Whether you want to study abroad, volunteer, or just take a gap year, your time spent overseas 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.
Read more: The 10 Best Languages to Learn in 2021
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.
Read more: The 7 Best Places to Learn Spanish Abroad
Explore Spanish Language Schools Abroadseparator_solid
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).
Read more: The 6 Best Places to Learn Portuguese Abroad
Surprisingly, French isn't even ranked in the top ten 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.
Explore French Language Schools Abroadseparator_solid
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 not registering among the top spoken native languages in the world, it is the third most spoken language in Europe.
- How many people speak Italian worldwide? More than 59 million people 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.
Explore Italian Language Schools Abroadseparator_solid
Dutch is a Germanic language closely related to English and German. Its dialects, Afrikaans (South Africa), Flemish (Belgium), and Frisian (Friesland) are mutually intelligible amongst speakers, widening the reach of where you can use it.
- How many people speak Dutch worldwide? There are around 23 million native Dutch speakers globally with around 5 million in the EU who speak it as a second or additional language.
- Why is Dutch easy to learn? If verb conjugations are the bane of your language learning existence, Dutch will make you happy. For example, there are only two conjugations for past tense verbs. Spanish has up to six (if you include vosotros)!
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning Dutch: Dutch uses two articles, het and de, so learners will need to memorize when to use them. The rules aren't always cut and dried.
- Countries to visit that speak Dutch as a first and second language: Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands, Suriname, the Flanders region of Belgium (where it's called Flemish), and is an official language of Aruba, Sint Maarten, and Curaçao. Dutch can also be understood by Afrikaans speakers in South Africa.
Explore Dutch Language Schools Abroadseparator_solid
Norwegian sounds complicated but it's actually one of the easiest languages for English speakers. Many English words come from Old Norse and quite a few modern Norwegian words are similar or the same in English.
If Norwegian seems like a language that wouldn't be very useful outside of Norway, you may be surprised to learn it's considered the link between Swedish and Danish. Norwegians speakers can better understand those two languages making travel easier across the Scandinavian countries.
- How many people speak Norwegian worldwide? There are 5.3 million native Norwegians speakers in the world.
- Why is Norwegian easy to learn? Norwegian shares a similar vocabulary to English. Probably most appealing though is the verb conjugations -- there's a single conjugation for all the pronouns! And you thought English was easy!
- Difficulties to watch out for when learning Norwegian: Special characters and occasionally tricky pronunciation can throw English speakers a curveball while learning Norwegian.
- Countries to visit that speak Norwegian as a first and second language: It's no surprise that Norwegian is spoken in Norway. But did you know that Norwegian is the language link to understanding Swedish and Danish? This means you'll understand and be able to reasonably communicate with native speakers in those countries.
Explore Norwegian Language Schools Abroad
Start Your Language Learning Journey With Ease
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 August 2021.