‘Easy’ is in the eyes of the beholder

People often ask me what the easiest language in the world is to learn, or at least what the easiest language was to learn for me. I’m not really certain how to answer that question, but I’ll give it a shot in kind of a choose your own answer format.

The easiest language to learn is the one you want to learn. Motivation is a crucial factor. If you don’t want to learn Japanese, you’re pretty much doomed to failure, plain and simple. Now, you can have different kinds of motivation: if you have career aspirations that require you to learn a foreign language such as Chinese, you can use that to drive you, but only to a point I think. I’ve seen in time and time again with fellow students in my own language classes and also among students I’ve taught. Where there’s no will, there’s no way.

The easiest language to learn is one whose native speakers are good facilitators. There’s so much to be said here, but I’ll keep it simple. If the people who speak the language don’t know how to communicate with and/or ‘teach’ non-native speakers how to communicate in their language, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Of course, it could be well worth it. In this category, I’d put French and Korean, each for different reasons. French is tough because its native speakers, whether from France, Canada or anywhere else, are proud of their language and proud of their frenchness. I’d say in the case of la belle langue it makes it a few notches more difficult than, say, Spanish or Portuguese. Korean is an entirely different ballpark. Like the French, Koreans are proud of their language, and even more-so, they connect it with their identity. It’s almost like you have to be part of the in-group to actually speak the language. The threshold of acceptance as a Korean speaker is very high. Also, as a language virtually unspoken by non-native speakers, Koreans aren’t accustomed to the idea of accents – indeed those from the capital city scoff at the regional accents quite often. That said, it’s an amazing challenge and when you reach a point where people are truly impressed by your ability to speak the language, and appreciative of your efforts to understand their culture, you can’t help but feel good about it.

The easiest language to learn is one similar to your own. If a foreign language shares something in common with your mother tongue it makes the job much more manageable. Any aspect will help. A similar phonetic system makes getting your tongue and ears around the new language remarkably easy – and means native speakers will more readily understand your efforts to communicate which can be encouraging in itself. Similar syntax makes it much easier on brain – of course, so does a language with a “simpler” syntax. I’ll get into that in another post. Finally, cognates (similar sounding words) can help, but on the other hand where there are many cognates, there are also plenty of false cognates. Any English speaker who ever asked for meat with “no preservatives” in French can attest to that.

The simple answer is there’s no simple answer to this question, but some combination of motivation to learn, acceptance of “new speakers” by the community that speaks the language and similarity to your own native tongue will all work together to make learning a language easier. My two cents, in a nutshell.

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Posted on November 29, 2011, in Learning. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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