The difficulty of learning a language differs from language to language. For instance, some languages require more effort to learn than others. Students are not all created equal, which means that a language that is one of the hardest languages to learn for an English speaker might be easy for someone who speaks Russian or Mandarin. The following are the five most difficult languages to learn, as viewed by native English speakers.
1 – Mandarin
Due to China’s enormous population, Mandarin is also known as Standard Chinese, making it the most widely used language in the world. In 2014, Ethnologue, a think tank that analyzes world languages, found that approx. 1.198 billion people spoke Mandarin.
It would make any linguist’s head spin simply by looking at the writing system; the characters, which resemble complex drawings, seem endless. Simplified Chinese script makes writing easier, but it’s yet another system that students will need to acquire.
The simplified Chinese system is not only difficult for westerners, but those who grew up speaking Cantonese may have difficulty as well, since it’s less prevalent in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and overseas communities.
The primary tone for each character (five if you count the neutral tone) is four. You can tell the difference between your mother and a horse by the way you say a word, like ma, with the wrong tone. For more, you can read top 10 hardest languages to learn.
2 – Arabic
A beautiful flowing script immediately identifies Modern Standard Arabic, also known as Literary Arabic. It’s actually much more difficult to learn the Arabic alphabet than to speak and write the language.
In the construction of words, three primary consonants determine all the grammatical and descriptor characteristics of what one wishes to convey (case, quantity, gender, parts of speech, etc.). The lack of vowels makes translation more difficult for students.
Additionally, speaking is not much easier due to the wide variety of dialects across nations.
3 – Japanese
This list might start off with Mandarin, Hungarian, or Finnish, but we’re starting with Japanese, which is ranked as one of the hardest languages to learn by the Foreign Service Institute, a government organization that trains employees of the U.S. foreign affairs community.
It isn’t too difficult to learn the two main Japanese alphabets since they are finite. The Japanese language uses hiragana, while the foreign language uses katakana. Does that make sense? There’s still more to come.
Things get even more confusing when you add kanji, which is derived from Chinese characters. The native Japanese speed is really fast, and speaking it isn’t an easy task.
4 – Finnish
Finland is part of the Finno-Ugric language family along with Estonia and Hungary. Although the different languages like these languages are rooted in Europe, they lack Germanic or Latin influences, making them difficult for English speakers.
The similarities between Finnish and Hungarian have made it a difficult language to learn, but to say they are very similar is a stretch. Both Finnish and Estonian are Finnish-Ugrian languages (Estonian is also in this club), a result of foreign invasions in the past.
As opposed to Hungarian, Finnish only has fifteen different tenses. Depending on what you want to say, words can grow in length in Hungarian. Elven language almost appears magical in The Lord of the Rings due to Tolkien’s use of it.
5 – Polish
Consonants are important in Polish. It is intimidating even to say “hello”: cześć. Attempting to pronounce Polish words can be difficult for English speakers. Likewise, understanding the rules of the language is difficult.
With seven cases, each of which is governed by seven grammatical genders (yes, seven), constructing a sentence might feel like a mental calculation. Numbers provide a good example of the language’s difficulty: there are 17 possible combinations for each number.
It’s always difficult to identify which languages are easy or difficult. There is no way to tell for sure if a language is easy to learn. Often, people base their opinions on their native language for this or to create a ranking system.
A person’s proximity to their native language is the biggest factor when it comes to how easy it is to learn a language. If a Korean or Japanese learner took on Mandarin, it would seem a lot less daunting than if they were an English speaker. We will return to this idea later.
Furthermore, a person’s unique language learning experience and abilities need to be considered. A person who learned Italian easily is likely to tell you that it’s an easy language to learn. Although that may not always be the case… So yeah, these types of rankings are always quite subjective and largely dependent on the creator.
I won’t pretend that we developed our list of the hardest languages to learn by a purely scientific, objective process.