Let’s face it: learning a language isn’t easy, and the time and effort involved in becoming proficient in a foreign language can be discouraging. From vocabulary to pronunciation and all those tricky verbs, language learning is a time-consuming and often frustrating process. Luckily for language learners, however, not all languages are equally difficult to learn.
It is estimated that there are over 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. While geographic, historic, and cultural events led to many languages developing and evolving to be very different, it also means that some languages are more similar than others. As a general rule of thumb, a language is easier to learn when it is linguistically similar to your native language.
Language Difficulty Ranking
There are three basic language categories:
Category 1 includes languages that are the most similar to your own language.
Categories 2 and 3 include languages that generally have considerable linguistic and/or cultural differences from your own language.
Category 4 enters even further into the impress-your-friends zone. Language in this category usually have a different alphabet or symbols or write from right to left or top to bottom.
Number 1: Spanish
Why should I learn it?
With over an estimated 422 million native speakers worldwide, Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world (behind Chinese, Hindi, and English). It’s an official, national, or widely spoken language in 44 countries, including the United States. It’s time for us to learn some more Español to speak with our amigos and vecinos.
What makes Spanish easier?
Spanish only differs from English in morphology (word formation) and phonology (pronunciation). English speakers learning Spanish have the luxury of using the same alphabet (apart from a few letters) and the straightforward Spanish pronunciation system: words are pronounced exactly as they are written. Grammatically speaking, Spanish actually has fewer irregularities than other Latin-based languages. In addition, English speakers have more and more opportunities to be exposed to Spanish on a daily basis, even in their native countries.
Don’t let the relative similarity between English and Spanish give you a false sense of security, though. There are many Spanish dialects which feature strong differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and minor grammatical differences, which is something to keep in mind when starting to tackle Español.
Number 2: Portuguese
Why should I learn it?
There are over 176 million Portuguese speakers in the world, and these speakers are not just from Portugal and it’s gigantic former colony, Brazil. Portuguese is the official language in 9 countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and East Timor. It’s also spoken in over 34 countries worldwide. In addition, Brazil’s economy is currently ranked 6th in the world, making it an increasingly valuable language for professionals.
What makes Portuguese easier?
Much like Spanish, Portuguese only varies from English in morphology and phonology. One attractive feature of Portuguese is its interrogative form, which does not require reconstruction and can be expressed just by changing your intonation. “We’re dancing tonight,” for example, can become a question simply by raising your voice at the end. Even though the nasal vowel sounds of Portuguese are difficult for English speakers to pronounce at first, the rhythm of Portuguese is easy for English ears to follow.