If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re a native English speaker. If you also happen to be an American, English is probably the only language you’re able to speak fluently as only one in four Americans are bilingual. If you’re sick of being a statistic representing the xenophobic nature Americans are sometimes associated with, there’s good news: Learning a second language doesn’t have to be as daunting as you think (given you choose the right one to study). Languages are separated into four categories based on learning difficulty. Let’s take a look at each category and find the easiest languages to pick up.
Category I – French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish
Since Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States, it’s a great place to start. According to the Defense Language Institute (DLI), you should expect to spend about 26 weeks or 600 class hours to become fluent in Spanish. Wouldn’t it be nice to grow your Spanish vocabulary bigger than the Taco Bell Menu? Of course it would! Category I languages like Spanish are easiest for native English speakers because they are the most typologically similar to it. The alphabet is mostly the same and the grammar is also similar. Basically, there’s no longer an excuse for Yo quiero Taco Bell to be the longest phrase you can string together in Spanish.
Sprechen sie deutsche? If not, don’t worry. German finds itself in Category II, where an estimated 34 weeks or 850 class hours are needed for fluency. While these languages have significantly more cultural and linguistic differences from English, the alphabet is still Roman-based so there’s no need to start memorizing a new one. You’re also somewhat more likely to find someone in the United States speaking German than the language of the fourth most populated country on Earth, Indonesia.
Category III – Dari/Persian Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian, Serbian/Croatian, Thai, Uzbek and Urdu
If your only goal is learning another language, Category III is not the best place to start. At an estimated 48 weeks or 1,100 class hours, you’re definitely in for some hard work. For starters, you’ll need to learn a new alphabet. After that, you’re face to face with cultural differences that can make your head spin. Unless you’re planning to move to a country where these languages are spoken, it might be best to stick with something a little simpler.
Category IV – Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean
If you’re considering starting in Category IV, you’re either obsessed with the culture or you’re a masochist. Expect to spend around 88 weeks or 2,200 class hours with your second year spent studying in-country. In addition to all of the challenges present in Category III, here you’ll find yourself struggling with strange intonation and a completely different writing system as well.
The world is full of languages, just waiting to be studied- which one would you like to learn?