Language Learning, easy vs difficult

The Easiest Language to Learn (for Native English Speakers)

Again, the ideas about language learning cross from the academic to the popular. The author starts his musings by saying “I’m not a linguistics expert at all. Just interested in the subject.” This is a convenient way to avoid any serious study of the subject.

Several studies about language-learning have been done, and the most important factor in all of them is aptitude, not the language being studied. There is no “easy” language for anyone, nor is there a particular one for speakers of any specific language. There are arguments for and against language-learning being based aptitude, but if the language being learned is Arabic, or Japanese, then what explains an English speaker being able to learn those languages other than aptitude?

The article also says “This list doesn’t include creoles, pidgins…” but then lists Lingua Franca Nova, which has been outright stated to be based on romance language creoles.

The number of lists for “language by difficulty” are numerous and mostly homogenous. What stands out is the lack of awareness that these actually discourage people from attempting to learn. Also, there could well be a political-boogey-man aspect considering that Chinese, Arabic, and Korean are each languages spoken by financial and military foes of the Western World at large.

There have been discussions in various realms of the web that one possible reason for the usual suspects being thought of as “difficult” may be that they employ wildly different forms of writing, specifically Chinese Hanzi, Korean Hangul, etc. This seems suspect as many of the “mid-tier” languages also employ abugidas and horrifically complex spelling (think Czech, Albanian), or the very same writing systems as the most difficult languages, for example Persian, Hindi, Thai, etc.

It is still widely understood that the best way to learn a language may in fact be to immerse oneself in that culture, with native speakers. Short of that, it takes dedication, a disciplined study routine, and knowledge beyond what a smart phone app can give you…say a few books on grammar.

No language is any more difficult (or easy) to learn than any other. This article does nothing to help that understanding, but is harmless enough.


2 thoughts on “Language Learning, easy vs difficult

  1. Strange post! Without a doubt, a language that is a) similar to one’s own, b) has a phonemic spelling, and c) a regular grammar, of course is easier to learn as a second language. A knack for language learning, persistent effort, and immersion are, naturally, also important. That doesn’t negate the fact that, for any particular person, some languages will be easier than others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Strange? As strange as a Turk learning German?

      What languages are similar to one another is a somewhat non-scientific, or non-linguistic, way of speaking subjectively. Are Hebrew and Arabic similar? Sure, they’re both Semitic, but the Modern Hebrew spoken in Israel has a hodgepodge of sounds and words that simply were not present in Classical Hebrew, making it fairly removed from its similarity to Arabic (especially MSA). English, being a Germanic language, is not as similar to LFN as one might think (or hope), and certainly, Modern English has some creole-like features, but is nothing like a creole, grammatically speaking.

      As for “phonemic spelling”…that too, is debatable. The LFN grammar page explicitly states: “The vowel sounds allow a degree of variation.” This means that the spelling may be highly regular, but is not an example of “one-to-one correspondence”.

      The regular grammar may be the one feature that makes LFN easy to learn, but to suggest that because one is an English speaker, LFN will be inherently easier to learn is to dismiss factors such as aptitude. The generalization is false on its face. The rest of your comment essentially supports my case that language learning has more to do with the individual than the language.

      LFN is a lovely language. One that I am proud to know of and be capable of using. However, no language is “easy” or “hard” to learn. Each one presents its own challenges and quirks. Just as we must guard against sweeping statements about people, we must guard against generalizations about intellectual pursuits.


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