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A Map Showing How Much Time It Takes English-Speakers to Learn Foreign Languages (openculture.com)
508 points by Thevet on Dec 1, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 436 comments



These language categorizations are famous and have been around since the 50's - not sure what the colored map really adds. When looking at the suggested number of hours, keep in mind that these measurements are for:

* a Foreign Service Officer (read: elite, meritocratically-selected diplomat, usually with a background in humanities, who is probably in command of another foreign language already).

* 5 hours/day of continuous study, with classroom instruction at the FSI's internal language school (which is considered the gold standard in language education). Don't expect the same results from self-study with a textbook and some subtitled movies.

* Reaching a B2-C1 level of proficiency. That's certainly conversational, but far from fluent. Consider that for Russian, the passive vocabulary of someone with a C2 proficiency is about twice that of someone with a C1.

I would never want to discourage someone from learning a foreign language, but the notion that one could reach professional proficiency in French within ~6 months is unrealistic for 99% of learners. Even if you lived there and devoted your entire days to study, it would be difficult to ramp up that quickly.


Your personal difficulty with a language will also obviously drastically shift once you've picked up another language.

E.g. I've never learnt Dutch, but I can read it passably because of my combination of Norwegian, German and English. While getting to proficiency written and oral would take some work I'd certainly be far easier than starting from the base of a single language.

Same with e.g. Spanish or Italian because of the bits I remember of French from school..


There is good evidence that learning a bit of Esperanto saves time learning other European languages (even if you add the time spent on Esperanto)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaedeutic_value_of_Esperant...


Yep, I'll agree with this. I studied Latin for about 8 years at school and enjoyed it, even though at the time I had thought it pretty useless.

15 years later I moved to Spain for a while and was amazed at how naturally everything came together. Within a very short time, I was able to make sense of written Spanish.

Conversationally, not so much but I'm sure the Latin helped.


Likewise, I have never learned Spanish, but when I saw a Zika-related public service advert on the NY subway when visiting the USA, I could read it easily. (Native English, plus Duolingo German and Esperanto which I estimate as A2 and A1 respectively)


> Zika-related public service advert on the NY subway

Virus is advertising itself as public service on the NY subway?!

Wow!


My Latin teacher often reminded us that ”Spanish is just lazy Latin“.


That's a common statement but somewhat inaccurate, as it omits the fact that what most of us think of as Spanish is Castillian, which has a heavy influence from Arabic languages.


Spanish native speaker here. The influence from Arabic is mostly in vocabulary, about 10% of our words have Arabic roots. However, Arabic had negligible influence in structure and grammar. Spanish is your standard Latin derived language.


As a fluent Spanish speaker, I won't go that far, but now that I am learning Latin, I am amazed how easy it seems. As an aside, I can understand ~80% of spoken Portuguese and maybe ~50% of Italian.


I'm Dutch. In school I had to learn English, German, French, Latin and (old) Greec. I dropped all languages except English as soon as I could. I learnt one thing: I'm good in grammar. So I really understood French sentence structure early on. Looking back I was just an scared kid afraid of making stupid mistakes. Otherwise I could have enjoy it a lot more. Anyway, it gave me a base in English, German and French, and I got some understanding of Latin and Greec language structure, useful for Spanish.

When going to university, I had to learn English because all my books were in English, and I started to like speaking foreign languages because of my holidays abroad, including French and German. I even learnt basic Spanish.

Right now I can say my English is good, and I can live and work in English if I had to. Most of what I write and read is inEnglish, probably more than Dutch. I could learn to speak and understand French and German, but reading is much more difficult, and writing would be a big problem I think.


* Greek

* all the languages

* I’m good at grammar

* a scared kid

* could have enjoyed it

* more than in Dutch


In my experience, the difficulty to sort-of understand written foreign language is _nothing_ compared to learning to understand spoken language.


It depends. Generally, you'll find spoken Chinese is easier than written Chinese. Chinese grammar is actually quite simple, and it's one of the most "analytical" languages, which make it easier to learn than languages that have extensive morphology. The Chinese script, on the other hand, is difficult.

So, a big difference comes from alphabet. I would guess you'd learn reading and writing Bahasa Indonesia faster than Thai, because the former is written using Latin alphabet, and for Thai you'd need to learn a new script.

Russian is related to English while Finnish or Hungarian is not; most English-speaking people still find it easier to survive in Finland or Hungary, because the writing uses familiar letters (even if the alphabet is expanded with new letters made with adding dots and other marks to existing glyphs).


Learning to read Russian is extremely easy compared to Chinese even if in both cases they use a non-Latin script.


Yes of course. Still, the initial sight of Cyrillic alphabet scares off many people.


> Still, the initial sight of Cyrillic alphabet scares off many people.

The only rational explanation I can find for this is cold war propaganda. ;-)

Seriously: About a third of the letters are almost identical to their Latin counterparts. If you study some kind of science you already know the Greek alphabet, to which another third of the Cyrillic alphabet is almost identical. After this the last third is not hard anymore. :-)

Seriously: In Germany they say learning the Cyrillic alphabet is something any slightly intelligent person can do in one afternoon (and I hope I could indeed show this to be true). Unluckily the rest of the Russian language is much harder to learn.


I don't see propaganda as much of a reason, it's simply that it looks sufficiently different.

But of course you are right that the alphabet is not so difficult in the end. Different people have different learning capabilities, but that "one afternoon" for the alphabet is not unreasonable. Correct pronunciation of the many variants of s (с, ж, з, ц, ч, ш, щ) will take much longer. I have never actually studied Russian, but can quite often understand newspaper headlines just by knowing the alphabet, and several Indo-European languages and Finnish, which has some common vocabulary.


Yep. My native language is Polish but I am fluent in English and intermediate in German - I can understand most of written Spanish/French and a lot from Nordic languages. Slavic languages are so similar that I can (with some effort) understand Russian/Czech/Slovakian. While learning another language at this point would certainly be a lot of effort, it would certainly be a lot easier than starting from scratch, especially if the language was Latin/Germanic/Slavic in origin.


This is interesting. I'm native Russian speaker and outside of catching a few similar words here and there I think Polish sounds absolutely foreign to me. I think just about the only language that I can understand with some effort is Ukrainian.


Belorussian? IIRC Belorussian and Russian are the two most closely related languages that are treated as separate languages and not dialects.


Closer than Czech vs Slovak? I think around 90% of Czech people understand 99% of what Slovaks say ... It's difficult to measure in opposite direction as its customary to watch Cz TV channels for Slovaks (at least from what I've seen / heard)


I have heard Norwegian and Danish being described as such


Modern Norwegian is a mix of Danish and dialects from the Norwegian countryside that has then been put through several rounds of reforms intended to bring them closer, which has to some extent made Norwegian more different to Danish, but yes, they're extremely similar. Even more so if you use conservative spellings of Norwegian. 50's or 60's newspaper articles from one of the conservative newspapers for example, might easily get confused with Danish by modern Norwegian speakers (but still be easily understandable).


I hear this sentiment from Europeans often, and I’m sure it’s true. But obviously the languages you’re talking about have a lot more in common with each other than they do with say, Chinese or any other “eastern” language.


Well, yes, it obviously won't work for any random pair of languages. E.g. even in the European languages, you have "famous" exceptions like the very isolated Finno-Ugric language group (in Europe represented by Finnish, Sami, Estonian and Hungarian) that have pretty much nothing in common with the rest.


Reading passably and being able to converse are worlds apart. Knowing English and some Romance language would get you very close to being able to read at least simple texts in many other Romance languages (not there, but pretty close to there), knowing one Slavic language would get you close to being able to read simple texts on many of them, etc. But understanding conversation and even more being able to participate in one is very far from that.

Knowing Russian, when I was in Bulgaria, I could read signs and even technical books with decent understanding, despite never studying the language. Conversation was completely out of the question.


It's not that easy, as a native french speaking person, I have close to 0 understanding of Italian and Spanish. I also learned Dutch and English and those two are much closer.


I think you underestimate the similarities with Italian and Spanish, and overestimate the similarities of Dutch and English because it's easier to notice similarities when you're looking at two foreign languages where it's the similarities that will stand out, than when looking "closer to home" where the differences tends to stand out.

Though Dutch and English are really quite similar, they're not all that much closer related than e.g. French and Spanish.

During my French-lessons, my French teacher often used Spanish (which none of us knew) as a means of explaining French vocabulary for us by means of demonstrating the transitions in sounds from the latin origins of both, and the same works between French and Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, as well as with many languages further removed from latin that still has plenty of loan words. The same also does work between English and French because of the number of French and latin words in English, but much less so between the other Germanic languages and French.

E.g. try to go to www.repubblica.it (a random Italian paper) and cut and paste a paragraph or two into Google translate with French as the target, and look at how many words are similar. Then try to change the target to e.g. Dutch or German, and you'll see far fewer similarities. Switch to English and you'll tend to find something a bit in the middle.

It does vary a lot - more formal texts tend to be more similar. I can pretty much straight up read very formal Italian by picking up context, based on French + knowing a handful of other Italian words, but I'd certainly find it much harder to read casual comments.


French is really different from Italian, Spanish and Portugese. Or even Romanian. If you know Spanish you kind of get the idea of what people write in the other four languages.

But I think you get a lot of English during your life if you live in Europe which makes it easier for you to pick it up. There are still more Latin derived words in English than French derived, Spanifying English words is not a bad strategy if you're learning to speak Spanish and you have a feel for Latin sounding words in English.

Dutch? Perhaps if you're Belgian? Not so much overlap with French even though there are influences.


> French is really different from Italian...

It's just because of their funny pronunciation :-)

I was born and raised Italian, and got French nationality as an adult. I was able to read French well before I could understand it.


this depends whether languages have same 'base', ie latin ones (french, spanish, italian) - people can learn easily another one once they know any of that group. it wouldn't help with German, Slovakian or Chinese though.


> Reaching a B2-C1 level of proficiency. That's certainly conversational, but far from fluent. Consider that for Russian, the passive vocabulary of someone with a C2 proficiency is about twice that of someone with a C1.

C1 is good enough for a first-year undergraduate student to be admitted into some of the most competitive universities in the world. (Graduate students, notoriously, can get admitted with less.) Even my French DELF B2 exam certificate would be enough for most French universities, though my first year would have been miserable.

To give you a more concrete example, my DELF B2 oral exam required me to draw a presentation topic from a bowl. My topic was "Should Paris institute congestion charges to improve traffic in the city?" I was given ~20 minutes to prepare, with no dictionary and no other resources.

I then had to give a 10-minute presentation, with no outline allowed, presenting my opinion and defending it. Afterwards, the examiners spent another 10 minutes asking me questions like, "Yes, your plan would be good for the environment. But wouldn't it hurt the poor?"

Obviously, neither my presentation nor my responses were brilliant at B2, but I could do it. (And yes, the DELF B2 may be harder than some other B2 exams.)

I think that worrying about "near-native fluency" is a waste of time for most language learners. Nearly everybody would be better served by trying to reach a level where they can socialize agreeably and work professionally. The very highest levels of proficiency normally require years of immersion at school or work. But if all you want to do is hang out with friends, or sign up for a gym, or get a job, or read books for fun, C1 is great. It's just a matter of putting in the hours.


> I think that worrying about acheiving "near-native fluency" is a waste of time for most language learners.

Learning a language can be about much more than mere pragmatic considerations like "Will I be able to get my point across to my peers.". Language also is about culture and aesthetics.

So, while native proficiency might be a waste of time if you simply want to use a language as a communication tool it becomes a worthwhile endeavour if you see a foreign language as something that in a broader sense helps you to grow as a person.

Most non-native speakers probably will never reach that level of proficiency but to quote a French philosopher: "La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un coeur d'homme." ("The struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart.")


> So, while native proficiency might be a waste of time if you simply want to use a language as a communication tool it becomes a worthwhile endeavour if you see a foreign language as something that in a broader sense helps you to grow as a person.

If a language is your only tool for communicating with other human beings, then it's worth almost any investment. Especially if you're ambitious and educated and eager to fit in.

And of course, part of the reason that educated native speakers are so impressive is exactly that: they might have 17 years of schooling, 100 million words of reading, 25,000 hours of socializing, and so on.

In comparison, a C1 student might have 1,500 hours total. It's more than enough to function quite adequately, but it's not even in the same league as an educated native.

If you learn a language to help you "grow as a person", then there will often come a point where the price is just too high to go further. I've spoken French for 6 years at home and read millions of words for fun. And it's hard for me to justify the price of further improvement. (So I'm having fun with Spanish instead, where 300 hours should be enough to carry on basic conversations.)


The coloured map adds a coloured map. Maps are interesting.


It's not even the entire map of the languages listed in the article. It's a small subset of the languages with an unintuitive coloring scheme.


Allow me to suggest a few possible courses of action you might take:

1) Make a better one. 50 years in isn't too late and the data is there. 2) Introduce a modicum of specificity into your critique.

I understood it to show a small subset of languages primarily in Europe, clearly marked by contrasting colours. You clearly disagree that this is valid, and you may be right, but saying ~"this map isn't another map" and ~"this map sucks" doesn't add anything to the conversation.


1) Do you tell movie critics or book reviewers to direct/write a better one for pointing out some obvious flaws?

2) The original comment wasn't even posted by me. I never said the map sucks but did specifically point out a few things.


1) It depends. If the author indicated a specific goal and didn't reach it because they didn't go into more detail in one area, then I'd say something along the lines of "I got the sense that the author's goal was to try and convey x, but didn't seem to fully reach it. More time was spent on y, which could have allowed her to flesh out more detail in the backstory of x". Otherwise, if it were their goal to discuss the geo-political exchange of Greenland between Scandinavian countries, I probably wouldn't remark on the exclusion of India from the discussion as a detractor from the quality of the literature. If the latter is the approach a book or movie reviewer took, I'd critically evaluate their review. Not that the remark wouldn't have value, but it would have much more value in an addendum, feature request, or new creation.

See John Siracusa's OSX reviews for Ars - https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2011/07/mac-os-x-10-7/

1a) My problem is not pointing out flaws — if they were truly obvious, they wouldn't need to be pointed out —, but in the potential value derived from the critique. The exercise in explaining how something could be done better increases the robusticity of the answer. For example, you could say "the colour scheme is unintuitive" or "the colour scheme might be difficult to process for red-green colour-blind people. It might be better to do x". Especially if you consider a subject that is obvious to you but not someone else, more detail would help.

2) I'm not trying to personally attack you, would likely agree with your sentiment, and didn't suggest that you literally said the map sucks. Simply that saying something has a subjective trait, when communicated as objective, doesn't produce much value in my opinion.


> 1) Don't expect the same results from self-study with a textbook and some subtitled movies.

> 2) Even if you lived there and devoted your entire days to study, it would be difficult to ramp up that quickly.

These are 2 wildly different scenarios. If you stay with a family, immerse yourself and go to class every day you would have an advantage over an FSO officer.

As to not being professionally fluent in that time, that is definitely true. But you should reach a level where you can be independent enough to get around, speak and understand.


You can do that in a single-digit number of weeks if you're willing to never back down. Never fall back to a different language.

It's a pain for yourself and the people you speak to. You'll have to apologise often. But the locals don't really mind, they approve of your goal.


I wouldn't say they don't mind. People approve of the goal of you learning their language in the abstract, but if you're slowing down their day or worse their line of customers, you're just going to annoy everyone around you in a way that they will be too polite to make explicitly clear, but will be apparent from their tone of voice, their insistence on answering in English and so on.

The real difficulty of learning a language is thus in my view nothing to do with the language itself, but rather, how good at English the speakers of that language tend to be. If you're in a part of the world where they speak an obscure language and thus all learn English from childhood, the chances of you ever getting fluent are close to zero. Nobody really cares enough to struggle through with you.


> they will be too polite to make explicitly clear

Hah, in Denmark this does not apply. If you start in a few words of Danish and then it becomes clear you can't really converse in Danish, (some) people will directly complain that you wasted their time and ask why you didn't just speak English, since everyone can speak it and you obviously can't actually speak Danish. While in other countries it's different, e.g. in France many people prefer if you attempt to start in French even if you can't really speak it, instead of directly launching into English.


This has been my experience as well. Some places they're thrilled at any attempt to speak their languages, other places they find it annoying if they know you speak English. Unless you can speak it well enough that you're not totally struggling and they think your accent sounds cool.


I guess Americans are different - I make effort to try to understand immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asian countries as form of bridging the cultural divide and attempting more harmony with others regardless their origin. I guess Danes are too lazy or boorish for this.


Don't Americans mostly have no choice, because most aren't bilingual? If an immigrant from China speaks poor English, it's not like the average American has the option of just switching to Mandarin instead, so the conversation stays in English just due to the lack of any other option, not because the patient American has restrained themselves from switching to Mandarin. (And those few who do speak fluent Mandarin often will switch.) In Denmark most people speak both English and Danish fluently, and most foreigners speak better English than they speak Danish, so English is usually the most mutually comprehended language. I think if you really spoke no English and poor Danish was the only common language for a conversation, people would be more patient in that case; it's only in the case of "why didn't you just use English, which you obviously speak better?" that people get annoyed.


It's not just that nobody cares enough to struggle through with you, but people actively will try to speak English with you as a way to get more proficient in English.


Yes, people will want that. My stock answer was "thanks, but anyone who lives in <x> should get used to speaking <y>" and that always settled it. That problem is more of an excuse for failing to learn proper <y> than a reason.

(There are a lot of expats among the parents at my children's school and it's easy to tell who persisted and who didn't.)


I used to have this happen when I lived in Germany and was trying to learn German. It would often lead to a funny situation where I would speak German and the German person would speak English. Given that I'm pretty stubborn, usually they would eventually switch back to German...


This. Almost everywhere you go, there will be a lot of people trying to speak English with you.


This is the problem I have in Spain, the few people I know who speak a bit of English use me to practice on.


This makes it hard to master languages similar to your native one.

With a completely foreign language you have to pause and think. With language close to one you already know it's easy to fill in the gaps by switching the language.


You'll also have a hard time really internalizing vocabulary. If you're learning Dutch and you already speak English and German, you can quickly get to a level where you are able to read Dutch texts. This is because half of all Dutch words have very similar German or English counterparts. But since you just understand them effortlessly, your brain doesn't actually learn them. You'll find yourself trying to say something in a conversation and the words just won't come to you, even though you would have no problem understanding them in written text.

If that happens you can always flip a coin and just either dutchify the English or the German translation of what you want to say, but it's not the most elegant solution.


I think results will vary depending on if you've learned another language before. Having to understand a grammar from the outside is a rough exercise the first time. I'm a native english speaker and conjugating verbs in eg Spanish wasn't hard, but really feeling the difference between the indicative and subjunctive moods takes a lot more work.

I found Russian very approachable for a 3rd language. And it's really cool to be able to eg read Pushkin; I can't read Shakespeare without more footnotes than poetry.


A bit offtopic, but can you advise an English language poet with Pushkin style poetry? I'm native Russian language speaker and even though I can easily understand regular English, I have hard time with poetry and find it quite different from Russian.


There are some structural differences (e.g. the lack of using endings to indicate grammatical structure in English) that make creating the sort of "it all rhymes and flows really well" poetry you get a lot in Russian much more difficult in English.

That said, I'd say some of Coleridge's work is in that general vein, in my opinion. And some of Byron's, actually. So maybe try those?


Professional proficiency could mean almost anything, though. It could require quite a low level of linguistic skill if you are limiting your conversations to a narrow domain, and speaking with a person who also understands the relevant ideas and concepts. In this case you are just 'indicating' some state, as opposed to composing free-form descriptions. 'A word to the wise', so to speak.

There are some very useful language materials produced by the FSI on the net, hosted on this site: https://fsi-languages.yojik.eu/ The French course in particular is very thorough, and the Chinese looks very good too, although I haven't used it yet.

I am making a special audio player for such materials, some info here: http://smallworld.press/


> * a Foreign Service Officer (read: elite, meritocratically-selected diplomat, usually with a background in humanities, who is probably in command of another foreign language already).

This is true, I suppose, but it's worth noting that this list does not differ that drastically from the DLI's, which is the uniformed equivalent to the civilian FSI and trains military translators, and they have no such requirements as far as background, education, status, etc. You can end up a translator just by scoring well on their standardized test in high school.


Yes, social background plays a big role. In the English language words for food have German roots as long as they are in the kitchen, once on the table it most likely has French roots. Science, it's full of Latin and Greek.

There's a fantastic documenation: The Adventure of English, it covers how the language grew and got infusions from those conquering the British Isle.


Isn't it that way: On the field, the language of the common man prevailed: sheep (e.g. german: Schaf). When being prepared in the kitchen, the meat becomes the mutton (french mouton). As far as I was told, this is from the time when the when french was noble and the noble recipes where prepared in the court's kitchens for the noble people.


This is true only after the Norman invasion.


You will also sound very off and instantly recognizable as a foreigner when speaking some of them.

I.e. here's Stephen D. Mull[0] speaking Polish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nRVUZpi660

He is REALLY good at it for a foreigner. It's 100% understandable (both content as a whole and every single word on its own) but it still sounds clearly off (a bit too soft and very American, Polish accents vary a lot in places but no native Polish speaker has one like his) and he makes some mistakes with conjugations and weird phrasing that no Pole would use.

[0] - American ambassador to Poland at the time who also says he has no Polish ancestry so I assume he learned via this American program at the minimum (plus his own practice in Poland).


I think that the main reason people don't learn another language fast is the fear of making mistakes. Kids don't have this fear yet so they learn fast, so the more shameless you are the faster you will learn, besides consistently practicing and wanting to improve.


I don't know why this is down voted - I found this to be the case for successful adult learners


In my experience this is also the biggest obstacle facing older people using modern devices like smartphones. I try to explain that when they're confused they should just poke, press, or swipe something and see what it does. Some older people are simply unable to do that. It's just a machine; it doesn't care if you hit the back arrow a lot! Relatives of mine have written long lists of instructions in preparation for smartphone use on trips.

In fairness, this is similar to many young people when forced to drive in less familiar areas without GPS.


I taught a "computers 101" lab with several adult learners many years ago, and I had one student walk out when I told him I simply couldn't teach him exactly what to do in every situation.

I felt badly, and I'd probably with 20 more years under my belt be able to help a bit more now, but it's still the same quandry: you can't expect to use any computer/mobile device without experimenting to figure out the way to do something, and there are a lot of adults (I assume some children too) who aren't willing to do the wrong thing.


With the organization I work for, new Americans arriving in Hungary spend 2 years in full time language learning and at the end of it are at about a 5th grade level of Hungarian.


Laughed pretty loud about learning Russian in 24 weeks for B2 level. In russian schools language course for B2-C1 level is done in 4 years (A1/not-so-A2 is done in elementary school, but it's included in that course IIRC) with minimum of 245 hours per year, 4*245=980 hours. Nowhere near 600.


Russian and all the slavic languages are classified at 44 weeks, not 24 weeks. FTA, the hour estimate is 1100, very close to your 980.


My bad, I should check my color blindness.


This helps me makes a lot of sense on why German is ranked longer than all the romance languages. Most of the learners in the data set we're probably already familiar with a romance language, and probably with a higher level of formal training than their mostly intuitive knowledge of English.


But German is not a romance language and neither is English. Theoretically, as an english speaker, it should be easier to learn German than French or Spanish (But is not).


That's my point. If all one has is informal but native English, German theoretically should be faster. Though not as fast as, say, Dutch to German, thanks to the large import of romance vocabulary into English, along with other grammatical drift...

However, if one has informal but native English, but also formal training in a romance language... I could see such a person picking up new romance languages faster than German. The romance languages are more consistent with each other than English is with German.


German matches up with my experience, 8-10 months, 5hrs a week of classes to be professionally proficient. I’m not elite and didn’t have much prior language experience. I did put a lot of effort in, wasn’t easy.


Great comment. I just moved to France 3 years ago, it took me a year to reach B1 level (no classes) and I speak fluent Spanish, so yeah 6 months to have reading and speaking proficiency seems hopeful at best.


This might seem a stupid comment, and it probably is, but looking at the most difficult languages list at the bottom (Arabic,Chinese,Japanese,Korean) the first thought that came to mind by looking at the pattern was "the US (largest English speaking country) have been at war with countries speaking two of these languages, might be at war soon with a country speaking another one and surely are not best friends with the country speaking the remaining one".

This could be pure correlation without any cause-effect, but I still wonder how easy would be for any country to go to war with another one when most citizens of both countries spend years communicating each other. The usual propaganda which depicts others as demons in order to fuel hatred and "sell" the war to the public would be a lot more difficult.


I think you are just overlooking a lot of data points to get proper context. We have been at war a few times with a nation and their colony that speak our own language, the UK and Canada; two nations that spoke a language fairly close to ours, Mexico and Spain; and have pretty much always been allies with a nation just as close to us linguistically as Spanish, France.

In modern times we are currently just as allied to Turkey, Korea and Japan as we are to our western allies, and to a lesser degree with Saudi Arabia, who are all far more similar linguistically to our enemies than to the vast majority of Americans.


Ah yes, certainly worked with Serbs and Bosnians.

“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”


Historically that's kind of true, but we also count Japan, South Korea, and several Arabic-speaking countries (e.g., Kuwait) among our closest allies...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_non-NATO_ally


Also Great Britain and Australia. From whom we are 'separated by a common language'


Yea I would say culture is the bigger influence here. Living in Asia felt like traveling to another planet in a lot of ways.

Still, getting to know “the other” and understanding they feel fear and love and have hopes and dreams just like me is incredibly humanizing, whether it’s the doped up homeless guy in your area, the Bernie lover in the office, your neighbor with an NRA bumper sticker, or a successful business owner. Learn to speak their language and come from curiosity and contribution and you’ll have friends and influence across the spectrum.


This idea was part of the motivation Dr. Zamenhof had in creating Esperanto. He felt that if everyone spoke it, in addition to whatever other languages they spoke, then there might be a greater level of understanding between peoples and fewer conflicts. I studied Esperanto a bit and found it interesting. But as to whether it would accomplish Zamenhof's goal, I'm dubious. It might not help, but probably wouldn't hurt.


The various civil wars going on right at this moment would suggest its not much of an issue...

In fact no country in the world except the USA, France, UK and a few others have the capability to project power beyond their neighborhood.

The concept that you wage war with countries on the other side of the world for vague reasons is a purely American phenomenon.

EDIT: a few words


It has little to do with politics but much to do with language families. All of the top languages are from the Indo-European family[1], the family to which English belongs to. In other words, these languages are genetically related, and therefore easier to learn for an English speaker. Some are very closely related (Germanic languages, e.g. Dutch, Norwegian), and some are more distantly related (Persian, Urdu, Hindi are also Indo-European but very distantly related to English). Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean are outside the Indo-European family.

Sometimes, there's also a misconception that the top languages are at the top because they're objectively "easier" than the bottom languages. It's not true, it really depends on the language(s) you already speak.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-European_languages


That's surely half of it. The other half is culture, correlated with language if not directly influenced by it.


Its a classic mob/tribal way of life. If you show a difference from the majority, then the majority may have a tough time integrating with you.

And, why would they want to really? Learning a language is a daunting task. Yeah, you can do it, but its more than just learning words. Its about discovering a whole new culture, and that takes a lot of energy.

Its a complex issue. We all have our daily lives. Good things and bad things happens to our culture, associates, friends, family everyday. Its hard for a person to want to take on any more challenges.

On my end, I am learning Korean. Partly because they are a big focus point of (potential) conflict to our culture. Partly because I want to watch Korean Dramas without reading sub-titles. I'm about 7 weeks in, and I feel drained trying to learn the language. Still gonna power through for the greater good.

TLDR; The world could be a better place, especially from learning another culture. I'm learning Korean currently. Its hard, but I want to really know more about them.

Most other don't have the time because ... well, umm.. "have you seen the latest Bitcoin price!!!??"


Culture has little to no effect. Most of those wars were fueled by economic greed.


If you really want to learn a language, you can. However, throw your assumptions about learning a language in X months or Y years. It's really up to your actions. And it gets harder until you learn your first language, then you can "ladder" (learn a 3rd language by using your 2nd language, not your 1st language).

There is a lot of snake oil sold out there. Similar to self-help, they all sell the wishful idea that you can learn language without strain or effort. That is not the case... if you are over the age of about nine. Before the age of nine, almost every human has the ability to pick up multiple languages without effort. As you transition into adulthood, that ability diminishes, until it is an effort. Yes, there are people who can pick up a language without effort like my friend in Canada who can speak many languages after just having spent about a month or two in a place where they speak it. However, for the vast majority, it is not going to be easy.

"Ultimately, it's not about the number of months or years [that you study], but the number of minutes every day that you devote to this challenge. These minutes are what truly count."

-Benny Lewis, "Fluent in 3 Months"

Remember language is to communicate. If you can communicate, express emotions, tell people about your day, ask people about their life that might be enough. Yes, you might not know the 10 ways to express the nuances of an emotion like excitement. But you might know the one generic word.

Reading Harry Potter or the original novels that are so popular that they were translated into English in your new language might take more time. Ask yourself if you really want to be able to do that.

Going to see a comedy show in your 2nd language is not going to be fun. You'll be knocked off your presumed language level ability perch. You likely won't understand anything, likely. That is because humor is quite possible the highest form of any language.


Conversely I only really started to learn english after watching american standups and british comedy. Maybe thats more a motivational thing though


I'm curious if the converse applies: e.g. English is more difficult for native Chinese speakers than for native Hindi speakers.

> The higher up the scale you go, the less recognizable the languages might look to an English-speaking monoglot.

Author seems to imply a "distance" between 2 languages that would go both ways.

For practical purposes though, I'd think other factors like the popularity of English/Western media and artifacts of British colonialization would make learning English for non-native English speakers slightly easier, than the other way around, as a result of greater chance of previous English exposure.


Yes, the converse applies, at least with the caveat that the week estimates are pretty much bullshit, and the map in general is very speculative. In foreign language teaching, you will typically speak of L1 and L2, L1 being your native language, L2 being the language you're picking up.

The typological distance (linguistically) between languages plays a major role in acquisition, both positively and negatively. A positive L1 transfer is something the learner can infer about the target language from their own, while a negative L1 transfer is something they assume about the target language based on their own, but it's wrong. Overall, positive L1 transfer in closely related languages will overwhelmingly outweigh negative transfer, but be a lot more tricky when the languages aren't closely related typologically.

Note that typological similarity often coincides with distance in the historic sense, but isn't the same thing. For example, both Thai and Chinese are tonal isolating languages (same typological features) but aren't related at all. Also, Russian and Bulgarian, for example, are very closely related, but have a vastly different grammar, making Russian harder for a Bulgarian speaker than, say, for a Polish speaker.


I pretty much agree with most everything you write, but just want to add the caveat that this is all a function of relative competence or learning stage in an L2 language. That is to say, some languages that may be relatively easier to partially acquire then to fully master and visa versa. A case in point, and dear to my heart at that by way of experience, is the relative difficulty for an L1 English speaking in forming simple grammatically correct sentences in German and Mandarin, respectively. Whereas there is no question that Mandarin is the harder language to master (especially if we are talking about literacy), the high degree of analyticity relative to German makes forming sentences from words rather intuitive for the English speaker (even if English isn't quite as analytical as Mandarin in it's core modules). In other words, at least from the perspective of grammar, the beginnings of Mandarin are much easier than the beginnings of German, despite typological similarity even in inflections for plurality and the like shared between English and German.


The negative transfer that Japanese people are faced with when trying to learn English is really a incredible.

Not only do they have a huge number of mis-leading false friends and corrupted loan words (for example the word for plug socket is "consent") but a lot of the core grammar concepts of English do no exist in Japanese. Plural/singular, subject verb agreement, perfect tenses.

And on top of that the Japanese language has many fewer sounds than English. Most Japanese people will never be able to discriminate between L and R, or have a good command of all the Japanese vowels.


I think the converse doesn't always apply. I imagine it is easier for an English speaker to learn Spanish than it is for a Spanish speaker to learn English.

To see why, look at the common English-Spanish cognates. Most English speaker will recognize the cognates that one learns in Spanish 101 - dormir (to sleep, from dormitory), comenzar (to begin, from commence), mascota (pet, from mascot).

But reverse isn't true - words like "sleep", "begin", "pet" will sounds completely foreign to a Spanish speaker. Sure, the cognates will help them learn "dormitory", "commence", and "mascot", but those are advanced words that a learner of English may not encounter in a long time, if ever.


Definitely. One big pain point when learning English is phonetics, specifically the 12-15 vowels, and how frequently I fail predicting how a word is pronounced from the spelling. One has to be prepared to spend a lot of time learning _two_ language vocabularies: written and spoken. This is not true of most European languages (you can exactly know how a word is pronounced from the spelling).


English is like a good board game. Easy to learn, hard to master.


True, my wife speaks Spanish and I was amazed at first about what fancy words she usually picked in a conversation. But those are the words that are Latin based and are common words in Spanish. In English there's often a more common Germanic word.


It's clear that Korean speakers will have an easier time learning Japanese than English speakers.


They are as similar as English and Russian...


Far more similar, really.


Between Cat IV and Cat V languages, colonial influence and other cultural factors will probably outweigh any difference between the languages as you said.

But I wouldn't be surprised if, as a broad generalization, people who speak Cat I languages find it much easier to learn English than people who speak Cat V languages do.


One of the main reasons that Chinese/Japanese are so difficult is kanji (漢字). Having to learn thousands of unique symbols really cranks up the difficultly quick.


(In Chinese they are called Hanzi.)

It wasn't very hard for me to learn to read and to type with a Pinyin input method by simply writing office email. It's much easier to recognize characters (e.g. by picking them from a Pinyin conversion, or by reading them), when the context is known.

You don't need to know how to use a pen to learn how to speak Mandarin.


For what it's worth, Japanese kanji are much more difficult than Chinese hanzi. Kanji each have at least 2 and often up to 4 or 5 different readings in different situations, and can be combined in different ways (with hiragana to make 訓読み and with other kanji to make 熟語).


>>The higher up the scale you go, the less recognizable the languages might look to an English-speaking monoglot.

Should I be triggered?


Chinese has symbols which do not correspond to pronunciation. Each symbol represents a syllable and there are no spaces between words and no capital / lowercase.

IT WOULD BE SIM A LER TO LEARN ING ENG LISH WRIT TEN LIKE THIS.


thats plain wrong. each chinese symbol has a unique prononciation. Japanese is way more ambiguous because the Japanese transposed chinese characters to a language with a totally different structure.


> each chinese symbol has a unique pronunciation

Your overall point is correct, but this isn't true. Compare 长 zhǎng "grow" with 长 cháng "long", or 行 xíng "walk; be permissible" with 行 háng "line".


In Chinese these are rare exceptions. In Japanese, having at least two (and sometimes four, ten or sixty) possible pronunciations is the rule, and it's the single-reading characters that are rare.


Again, I understand the situation in Japanese, which is why I headed my comment with "your overall point is correct".

And also again, it is not true that Chinese characters with multiple readings are rare exceptions, unless you want to measure rarity by dividing the count of "characters with multiple readings" by "all characters ever attested". Characters with multiple readings are extremely common; one of them, 的, is the most common character in written Chinese by a wide margin.


I meant that from looking at the character you can't determine how to pronouce it


The choice of the colors is strange. The most difficult languages are painted blue and green, and the easiest are red, and English is pale red. I suppose it should be the opposite.


Indeed, the map is hard to parse. I think that this presentation gives good advice regarding maps design: https://speakerdeck.com/cherdarchuk/data-looks-better-naked-...


That was my first thought, I'm currently learning one coloured in red, and looked at the map and thought "oh *".

Really interesting to hear the approaches to learning, currently going through Duolingo which is helping with vocab, but don't think it's going to help at all with proper conversation.


The colours are also a poor choice for people who are colourblind.


I made the map and chose it that way just because I associate germanic languages and english with the colour red. I changed it in a later version.

https://imgur.com/gallery/37xlzKE


I think they choose red..violet color spectrum as a base for easy..hard axis. Doesn’t explain light red though. Anyway, it is unusual and very hard to read.


As a German, I'm a bit puzzled as to why Latin languages like Spanish and Romanian, are more "similar to English" than German is.

I get that English borrows a lot of words from French but overall English and German should have more similar origins than say Portuguese or Catalan.

Is this because of our "annoying" grammar (would make sense since Icelandic, another Germanic language with much more complexity in this regard even makes it into Category IV) or because German leaves little room of ambiguity (and thus fun)?


They're not "similar to English", they're easier than German to learn

2 genders instead of 3 and some complication on the verb conjugations but overall not too many difficulties.

"No gramatical cases" (as in German, but of course the cases exist), no mix and match of ambiguous endings, no separable verbs, no crazy word order, etc


I was quoting the page:

"Category I: 23-24 weeks (575-600 hours) Languages closely related to English: Afrikaans, ..., French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, ... Category II: 30 weeks (750 hours) Languages similar to English: German"

This I understood as a ranking in similarity.


I have to agree, English being a Germanic language with similar grammatical structure this does indeed seem inaccurate.


Romanian has 3 genders.


I took German in high school and as a summer class in grad school to meet the language requirement and have taken it on duolingo. I didn't find the grammar particularly hard once you learn the differences. Capitalizing all nouns makes it easy to identify them and learning verb endings makes it easy to identify verbs in many cases. What is hard for me is the vocabulary. If I haven't memorized it then I usually can't guess its meaning.


> I didn't find the grammar particularly hard once you learn the differences.

Then you are either a genius in language learning/grammar or you are not aware of your mistakes (choose for yourself). I say as a native German speaker that even less educated Germans do some really ugly grammar mistakes that you should better avoid, just to give two examples:

1. Using the dative as "Deppengenitiv" (douche's genitive): Some prepositions (such as "wegen") require a genitive; also some (a little bit obscure and old-fashioned) verbs (such as "gedenken") require a genitive object. Uneducated people use them with dative. You are hopefully not uneducated.

So the following sentences are WRONG:

- Wegen einem Unfall kam ich zu spät zur Arbeit.

- Ich gedenke den Verstorbenen.

Correct is of course (you guessed it after I gave the rule):

- Wegen eines Unfalls kam ich zu spät zur Arbeit.

- Ich gedenke der Verstorbenen.

2. Which are the correct principal forms of "hängen"

a) hängen - hing - gehangen,

b) hängen - hängte - gehängt?

Answer: Both are correct, but have different meanings. a) are the correct principal forms of the intransitive verb (i.e. without object) "hängen" and b) are the correct principal forms of the transitive verb (requiring an accusative object) "hängen"

So the following sentences are WRONG:

- Er hing ein Bild auf.

- Die Jacke hängte am Ständer.

Correct is

- Er hängte ein Bild auf.

- Die Jacke hing am Ständer.


I don't think I would call people uneducated and their usage of language dumb and wrong just because it does not follow the usage from one specific point in time long ago. Most things you mentioned have been used by a vast number of people for a significant time now. At some point we need accept that language is constantly evolving. You don't write like Goethe either but I don't call you uneducated for that.

Before anyone laments the erosion of our language: The German language has never been so expressive as it is now. Every change gives new ways to precisely choose the way you word something.


> I don't think I would call people uneducated and their usage of language dumb and wrong just because it does not follow the usage from one specific point in time long ago. Most things you mentioned have been used by a vast number of people for a significant time now. At some point we need accept that language is constantly evolving. You don't write like Goethe either but I don't call you uneducated for that.

This is a difference in mentality that I observe all the time between English and German language. In English if lots of speakers make some mistake it becomes "an accepted alternative" and at some time even "correct". For German language the mentality is different: If lots of people make a mistake it (with few exceptions) will still be considered as wrong. Accept it.


I agree that it's oddly phrased. Empirically, it is true that if you start from English you can probably learn Spanish more quickly than German, but it doesn't necessarily follow that Spanish is more similar. After all, Spanish doesn't have our weird Germanic modal verbs, rules about how to structure questions, separable prefixes, and so on.


Surely, the grammar.


haha. no. grammar for some of the latin-based languages is ridiculously hard to master. you have trouble with the grammar even as a native speaker. It's not the grammar.


Speaking as someone who learned French in school, I agree.

Goddamn plus-que-parfait, it's a trap.


What's the difficulty? The pluperfect is one of the easier tenses in French. Its formation has no exceptions--one of the very rare tenses in French with no exceptions: imperfect + past participle.

And its usage directly parallels the pluperfect in English:

I had finished my meal when he arrived. J'avais fini mon repas quand il est arrivé.


Maybe because almost 2/3 of its vocabulary have French, Latin and Greek origins.


As a native speaker of a Romance language (a.k.a. "latin" language) this puzzles me too.

I'm guessing it's the vocabulary. English has imported a lot of Latin roots over hundreds of years. There's also the outcome of the battle of Hastings that may have tilted the results here.


it's probably not the grammar. I am no expert in German, but if I were to take a bet it would have to do on how words are built (compound words) and that some of them are not straightforward. It may seem easy for you, but I am guessing it requires a shift in the way you think.

also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizi...


People often ask me in China how long it took to learn Chinese. "16 years" I tell them - "I'm still learning!" I've dabbled in French, Latin, Tai languages, Arabic, Vietnamese, Malay/Indonesian, etc. I personally prefer non Indo-Aryan languages as I find the grammar and conjugations too tedious, but make an exception for French because it's so pleasant to drink there!


This map is based on data from US Foreign Service Institute. The data are quite notorious among second language acquisition researchers for its lack of credibility – apparently there has never been published research papers presenting the data, and the exact methods how the data were obtained, categorized and how they arrived at the conclusions, were never published.

This should make a skeptical person wince.

From modern perspective there is AT LEAST the following concerns:

1) How was proficiency measured? The research has shown that one can reach hugely different conclusions depending on the measure. Measuring explicit knowledge about the language using paper test has been, and still is, a very popular way of assessment, but the research has shown that it's hardly and adequate one in measuring proficiency, communicative competence or grammatical competence.

2) Are the results generalizable? It might be that the obtained results were just an artifact of the teaching method used. It doesn't mean that Finnish would be necessarily harder using some OTHER method than the teaching method used at FSI.

Note that this doesn't mean to say that the data is false. It means that we have no ways to assess if it's true or false with any confidence.


What makes me skeptical, is they rate Arabic as much more difficult than Hebrew, two languages with some mutual intelligibility.


I would think that too, if not for this excellent comment downthread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15822024.


Adding to that, I believe that Modern Hebrew has lots of loan words from Russian and probably quite a few from English.


That probably isn't going to make a huge difference - English speakers don't get much of a leg-up on French despite the gobs of shared vocabulary.


Do they include the script? I bet the Hebrew script is much easier to learn than the Arabic.


They're about the same. To the untrained eye, Arabic looks like a lot of scribbles while with the Hebrew script it's easy to distinguish separate letters. That would make you think it's easier to learn Hebrew. In reality there are a lot of similarities between the two languages (they're both Semitic), not just in vocabulary but also in grammar. Arabic may have a different way of writing the same letters, but if you study Arabic for a while it's not so hard to distinguish between the separate letters.


modern hebrew is an invented languages that dates from one century ago if I remember correctly so not sure how much similarity to Arabic can be claimed.


Modern Hebrew is indeed about a century old. But a huge proportion of its vocabulary and grammar and based on the Bible, and many centuries of Jewish religious and legal writing. Don't forget that for 2,000 years, Jews have prayed, studied, written, and communicated in Hebrew.

It's easier for a native Hebrew speaker to read the Bible or rabbinic literature than for a native English speaker to read Shakespeare. Moreover, a good grounding in Biblical and rabbinic Hebrew grammar and vocabulary makes modern Hebrew far easier to understand.

To say that modern Hebrew is "made up" exaggerates the degree to which Hebrew exists on a continuum. It was revived as a spoken, day-to-day language used for non-religious, non-legal affairs. But there are more than 2,000 years of Hebrew documents out there, and they contribute massively to everything from idioms to grammar to vocabulary -- along with many modern terms from English, Russian, French, Arabic, and other languages.


I was thinking arabic had crazy strict grammar rules that hebrew doesn't have. That makes learning the language harder.


There's also no mention of numbers. The sample size for this is going to be very small.

Plus I agree that the definition of 'speaking' a language is wildly open. It took me 3 years of living in Belgium and 18 months of 3 hours a week lessons to get to a point where it made more sense to have conversations in Dutch than English.


I'm really surprised (bordering on shocked) that French and Spanish are rated the same. Not to dispute the experts, but me, Spanish seems much easier than French. German also seems easier than French.


French is basically the same as any romance language. It is a little trickier for native English speakers to pronounce than Spanish, but that is really the only difference. Its grammar is basically the same as Spanish, Portugese, Romanian, and it has regular spelling rules and consistent pronounciation rules for the most part. The nasal vowels are tricky for English speakers, but you get the hang of it pretty fast.


My native language is a German dialect, I grew up talking Portuguese, learned French in school for 5 years, 3 years of Spanish and I strongly disagree.

The French language is full of irregularities and weird, complicated sentence constructions (try to negate something in a conditional past tense), and worst of all, so many flowers of speech, that francophones love to show off.


"Flowers of speech" is not, as far as I know, idiomatic English, but it should be: fantastic!


It's very close to the idiomatic "flowery speech"!


flowers related to flavors?


This list is a measure of difficulty for native English speakers, specifically, for whom some of the complexities in French you mention are offset by a comparatively larger shared vocabulary as compared to Spanish (thanks, William the Conqueror).


Spanish has one advantage: nouns come with gender built in. You don't have to memorize it.


God, strongly agree. My worse-than-a-coinflip skill at getting French gender correct on nouns that aren't very familiar too me is one of the big things keeping me from returning to it. Deeply discouraging. Thanks to easy rules, I can get Spanish nouns right every time unless I run into one of the exceptions (seemingly all French nouns are an exception to whichever of the dozen or so "rules" they're failing to follow).

I also find spoken Spanish sentences much easier to parse.

For the record, I've put way, way more effort into French than I ever have into Spanish, including enough immersive higher-ed coursework that at one point I was dreaming in it pretty often.

[EDIT] I should add that my greatest annoyance with it is how hard it makes it to practice noun vocab in isolation, which is also kind of vital if you ever want to get past the problem. You can't just consistently practice the more general indefinite form because it's too often abbreviated ("l'au") so then when you go to make some damn adjective agree with it you're lost because you never actually learned the gender. Using the definite article fixes that problem but feels wrong, and never made the gender stick for me anyway. So you basically end up having to practice modifying them with adjectives to get good at nailing the gender every time. That's a fun friggin' Anki deck to put together. eyeroll


I'm teaching Spanish (my native language) to my daughters and my wife, and I disagree. There are many, many nouns that don't mark the gender except in the accompanying article or adjective.


And some that contradict the rule, i.e. 'agua' among other nouns in certain circumstances:

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/agua#Usage_notes


"agua" doesn't break the rule. It's feminine. agua fría.

However, there's another rule that words beginning with an a use el because of the double vowel sound.


That's almost correct. It's not all words starting with 'a', but words staring with a _stressed_ 'a', like "águila", "aula" and "hacha" that use "el" as an article, despite being feminine words. The reason is analogous to the use of "an" in English instead of the article "a".


"Abuela"? "Azúcar" "Abuela"?


Lots of little mnemonics, like man creates el problema, the woman la solution.


Those are both pretty easy, too, because they follow regular rules. "-ma" is always masculine. "-ión" is always feminine.


Actually, “rama” (branch), “cama” (bed), “mucama” (maid) are all femenine.

“Centurión” (roman military rank) and “esturión” (fish) are masculine


Correct. "tema", "teorema" are masculine because they are cultisms, derived directly from greek. Same with "fantasma" and "miasma".


bad 'reason': problema is greek too ⲡⲣⲟⲃⲗⲏⲙⲁ 🇬🇷 problem


And it's masculine too in Spanish. Isn't it in Greek?


There may be exceptions, but noun gender is still vastly more consistent than French.


That's actually why I had so much trouble with it. I feel that every language with this "feature" is wrong. They need to be normalized in to a more proper form where there is no implicit gender for words. Much like I prefer letter forms with less embellishments.


French is particularly egregious. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It's mildly hilarious when speaking with french speakers that only ever learned gutter english, so that all manner of sexless objects aquire genders, and are frequently referred to as being fornicated with by other bizarrely sexed objects.


Spanish may have less complicated grammar but the FSI may think French is easier for native English-speakers in particular because a huge amount of English words are French-derived. That gives you thousands of vocabulary words that you don't need to study very hard to understand. Recall that Normandy conquered England in 1066 and that is where Middle English came from.


you find pretty much the same words That you refer to in French and Spanish because they have both strong latin roots. that should not make a huge difference for an English speaker.


Agreed, it's not a huge difference. There may be enough of a difference that the FSI may think that the slightly more similar vocabulary more or less makes up for French's slightly more complicated grammar such that it ranks French and Spanish as approximately equal in difficulty for English speakers.


Both languages come from Latin, but Spanish comes from an older version of Latin and so some innovations that occurred later are not found in Spanish. As an example: "to arrive", "arriver" (French), "arrivare" (Italian), but "llegar" (Spanish).


I'm Italian and I can read both French and Spanish well. On the surface they look like Italian with different words and different pronunciation. However when I try to write them I appreciate the differences in how the sentences are built. One gets unnatural results trying to write French and Spanish as if they were Italian.

English* is definitely* a different* language* even if some words are about the same. I marked* those words with an asterisk* . German is much more different* and difficult*.

Computer language metaphor. If you know Ruby you can immediately understand Python but you discover you can't write Python as if it is Ruby. People would laugh at your scripts (and where are all those blocks? Easier the other way around.) You also think you can understand Elixir but this is not really the case. It is difficult to understand Erlang


The grammar in German is killer. Damn verbs at the end, it ain't right I tell ya. (German is the only other language I know)


Yes. I tried learning German for one year while taking breaks and I agree with this. Every single verb has a gender associated with it and to make matters worse, there are exceptions to every single rule!

But since German and English are both derived from the same parent language, we can find some similarity.

I am from India and ironically, I find learning Japanese easier than learning German/Spanish.


Huh? Our verbs have no gender? Care to explain?

What German does though, is a declination of verbs through all cases and times, often irregular, accompanied by gendering pronouns which seems to be the hardest part of German for learner's with native tongue that hasn't these features.

The thing is, some think they got it after a few years, but we just let it slip, because it is not required, just feels wrong. We can tell, you've not grown up here.


> We can tell, you've not grown up here.

Likewise I can tell that English is not your mother tongue.

I understood everything you wrote (you're obviously fluent), but tiny little things give away that English isn't your native language:

> learner's with native tongue that hasn't these features

I would have written: learners whose native tongue doesn't have these features

> but we just let it slip

but we just let it slide

> you've not grown up here

you didn't grow up here

I sincerely hope you don't take my comment the wrong way. It was too interesting to pass up an example of the very thing you mentioned: that you can tell even when the person is fluent (even if you don't hear an accent).

Related observation: You know how Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber[1], was caught? He used the expression "You can't eat your cake and have it, too."[2] But nearly everyone knows the expression as "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." Ted Kaczynski's brother recognized Ted's highly unusual usage from the anonymous manifesto published by the Unabomber, and this is what convinced him that he was the Unabomber.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Kaczynski

[2] http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002762.h...


Thank you for your remarks, I appreciate them for being constructive.

I sincerely believe that becoming perfect in a language requires a lot of daily hard work and actually living in a respective country. In fact, seeing my parents misusing the Portuguese language still with some very obvious bad habits, even after they lived and worked there for more than 12 years, almost only talking Portuguese, I think after a certain age it becomes incredibly difficult to acquire a foreign language to such a degree that you become indiscernible from a native speaker, at least for Average Joe.

My above post though... Very bad usage for which I can only blame myself and the early morning. And learning proper English on the Internet is close to impossible. How most Americans use English has become a gobbled mess to be honest (e.g. "irregardles", or "that was uncult for").


If the "Americans" you're talking to online are really Americans as you assume. It's a pretty large group (English-speaking people). If you are running across native-speakers who would type out "irregardles" (irregardless) and "uncult" (uncalled), then you're simply talking to someone that doesn't know their own language.

I've seen this with Spanish-speaking people. My wife was born and college educated in Mexico, has a Masters degree from here in the US as well. I've gleamed some insight from her. Many immigrants to this country, from all nations, don't know their native language. They can survive wherever they're from, but they don't really know Spanish or Cantonese etc, they'll use terms commonly used by the uneducated like "patas" for their feet (patas = paws in Spanish).

I can attest that there's no shortage of monolingual English-speakers who are no different, and don't really know their own language. They can survive here, but are barely educated enough to survive in the US. Some can't, and rely entirely on social programs to make it through life, a large part of the reason is general lack of education. Many Americans are entirely unemployable, and many are already "over-employed" and lucky to have jobs at all. You could easily be meeting up with those people online.


I'm not quite sure what to make of your post.

First of all, Spanish has a whole other problem, because there is no "official" Spanish AFAIK (even though people from Madrid claim that), compared to e.g. German and "Hochdeutsch". If you travel around Spain, just half a day from Madrid, even well educated, employable people will use words and constellations nobody would use in Madrid. And I think that is totally fine, people adapt to it. Considering the whole Latin American region and their variants, Spanish is a mess in this regard (they officially write words differently, using 'x' instead of 'j' in several occasions), but you can tell where somebody is from.

Regarding the deterioration of English: perfectly employable, smart, educated people in high paying jobs use "irregardless" (that missing 's' was my mistake), and it somehow made it into dictionaries, and it seems you think it is a word too. But think about it, does it make sense?

Why would you negate regardless and what does that construction mean?


Fascinating thing about the Unabomber.

Reminds me of when an Indian friend in high school played a prank on another friend by impersonating me through instant messages (we were sharing a hotel). My friend was able to figure out that it wasn't me because my Indian friend used the phrase "today morning" instead of "this morning."


We all have patterns while texting. I remember when I was in college, I had made a new friend, she was the 'monitor' of the class, yes, we had monitors in college as well.

Back then, we didn't have whatsapp, so we were texting. She never responded to texts during lecture before that day, so I was shocked.

Then, one message later, I realized that it was someone else using her phone and fifteen minutes later, I said, "If you are done, please give her phone back to XYZ"


Reminds me of my Swedish friend who spoke like an American until he gave himself away when ordering food at the restaurant.

He'd say "I order the fries" to the waiter.


I am bad with theory, so please bear with me.

What I meant was das Ma:dchen die fru:shtuck

It is not just remember the noun (apologies) but also the gender associated with the noun. To exacerbate the matter, there are millions of rules and then there are thousands of exceptions to those rules.

But then again, the language is intuitive :)

I just happened to love Japanese because I want to go to Japan soon and that's why I gave up German, but I will learn it in the next five years


Oh, yeah, the nouns are gendered - everything is gendered! And it must be memorized, there is no rule. Same is true for all Romance languages (Portuguese, Spanish, French, etc.) AFAIK.

Btw. it is "das Frühstück" as well.

But you get laughed at when saying "das Cola" in Germany, but yelled at being a stupid German when saying "die Cola" in Vienna. Which makes the whole thing great, because it obviously annoys us a lot, both is correct though, and it totally doesn't make a difference what the gender of the thing is :)

We have lot's of words where the "Duden", the official dictionary has an "Austrian also: ..." alternative gender. And then there are colloquial habits that are utterly out of spec which make me furious to be honest. Who the hell thinks "das Teller" sounds right?!


hehehe. I learnt German for nearly one year and though the theory was huge, I didn't learn it well. I'll ping you up when I resume my studies. My dream holiday destination is Templehoff airport. (which I assume has been flattened to build a parking lot)



This is awesome!


They probably meant nouns with der/die/das. Probably the thing I hate most in any language, it just seems so incredibly stupid for no benefit (I obviously was not a fan of learning German in primary school). Same with french, but they take it a bit further.


My big pet peeve with the German language is that there are three freaking genders (masculine, feminine, neutral). Which means you only have 1/3 chance of getting it correct when guessing.

My second pet peeve is the various different (and unrelated) meaning of the word 'ihr', which can mean in turn you (plural pronoun), her (pronoun), her (possessive determiner, as in "her book") and their (determiner). Why in the world would you reuse the same word for so many different meanings?

My favorite thing about German is that things are pronounced as they are spelled and vice-versa.


FYI that's the article, in particular "der/die/das" are the definite articles.

"Incredibly stupid" sounds a little derogatory. They are not particularly necessary for understanding the language, the correct gender/article for certain nouns are even subject to heated debate between regional dialects, and I agree, if you are coming from a language without these rules it might be hard to grasp/integrate. Nevertheless, I would not go as far as to say they are incredibly stupid.

Consider, English also has he/she, him/her, his/hers. You just got rid off the "the"s, AFAIK (or German is the only Germanic language that adopted it from Latin, but I am no linguist).

But gender is the easier part, the cases make it difficult: Similar to the English "he/him", we have declination of articles: "einen/einem/eines". This seems terrible for English natives. Together with constructs of "den einen/dem einen/von einem/vom einen/zu einem/auf einen/auf einem", so you need to memorize ways of saying things and at the same time apply the case accordingly. It can make a huge difference in what you are trying to convey.

"Von einem ..." is "... of one" (indefinite article), where

"Vom einen ..." (Von dem einen) is "... of the one" (dem is the article, einen is actually a counting pronoun, not sure this is the right name).


>"Incredibly stupid" sounds a little derogatory

Yeah, sorry about that, I just get a bit frustrated when I encounter languages with them, because they, for me, feel so unnecessary.

I don't feel that comparison is fair, and I consider the English a lot more intuitive, since it's an indication of the gender of a person, which has a gender, and not of an object, which doesn't. They are more similar to "er"/"es" or "seiner"/"ihrer" in my view.

My main gripe is that the gender is a needless extra burden when learning the language, and it doesn't even make sense some times (my go to example is "das Mädchen"). Luckily German is not as bad as french in that part, which even changes words themselves based on what gender you are talking to!


Actually "das Mädchen" makes perfect sense. The diminutive ("-chen") requires the neuter form. This is remarkably regular for a language full of exceptions: Der Brief, Das Briefchen. Die Flasche, Das Fläschchen etc.


A Japanese person might say "Why bother writing 'dog' and 'dogs'? If you have more than one why not just write '2 dog'?"

Careful throwing those stones!


Just because there are imperfections in english, doesn't mean I can't complain about imperfections in other languages...

Besides that, there's a huge difference, since plurals have clear cut rules, while object genders are only by memory with qualified guessing. That said I would welcome "2 dog", although Japanese has other problems with counters (e.g. "yonko", "yottsu", "yonki" etc), so not a very compelling argument to make...


Plurals aren't so clear cut. English isn't as bad as German for this, but there's still a bunch of different ways to write plural forms: s, es, ies, i, en, and of course some nouns don't have a plural.


I took three years of German. Never had problems with the word order, including verbs. I guess I'm lucky in that; I've taken some Japanese too, and all the verbs are at the end there ;-)

After all these years, I've forgotten the genders of most nouns, and I'm very shaky on my declensions.


Norwegian is my second language. The word order thing trips some folks up here as well (including myself sometimes, sometimes it is like english and sometimes not) - but others not so much. You are indeed lucky.


I've considered learning a bit of Norwegian, just to get a feel for the differences, but I haven't had any practical reason to, yet.


"At the end, all verbs are."


"Verbs regarding, all of them, end at exist."


I'd say "Alle Verben sind am Ende? Das muss nicht sein". Well, it's not that simple.


In your second example, you should have highlighted muss, which is the inflected verb here, which is always in the second position in an in a declarative sentence (as opposed to a question or a relative clause or whatever).

Same as in English: "All verbs are at the end? That doesn't have to be".


Quite complex, actually :(. Ich hätte ihn fragen können.


Auf Verben verenden muss nicht sein. Oder muss man nicht.


The verb-order inversion is usually not the hardest part of German -- in fact, it's one of the trivial things to get used to.

My trouble with German are that the same endings are overloaded and reused in different cases (I have no trouble with cases: English has cases too, and retains the nominative and genitive).

German is mostly consistent, but the endings to me are like operator overloading gone wild. The endungen like -e, -en, etc. overlap in so many cases. For instance -en is plural definite in all cases, but also also in dative/genitive definite cases, and indefinite masculine accusative, indefinite plural dative, and indefinite masc/neut genitive.

If you aren't fluent in German, it takes a bit of effort to disambiguate the endings, and to me it seems needlessly difficult. If only different endings were created to disambiguate.... (e.g. -et, -ew, -ep, etc.)


As it is sometimes said:

Die Möglichkeiten der deutschen Grammatik können einen, wenn man sich drauf, was man ruhig, wenn man möchte, sollte, einlässt, überraschen.


Google tells me this says: "The possibilities of German grammar can surprise you, if you look at what you should, if you want to, should."

Which probably isn't exactly what it says, but it's good enough.

As I am an embarrassed English speaking monoglot, I can't wait for real-time speech-to-text-to-speech translation devices to become ubiquitous.


I just chew up the endings of those words when I speak German. Good enough to get me through the day. German and Dutch people tend to switch to English (if they can speak it) when they detect the slightest off accent though. I wish they would allow people to practice their language a bit more.


Japanese verbs are at the end of the sentence, too.


French is harder to pronounce than Spanish, and the irregularity of French spelling makes it even harder. On the other hand, Spanish grammar is quite a bit more complicated than French grammar.

In the long run, though, these little differences are insignificant compared to the truly time-consuming part of learning a language: the vocabulary. French and Spanish are about equal in the difficulty of learning vocab.


French has more conjugations (mostly because it has more subjunctives) than Spanish. Spanish has something like 4k irregular verbs, though most of the irregularities are... regular (there are several common forms of irregularities), so it's not that bad. On the whole I think French is significantly harder to learn than Spanish.

English, is very difficult, I think, though obviously not as difficult as, say, Finnish.

Most languages have complexity somewhere. Chinese languages have Chinese ideographs. Japanese has Kanji (Chinese characters), two syllabic alphabets, romaji (Latin character set transliteration), and things like "counters" (alternate endings for counting words depending on what sort of thing you're counting -- there are over 1,000 different counters!).

The complexity in English mostly lies in all the borrowed words and the rather loose rules around the language (like French, the rules have lots of exceptions, though in French the exceptions to the rules are almost infuriating in number), the rather not-very-phonetic prononciation, the lack of stress marks, the large variation in accents.


>French has more conjugations (mostly because it has more subjunctives) than Spanish.

Are you sure you're not mixing that up? Or are you talking about more irregular forms of the french subjunctive compared to the spanish counterpart?

French only uses present subjunctive (past subjunctive is very archaic) while Spanish uses both present and past. Also subjunctive is used in many more constructs in Spanish than in French.

French also doesn't use the simple past/preterite outside of literature, instead preferring the passé composé (constructed like the present perfect in English, but the meaning is that of the preterite). That's fortunate because the passé composé is a lot easier to conjugate. Spanish and Portuguese however do use the preterite even in the spoken language.

I wouldn't say that English is very difficult either, if only because of the extremely simple grammar. Pronunciation is messy however, I agree.


The verb conjugation books I grew up with had more subjunctives for French than for Spanish. Whether some are considered archaic, I'm not sure. I don't buy the thing about simple past tense -- I use it, though admittedly not very much, and anyways, if it's used in writing then it's used. There are tenses in Spanish that are not used much depending on where you travel -- if you consider all the variations by Spanish-speaking countries, of course, Spanish starts to look significantly more complicated than advertised!

As for English, I think that there are fewer patterns for growing minds to hang onto than in Romance languages. But that's just a feeling born of my experience; I'm not entirely sure.


It's the other way around, Spanish has more conjugations and subjunctive forms. That's all academic anyway, the most important metric is that more verb forms are used in commonly spoken Spanish than French. In practice, Spanish is more complex from a conjugation perspective.


i dOnt think there are 1000 counters in Japanese, you are clearly exaggerating. when you know about 20 of them its far sufficient for daily situations even if there are more.

And romaji is not used much in Japan expect in print media just to look cool or something. Actual articles and posts never use romaji but instead a mix of kanji and kana mostly.


When I lived in Japan I was told there are over 1,000 counters, and that one's mastery of them is part of how people determine one's level of literacy. Perhaps only about 20 get used all the time. And certainly you can get away with using only the default counter (but you'll sound illiterate).

Romaji is also used on signs and other material aimed at foreigners -- Japanese people generally can read romaji because, after all, they are taught English in school. Romaji is not much of a cognitive burden, I agree, since it's very simple, goes along with English, and there's only one romanization.


English more closely resembles French than any other language I can think of. There’s a lot of overlap in the roots.

Edit: I mean, French resembles English more than other languages.


I'm a native English speaker (well...the Scottish version) and I have pretty strong French, however the place where I felt the people were speaking the closest thing to English I've heard was in The Netherlands.


Dutch is indeed rather similar to English, especially old English. Especially if you, like me, are more sensitive to grammar than vocab when getting a feel for a language. But English vocab is very Frenchified.

It's true that the 100 or so most important words in English are still Germanic, and also that all European languages imported tens of thousands of rare, fancy, words from Greek, Latin and French. But I am talking about the middle-space, those few thousands of common-but-not-ubiquitous words that fill a student's vocab list.

In most Germanic languages that stuff is still largely Germanic, but in English it is much more mixed.


Scottish is incorrectly labeled on the map. Source: have scottish friends. At least I think they're my friends, hard to tell exactly at times.


Haha. Yeah everyone is a bit bilingual growing up in Scotland.


Supposedly (I don't know for sure) English inherited mostly Germanic grammar/structure-words, and French verbs & nouns.

Seems to be vaguely upheld by Wiki although I can't find my original source

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_language_influences_in...


Old English was a Germanic language. Grammar-wise was a lot like modern German or Dutch. However, as English evolved, its grammar was greatly simplified, and nowadays only a few vestigial features of the original declension system remain.


But the declension system is not the whole grammar.

So while articles don't change much under declension, words like "a" and "the" are familiar to Germans but not to ancient Romans (I don't know about the French). Also the relative order of adjectives and nouns is Germanic. Conjugations, while simplified, still retain much of the old structure, and the set of tenses understood in English is quite Germanic.


Frisian is a close relative to Eng, but obvs not widely spoken since proper Dutch replaced it completely in schools till recently, where now you can take some classes.


French is easier for me, but I've spent my life adjoining French Canada and studying history from a decidely anglo-french angle.


English is a Germanic language. French and Spanish are both romance languages. A knower of one can quickly learn another.


I think French is closer to English. It's also a little easier to pronounce for English Speakers. German is hard for them.


The non-core vocabulary of English is closer to French, but that's the only similarity.

Phonetically, French is quite different from English (equally stressed syllables, no diphthongs, nasalized vowels, unaspirated stops, uvular r).

The only problem with pronouncing German might be its ch (ç or x) and r (which varies with accent). It's also easier to work out how to pronounce a German word from its spelling.


English is really a kind of German, just with lots of French/Latin words merged in.


That's downplaying it slightly. Here's what old english sounded like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH-_GwoO4xI

Even in the written form it's absolutely impossible for me to decipher, it might as well be a completely different language:

>HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,

>þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,

>hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!

The language evolved so drastically over the past thousand years that his germanic roots are buried pretty deep. Nowadays you're likely to find more cognates in a french text than in a german one.

Meanwhile I can find french texts even older than Beowulf and still understand the general gist of it. See for instance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequence_of_Saint_Eulalia#Text . Even if you don't speak french comparing the original and modernized french version should be enough to convince you of the similarities:

>Buona pulcella fut eulalia. (Bonne pucelle fut Eulalie.)

>Bel auret corps bellezour anima (Beau avait le corps, belle l’âme.)

>Voldrent la veintre li deo Inimi. (Voulurent la vaincre les ennemis de Dieu)


English and German started diverging 1000 years ago, and what they have in common are a smattering of words suited to village life back then. They're really quite different now.


I grew up in northern Germany. Being able to understand Low German helped immensely with learning English.


Well, a Germanic language, but much closer to the other members of the Anglo-Frisian group than it is to German itself.


I've always heard that Dutch (and one of its northern variants) is the closest language to English in the world, yet it is clumped together in this map with languages from a much different linguistic origin. Romance languages should be harder to learn than West Germanic languages, which include English, Dutch and German, yet some of the Romance languages are listed here as easier than German. So that surprises me. Many sentences sound almost identical between Dutch and English, for example. You can't really say that about a Romance language. And the structure of the English language has much more in common with Dutch and German than with most other languages.


I moved to Belgium 7 years ago from the UK. I live in the Dutch speaking half.

I had a very rudimentary grasp of Dutch after 18 months mostly through just speaking to my mother-in-law and watching Dutch TV.

Then I spent another 18 months doing 3 hours a week evening classes. After that I was proficient enough to have hour long conversations.

I don't find it very similar to English, if anything the similarities makes it worse because they often mean something else. It is very close to German and I can understand some German now. You do spot lots of interesting similarities but everything is backwards for starters, it's "four and twenty" not "twenty four" and "what want you eating?" instead of "what do you want to eat?". So it's kind of similar but you sound really stupid unless you get it in the right order.

I think there's a big difference between making yourself understood and speaking without making errors. I've made a big effort to try to get the accent correct which very few do.


"Four and twenty" is idiomatic English in that it survives in the children's nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence.

It was composed around the same time that William of Orange reigned as king of the UK, so maybe that's a Dutch influence on our language!

I only know this because Four'n Twenty is the unofficial national dish of Melbourne. :)


Dutch in general is much closer to Shakespeare's era of English, which is not modern English. Shakespeare includes phrases like "he knows not what he does" instead of modern English, "he doesn't know what he is doing." The "is ..." conjugations are a relatively recent invention in English, and Dutch more closely follows old English-style construction.


I did try to imagine myself speaking Shakespearian English at times in the beginning.

That's actually the problem of translating Shakespeare into Dutch, it just sounds normal and less romantic.

"Romeo, where are you?"

If they'd translate it into old Dutch [0] it would give a better feel of the language but still wouldn't be correct as Old Dutch died out in the 12th century.

[0]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Dutch


“Wherefore art thou Romeo” isn’t confusing to modern English speakers because of the archaic “art thou”, it’s confusing to modern English speakers because it actually means “why are you [named] Romeo [implicitly, Montague]”, the where- prefix has nothing to do with location.

It’s extremely common for modern speakers to be unaware what wherefore means.


Yeah, that's why I used that example :)

But it's really hard when you have to translate fluently

A better example is four and seventy, I always hear forty seven then have to realise I'm wrong and switch.

People say their phone numbers in pairs so you have to do this switching very fast as people are used to repeating their number.


You are exaggerating slightly.

If you say "wat wil je eten," there is no "eating." It's "to eat," in this case, like in English. "Eten" is the infinitive.

A literal word-for-word translation would be "what want you to eat?"


Didn't mean to exaggerate, I'm just wrong :)

Thanks for spotting it.

Although thinking about it, my 5yo daughter does make the same mistake when she speaks English (she translates literally from Dutch), for example she'll say "what going we eating?".

But you have lots of these, "wil je naar huis?" / "want you to home?"

"ik geloof er niks van" / "I believe there nothing from"

In my head I usually hear the English words and it always just sounds really stupid.


> In my head I usually hear the English words

I think that's just because as a new learner of a language, you are still thinking in your native language, not in the language you are trying to speak.

I've learned that it is easier to learn a language if you try to skip that intermediate translation process. Dutch is actually simpler than English in many ways (just as Old English is simpler than Modern English). Part of your and your daughter's confusion is perhaps because the same verb tense can be said in multiple ways in English, but in Dutch is usually only said in one way.

In English you might have "we are eating" and "we eat" that both represent now, but in Dutch it is usually just the latter. Similarly in English you might have "we will eat tomorrow", "we are going to eat tomorrow," etc, but even the Dutch use the present tense for this, "we eat tomorrow."

In fact, Dutch even skips verb conjugations entirely half the time, and just uses the infinite.


I'm pretty sure I over use 'aan het' just to get the 'ing' back.

"Wij zijn aan het eten"

As far as making the mistake, I should just know better. I got to a level that was good enough and have stagnated there. So I make lots of small mistakes, but often I'm not aware of them.


It occurs to me that the following all mean nearly the same thing in English:

     We are going to eat tomorrow
     We will eat tomorrow
     We will be eating tomorrow
     We are going to be eating tomorrow
There might be others I'm not thinking of right now.

Modern English has a lot of extra subtlety.

Dutch:

     We eat tomorrow.
Not only is a future tense avoided, and an -ing tense is avoided, and a lot of filler words avoided, but also the present tense is avoided since in Dutch, the infinitive verb itself is the actual present tense about half the time (which cannot really be translated literally here)! Such simplicity doesn't really exist in English.

I find Dutch a lot like learning an elegant, dynamically-typed programming language.

The -ing stuff is just filler a lot of the time, so the Dutch wisely just don't do that most of the time.


I don't think they are the same thing. "We will" is a stronger statement in intent than "We are going." "We will elect Trump!" versus "We are going to elect Trump!" may refer to the same election, but the former would be followed by a stronger statement:

We will elect Trump! It's great! We are going to elect Trump! I'm excited!

I don't think it's a hard and fast rule, but if people use the future tense, it's more of a personal or indefinite statement, and the present tense is more universal and definite one.

"We elect Trump tomorrow." is something that misses this. You remove the individual ability to affirm or weaken the statement. I don't know much about Dutch and English, but I'd wonder if many Dutch people fluent in English have problems with getting taken too definitely or being seen as pushy.


English is an unusual case in that English dropped most of its inflection as it transitioned from Old English to Middle English, and then heavily adopted Romance roots (first Norman French for a fair few common terms, then Latin for advanced scientific terms). Thus a native English-speaker already has a greater familiarity with the functional vocabulary of Romance languages than they do with other Germanic languages. Meanwhile, what should have been the grammatical leg-up from being a Germanic language doesn't exist, so the grammatical ease of learning French versus German are going to be roughly equivalent. Although Romance might be somewhat easier, since it's a two-gender system unlike the Germanic three-gender system.

The closest language to English is Frisian, which isn't a variant of Dutch (English and Frisian broke off from West Germanic as Anglo-Frisian, and an Englishman could well pass for Frisian in Medieval times). Dutch broke off at the same time as Anglo-Frisian, and it evolved somewhat towards English and Frisian (particularly in some of the phonology).

As someone whose only competent foreign language is French, I'll point out that Frisian and Dutch are in no way intelligible (although I'm mostly going by written varieties here, and it should be noted that Frisian and Dutch butcher their orthography on the same order that English does). Occasionally, you do come across a sentence in Dutch or Frisian that is completely well-understood, but most of the rest of the text remains fairly impenetrable.

From what I've heard anecdotally, the interesting thing about Dutch is that it seems to unintelligible to English or German monoglots, but English/German bilinguals tend to find it quite easy to understand.


English, while a Germanic language, is highly influenced by Latin and French in particular and thus has commonalities with Romance languages. Dutch is closest but the issue with German is grammar which is different enough from English to make it harder to acquire. For instance German has four cases and gender but English has largely done away with both of these.


You agree that Dutch is closest but I wonder why it is clumped together with languages that are generally more difficult, like French and Spanish. Perhaps the map doesn't have enough resolution to be so meaningful in that way.


These influences are almost exclusively related to vocabulary. English's grammar on the other hand is Germanic.


Dutch is a Germanic language, like German. However, it contains many loanwords from other languages:

* Greek

* Latin

* French

* German

* English

Dutch teenagers get to learn all of these languages (although to be fair only the most difficult education called gymnasium will follow Latin or Greek and they're allowed to pick one of these, ditch the other).

A lot of these loanwords from Greek and Latin you'll find in other Anglo-Saxon, Romanic, and Germanic languages.

The Romanic and Germanic languages also contain some loan words which you'll find within each other.

More recently, the USA and English have become rather dominant and important in the last centuries, and we're much less distant from each other thanks to technologies like aviation, radio, television, and Internet.

Its like figuring out you got some of the same DNA as someone else while you got the same ancestors like for example the gene for being tolerant to lactose which Europeans generally have whilst Asians don't.

The other side of the blade is that we're also in a bubble; our own bubble tells us English is important for it is in the tech-industry which is the general population of HN. These people are generally proficient in English.

Yet if you go to small villages in France or Germany or The Netherlands (and probably about any country in the world) you'll find people who speak say a dialect of their native language and that's it. Because they don't live like globalists.

That's OK, we should accept that (tho in the EU its rather expensive to translate to and from all the languages!). There are people (as well as AI) who can serve as a bridge between these languages.


Dutch is a combination of German and English, my Dutch friends tell me. German is a tough language to learn. The grammar diverges from English significantly. I'm using the source as myself since I've been learning for the last 2 years.

I've also learned some basic Spanish and Portuguese, I found them easier to pick up. I've heard it's possible to have some fluency in Spanish in 3 - 6 months. I think it would be very difficult to achieve this in Germany.

In the end it depends on the learner as well. My experience learning languages is that it's hard no matter what!


If you want to really see how close the relationship between the Germanic languages are, line up some sentences German, Norwegian (or Danish or Swedish), Dutch, English, Icelandic next to each other, and then a second group with Middle High German, Norse (for the modern Scandinavian languages), Old Dutch, Middle English, Icelandic.

Basically if you pick up any modern pair, you get a ton for free. Pick up a third, or even just learn a decent amount about one, and you start picking up a lot of patterns that lets you infer meanings. If any of the modern pairs includes Icelandic, you'll benefit strongly from knowing the older versions of the other one in the pair...

Learn the patterns of how newer forms of your own language derive from the older, and you'll find you'll start being able to "shift down, sideways and back up" very often.

E.g. Dutch or German sch => sk in the Scandinavian languages. "u" in middle of a word => "o". Hence "Schule" => "skole" (school). There's dozens of simple transliteration rules like that.

In terms of older forms, an example from Norwegian that illustrates the closer relationships, that I'm particularly fond of because it's an oddity, is "vel bekomme".

It is a pleasantry that basically means "you're welcome" specifically used after a meal. It's a fun one because while "vel" ("well") is still used in modern Norwegian in many contexts, including in e.g. "velkommen" (welcome), "bekomme" now doesn't even figure in most dictionaries on it's own, and some younger Norwegians would struggle to explain what the word means on its own (I'm 42, and my generation too rarely used it separate from the phrase "vel bekomme", but were quite likely to hear it in somewhat wider use in our childhood)

But it's the same word as German "bekommen" one of the meanings of which is for food to "agree" with you, and with etymology that converges with the etymology of English "become".

Which sounds weird until you deconstruct both into roughly a mix of "to take on" (characteristics of), "to receive" (well).

The fun thing is that when directly transliterating the words into the closest German/Dutch cognates, it's not perfect, but it's close enough that if you know the history of the words, it's becomes obvious in context.

At which point the other (archaic; you may still find old people use it, but even that is becoming rare) Norwegian use makes sense: "Det bekommer Dem" => literally "it becomes you" (in the meaning "it suits you")

For some younger Norwegian speakers, that latter Norwegian phrase is now so unusual that it's sometimes first when they learn German or learn the English phrase that the meaning fully "clicks".


From a linguistic perspective, languages being geneologically close to each other does not imply a degree of mutual intelligibility. Dutch and English are close, closer than German and English. But it is possible that English speakers end up learning Spanish easier. Why? Languages are really complex structures, sometimes they don't reason.


I think the reason Americans are morely likely to learn Spanish easier is simply because of the huge and relatively recent influence of widespread Spanish all over the States, thanks to proximity to Mexico. Most Americans are already familiar (to varying degrees) with Spanish whether they intend to be or not.

I bet if you gave a native English speaker exposure to Dutch in the same way, they'd be much closer to actually speaking it than with the same exposure to Spanish.

If you hear a Dutch person say "the water is warm," or "the cat sat on the mat", or "if I can," or many other simple sentences and phrases, the unassuming listener might think they are speaking English as the sentences are nearly identical.


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