So we’re talking about learning a language? Well, I’m a Brit…. ‘Nuf said. Languages just aren’t our forté. Or… we just know that we don’t need to learn another language really, as the rest of the world does so well learning ours.
It’s a shame, in so many senses of the word. Learning a new language is so enriching, as it’s impossible not to learn a bit of the other country’s culture at the same time, and in a world as accessible as ours is these days we all travel and should get to experience more than “Egg and Chips, please” in Magaluf. AND (I use capitals as I can hear myself saying this loudly as I type) if we didn’t need another excuse, learning a new language is good for our brains (helps stave off dementia or Alzheimer’s), good for our wallet (better jobs are out there for multiple language speakers), and good for our ego (who doesn’t want to be the one to be able to chat to the cute barman/maid on holiday?).
But enough of the tirade. Maybe we need a bit of encouragement instead of the usual scold and lecture. For us lucky English language speakers there are short cuts we can use when it comes to learning, which make it easier in the long run to pick up a few words of the foreign language. Firstly, the English language is closely related to many Germanic and Romance dialects, so when it comes to language study we aren’t really starting from scratch, English being a hybrid of the two. And secondly, there are millions (and I mean, literally, millions) of teaching aids for us to learn a language- despite our reluctance to do it, language learning has been researched and written about ad nauseam. So you don’t need to try too hard to be able to learn a few snippets of whichever language takes your fancy. And which one might that be?
Interestingly, according to a study by the Telegraph newspaper last month, Afrikaans is the easiest for us to learn- due to the similarities in vocabulary and the simplistic grammar. It’s a West Germanic language spoken in South Africa, Namibia and, to a lesser extent, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Oooh, goody, I’ll learn this one then- although the likelihood of my visiting these countries is slim, and the chances that I’ll meet someone who doesn’t also speak English are even slimmer.
So what’s next? Well, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are all unsurprisingly in the top 10, in that order. And they’re generally the favourites for us to learn too- seeing as how they are our neighbours and the most visited destinations too. French, while hard to pronounce, has a great number of familiar words, due to the French invasion back in William the Conqueror’s days (1066 and all that). And Spanish is easy to read and write, as you ‘say what you see, write what you hear’.
Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish and Frisian are also unlikely members of the top-10 club. Dutch has been named the bastard son of English and German, and is both structurally and syntactically familiar for English speakers. In terms of pronunciation and vocabulary, it parallels English in many ways, making it relatively easy to understand. Frisian is also a language from the Netherlands, and has many similarities with English. However, it being spoken by fewer than half a million people makes it rather less interesting as a choice to master.
Norwegian and Swedish are interesting ones: Norwegian (here I’m talking about bokmål, the most often-used variety of Norwegian) is a language spoken by about 5 million people in Norway, and is extremely similar to the languages Swedish and Danish. Its written form is more similar to Danish, but in pronunciation it’s more similar to Swedish than Danish. (You might have an easier time reading Danish but Swedish is easier to listen to). The three languages are so similar that they are often regarded as a dialect continuum, that is, if in stead of being divided into three countries, Scandinavia was just one big one (I mean the part that is Sweden, Norway and Denmark), there would probably only exist regional dialects, not thought of as separate languages.
But whether you chose an ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ language to learn, motivate yourself with a goal (a holiday in said country, for example), and go for it!!
And which is the remaining language on the list? Esperanto!! Oh, don’t get me started!!