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What Language is Closest to English?

July 12, 2018 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

What is the closest language to English?

Well, that depends.

If you consider Scots (as in that stuff spoken in Scotland that’s not English or Scottish Gaelic) to be a language then it’d be Scots.

That said, there’s no real consensus among language exerts as to what really constitutes a dialect or a separate language… and Scots is particularly tricky. While some people think it’s a language, many others say no, it’s a dialect. Now, since Scotland also has Scottish Gaelic (which is very much a separate language) I’m inclined to say Scots is a dialect…

Which makes the answer…

… Frisian.

Or rather I should say, the Frisian languages.

Because actually Frisian isn’t one language… it’s three. West Frisian, spoken by around 450,000 people in the Netherlands, North Frisian spoken by about 8000 people in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and Sater Frisian… spoken by about 2000 people in the German state of Lower Saxony.


So how similar are English and Frisian?

Not very.

Both English and Frisian come from West Germanic, but they started going their own separate ways all the way back in the 6th Century when West Germanic became Anglo-Frisian and then split into Old English and Old Frisian. The later became Frisian, and Old English became Middle English after the battle of Hastings, then eventually turned into Modern English.

If you listen really carefully… you can catch a few things.

And there are a lot of words that both English and Frisian share like “Dei” and “Day”.

But really it just sounds like Dutch to me.

Though apparently Dutch people can’t really understand it either.


I can’t say Frisian is high on my list of languages to learn.

But if I WERE to learn it…

I’d start by learning the words which DO overlap with English first, following the principals laid out in my book Master English FAST.



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