Which Language is Easiest for an English Speaker to Learn?
Choosing a Language to Study
Unfortunately in Australia and New Zealand it appears that fewer and fewer students are studying foreign languages at school or tertiary level (college). Australian's appear more bemused than proud that their new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd can speak Mandarin and is competent enough to make official speeches in it - which is a very competent indeed!
I have always enjoyed independent travel, in Ireland I don't need a foreign language but in much of the rest of the world I did!
Should We Learn French or German?
Thirty years ago the languages of choice in schools were European: usually we were learning French, sometimes Latin, less commonly German. Now the reason that these were taught in New Zealand and Australian schools was this is what used to be taught in English schools! It made a whole lot of sense in the South Pacific - or did it? English has the biggest vocabulary of any language: its classified as a Germanic language, but thanks to the French speaking Normans invading in 1066 there are an awful lot of borrowed French words for words the dull locals didn't have including to do with food, "cuisine" is in fact is French and words associated with law and administration. In fact your average English speaker will recognize many more words in written French than they will in Dutch or German - even though the latter two languages are linguistically closer to English.
So is French or German the language to learn - well they are spoken by only small groups of people. French is losing ground in areas such as IndoChina where French was traditionally the second language it has all but disappeared for the under-60's. French is still a second language in Saharan Africa.
Should we learn Chinese?
Today English is probably the most widely spoken language in the world, thanks to the British Empire. However the language with the largest number of speakers is Chinese Mandarin and given the economic importance of China that we should be encouraging students to study Mandarin? After all 20 years ago Japanese was the language of choice for similar reasons. However economically important Chinese may be this ignores the fact that it is incredibly difficult to learn languages which have no vocabulary in common with English, are written in a different script and are tonal to boot - the same word can have completely different meaning depending on whether you use a rising, falling or flat inflection! It's a bit like expecting a student to study calculus without having to learn basic arithmetic!
Learning languages is like any skill the first one is always the most difficult - so maybe Chinese is not the best option to start studying as your first foreign language.
Lets learn Spanish
The third most spoken language in the world is Spanish. Although it only comes in as 3rd in world languages. Spanish is good news for English speakers, especially for linguistically challenged ones like me - so why is learning Spanish particularly easy for English speakers?
Spanish Pronounciation Spanish is spoken as its written with only a couple of variations, the Latin American version is particularly easy for an English speakers : cinco (5) is pronounced - well "cinco" really, though in Spain it would be pronounced "thinko".
Spanish Vocabulary A lot of Spanish vocabulary is close to English variations: Some Spanish words you already know: any fan of Terminator already know how to say "see you later" "hasta la vista". Hola (hi), chica (girl), autobus (bus), rio (river), ciudad (city), norte (north), mar (sea).
Spanish Spelling and (some) grammar Although Spanish grammar can get complex, the simple, present form of the language is straightforward , and unlike French is a noun ends up "o" it's masculine and "a" is feminine with 5 exceptions in total. There are also only a handful of irregular verbs.
El Mundo de Espanol (The Spanish Speaking World)
Spanish will take you as a first or second language from Texas south to Argentina. The only exceptions are Portuguese speaking Brazil, English speaking Belize and Dutch and French speaking Guyanas. In addition Spanish is spoken in Spain. It gets better Spanish and Italian are so close that they are mutually comprehensible. Portuguese, French, Romanian are also closely related languages. Spanish will take you a long way around the world.