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The easiest languages to learn vs the hardest

From Easier Endeavors to Formidable Frontiers: Comparing Language Accessibility


There exist two distinct camps in the world: individuals who proudly dub themselves linguists and those whose grasp of language barely extends beyond "dónde está la biblioteca." I'm firmly in the latter category, apologies to Spain for any linguistic faux pas.


According to insights from our bilingual experts, Germanic languages emerge as the easiest for English speakers to grasp, while familiarity with a Latin-based language can unlock a host of linguistic similarities. Here’s the breakdown:


French

Renowned as the language of love, spoken by approximately 300 million people worldwide, it offers both practicality and an air of sophistication. Although mastering the accent can pose a challenge, its resemblance to English and relatively straightforward rules ease the learning curve.


Spanish

Spoken across 20 countries and ranking as the second most spoken language globally, its phonetic pronunciation proves simpler than French. While grappling with some intricate grammar and tense rules is expected for newcomers, it remains a widely accessible language.


Portuguese

Despite its seemingly complex sound and daunting pronunciation, this language, spoken by over 234 million people worldwide, unlocks numerous opportunities. Rooted in Latin, it offers a relatively accessible path for many learners.


Dutch

Claiming the third spot among spoken Germanic languages, Dutch, spoken by approximately 24 million people globally, not only sounds fascinating but also shares numerous similarities with English, even in vocabulary.


Norwegian

Surprisingly, language experts at Babbel have designated Norwegian as the most accessible language for English speakers. As a Germanic language, its relatively simple pronunciation, shared vocabulary with English, and familiar sentence structures ease the learning process.


Italian

With around 63 million native speakers worldwide, Italian offers occasional familiar vocabulary and a sentence structure that's far from intimidating.


Indonesian

A wildcard in the mix. Despite its unexpected appearance on this list, Indonesian, according to online sources and our experts, proves highly accessible for English speakers. Utilizing the Latin alphabet, straightforward pronunciation, and the absence of complex verb conjugations, it bids farewell to intimidating grammar rules.


On the flip side, the following languages stand out as notably challenging, and mastering them deserves immense admiration:


Mandarin Chinese

Spoken by over a billion people, its complexities extend to using characters that challenge even native speakers. Its non-phonetic nature, where word pronunciation alters meaning, and the intricate written language make it a colossal challenge, especially for those whose native language is rooted in Latin-based alphabets.


Arabic

Exuding beauty and richness, with over 300 million speakers, Arabic harbors an array of words absent in English, some carrying a melodious and poetic quality. Recognized by the Foreign Services Institute as exceptionally demanding, it could take up to two years to master, further compounded by multiple dialects and right-to-left writing.


Vietnamese

Spoken by 76 million people natively, its Austroasiatic roots introduce six tonal shifts, placing great emphasis on pitch and pronunciation—similar to Mandarin's complexity.


Finnish

With over 5 million speakers, its intricate case and vowel system, along with challenging grammar and pronunciation, present formidable barriers for English speakers.


Japanese

A language spoken by 128 million people, Japanese demands the learning of thousands of characters and a profound understanding of respectful speech, known as "keigo."


Korean

Boasting a simple alphabet thanks to King Sejong the Great, with 80 million speakers across North and South Korea, its complexity arises in pronunciation and word order during conversation.


Hungarian

A language with 14 distinct vowels, non-phonetic elements, and unique pronunciation like "sz" pronounced as "s," Hungarian stands as a formidable linguistic challenge.


Here concludes the spectrum of accessible and formidable languages. Hopefully, this comparison serves as inspiration rather than intimidation. Should you embark on mastering any of these languages for travel or relocation, consider utilizing resources like Wise to smoothen your journey.

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