objectively state which language can be learned without difficulty compared to ones that take more effort. This is the thesis of this post. That is that there is some objective measure that goes beyond your linguistic starting point.
Languages have an absolute scale of tediousness depending on the complexities and expectations in:
- Grammar – Grammar is a nothing more than a ritualistic method of word changing and order. It brings clarity to the sentence if you are a native speaker because you are used to hearing it this way. For example, Slavic languages function without articles while English sentences are sparse on cases. It just so happens that because of the number of speakers native and nonnative using English to communicate, many of these grammar rituals have simply dropped off though linguistic evolution. Hence, English grammar is flexible, simple and in a word child’s play compared to case based Central and Eastern European languages. Asian languages are surprisingly elementary also in grammar.
- Pronunciation – For similar reason to grammatical evolution, words in English are short. If you have the average number of letters of in the English language it is like 3.8. That is a short language. English is a one or two-syllable language and if you can use a three syllable Latin based word than you are part of the intelligentsia.
- Receptiveness of the languages speakers to communicate with foreigners – This is a overlook evaluation criteria. For example, Americans have little inhibition to talking to foreigners while Slavic people are reserved and tenuous just to get them to open up a bit. To demonstrate this point you could say, Americans talk and ramble and speak loud. Slavic people talk in cautious whispers. The sheer number of words a person trying to immerse themselves in the language is many times more for English than any other language, just based on the social customs of communication.
- Media – Is the language used in films and music? If so there is a good chance that people can absorb the language through osmosis and have for years subconsciously. The average person as a twenty-five year old from any country has been exposed to about, well, twenty-five years of English regardless where they grew up.
- Scales of difficulties listed by websites or even the government or respected educational organizations are not the end of discussion as many of these are based on outdated methods, written by academics not normal people learning, based on reading and writing rather than speaking (the method that was used in the first one million years of human evolution).
- Script – People immediately conclude that when a language uses another alphabet it must be inaccessible to all those who are not language savvy. Many people are intimidated by Asian language scripts. They immediately declare with passion that Mandarin is the hardest language for example. This is not true. Writing was only accessible for the elite and educated for most of human existence. Communication was first gestures, tones and then vocalization for about thousands of years, therefore I would not put a high weight on written communication. Granted English is has complicated spelling, but who cares if you can speak it.
The language of friendship isn’t words but meanings. – Thoreau
Concluding remarks about second language challenges
Brain considerations – Neurobiologists are not studying Broca’s area the motor for speech and Wernicke’s area, the center for understanding or comprehension with MRI and PET scans studying aphasia patients and the gyri and basal temporal cortex to understand the algorithm of language. They look at neural plasticity and how other areas of the brain can recruit neurons for language. We are all different in the way our brains can process language, based both on experience acquiring a language and our interaction in the world. However, I think there can be an objective measure of difficulty. Saying that I think that English is the easiest language in the world. This is considering all factors, including media, ease of communication and opportunity to speak with native speakers, grammar and word length and pronunciation.
I invite you to participate in the conversation by commenting on your experiences with languages. I am open to revising my position but at this juncture I am sticking to my thesis that English because of its universality and flexibility and tolerance that nonnative speakers show others, it is an easy to communicate.