easiest second language for Anglophones to pick up?

Say that I wanted to stop living the stereotype of the unilingual American, vaguely bemused by all those foreigners with their umlauts and gendered nouns. However, say I wanted to absolutely miminize my expenditure of effort, because I’m lazy. What language should I pick?

Perhaps Afrikaans? Of course Dutch and English are fairly closely related, and Afrikaans has some simplification compared to Dutch, that may make it easier to learn - in particular the absence of grammatical gender.

Of course, unless you’re planning to visit South Africa it’s not a particularly useful language for you to learn.

I’ve heard that the closest language to English is German, so I’d start there.

For the most part, I had a pretty easy time with German. Once you learn the pronunciation of each of the letter combinations, words are pronounced exactly as they’re written. Enough words sound (or look) like their English descendants that I picked up a lot of vocabulary rather quickly. Sentence structure and verb conjugation follow some pretty basic (usually) rules.

The downsides are gendered nouns (that don’t always make intuitive sense), and many more noun cases (or, at least, word forms for these cases) than in English. Plus, some people simply can’t wrap their mouths around some of the non-English sounds.

I’ve wondered about Dutch, myself. I don’t have a lot of exposure to it, but the little bit I’ve tried to pick up made me think it might be a tad simpler than German. I could be completely wrong, though.

German is perhaps the closest really major language. However Dutch is a bit closer – though it’s only useful in the Netherlands and northern Belgium.

On the other hand, though they are less closely related, English speakers should find the major Romance languages about as easy as German: for example French, Italian and Spanish. The reason is that there are some complexities of word order in German that seem strange to an English speaker, and the vocabulary is a bit more different from English, since English borrowed extensively from French and Latin.

From my experience, I think Italian and Spanish are easier to learn, partly because the grammar is more like that of English, and the pronunciation is easier than French. Of those, Spanish is much more useful, especially in the Western Hemisphere.

I took German in High school and college. It wasn’t too bad. There are enough similarities that a general Tarzan level of communication comes pretty easy. On the other hand the similarities can be misleading as your brain leads to assumptions.

In America? Spanish is easiest. Because you have many opportunities to encounter it. That’s what makes learning a language easy: having to use it.

Though I can’t speak it and don’t understand sentence structure, I’ve found Italian incredibly easy to pronounce. There are only 5 vowel sounds, and each vowel has only one pronunciation. It’s a great language for opera.

French, on the other hand…

It depends on what makes a language easy for you. I found the vocabulary and structure of German so English-like that I was happy to tolerate the oft-lamented challenges of pronunciation, gender, and case. I haven’t studied any other Germanic languages but superficially it looks like I could say the same for them all. OTOH, as an American I found that just via immersion I was partially versed in Spanish before I walked into the door of the class, and with the straightforward pronunciation and grammar, things only got easier from there. So you might find Spanish easy in that way.

What I wouldn’t suggest is anything that has a different, complex writing system… though the languages themselves are often plenty easy, every self-study session means fighting your way through an unfamiliar written representation to get to the meaning (Japanese being one famous example of this).

You know what language really rocks, IMO? Portuguese. It’s something not everyone studies, but it’s still useful because (1) Brazil is a huge country and economic power, and (2) Portuguese comprehension still gets you pretty close to Spanish comprehension, whereas the reverse isn’t as true (imo).

May I suggest Japanese? Pronunciation is simple and always the same, no plurals, and sentence structure not that difficult, once you get it.

This, of course, most definitely is based on the fact that you have no interest in reading or writing, just speaking!

Si, Amigo.

Having studied French, Spanish, German, and Mandarin, I’d say Spanish was the easiest. Aside from the “rolled R”, it doesn’t really have any sounds you don’t already make (and you can muff the R and still be understood perfectly), and the pronunciation of the written form is extremely straightforward. And as **Marienee **said, you’ll have more opportunities to see/hear/use it here in the US than any other language.

Just some minor complications, like politeness levels affecting which verb form you use, and different male and female usages in particles and pronouns. But the native speakers will probably forgive an ignorant foreigner getting stuff like that wrong.

If you’re interested in something off the beaten path, Indonesian should be pretty easy for Westerner to get started in. It uses the Latin script, the pronunciation is straightforward (it sounds remarkably similar to Spanish), and the grammar doesn’t use any inflections at all, so you don’t need to worry about gender, cases, etc.

I can state from personal experience that Esperanto is easier than either French or German. Not sure aboput Japanese–I didn’t get very far with it before work took me away. :slight_smile:

Yes, from what I know of it, Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Melayu is an easy language, because it was intended to be a lingua franca. The main problem for an English speaker is a new vocabulary with few words cognate to English words. And it’s useful in several countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia. That’s why it’s one of the languages taught in Australian schools.

I probably should have mentioned: I also studied Japanese for a short time in college, but quit. The problem wasn’t the difficulty of the language itself, but the pace of the class. It was supposed to be an intro-level class, but I was the only true beginner; everyone else had either studied it in high school, spoke it at home, lived in Japan, etc.

That said, there is quite a bit to learn. Aside from the stuff already mentioned, word order and grammar are significantly different from English (or Spanish), and if you intend to learn the writing, there are almost 100 characters in the katakana/hiragana, plus a couple thousand kanji. And of course, no cognates as in Germanic or Romance languages.

And I can’t believe I didn’t mention this before, but what about American Sign Language? I can’t vouch for it personally, but a number of people have told me it’s really easy to pick up, and I know the structure and grammar are pretty uncomplicated.

My own guess is that Spanish would be the easiest to pick up. It has fewer complications than German and a lot of familiar vocabulary, both via the Romance influence in English and because, well, Spanish is just all around us as in America. You have plenty of opportunities to hear and see it in action, both in media and real-life interaction.

There’s really two questions here: Which languages are the most closely related to English, and Practically, which language can I learn?

The first one is the easy one to answer. English is a Germanic language, and it’s closest major cousins are Dutch, Afrikaans, the various German dialects, and the Scandinavian languages. Frisian and Scots (not Scots Gaelic) are actually closer to English than any of these, but relatively obscure, and learning them will provide little practical benefit unless you live in a Frisian or Scots-speaking area, or have a really niche job.

To elaborate on the second question, what you need to know is which language will provide ample study materials, classes, native speakers to practice on, and other practical matters that will enable you to learn the language to fluency or at least be able to order in a restaurant in your L2 with confidence. This question is the more difficult, because there’s any number of factors affecting it. If you want to learn a language to put on your resume and get a job, then practically, if you’re an American, Spanish is your best bet. Any reasonably-sized college or university will have classes in Spanish, French, and German at least, followed by in no particular order, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic.

You may want to study a language, let’s pick Slovak at random, because your ancestors were Slovaks. The problem you’re going to run into is there’s significantly fewer classes for Slovak than say, Russian, and consequently fewer books on learning the language, study materials, etc. Depending on where you live, you may find native Slovak speakers to talk to in short supply, whereas almost anywhere in the USA you can scare up a Spanish speaker to practice on. I mentioned Frisian and Scots earlier, two languages that are possibly English’s closest living relatives, but actually finding a class or study materials to learn either of them is going to be difficult. Not impossible, by any means, but difficult, and the pay-off is going to be fairly low.

There’s no way for me or anyone else to know what factors will impact your language learning. What I would suggest is for you to look at what options are available around you for language learning, and then consider which language appeals to you. As a first-time language learner and monolingual Anglophone, I would strongly recommend you choose a language that:

A) Is Indo-European (non-IE languages like Japanese or Chinese are probably better saved for L3, right now we’re getting your brain into L2 mode)
B) Is written in the Roman script (learning Russian will mean you’ll be learning a new script along with new vocabulary, grammar, etc.)
C) Is interesting to you in some way (Love French literature? Crank up the Spanish language music on your radio? It’ll provide extra incentive)

I absolutely would not recommend Japanese to a native English speaker who was looking for a second language that would be easy to learn. Japanese is one of the more difficult languages for the average English speaker to pick up. (I believe it’s classed in either the most or second-most difficult category by the US Foreign Service Institute.) Any of the major Romance or Germanic languages would be easier for the average American to learn.