English is a bizarre language that doesn’t seem closely related to any other language, despite being one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world thanks to globalization and the internet. But while it’s true that English isn’t mutually-intelligible with any other language, it isn’t true that English has no close relatives. Here are 5+ languages that are most similar to English. Look at the sample sentences and see how many words you can recognize:
You might have heard once that English is a “mix of German and French”. While that is not really accurate at all, English and German indeed belong to the same family of West Germanic languages. German, however, has a very complex and heavily-gendered grammar, on top of 8 vowels (a, ä, e, Ii, o, ö, u, ü).
Dutch is rather a better contender than German for closest relative to English because while English is a West Germanic language, it belongs to an even more specific subfamily of “Lower” Germanic languages, named so for their geographic distribution along the lowlands of the North Sea. Besides English, Dutch is the most widely spoken of these “low” languages and is often said to be midway between English and German.
Scots is a tricky entry, as many people can’t even agree as to whether Scots is a sister language to English, or a dialect thereof. Scots descends from Northumbrian Old English but has developed somewhat independently of its southern neighbor, with a lot of unique vocabulary you wouldn't find in English. Today, Scots is rarely spoken, having been supplanted in most places by Scottish English, but come New Year’s Eve, all over the English-speaking world people sing "Auld Lang Syne" in Scots.
Considered by some to be the closest language to English, Frisian is actually three distinct minority languages in The Netherlands and northern Germany which share a lot of linguistic innovations with English, such as the “ch” sound (written “ts” in West Frisian). Naturally, after centuries of living among Dutch and German speakers, the Frisian languages have diverged greatly from their shared roots with English and are not mutually intelligible with it.
5. Danish, Swedish and Norwegian
On paper, the languages of Scandinavia aren’t “genetically” close to English, belonging to an entirely different branch of Germanic languages, but languages don’t operate like organisms do, and can interact and create hybrids (creoles) with one another even if they aren’t closely related. English is similar to the Nordic languages because of the impact of Danish speakers on Old English during the Viking Age, as well as a similar process of grammatical simplification that the Scandinavian languages underwent.
Image source: Nicolas Raymond