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Difficulty in Learning another Language?

lpetrich

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Here is the main source that I've found for difficulty of (natural) language learning for English speakers.

Foreign Language Training - United States Department of State
FSI’s Experience with Language Learning

The following language learning timelines reflect 70 years of experience in teaching languages to U.S. diplomats, and illustrate the time usually required for a student to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in the language, or a score of “Speaking-3/Reading-3” on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. These timelines are based on what FSI has observed as the average length of time for a student to achieve proficiency, though the actual time can vary based on a number of factors, including the language learner’s natural ability, prior linguistic experience, and time spent in the classroom.
Wikibooks:Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers - Wikibooks, open books for an open world has an earlier version of this list.
  • I (24 weeks) Afrikaans, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, Galician, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish
  • I' (30 weeks) French
  • II (36 weeks) German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Malay, Swahili, Javanese, Jumieka
  • III (44 weeks) (most languages)
  • IV (88 weeks) Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

Is that ranking even halfway plausible? Has anyone made any similar lists for native speakers of other languages? I can imagine the KGB and its successors doing so for speakers of Russian, but I haven't found anything on that.
 

lpetrich

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I've seen these theories about the class-IV languages:

For Arabic, one has to learn both Modern Standard Arabic and some regional dialect.

For Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, one has to learn a large number of Chinese characters.

Without these features, these languages may be class-III instead.

As to what may make Swahili and Malay/Indonesian II instead of III I can only speculate. Highly regular grammar?

As to what makes most Romance and Germanic languages I I've seen a theory about.
Here is a list by degree of agreement with the SAE feature list.
  • 9: French, German, Occitan, Romansh
  • 8: Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Sardinian, Albanian
  • 7: English, Romanian, Greek
  • 6: Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, Icelandic
  • 5: Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Russian
  • <=2: Finnish, Estonian, Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Basque, Turkish, Georgian, Armenian
All the I, I', and II languages, along with English itself, have agreement counts of 6 to 9, However, these counts have some III languages. Counts of 5 or lower are all III, however.

This convergence most likely happened in the early Middle Ages.
 

Loren Pechtel

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I've seen these theories about the class-IV languages:

For Arabic, one has to learn both Modern Standard Arabic and some regional dialect.

For Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, one has to learn a large number of Chinese characters.

Japanese characters are not Chinese characters, although there is some correspondence. We walked into a supermarket in Japan and my wife could get about 1 in 4 things on the signs. She had no understanding of more complex written stuff and no understanding of the spoken language.

I believe Korean is also separate but we have never been there and I haven't looked into it.
 

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I've learned both German (relatively easy) and Japanese (significantly harder) in my life, to varying degrees.

The Japanese spoken language, and the 'original' written language (Hiragana) is relatively easy. It has very straightforward pronunciation rules, and the grammar, while very different from english, is very structured, and once you understand it, it's not that bad. The difficulty lies in that the Japanese modern written language is a mish-mash of Hiragana, Katakana (used to emulate sounds not natively found in Japanese language, and some more modern usages), and Conji (Chinese). They mix all of this in their writing, which is why someone who knows Chinese Conji would have a hard time, whereas the Japanese can read Chinese readily. My understanding is that the Japanese subtly change the context/meaning of some characters, though, which doesn't make it 100% relatable.
 

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As I wrote in another thread the difference between Easy (I and II) and Hard (III and IV) is most likely that the former use alphabets close to English, while the latter don't.

If one is satisfied with conversational ease to make holidays more pleasant and doesn't try to learn written language, I still think Thai is easier than French or German.
 

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Another source of difficulty is the PRC's program of simplifying characters to promote literacy.

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

The Chinese characters used in Japanese are based on the old forms of the characters. So it's likely to be easier for Taiwanese to read Japanese writing and vice versa than for mainlanders.
 

lpetrich

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As I wrote in another thread the difference between Easy (I and II) and Hard (III and IV) is most likely that the former use alphabets close to English, while the latter don't.
Let's see: all the I and II languages use the Roman alphabet, and most of the III languages. Of those that don't, many of them use other alphabets and quasi-alphabets. I say quasi-alphabet to cover the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets, where vowels are an afterthought (abjads) and also South Asian ones, where one writes vowels that are other than a certain one, usually "a" (abugidas).

Some of them should be easy for Roman-alphabet users, like the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets.

Here is the complete list of III and old II langs that the State Department listed:

Albanian, Amharic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cebuano, Czech, Dari, Dzongkha, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, Georgian, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Ilocano, Irish, Kannada, Kazakh, Khmer, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Lao, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Marathi, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Sinhala, Slovak, Slovenian, Somali, Tagalog, Tajiki, Tamil, Tanchangya, Telugu, Tetum, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Xhosa, Zulu

One Germanic language is in this list of difficulty III: Icelandic. It is the most morphologically conservative of present-day Germanic languages, much like Old Norse and Old English and Gothic.

All the other IE langs are difficulty III: Celtic, Albanian, Greek, Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Indo-Iranian.

Some non-IE langs are difficulty II: Swahili and Malay/Indonesian, but nearly all of them listed are III or IV. What might make the II ones easy to learn?

If one is satisfied with conversational ease to make holidays more pleasant and doesn't try to learn written language, I still think Thai is easier than French or German.
Has anyone tried to find out?
 

Swammerdami

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Here is the complete list of III and old II langs that the State Department listed:
...
Some non-IE langs are difficulty II: Swahili and Malay/Indonesian, but nearly all of them listed are III or IV. What might make the II ones easy to learn?
In my conjecture, Swahili and Malay/Indonesian are easier to learn because, as I stated, they are written in the ordinary Roman alphabet.

(Not knowing what "old II" meant, I didn't examine the associated list.)
 

lpetrich

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Here is the complete list of III and old II langs that the State Department listed:
...
Some non-IE langs are difficulty II: Swahili and Malay/Indonesian, but nearly all of them listed are III or IV. What might make the II ones easy to learn?
In my conjecture, Swahili and Malay/Indonesian are easier to learn because, as I stated, they are written in the ordinary Roman alphabet.
So putting little marks on letters makes a language very difficult to learn?

Let's see which I and II languages use what.
  • Forward (acute) accent: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian
  • Backward (grave) accent: French, Portuguese, Italian
  • Hat (circumflex): French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian
  • Upside-down hat (breve): Romanian
  • Wavy line (tilde): Spanish, Portuguese
  • Double dot (diaeresis, umlaut): French, Spanish, Norwegian, German
  • A-circle: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish
  • O-slash: Danish, Nowegian
  • Hook under letter (cedilla): French, Portuguese, Romanian
The only European languages in I and II to use no letter marks are English and Dutch. The non-European languages in II (Swahili, Malay/Indonesian) all use no marks.

(Not knowing what "old II" meant, I didn't examine the associated list.)
"Old II" refers to an earlier version of the State Department's list.
 

Swammerdami

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So putting little marks on letters makes a language very difficult to learn?

Why insist on misconstruing my words? Is it some fetish?

I think Greek and Cyrillic alphabets would take some effort to learn. I've not waded through the State Dept. list to see if the difficulty rating of Every.Single.Language fits my hypothesis.

Do we know whether inflected languages are harder to learn than those of analytic type? Swahili is a polysynthetic language and is unrelated to European languages; yet is rated as easy to learn. That it is written with Roman alphabet would seem to add support to my hypothesis. No?
 

lpetrich

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I think Greek and Cyrillic alphabets would take some effort to learn. I've not waded through the State Dept. list to see if the difficulty rating of Every.Single.Language fits my hypothesis.
A quick trip to Wikipedia will settle this issue - Wikipedia has lots of articles on individual languages and language families. Omniglot - the encyclopedia of writing systems and languages is also a good reference.

Some writing systems are easy to learn, like the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets. Many of the letters are familiar, even if some of them have different phonetic values than similar-looking Roman-alphabet letters. Like "P" for "R".

Others are more difficult. Hebrew and Arabic writing typically treats vowels as an afterthought, usually inferred from context. Chinese has oodles of written symbols, and Japanese has some of the Chinese ones along with two syllabaries (syllable alphabets).

Do we know whether inflected languages are harder to learn than those of analytic type? Swahili is a polysynthetic language and is unrelated to European languages; yet is rated as easy to learn. That it is written with Roman alphabet would seem to add support to my hypothesis. No?
All the low-difficulty ones have some inflection. Other Germanic languages share with English numerous irregular past tenses of verbs. The Continental Western Romance languages, the best-known ones, have about as much noun morphology as English, but somewhat more adjective morphology, and much more verb morphology.
 

steve_bank

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In some ways Chinese is easier.

I remember a little.

Kan shu ma translates literally you read books? Spoken Chines communicates more with less words.

Ni hau ma, are you felling OK?
 

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I did not find the Greek written language difficult to learn at all; almost all of its letters have equivalent phonemes in my native English.
 

lpetrich

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Kan shu ma translates literally you read books? Spoken Chines communicates more with less words.

Ni hau ma, are you felling OK?
I'd like to see the absolute literal translations of these. From the looks of it it's

Read book
You feel OK
 

steve_bank

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Kan shu ma translates literally you read books? Spoken Chines communicates more with less words.

Ni hau ma, are you felling OK?
I'd like to see the absolute literal translations of these. From the looks of it it's

Read book
You feel OK

Learning a language like Chinese and Spansih is to understnd thoughts abd feelings which are epressed diffently in language and culture.

Spanish has a fluid syntax as opposed to more rigid English. In Spanish unless you are being formal pronouns are optional.

Latino immigrants who are not proficient in English speak with Spanish syntax and grammar using English words. I understood that when I began to learn Spanish. Chinese do the same at times.



The context of any language is learned as you grow up in it. In Chinese as I remember 'you go store' could mean go right now,
go in the future, or you went in the past.

The thing language teaches you is regardless how a language sounds to you the feelings and emotions behind it are all the same.
go in the future, or you went in the past. Tense is contextual.

ni hau ma? is 'you good?' ma is the question word and ni is a pronoun. We translate as a number of contextual meanings. A Chinese not fluent in English might say 'You good?'.

Some say English is the hardest to lean as a second language.
 

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Kan shu ma translates literally you read books? Spoken Chines communicates more with less words.

Ni hau ma, are you felling OK?
I'd like to see the absolute literal translations of these. From the looks of it it's

Read book
You feel OK

Regard the 'ma' as a question mark.
Look book ?
You good ?

It might look as Japanese is easier than Chinese, because the number of officially recommended characters are fewer than what you need to read a Chinese newspaper. But one problem with JP is that a character may have several readings; the majority of CH characters have one reading. One relatively uncomplicated example: The character meaning "man" is pronounced ren in CH, but hito or jin in JP, depending on context. There are many much, much worse examples. My impression after many not too successful hours is that the JP grammar is way more complicated and unsystematic than CH.

I've tried Arabic. Some classical, some Modern Standard Arabic. The absence of vowels in just about everything written but the Qur'an, children's and learners' books means that you more or less have to know the (grammar of the) language before you're able to read a text. I can't rank the difficulty of these three languages even for myself. Much depends on what resources are available, your motivation, your environment and which language skills you are aiming for. If the need were to arise, I would probably find MSA the easiest to revive and improve, then CH and hardest JP.

That said, examples of major languages that I actively have avoided are Turkic and Dravidian languages. Interesting, but they are out-prioritized by quite a few others on my list, not just because of their difficulty.
 

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The context of any language is learned as you grow up in it. In Chinese as I remember 'you go store' could mean go right now,
go in the future, or you went in the past.
In Chinese, one indicates tense with adverbs, so if one omits them, one expects tense info to be filled in with context.

English speakers also use partial sentences filled in with context. Like "Where are you? In my room." Where one omits "I'm" in one's response.
Some say English is the hardest to lean as a second language.
Who?
 

lpetrich

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Regard the 'ma' as a question mark.
Look book ?
You good ?
Russian uses "li" and I once saw it explained as "whether". Japanese also uses a "question particle", as it's sometimes called: "ka".

I've tried Arabic. Some classical, some Modern Standard Arabic. The absence of vowels in just about everything written but the Qur'an, children's and learners' books means that you more or less have to know the (grammar of the) language before you're able to read a text. I can't rank the difficulty of these three languages even for myself. Much depends on what resources are available, your motivation, your environment and which language skills you are aiming for. If the need were to arise, I would probably find MSA the easiest to revive and improve, then CH and hardest JP.
What the US FSI gives are averages from its experience, so one's experience may differ.

Lugubert, I'm curious about how easy or difficult it is to learn English. Here are some possible difficulties:
  • Spelling: it's semi-logographic though letters have no marks on them.
  • Phonology: lots of vowels and voiceless and voiced th.
  • Grammar: numerous compound verb tenses, numerous irregular past-tense forms.
The past-tense irregularities are shared with other Germanic languages, I must note.

Has anyone in Sweden done anything analogous to the FSI's classification for Swedish speakers? Did the KGB ever work out anything analogous for Russian speakers?
 

steve_bank

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Who? Immigrants I have known since I was a kid. My senior building I live in is international. Chinese, Vietnamese, Swiss, Latino, Indian, Native American, African immigrant, Mid East. The languages, English adaptations, and accent mix is always in the background. One learns to read the differences in English usage.

In Chinese I don't think there are tenses equivalent to our basic 7 or 8 tenses with conjugations. There are equivalent grammar to participles. In English to go becomes going and gone. Regular and irregular verbs.

https://www.bsctextbooks.com/basic-chinese-tenses/
 

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Basic Chinese Tenses: How to Easily Master the 4 Tenses
"Unlike other languages, such as English, that focus on when the action takes place, Chinese pays more attention to whether or not the action is complete."

That's something called verb aspect, and many of what are called verb tenses are actually tense-aspect combinations. Like in English.

 Grammatical aspect

Aspects can be formed with adverbs / particles, as in Chinese, with auxiliary verbs, as in English, or by making extra versions of verbs, as in the Slavic languages and as is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European (the Slavic and PIE systems are separate!).

Here are some imperfective - perfective aspect pairs in Russian. Perfectives are usually prefixed imperfectives:
  • delat' - sdelat' - to do
  • chitat' - prochitat' - to read
  • uchit' - vyuchit' - to learn
  • igrat' - poigrat' - to play
  • pisat' - napisat' - to write
  • khotet' - zakhotet' - to want
  • gotovit' - prigotovit' - to cook
Notice the variety of prefixes. All of them are also prepositions.

Sometimes imperfectives are suffixed perfectives or have vowel shifts:
  • davat' - dat' - to give
  • pokazyvat' - pokazat' - to show
  • rasskazyvat' - rasskazat' - to tell
  • otvechat’ - otvetit’ - to answer
  • pokupat' - kupit' - to buy
  • reshat' - reshit' - to solve, decide
Sometimes they have "suppletion", combinations of different word roots:
  • govorit' - skazat' - to say, speak
  • brat' - vzjat' - to take
 

lpetrich

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 Proto-Indo-European verbs - it also had related-verb aspects, but formed very differently from Slavic ones. I can't find any good lists of reconstructed examples, however. The PIE system has lots of relics in the dialects, like irregular past-tense formations in Germanic, Latin, and Greek.

There's a notable bit of suppletion in PIE: "to be": imperfective *h1es-, perfective *bheuH- They show up as English "is", "be", and Latin "est", "fuit", for instance. "Was" is further suppletion in Germanic.

 Suppletion is full of examples.

English "go" also has suppletion: its past tense "went" from "wend".

The Romance conjugations of their words for "to go" are a crazy quilt of suppletion, from these five sources in their ancestor, Latin:
  1. vādere ‘to go, proceed’,
  2. īre ‘to go’
  3. ambitāre ‘to go around’ -> Spanish, Portuguese andar "to walk"
  4. ambulāre ‘to walk’
  5. fuī suppletive perfective of esse ‘to be’

I consulted Verbix:
  • French: aller (4), present je vais (1), (boot verb) nous allons (4), future j'irai (2), others also (4) including the subjunctive
  • Spanish: ir (2), present yo voy (1), impf. yo iba (2), past yo fui (5), future yo iré (2), past part. ido (2)
  • Portuguese: ir (much like Spanish)
  • Italian: andare (3), present io vado (1), (boot verb) noi andiamo, impf. io andavo (3), others also (3)
  • Catalan: anar (much like Italian)
Subjunctives are usually parallel to indicatives.
 

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Here is the main source that I've found for difficulty of (natural) language learning for English speakers.

Foreign Language Training - United States Department of State
FSI’s Experience with Language Learning

The following language learning timelines reflect 70 years of experience in teaching languages to U.S. diplomats, and illustrate the time usually required for a student to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in the language, or a score of “Speaking-3/Reading-3” on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. These timelines are based on what FSI has observed as the average length of time for a student to achieve proficiency, though the actual time can vary based on a number of factors, including the language learner’s natural ability, prior linguistic experience, and time spent in the classroom.
Wikibooks:Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers - Wikibooks, open books for an open world has an earlier version of this list.
  • I (24 weeks) Afrikaans, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, Galician, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish
  • I' (30 weeks) French
  • II (36 weeks) German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Malay, Swahili, Javanese, Jumieka
  • III (44 weeks) (most languages)
  • IV (88 weeks) Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

Is that ranking even halfway plausible? Has anyone made any similar lists for native speakers of other languages? I can imagine the KGB and its successors doing so for speakers of Russian, but I haven't found anything on that.

Sounds weird that it's so hard for English speakers to learn German. English is basically a German dialect with French words added. I'd assume it'd be on par with Swedish, Danish and Dutch. Which also are German dialects.
 

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Sounds weird that it's so hard for English speakers to learn German. English is basically a German dialect with French words added. I'd assume it'd be on par with Swedish, Danish and Dutch. Which also are German dialects.
The FSI lists most Germanic languages at 24 weeks, with two exceptions: German at 36 weeks and Icelandic at 44 weeks (the number for most langs).

I suspect that the main difference is more inflection in German and especially Icelandic.
 

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Kan shu ma translates literally you read books? Spoken Chines communicates more with less words.

Ni hau ma, are you felling OK?
I'd like to see the absolute literal translations of these. From the looks of it it's

Read book
You feel OK

Learning a language like Chinese and Spansih is to understnd thoughts abd feelings which are epressed diffently in language and culture.

Spanish has a fluid syntax as opposed to more rigid English. In Spanish unless you are being formal pronouns are optional.

Latino immigrants who are not proficient in English speak with Spanish syntax and grammar using English words. I understood that when I began to learn Spanish. Chinese do the same at times.

This happens in general, not only in those specific examples. From what I've seen learning a language is actually three separate things.

1) Learning words.
2) Learning grammar.
3) Learning word concepts. This is by far the hardest.

An example of #3 to clarify: In Chinese "open" and "turn on" are the same thing. (Likewise, "close" and "turn off".) For an English speaker learning Chinese it's no problem--both words are represented by the same sound. For a Chinese speaker learning English, though, until the separate word concepts are learned (which is much harder than learning the words) it's a matter of having to pick the correct way of saying it and errors are common. (It took a long time before she wouldn't ask me to open the light.) This is also why Chinese speakers are notorious for getting gender wrong--in spoken Chinese "he", "she", and "it" are all the same sound. With the light there was at least always the same pairing so in time she learned it by repetition, but gender doesn't have a pairing like that. "It" always pairs with objects and gets learned by repetition, but "he" and "she" don't--virtually anything that can be a "he" can be a "she" and vice versa. Learning by repetition isn't possible, you either have to stop and think of which is right in this context or errors will abound. Note that we get something of a taste of this when learning a language with gendered nouns--although there is a pairing so it's akin to my light example, not the he/she problem.

ni hau ma? is 'you good?' ma is the question word and ni is a pronoun. We translate as a number of contextual meanings. A Chinese not fluent in English might say 'You good?'.

This reminds me of a letter my FIL wrote me something like 30 years ago. 100% correctly spelled English but I utterly couldn't understand it. My wife was able to read it much easier than she could read proper English, though--it was Chinese transliterated into English. She could convert the words back into proper Chinese and it was clear. (There was also the problem that he had used multiple idioms, which of course utterly fall apart when transliterated.) After that disaster he didn't try any more, anything he wanted to communicate he wrote to her and let her translate.

Some say English is the hardest to lean as a second language.

Probably.
 

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The context of any language is learned as you grow up in it. In Chinese as I remember 'you go store' could mean go right now,
go in the future, or you went in the past.
In Chinese, one indicates tense with adverbs, so if one omits them, one expects tense info to be filled in with context.

More generally, Chinese does not modify words. The concept doesn't exist. Anything we do with modifiers they do by adding another word. Thus they only have "waitperson". "Waiter" and "Waitress" translate as "male waitperson" and "female waitperson". (This goes along with my previous post about gender issues--since we rarely say "waitperson" in English it's once again one concept in Chinese, two in English and thus ripe for errors.) (Note that they have gendered words for family relationships--and thus it's a one-to-one translation so they don't get messed up.)
 

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As a general principle it is somewhat easier to learn a language closely related to a language one already knows very well.

However there is diminishing returns on that. When languages have been out of touch for, say, 15 centuries the learning advantage of that kinship will be MUCH smaller than even with a 10-century separation. (Naturally this is not an absolute threshold.)


The languages of Western Europe still spoken today, comprise descendants of just five languages spoken 1 AD. These are Vasconic-Basque and 4 Indo-European languages: Gaelic (Irish), Brittonic (Welsh). Germanic, Roman.

In 500 AD the Romance languages were still unified. Dialectic variations were developing, but there would be great mutual intelligibility and bilingualism for many further centuries. Germanic, OTOH, had split into West, North and East branches much earlier and more abruptly. By this time there were a dizzying number of distinct German tribes and dialects. (Of course there were several Celtic languages but all but two went extinct.)

Surely {German, Norwegian, English, Gothic} are more different than any Romance trio (or quartet, throwing in Latin as counterpart to Gothic) you can name. There is a diminishing return on genetic closeness; G & E diverged about 1600 years ago. (Can you name two Romance languages more different from each other than English is from German?)

Anglo-Saxon began life as a group of West Germanic dialects that became established in (and gave its name to) England. A dozen different dialects of this Old English were spoken in England -- and some of the dialectal differences are said to persist to the present-day, at least a millennium later!

Old English written language was more-or-less standardized in its Wessex dialect, but beginning about 1100(?) an Early Middle English emerged in London and eventually became the Standard. Many of these Londoners were immigrants from the Danelaw, immediately to London's North. It is somewhat controversial what language the Danelaw people spoke! A consensus view is that Scandinavian immigrants had learned the local English dialect(s), and this Norsified East Central English went on to become Early London (or Standard) Middle English.

HOWEVER there is notable evidence (but a minority view) that the Danelaw people had retained their North Germanic language. There were TWO different polities operating in England: The Danes and the English. These Dane rulers would continue to speak Danish, if only to demonstrate their power. Often two languages will be kept separate for political purpose, and this was the case in England prior to 1066 AD. After Billy the Bastard arrived, the dynamic reversed. On the principle that "My enemy's enemy is my friend", the English and Danelaw resistance to Norman rule naturally wanted to unify. In the hypothesis a sort of "koiné" of Central Old English and Danelaw Norse developed, with an almost deliberate(!) 50-50 mixture. Perhaps it was this clever combination that led the C.O.Engl and D'w.Norse koiné's result in London to become Early Standard Middle English. Early Middle English developed throughout the 12th century. It was mostly after 1215 that the language accelerated borrowing from French (mostly Parisian French rather than Norman French). NB: The professors espousing this hypothesis do NOT consider the resultant language to be a koiné.

ETA: Note that the West-North split in Germanic would have been only 950 years old when the koiné allegedly developed. This is closer(?) than the same-named Greek koiné and closer than Romance connections, e.g. French-Italian today. AFAIK only I am speaking of koiné but I think this perspective may be correct.


TLDR: I'm not surprised that English speakers learn Romance and Danish more easily than German.


Meanwhile, I continue the claim that if conversational near-fluency is good enough without requiring to read/write the written language, then Thai is (significantly!) easier for the English speaker to learn than German.
 

Lugubert

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Regard the 'ma' as a question mark.
Look book ?
You good ?
Russian uses "li" and I once saw it explained as "whether". Japanese also uses a "question particle", as it's sometimes called: "ka".

I've tried Arabic. Some classical, some Modern Standard Arabic. The absence of vowels in just about everything written but the Qur'an, children's and learners' books means that you more or less have to know the (grammar of the) language before you're able to read a text. I can't rank the difficulty of these three languages even for myself. Much depends on what resources are available, your motivation, your environment and which language skills you are aiming for. If the need were to arise, I would probably find MSA the easiest to revive and improve, then CH and hardest JP.
What the US FSI gives are averages from its experience, so one's experience may differ.

Lugubert, I'm curious about how easy or difficult it is to learn English. Here are some possible difficulties:
  • Spelling: it's semi-logographic though letters have no marks on them.
  • Phonology: lots of vowels and voiceless and voiced th.
  • Grammar: numerous compound verb tenses, numerous irregular past-tense forms.
The past-tense irregularities are shared with other Germanic languages, I must note.

Has anyone in Sweden done anything analogous to the FSI's classification for Swedish speakers? Did the KGB ever work out anything analogous for Russian speakers?

Regarding the difficulty to learn English, I personally can't tell. My father was in the merchant navy, which contributed to my being exposed to some English from an early age. As a kid, I just absorbed foreign (and unusual Swedish) words. I'm told that I taught myself to read at the age of 4.

Generally speaking, I think that the main problems for Swedish speakers apart from the spelling are the 'do' constructions and the progressive forms, with tag questions slightly lower on that list. Lots of vowels in English? We, too, have around 20 vowel phonemes.

My 'daughter' now lives on the other coast; I might ask her some day how she found her five languages following her two early childhood languages. Her collection spans three language families, including two sub-families for Indo-European.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no FSI-like list in Sweden.
 

lpetrich

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Swammerdami tries to speculate on what makes some languages especially easy for English speakers, but there are problems. He uses a lot of history, but there are language difficulties that don't fit.

Germanic:
  • West: (English), Afrikaans, Dutch I, German II
  • North: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish I, Icelandic III

Romance:
  • Ibero-Romance: Portuguese, Galician, Spanish I
  • Occitano-Romance: Catalan I
  • Gallo-Romance: French I'
  • Italo-Dalmatian: Italian I
  • Eastern Romance: Romanian I

One has to ask: what makes Spanish and Italian easier than French, and what makes Dutch as easy as Danish.

Also, what makes Icelandic much more difficult than other North Germanic languages.
 

Bronzeage

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I graduated high school fairly good in conversational Latin, but now I have little more than Salve and Vale.
 

Swammerdami

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Swammerdami tries to speculate on what makes some languages especially easy for English speakers, but there are problems. He uses a lot of history, but there are language difficulties that don't fit....

One has to ask: what makes Spanish and Italian easier than French, and what makes Dutch as easy as Danish.

Also, what makes Icelandic much more difficult than other North Germanic languages.

You greatly exaggerate my post -- no general recipe was offered. I only suggested that the Romance languages are much closer to each other than English is to German. English has also had much contact with both Norse/Danish and with French/Latin: Obviously English will have some eased connections with Romance and Scandinavian languages.

Icelandic is particularly isolated. (E.g., the half-life of its Swadesh List is much longer than that of most languages.) Does it best preserve North Germanic morphology?
 

Loren Pechtel

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I graduated high school fairly good in conversational Latin, but now I have little more than Salve and Vale.

Yeah, if you don't use it you lose it.

A few years back my wife located someone she had known from long ago. At the time he could read English newspapers so she was surprised that he wasn't speaking to me in English. Too long without using it--he had gone from being able to read the paper to not being able to do simple conversation.
 

lpetrich

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Icelandic is particularly isolated. (E.g., the half-life of its Swadesh List is much longer than that of most languages.) Does it best preserve North Germanic morphology?
Its word morphology is much more conservative than that of most other present-day Germanic languages. That of German is somewhat more conservative.

Here's a summary:
StWkArt
mfnmfnmfn
SgNom-ur---i-a-a-inn-in-idh
Acc----a-u-a-inn-ina-idh
Dat-i--i-a-u-a-inum-inni-inu
Gen-s-ar-s-a-u-a-ins-innar-ins
PlNom-ar-ar--ar-ur-u-inir-inar-in
Acc-a-ar--a-ur-u-ina-inar-in
Dat-um-um-um-um-um-um-inum-inum-inum
Gen-a-a-a-a-na-na-inna-inna-inna

Sg = singular, pl = plural, m = masculine, f = feminine, n = neuter
St = strong declension, wk = weak declension, art = suffixed definite article (its initial i often drops out)

Adjective and pronoun declensions are similar. Adjectives are in the strong declension when in an indefinite noun phrase, and the weak declension when in in a definite one, with a definite article, demonstrative pronoun, or possessive pronoun. This is a feature of the older Germanic languages, and it survives in varying degree in the present-day ones, with one exception: English. However, Middle English had a much-reduced version of that feature, much like what Dutch now has.
 

lpetrich

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Let's look at Old English.

StWk
mfnmfn
SgNom--u, ---a-e-e
Acc--e--an-an-e
Dat-e-e-e-an-an-an
Gen-es-e-es-an-an-an
PlNom-as-a, -e-u, --an-an-an
Acc-as-a, -e-u, --an-an-an
Dat-um-um-um-um-um-um
Gen-a-a-a-ena-ena-ena

Old English adjectives had similar declensions, and they were in the strong declension in indefinite noun phrases and in the weak declension in definite noun phrases.

By Middle English, the strong and weak forms are both unchanging, with the weak one formed from the strong one with a suffixed -e. Dutch is similar. An adjective gets -e unless it is for an indefinite neuter singular noun.
 

lpetrich

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In the Continental Scandinavian languages, noun declensions are much more simplified, but like in Icelandic, they have suffixed definite articles. A rather oversimplified summary:
  • Common: -n
  • Neuter: -t
  • Plural: -na, -ne
A further complication is that when a noun has an adjective, a definite artlcle is also placed before the adjective. I used Google Translate:

  • English: A dog. The dog. Dogs. The dogs. A big dog. The big dog. Big dogs. The big dogs.
  • Swedish: En hund. Hunden. Hundar. Hundarna. En stor hund. Den stora hunden. Stora hundar. De stora hundarna.
  • Norwegian: En hund. Hunden. Hunder. Hundene. En stor hund. Den store hunden. Store hunder. De store hundene.
  • Danish: En hund. Hunden. Hunde. Hundene. En stor hund. Den store hund. Store hunde. De store hunde.
  • Icelandic: Hundur. Hundurinn. Hundar. Hundarnir. Stór hundur. Stóri hundurinn. Stórir hundar. Stóru hundarnir.
  • German: Ein Hund. Der Hund. Hunde. Die Hunde. Ein großer Hund. Der große Hund. Große Hunde. Die großen Hunde.
  • Dutch: Een hond. De hond. Honden. De honden. Een grote hond. De grote hond. Grote honden. De grote honden.
For "dog", the English cognate is "hound", a dog for hunting. Google Translate's translations of "big" differ: a West-Germanic form *grot and a North-Germanic form *stor. The West-Germanic one has English cognate "great".
 

lpetrich

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German adjectives with indefinite / definite determiners:
-IndDef
mfnplmfnplmfnpl
SgNom-er-e-es-eI- -erI-e -eI- -esI-e -enD-er -eD-e -eD-es -eD-e -en
Acc-en-e-es-eI-en -enI-e -eI- -esI-e -enD-en -enD-e -eD-es -eD-e -en
Dat-em-er-em-enI-em -enI-er -enI-em -enI-en -enD-em -enD-er -enD-em -enD-en -en
Gen-en-er-en-erI-es -enI-er -enI-es -enI-er -enD-es -enD-er -enD-es -enD-er -en

Noun declension ( German nouns) is simpler.

Here are the most common patterns. In the plural, the dative adds -n if the plural does not already end in -n. In the singular, feminine nouns are usually indeclinable, and proper names and masculine and neuter nouns usually have -(e)s in their genitive.
 
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