As language nuts, we often get asked by tentative, wannabe linguaphiles: which is the easiest language to learn?
Well, we’re well-equipped to answer that. That is, at least from the perspective of experts on one part of speech: the verb. We’ve worked tirelessly on verb drill apps for some time now. We love verbs. And it’s given us the kind of overview that language geeks like us crave.
Scandinavia has it! 🇩🇰🇳🇴🇸🇪
The verdict: the Scandinavian trio – Danish, Norwegian and Swedish – are by far the easiest languages to learn from a verbs point of view.
Why is this, you ask? Well, unusually for most European languages, verbs don’t change for person. That’s right – they’re the same all the way through I, you, he/she it, to we, you (plural) and they.
It hasn’t always been that way. Their common parent language is Old Norse, which was chock-full of endings. It had a complex system of verb groups and endings for person, as well as tense and mood. In fact, modern Icelandic still has all those characteristic endings of Old Norse, while mainland Scandinavia has simplified them all away. And they really have simplified them to the max – even the verb ‘to be’, notoriously tricky across many languages, has just a single form per tense. Compare them in this table:
|jeg er||jeg er||jag är||I am|
|du er||du er||du är||you are|
|han/hun/det er||han/hun/det er||han/hon/det är||he/she/it is|
|vi er||vi er||vi är||we are|
|I er||dere er||ni är||you (plural) are|
|de er||de er||de är||they are|
English – usually the ‘easy grammar’ candidate – is left in the dust by the Scandies here!
It’s not all plain sailing (is anything?). Like its Germanic cousins English, Dutch and German, the Scandinavian languages have a clutch of ‘strong’ verbs. These display patterns of ablaut (stem vowel change), often to indicate tense. Think of the English:
- break – broke – broken
The past and past participle aren’t formed with the usual, regular -ed ending. Instead, the change of vowel tells us that they’re past tense forms. Likewise, in Norwegian, the same occurs:
- brekke – brakk – brukket
However, if your native language is English, Dutch or German, you’ll be used to this system instinctually. Another reason the Scandinavian languages are easiest for verbs!
Complex can be good!
Also, let’s not discount the wonderful challenge – and logical beauty – of complex, highly inflected verb systems. There’s something deeply satisfying about getting all those Spanish / French / Polish / Hungarian endings right. Sometimes, easiest doesn’t mean more fulfilling!
Still, simplified verb systems are something that continue to make Danish, Norwegian and Swedish very attractive propositions for language learners. And of course, they have their own quirks and foibles in other parts of speech, just to ensure there’s still some level of challenge! 😁
Have a look for yourself! Try Geoglot’s free Verb Blitz apps for the Scandi languages: