Sounds English only in foreign languages
The graphic shows which foreign languages Germans find most difficult to learn
Shutterstock / Dmitry A.It is a question that we ask ourselves for the first time in school: which foreign language should I learn? French, Spanish or Latin - what is easiest for me as a native German speaker?
Hans Peter Krings has been asked this question several times. He is professor for applied linguistics at the University of Bremen. Also has written a book on language learning; “Learning a foreign language with a system”.
There is a clear position from linguistics on the question in general, Krings told Business Insider. “There are no languages that are easy or difficult per se - that is, independent of a specific learner. The idea that some languages generally have a simpler structure than others is a common misconception. "
Languages that have many parallels to German are easier to learn
The Bremen writing coachAs a rule of thumb, however, the following can be established: The closer the linguistic relationship between the mother tongue and the foreign language to be learned, the easier it is to learn this foreign language. "The more closely related a language is to German, the greater the likelihood that there will be words that you share and that you can understand more easily," says Krings.
As a consequence, this means that, starting from German, the languages that are closely related to German are easier to learn than languages that are far away. English and Dutch, for example - which, like German, belong to the West Germanic languages - have many parallels to our language and are therefore usually easier to learn for German native speakers.
In North Germanic languages such as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, there are still a few words that can be deduced, but it is no longer as easy for us as it is with Dutch, for example.
Languages with logographic writing are difficult to learn for German native speakers
It becomes more difficult with Romance languages, which include Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. “These languages also overlap with German, especially when it comes to vocabulary - we have taken many foreign words from Latin - but there are quite a number of differences in the structure,” said Krings. "Therefore, as a rule of thumb, one can say that English or Dutch are generally more easily accessible to a German than, for example, Italian or Spanish."
If we leave the Indo-European language family, we come to languages that are very far from German. Chinese, Japanese and Korean, for example, are not at all related to German. In these languages a sign does not stand for a sound, but for a meaning. They are so-called logographic fonts: “They stand for thought content, so to speak,” says Krings. “Of course more signs are needed for this. In order to have even one basic expression in Chinese or Japanese, you have to know at least 2,000 of these characters, much more. "
Languages that have an alphabet font, such as Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Russian, are significantly easier to learn from this point of view than languages that have a logographic font.
We have summarized the classification in a clear graphic for you:
Even if this classification can be helpful for many learners who speak German as their mother tongue, it is by no means universally valid. How difficult or easy it is for someone to learn a language depends primarily on the learner himself and his or her learning behavior.
Also read: "This is how you learn a foreign language within a week - says a man who speaks 20 languages"
Many other factors also play a role. The disadvantage with all the similarities in English and Dutch, for example, is that it is easy to fall for so-called false friends. These are words that sound or look similar or exactly the same as in German, but have a completely different meaning. As a language learner, it is all too easy to fall into this trap and catch the wrong meaning.
“From a linguistic point of view, it can therefore be said quite clearly: There are no languages that are by definition easier for everyone than others,” says Krings.
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