According to scientific research, which languages take the least time to learn for a native English speaker?



Basically what I'm just asking in the question's title. By learning a language, I mean being able to fluently speak it, understand it, write it, and read it. I would think French or German. Please include references to scientific research in your answers.


Posted 2016-04-05T19:24:38.090

Reputation: 5 657

@Flimzy on average.fi12 2016-04-05T19:39:34.010


The concept of Linguistic Distance is a valid (IMHO) topic on this site as well as the common use of relative linguistic difficulty from one language to another.

callyalater 2016-04-05T21:31:23.950

Do you mean on average? (Of all English speakers who learned another language, the average time to fluency was lowest for X language)? Do you mean which language is most similar grammatically to English (probably Frisian)? Do you mean, which language has the shortest intensive, full-immersion program that can provide fluency in the shortest time?Flimzy 2016-04-05T19:29:29.260



According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), there are categorical rankings of difficulty in learning a language relative to English. A list can be found here with approximate time to become adequate in that language.

Another concept closely related to this is Linguistic Distance. Linguistic distance involves how similar one language is to another (though most implementations of calculating this focus on vocabulary) with regard to some linguistic feature (usually wordbase). The similarities can be calculated mathematically using Levenshtein Distance.

For example, from the Wikipedia article:

Based on this, one study compared both Afrikaans and West Frisian with Dutch to see which was closer to Dutch. It determined that the Dutch and Afrikaans (mutual distance of 20.9%) were considerably closer than Dutch and West Frisian (mutual distance of 34.2%).

Linguistic Difficulty

Additional resources can be found here, here, here, and here.


Posted 2016-04-05T19:24:38.090

Reputation: 1 530

2The FSI rankings are cited in many books about language learning, but are there any scientific publications about it? Has anyone tried to correlate the FSI ranking with the Levenshtein distance or any of the other metrics?Christophe Strobbe 2016-07-31T19:16:07.903