Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language on the road, but had trouble getting phrases to stick?
There’s no doubt it can be tough to have a meaningful conversation beyond your native tongue.
The thing is, being able to chat in the local language while traveling — even if it’s just gaining a basic familiarity — is perhaps the strongest way to enhance your visit to a foreign country.
Locals are typically ecstatic when foreigners make the effort to speak their language, and the experience of learning it can be among the most rewarding parts of travel.
The good news:
There are certain languages that are easier to learn than others.
Below, I’ll share a list of the six easiest languages to learn for English speakers on the road.
By the end of this article, you’ll have the information — and motivation — you need to officially earn polyglot status.
You’ve got this!
1. Learn Spanish
How hard is it to learn Spanish?
Well, it’s often the first language English speakers choose to learn, especially in the USA.
The biggest challenge is often grasping the gendered nouns, which can be difficult for speakers not accustomed to labeling nearly everything they talk about as male or female.
The good news:
Spanish has half the vowel sounds as English – 10 instead of 20 – and the soft, rolling ñ flows easily off the tongue after a bit of practice.
The Spanish language is definitively romantic, with phonetic spellings, an easily written alphabet, and 330 million native speakers across the world. This makes it one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers.
Learn basic Spanish phrases:
- Hola / Hello
- Buenos dias / Good Morning
- ¿Cual es su nombre? / What is your name?
- ¿Cómo estás? / How are you?
- Lo siento / I’m sorry
- Te amo / I love you
- Necesito ayuda / I need help
Language learning resources: Click here to study Spanish with a local on Skype.
2. Learn Italian
The Romance Languages hold a firm grip on this list.
Italian is one of my favorite languages, and not just because my grandma immigrated from Southern Italy and through Ellis Island to settle in Queens.
It’s actually one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers, as the grammar and pronunciation are easy to pick up. English and Italian share Latin roots, so you’ll recognize many of the cognates.
Also, it’s fun!
I mean, just think abut playing Super Mario as a kid. “A-Mario and Luigi-a,” and work the pronunciation into other sentences. “That’s-a my-a pizza-pie-a.”
Practicing Italian is more than doable when basing yourself in or traveling through Western Europe, where it’s spoken in over 10 countries. Just be sure to add that accentual flavor when speaking, especially when talking about food!
Here are some Italian pronunciation hacks:
- When trying to pronounce the letter “D”, place your tongue on your teeth for more emphasis
- The letter “H” is silent
- As with Spanish, the letter “R” should be rolled, which you can do by placing your tongue on the back of your teeth
- The letter “U” has an “oo” sound, such as in the word “mood”
Learn basic Italian phrases:
- Ciao / Hello
- Buongiorno / Good morning
- Come ti chiami? / What is your name?
- Come va? / How are you?
- Mi dispiace / I’m sorry
- Ti amo / I love you
- Ho bisogno di aiuto / I need help
Language learning resources: Click here to study Italian with a local on Skype.
3. Learn German
The German language holds the origins of English, making it one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
In fact, the term Anglo-Saxon stems from past German tribes that spoke the oldest forms of the English language. Because of this, the cognates — words which sound the same in both languages — are similar in both.
For new students working to learn German, this means that memorization will come quickly and will not be easily forgotten.
Plus, German might be the most fun language to speak – especially if you like to talk loudly! You’d be hard pressed to find another language as boldly authoritative.
Quick German pronunciation tip: “ß” (called “eszett”) is pronounced as “ss”.
Learn basic German phrases:
- Hallo / Hello
- Guten morgen / Good morning
- Wie heißen Sie? / What is your name?
- Wie geht es dir? / How are you?
- Es tut mir Leid / I’m sorry
- Ich liebe dich / I love you
- Ich brauche Hilfe / I need help
Language learning resources: Click here to study German with a local on Skype.
4. Learn Norwegian
The Scandanavian languages, like Norwegian, are among the easiest languages to learn on the road because the way words are spoken – the speaking patterns – are very similar.
Once you get the hang of it, pronunciation flows off the tongue and stringing words together in these three languages is a straight-forward task.
The biggest setback when learning Norwegian and other Scandanavian languages like Swedish than Danish on the road comes with solo travel. Unfortunately, there is a serious lack in practical applications if you don’t have a study partner.
Unless you’re in the country or one of its Scandinavian neighbors, finding people to speak the language with can be a challenge.
Although, on the bright side, this ultimately provides that much more reason to take your travels north. Moreover, if you learn Norwegian, you’ll have a headstart with learning German, as it’s a Germanic language.
Learn basic Norwegian phrases:
- Hallo / Hello
- God morgen / Good morning
- Hva heter du? / What is your name?
- Hvordan har du det? / How are you?
- Beklager / I’m sorry
- Jeg elsker deg / I love you
- Jeg trenger hjelp / I need help
5. Learn French
Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first:
There are many — 17, to be exact — verb forms in the French language. B
eyond that, French is one of the easiest languages to learn on the road, especially if you’re in Europe or West Africa.
If you already speak Spanish, or at least have a basic understanding of gendered nouns, learning French is that much easier.
The Latin derivations of the language are very similar to those of English, and it’s not hard to find people who speak French on the road.
Additionally, there is a strong international network of Alliances Francaises, particularly across the US, that can serve as a sort of home base for practicing French in different parts of the world.
Learn basic French phrases:
- Hallo / Hello
- Bonjour/ Good morning
- Comment vous appelez-vous?/ What is your name?
- Comment allez-vous? / How are you?
- Je suis désolé / I’m sorry
- Je t’aime / I love you
- J’ai besoin d’aide / I need help
Language learning resources: Click here to study French with a local on Skype.
6. Learn Indonesian
This one’s for those wanting to park themselves in Bali for a bit and mingle with the incredibly strong digital nomad scene there.
Or, perhaps, for those already trekking through the islands of Indonesia.
Indonesian is a quick language to pick up, and many English-speaking expats in the country readily speak it. In fact, you’re more likely to hear a group of expats speaking in the local tongue in Indonesia than in most spots in Asia.
The language — both in its written and spoken forms — is very phonetic.
Spend some time hanging out in warungs (small family-owned cafes and restaurants) or at a busy co-working space and you’ll gain a basic understanding of common words and phrases.
Indonesians tend to be very friendly, and will often go out of their way to teach you their native tongue.
There are no genders, plurals, or conjugations as English speakers are used to.
Learn basic Indonesian phrases:
- Halo / Hello
- Selamat pagi / Good morning
- Siapa namamu? / What is your name?
- Apa kabar? / How are you?
- Maafkan saya / I’m sorry
- Aku cinta kamu / I love you
- Saya butuh bantuan / I need help
Why is it important to learn a foreign language?
Okay, so how important are language skills?
Learning another language not only makes you smarter in some ways, but also sets you up for better success in the job world.
How much better?
A report titled Not Lost in Translation: The Growing Importance of Foreign Language Skills in the U.S. Job Market found that “Over the past five years, demand for bilingual workers in the United States more than doubled.”
This goes for both skilled and unskilled positions.
Moreover, the entire travel experience is enhanced once you move from observing locals to truly interacting with them beyond pleasantries.
Sure, trying the local food is great; but imagine being able to ask the chef where he got the recipe? Or doing a homestay where a glass of wine isn’t just a taste of the destination, but a vehicle for deeper after-dinner conversations?
Building on this idea, learning a foreign language means more opportunities to expand your beliefs and have debates (in a respectful manner, of course).
Especially in today’s global polices climate, it’s important to be able to hear others’ opinions for a more worldly viewpoint.
Here’s a fun challenge:
Give yourself a goal to learn a new language, then book a trip to a place where it’s spoken. Make it your mission to learn 10 interesting stories pertaining to the local culture — all gathered from conversations you have with locals.
You’ve got this!
Which foreign language is more in demand?
If you’re wanting to learn the most in-demand language, the answer would really depend on where you live and your goal.
As someone who lives in the United States and who leads tours, learning Spanish has been very beneficial to me. In fact, when I lived in Bushwick for five years certain shops didn’t have English-speaking staff.
That being said, if you’re Canadian it may benefit you more to learn French, as there are many French-speaking provinces in the country.
If you’re in a commerce field, China’s position as a world leader in trading may make mandarin a smart option for you.
Go back to your goals.
Why are you wanting to learn another language in the first place?
This should give you your answer.
Tips For Learning A Language
During your studies, you’ll want to keep a few tips for learning a language in mind, including:
- Create goals (with deadlines!). First of all, understanding why you want to learn a language gives it purpose. Moreover, having goals — with deadlines you can stick to — helps you avoid falling into the “oh, I’ll study tomorrow” trap; you know, the one where tomorrow never comes.
- Go back to basics. As in, the alphabet and how to pronounce the letters in the alphabet. Remember, the way letters are pronounced in another language may not be the same as in English. For instance, in Spanish “ll” sounds like an English “y”.
- Learn the most common words first. Aim to learn 100 everyday words, like “hello” and “work.” You’ll need some vocabulary under your belt before you can start stringing sentences together.
- Consider your own interests. Add another 100 words related to your own passions. This will help you get extra excited about expanding your vocabulary.
- Find a language learning partner. While classes are great, the best way to study is to actually practice with a native speaker of the language you’re trying to learn. Avoid high class prices and instead practice with locals as you travel and keep the momemtum going by conversing with language partners on Skype.
More on that below!
You can get a free 60-minute language learning session on Skype. Woohoo!
How To Learn A Language Quickly
You can read a Spanish textbook until you fall asleep at your desk, but until you put learning into practice it’s tough to make the words stick.
Moreover, conversing with a native speaker allows you to hear pronunciation, learn common phrases and practically apply the language.
Your goal is likely to be able to speak comfortably on a trip to Spain (or another destination), enhance your resume or chat with a friend in their native language; not to simply be able to feel cool because you can read a few words on a paper.
So, how do you get to this point?
My friends over at Live Lingua offer online Skype lessons in 11 different languages, all taught by native speakers.
Combining language lessons with daily interactions is a great way to spruce up your travels and experience local culture in a different light.
What’s really neat if you get a 60-minute free session to try out the program and see if it’s for you.
Personally, I’ve loved this option for my Spanish speaking.
Latin America is a destination I go to frequently, one reason being I can have conversations in the local language. During my travels, my language skills improve dramatically and I’m able to really get to know the local people I meet.
However, once I’m home and back to speaking English, I easily forget what I’ve learned.
You know what they say:
If you don’t use it, you lose it.
Live Lingua’s language classes over Skype ensure you move forward instead of backward with your language learning.
In your opinion, what are the easiest languages to learn for English speakers? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
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