Whether you want to study abroad, volunteer, or just take a gap year, your time spent abroad is the perfect opportunity to learn a new language -- or start to. The problem is, if you are short on time or notorious for picking the most difficult tasks, you might be wary of taking on such an arduous journey.
Luckily, there are a few languages that can be much easier for English-speakers to learn than most. If you want to learn a new tongue as a native English-speaker, consider these languages first.
Psst! You should also read: The 10 Best Languages to Learn in 2019-2020
Spanish is a Romance language and the second-most spoken language in the world. While there are many dialects that differ by region and country, it is a common top choice for native English-speakers who want to become bilingual.
- How many people speak it worldwide? More than half a billion people around the world speak Spanish either natively or as a second language.
- Why is Spanish easy to learn? Spanish is easier for native English-speakers to learn than many other languages thanks to its vast presence and Latin origins. Once you learn what the accents mean, it is fairly easy to pronounce or read Spanish words.
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning Spanish: English-speakers often get stuck when learning Spanish for two common reasons: attempting to mirror English grammatical structure and failing to practice the spoken word. It’s all about the speed, y’all.
- Countries to visit that speak Spanish as a first and second language: In addition to Spain, almost all of South America speaks (or at least understands Spanish). In North America, you’ll find Central America and some of the Caribbean Islands also speak Spanish as an official language.
Also a romance language, Portuguese is widely spoken around the world and relatively easy for English-speakers to learn.
- How many people speak Portuguese worldwide? The sixth top spoken language in the world, over 215 million people speak Portuguese natively or as a second language.
- Why is Portuguese easy to learn? As a Romance language, Portuguese is similar to Spanish and has Latin roots. Many Portuguese words also have pronunciation, intonation, and nasal vowels that are similar to English.
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning Portuguese: If you are more familiar with Spanish words (even if you don’t speak it) you might find yourself accidentally pronouncing Portuguese words with a Spanish accent. This is a common mistake for Portuguese beginners.
- Countries to visit that speak Portuguese as a first and second language: In addition to small Portuguese communities around the world, Portuguese is officially spoken in Brazil and Portugal, many African countries, Macau (China), and East Timor (Southeast Asia).
Surprisingly, French is ranked #18 of the world’s most spoken languages. Nevertheless, it is widespread and in popular tourist destinations.
- How many people speak French worldwide? Over 75 million people speak French.
- Why is French easy to learn? Again, as a Romance language with Latin roots, French shares similar vocabulary with English. In fact, French is said to share the most vocabulary words with the English language.
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning French: Certain vowel pronunciations, gender usage, and verb forms can be difficult for beginners.
- Countries to visit that speak French as a first and second language: There are more than 35 countries and dependent entities where French is an official language, most of which are on the continent of Africa and Europe, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. In North America, Canada and Haiti as well as French territories in the Caribbean also speak French as an official language.
On a Romance language streak, Italian is another language that native English-speakers will find easier to learn. It is also extremely beneficial to learn if you are interested in European studies or the arts, as there is much research associated with it. Despite being the 23rd most spoken language in the world, it is the third most spoken language in Europe.
- How many people speak Italian worldwide? More than 59 million people who speak Italian around the world.
- Why is Italian easy to learn? Italian happens to have fewer verbs than some of the other Romance languages, making the learning journey a bit easier. It also shares Latin roots with English, allowing for a smooth transition (and great guessing odds).
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning Italian: Plurals! Instead of just adding an “s” at the end of a noun, you might need to change the ending altogether, depending on the word. Pronunciation, like many other languages, is also a learning curve — mispronunciation or failure to enunciate can be a common difficulty.
- Countries to visit that speak Italian as a first and second language: Italy, Switzerland, and San Marino are some of the countries that speak Italian as a first or second language. You can also find large Italian-speaking populations in Romania, France, Slovenia, Croatia, Australia, and Brazil.
Many people have no idea that Romanian is a Romance language. Because it isn't spoken as widely as the other Romance languages, English-speakers often forget to consider it when searching for “easy” languages to learn.
- How many people speak Romanian worldwide? More than 26 million people speak Romanian around the world.
- Why is it easy to learn Romanian? If you studied Latin for your SATs or similar college entry exams, you’ll find Romanian roots to be pretty darn close to Latin — much more so than other Romance languages.
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning Romanian: You may find it difficult to practice Romanian unless you are in countries that speak it as a first or second language.
- Countries to visit that speak it as a first and second language: You will notice Romanian spoken the most when visiting Romania, Republic of Moldova, Hungary, Ukraine, and Serbia.
English’s Germanic brother, the German language shares the same linguistic branch as English and is the 11th most spoken language in the world.
- How many people speak German worldwide? More than 95 million people speak German around the world.
- Why is German easy to learn? Despite the written differences, if you pronounce the words phonetically, you can hear how similar it is to English. You also won’t find as many silent letters (I see you, French).
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning German: Umlauted letters are a change for English speakers and an addition to the 26-lettered alphabet. There may also be many words that sound like English but mean something completely different.
- Countries to visit that speak German as a first and second language: You will find that there are large numbers of German-speakers throughout Europe and the Americas, including Germany, Austria, Brazil, the United States, Argentina, Canada, and more.
These are all just a few languages you can get started on as you decide on where to travel to next. Remember, learning Germanic and Romance languages are just the beginning, with Scandinavian languages also offering an easier learning process for native English-speakers.
This post was originally published in October 2017, and was updated in May 2020.