So you’re interested in learning a new language, but you don’t want to give yourself an outrageous challenge. Well, when we talk about which languages are the easiest to learn for native English speakers, all we gotta do is look at the public school system.
Generally, we Americans get one of a few foreign language options in school: Spanish, French, maybe Chinese. If you’ve ever wondered
Where you and this post are concerned, though, is how “reasonable” it is to expect apathetic teenagers to take the class seriously. Aside from Chinese (one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world), Spanish, French, and other Romance languages are the least daunting to take on for English speakers, and therefore are the easiest languages to learn.
The Romance family tree has the easiest languages for English speakers to learn
On the list of R
First, we don’t call them Romance languages because they’re Romantic (with the exception of French). We call them Romance languages because of their Roman roots. Back in the days before sliced bread was even a thought, the Romans living in the Roman empire spoke one of two different forms of Latin: Vulgar (or Common) Latin, and Classical Latin. Everyday people spoke the former, higher-ups and those in power spoke the latter.
A brief history of why Romance languages sound similar
When the famous Roman empire was at its biggest and strongest, the Romans spread themselves throughout the world, claiming the land and the people as their own (as was common in those days). Actually, keep in mind that this was at a time when the smartest scientists in the empire believed that Earth was at the center of the universe; feel free to read “throughout the world” as “throughout Western Europe”.
As the Romans trekked through foreign countries and announced that they were now going to live there and everybody else living there was also now Roman, they shifted the local European languages into Latin. This was easy enough when they infiltrated the population as a whole, forcing their way into both the neighborhood and the government and speaking Latin all the way through
By putting themselves directly in front of Europeans, they shoved their Latin right into their lives, heavily infecting the local dialects and unnaturally adding Latin vocabulary and linguistic patterns into the European languages around them, changing the Romance family tree forever.
How this was possible
Now, you might be trying to imagine something like this happening today. Well, it’s highly unlikely for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, we now have public education and dictionaries and internet warriors who will absolutely correct you if you happen to say something that’s not official English. We have entire rulebooks for languages these days, so the Romans would have to do more than just change our habits
Second of all, we have since been given the gifts of newspapers, TV, radio, music, etc., all of which constantly reiterate the correct way of speaking English. Roman empire-age Europeans didn’t get that. All they got were the people all around talking to them in very slightly changing ways. It’s not like they could just hop in a car and talk to folks who hadn’t come across Romans, ’cause guess what? Cars and planes and trains literally didn’t even exist yet, and horse-drawn carriages were only for the rich.
All that set, the Romans just had to sit in these foreign countries and speak their own language to encourage the idea that Latin was the language to speak. Have you ever known someone who used a certain word or phrase a lot, and spent enough time with them to all of a sudden just start saying it too? Think of it like that, except much more extreme because the Romans were everywhere. With these factors mixed it, it’s not hard to see how these languages could become Latin almost overnight.
So, after the Romans were given a little bit of time to prove that they were there to stay and the Europeans weren’t Europeans anymore, everybody started speaking a little more Latin. Of course, the Roman empire did eventually fall, so Europeans were allowed to speak in their languages again, but once a language (especially one without official rules) has that much of another language forced upon it, there’s no real turning back. All of a sudden, you just had a whole bunch of neighboring European dialects with a whole bunch of Latin habits.
How we came to today’s Romance languages
As time went on after this, the Europeans decided that public education was probably a good idea. The thing is, they didn’t have French, or Italian or Spanish yet, just dialects that changed from neighborhood to neighborhood. It was decided that it was probably best to use the dialects spoken by more populated, urban neighborhoods, so they used cities like Paris to be the “language”.
And just like that, dozens of languages floating around Western Europe became two or three, condensed into what we now refer to as our modern-day Romance languages. The infusion of Latin roots from the days of the Roman empire still exist in the official rulebooks, creating a nice little family tree. So, when we think about the patterns in vocabulary and whatnot in today’s Romance languages, we think about how people today still speak
So, if you think about it, the Roman empire will always exist, as long as our linguistic rules don’t change too much. And we like it the way it is now, because these little shortcuts are the reasons that make languages like Spanish some of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn.
But English isn’t a Romance language
So, the languages in the Romance family tree are what native English speakers should look at for the easiest, most entry-level languages to learn. But not once did I put English o
If you try to read some Spanish or French, chances are you recognize some words – you might even be able to get the gist of what you’re reading. So English words are like words in the Romance languages…but English is not a Romance
Why similar words aren’t always genetic
Let’s talk about how linguistics works. It’s a science. It’s a subject that’s been studied and is still studied, meticulously and in many many ways, not just in the way of “huh, these languages sound kinda similar so I guess they’re related.” Linguistic family trees are based on more than just vocabulary. If it was just about vocabulary, it would get real confusing real fast.
Even though we have our rule books and our education, vocabulary shifts and changes and morphs every day, slowly but surely. As new things are invented, so are the words used to talk about them. Words like “internet” and “download” are relatively new to
Family trees tell the story of how languages came to be how they are now. They’ve changed and shifted and morphed just like vocabulary, but they’ve done so more because of who traveled where and who conquered who; it’s based on a much larger scale that is pretty much done changing. This way we have a more concrete way to understand languages. It’s kind of done. There’s no more guesswork involved.
Why English sounds like a Romance language
So, if Romance languages are so similar because of the Romans, and English also has these patterns, but it’s not a Romance language….what? Yeah, English sounds like a Romance language, but it’s not because of Latin speakers coming to England and essentially forcing their language upon unsuspecting Brits. English sounds the same, but it’s for a different reason.
The English had the same “conquer the world and force everybody to become like us” idea as the Romans, but they executed it differently. In some ways, I guess you could say that the English weren’t as arrogant about their language (I know it sounds weird to say it that way, but this was a long time ago).
Instead of changing the world’s languages with pure, brute force, the Brits saw that these new languages had come up with some things that they hadn’t, so they went ahead and straight up stole the words that they hadn’t thought of themselves. These are the words that make genetically unrelated Romance languages the easiest to learn for English speakers.
Foreign words stolen by English
Weird, huh? In a world where Americans tend to be known for getting pissed off when foreigners don’t speak their language, it’s not like we even came up with these words ourselves! There are dozens of them that we use every day, like:
Alligator – Spanish
Barbecue – Spanish
Soda – Italian
Diva – Italian
Picnic – French
Petite – French
And this is just a tiny list of words we stole. It’s really fascinating to see how many words we only have because our British ancestors took over the world. By looking at the words we either stole or evolved from Spanish, Italian, and French, it’s not surprising at all why Romance languages would be the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
So, you might think of English as a Germanic language masquerading as a Romance language. After centuries of independent development, the English language came across neighbors that filled some gaps in communication and just kind of…took their words. And thus you have roots of words in English that also exist in the Romance languages, making Romance languages the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
Are other Germanic languages also easy?
You might think that if languages that aren’t even in the same family as English are considered some of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers, those that are actually genetically related should be even easier, right? Well, there are definite similarities, but it’s really just not the same.
Other Germanic languages, like German and Norwegian, do have some similar words, don’t get me wrong. But if you compare a page of text with Norwegian on it with a page of Spanish, the Spanish page is going to seem a lot less like gibberish. The words will feel more similar, and you’ll be more likely to figure out the grammar, too.
English words linked to German
I know what you’re thinking: “German has words like
So there you go. Maybe at first glance, German and English look nothing alike. But there’s proof in the DNA: 80 out of the 100 most common words in English are Germanic in origin. But now we know that just because the words are the same doesn’t mean the family is the same; just because you’re genetically from your parents doesn’t mean you look or sound just like them, either!
“Related” does not equal “identical”
In reality, most German looks, sounds, and feels completely different from English! German uses too many constants, their words are too long, and when you listen to it always sounds angry! Seriously, what even is German?? I’ve never heard somebody use the word gesundheit with 0% irony. At first glance, one would never think to lump German with English. But hey, it’s not the first time I’ve seen two cousins who don’t seem anything alike at first glance.
But, no matter the differences, German and English do come from the same parents: the root language Proto-germanic. This singular language was spoken for thousands of years of ancient
Romance languages are the easiest languages to learn for English speakers
So there you have it. Sometimes things are not what they seem; even if they’re not related enough to be in the same family trees, the Romance languages are undoubtedly the easiest languages for native English speakers to pick up and learn. It’s almost like we already speak a Romance language…except not officially.
When it comes to learning the language, whichever family it comes from doesn’t matter – all that matters is that we use what our native language and our second language have in common to our advantage. Ain’t that a metaphor for life?
If you want vocab, nothing is easier than the Romance languages
Especially for you newbie language learners, the vocab is the most important thing you could understand. Don’t listen to your high school teacher. I mean, grammar and pronunciation are important, don’t get me wrong, but without the words themselves, you’ll never be able to actually communicate, which is the actual point to learning a language. Fortunately, English speakers can learn Romance words with a snap of the fingers (albeit awkwardly), so half the job is already done.
And, depending on your goals, that might be all you want to do: communicate. If that’s the case, the Romance family tree is your best bet for the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. Go learn a bunch of words that sound just like, or at least similar to, the words you already know!
So, which language are you learning? Spanish? French? Are you going the not-related-but-look-just-the-same route, or are you going to jump right into a new alphabet? Let me know in the comments below!