closest to English

Which Languages Are Closest to English?

Have you ever wondered which languages are most closely related to English? Well, wonder no more! Here are the 5 languages that linguists say are the most closely related to English. Some of them might surprise you…

The Closest Language to English: Scotsscotslanguagemap

The closest language to English is Scots . . . assuming you consider Scots a language, that is. According to a 2010 study by the Scottish government, a majority (64%) of Scottish people don’t.

And yet, Scots began to diverge from English as far as back as the Middle English period.  The UK government classifies it as a regional language and it is protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Fast Facts About the Scots Language

  • Scots is spoken by about 1.5 million people
  • Technically, the Scots alphabet has one more letter than the English alphabet. The last letter, called yough, looks like a backward “3.” The letter “z” usually replaces it.
  •  Scots has been primarily an oral language for so long that it does not have a standard spelling system.

Scots is not only the closest relative of the English language, it’s also been heavily influenced by its “big brother.” So, how easy is it for an English speaker to read Scots? Try it for yourself!

Aw human sowels is born free and equal in dignity and richts. They are tochered wi mense and conscience and shuld guide theirsels ane til ither in a speirit o britherheid.

Got that? It’s Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here’s the English translation:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

The Closest Languages To English: Frisianbilingual_signs_german-frisian_police_station_husum_germany_0892

Frisian is actually a group of 3 languages spoken in parts of the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.   English, Scots, and the Frisian languages are the only living members of the Anglo-Frisian language group.

Fast Facts About Frisian Languages

  • In the Middle Ages, Frisian was spoken all along the southern coast of the North Sea, from Bruges in Belgium to the river Weser in Germany.
  • The Frisians shared a common ancestry and a mutually intelligible language with the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who settled England.
  •  Frisian was used as a written language until around 1500, when Dutch became the language of government in most Frisian lands. However, Frisians continued to speak the language even when they didn’t write it.  Frisian writers and poets revived the written language in the 19th century.
  • Today, there are about 480,000 Frisian native speakers.

The sentence “Butter, bread and green cheese is good English and good Frise” is pronounced almost the same in both Frisian and English. Despite this, the two languages are not mutually intelligible.

See how much of this you can make out:

Alle minsken wurde frij en gelyk yn weardigens en rjochten berne. Hja hawwe ferstân en gewisse meikrigen en hearre har foar inoar oer yn in geast fan bruorskip te hâlden en te dragen.

That’s the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this time in West Frisian.

The Closest Languages to English: Dutchstatenvertaling_title_page

You might have heard that Dutch is the closest language to English. Indeed, it’s the closest “major” language and is sometimes said to be “in between” English and German.

Fast Facts About Dutch

  • There are 23 million Dutch speakers in the world.
  • Dutch is spoken mainly in the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname as well as parts of France and some parts of the Caribbean.
  • Dutch is mutually intelligible with Afrikaans, but Afrikaans is considered a separate language.
  • US President Martin van Buren was from a Dutch family and spoke Dutch, not English, as his first language.
  • The longest word in the Dutch dictionary is  “meervoudigepersoonlijkheidsstoornissen,” or “multiple personality disorders”. It is 38 letters long!

Because it’s so closely related to English, Dutch is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. Here’s Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights again, this time in Dutch:

Alle mensen worden vrij en gelijk in waardigheid en rechten geboren. Zij zijn begiftigd met verstand en geweten, en behoren zich jegens elkander in een geest van broederschap te gedragen.

As you can see, you’ll still have to study!

The Closest Languages to English: Germangerman_dictionary

German is also closely related to English. English is, after all, a Germanic language. German is spoken primarily in Germany, but it’s also officially recognized in other localities around the world, even places as far-flung as Brazil.

Fast Facts About the German Language

  • German is the second-most commonly spoken Germanic language. The most common, of course, is English.
  • It has 95 million native speakers.
  • Some people think it sounds angry. 
  • The first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible,  is in German.

Germany shares 60% of its vocabulary with English. How much of this sample text can you understand?

Alle Menschen sind frei und gleich an Würde und Rechten geboren. Sie sind mit Vernunft und Gewissen begabt und sollen einander im Geist der Brüderlichkeit begegnen. 

The Closest Languages to English: Norwegian?zuge_landnahmen_und_siedlungsgebiete_der_nordmanner_-_800-1050

Say what? Most scholars place English in the West Germanic family, along with the other languages listed above. But not all of them. University of Oslo professor  Jan Terje Faarlund believes it’s more closely related to the Scandinavian languages. 

He argues that because Old English borrowed significant amounts of vocabulary and grammar from Old Norse when England was under Viking rule, Old Norse essentially “replaced” Old English as the language transitioned into Middle English.

So, why out of all of the Scandinavian languages, am I choosing to feature Norwegian here? Norwegian is closer to English than either Danish or Swedish. In fact, it’s often described as the easiest of the three languages to learn.

Fast Facts About Norwegian

  • There are about 5 million native Norwegian speakers.
  • There are 2 different standard forms of Norwegian: Bokmal, which is closer to Danish, and Nynorsk. Norwegian also has various spoken dialects.
  • Norwegian is a “pitch accent” language. It’s not fully tonal (like Mandarin.) But it does make a limited use of tones to distinguish between otherwise identical words.

Here’s Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights again, this time in Norwegian (Nynorsk).

Can you see the similarities to the other languages, and to English?

Alle menneske er fødde til fridom og med same menneskeverd og menneskerettar. Dei har fått fornuft og samvit og skal leve med kvarandre som brør.

As you can see, even languages that are closely related If you need translation services, trust K International and our network of professional translators!

Photo credits:By Zakuragi – map: Image:Blank map europe.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link; By Arne ListOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

4 replies
  1. Wesley
    Wesley says:

    Honestly, Spanish is very close to English. Maybe they aren’t “closely” related in a family tree sense, but they use mostly the same grammar concepts and have remarkably similar words and word stems.

  2. Michael M. DeBonis
    Michael M. DeBonis says:

    Spanish and English are directly related to each other, because they are both Indo-European languages. This means they share a uniformly connected and a common lineage. That being said, they are distantly related to each other. Spanish is a Romance language, coming down to us from Classical Latin, the idiom of the ancient Romans. English is a Germanic language, and it is a grandchild of Old English (a. k. a. Anglo-Saxon). The most closely related languages to English are hence, the Germanic ones: Frisian, Dutch, modern German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic.
    Despite heavy borrowings into English from Latin (and the other Romantic languages) its syntax and word structure is still mainly Germanic. The ten percent most important words of English are Old English ones (called “core” words) like : children, him, her, the, earth, boy, girl, green and sky, etc.) Other Indo-European (and all are related to English) are : Hindi, Iranian, Russian, Latvian, Slovenian, Old Irish (and modern Gaelic) Italian, Romanian, Armenian, Greek, Spanish, Cornish, Polish…just to name some.
    What ever likenesses that exist between Spanish and English, are mostly superficial ones, e. g. “mucho” in Spanish and “much” in English have similar meanings and spellings…but both share totally different etymologies. Hence Rob above is quite correct in what he says. You are right, as well…but not quite as linguistically spot on as Rob. Spanish and English share many morphological similarities because English (over many centuries) incorporated many Latin words into its own vocabulary…as much as 40-50 %. But English almost always “Germanizes” these words…for instance the Latin verb “to live” or “inhabit” becomes in English (used here as a present tense verb) “inhabiting.” The English “ing” suffix, added at the end of this Latin loan word, is Germanized for English language word usage. So the philological interplay between English and all languages it comes into contact with is an alchemical one. This is what makes language study so fascinating and worthwhile.
    With the writing of a good poem, a good poet can actually change the universe…hopefully for the better. See what Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton all did for English literature? Yeats, Eliot and Frost (all of who came after them) never complained about these, their poetic ancestors.

    • Michael M. DeBonis
      Michael M. DeBonis says:

      “all of whom came after them” I meant to say above.

      “Other Indo-European languages” I also meant to say above.

      Mea culpa.


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