Especially on this blog, we like to talk about the easiest languages to learn. Like Spanish, for example. The fact that it has some common roots with English, relatively simple syntax and grammar, and straightforward pronunciation rules makes it attractive for Anglophones. But we also know that there are other languages that fall into the “difficult language” category, and often scare off potential learners. We’ve put together a ranking of the 10 of the hardest languages to learn based on several criteria (we tried to be as objective as possible!)
But don’t worry, we don’t leave you hanging either. If you are brave enough to take one (or more) of them on, we have some great tips to help you. It won’t be an easy process, but it’s not impossible! If you find yourself struggling, just remember that there are billions of other people around the world who went through exactly what you are when learning to speak these “hard languages.”
What Are the Top 10 Hardest Languages to Learn?
Let’s get right to it. What is the hardest language to learn? Drumroll please…
But More Importantly, How Did We Come to this Conclusion About the Most Difficult Language to Learn?
It’s always a tricky task to come up with a list of so-called easy or difficult languages. Just like it is hard to say for sure that a language is easy to learn. Often, to do this, or create a ranking system, people base their opinions on the native language. Of course, proximity to their native language the biggest factor when deciding if a language is easy to learn or not. For example, for a Korean or Japanese learner, taking on Mandarin would seem a lot less daunting than to an English speaker. We’ll come back to this idea a little later.
You also have to take into consideration a person’s unique language learning experience and abilities. If someone had an easy time learning Italian, he or she will probably tell you that Italian is an easy language to learn. But that’s not necessarily true for everyone… As you can see, this type of ranking is inevitably quite subjective and depends a lot on the person creating it (native language and past experiences). I won’t pretend that we came up with our list of the most difficult languages to learn using a purely scientific, completely objective method… But we did try to base our selections on some important criteria. What are they?
Vocabulary and Distance From Native Language
This is one of the first criterion that comes to mind when evaluating whether or not a language is easy to learn. And it may even be the most important! This is one of the reasons that supports the argument that Spanish is easy… at least for Anglophones. Although Spanish is a Romance language and English is technically a Germanic language, the two really aren’t so different. Many words are built from the same roots. Result: learning Spanish vocabulary goes a lot quicker than memorizing Arabic or Japanese words, for example. Of these 10 hardest languages to learn, some, like Hungarian and Finnish, are considered quite complex because they have little to no resemblance to any other languages.
As an Anglophone, learning German will probably be the easiest of these 10 languages since it is also a Germanic language. As a general rule, we have less difficulty learning languages that are close in origin to our native language. This also means that you might even be able to guess a word in Spanish or Italian that you have never heard before, if you are familiar with Latin roots.
Phonetics: Sound and Intonation
Once again, we’ll use the example of your native language to argue this criterion. Some languages contain many of the same sounds. For example, Spanish and Italian and very similar when it comes to pronunciation, and share quite a few sounds.
Then there are other languages, like Russian and Arabic, which have many sounds that do not exist in English. This means lots of practice imitating a native accent is going to be necessary. This is tricky because oftentimes if a sound does not exist in our native language, we probably don’t even realize we are mispronouncing it. And then there are tonal languages, like Mandarin Chinese. In Mandarin, there are 4 different ways to pronounce words, using different tones (represented by certain markings when written in pinyin, which is the most popular form of Romanization systems used for this language). And a slight variation in tone can completely change a word’s meaning! Learning to pronounce these tones is particularly complicated, which explains the language’s place in our ranking. Icelandic presents a similar challenge, which makes it difficult for even computers to understand!
That being said, sound and intonation can be taught. Though learning them might not be a walk in the park, it’s a walk that will take you somewhere wonderful. You’ll just have to practice more than you would for a language whose sounds are already familiar to you.
Sentence and Word Construction
You probably know by now that we don’t think that studying lots of grammar is essential for language learning. At least not for the first few months. However, some languages have much more complex grammar structures than others. Hungarian, for example, has a whopping 35 distinct cases (compared to English’s… three). But even more simple than that: word placement in sentences.
Constructing sentences in any language is like putting together a puzzle. In English, Spanish, and French, sentences are usually put together in generally the same way: subject + verb + object. We all know that, right? Unfortunately, not all languages’ puzzle pieces fit together in this same way. In Arabic, for example, the same word might not mean the same thing if its placement in a sentence changes. In Russian, word order is actually quite random. Declensions tell us where to place the word, and their endings tell us what function they serve. Japanese uses a totally different construction style, making this one of the most difficult languages to learn, even for people who have been working at it for some time. Even Luca Lampariello has admitted that learning Japanese really isn’t an easy feat…
In addition to sentence construction, sometimes languages even require different word construction! In Finnish, for example, several words can be formed from the same root. One root can produce an adjective, a noun, or a verb if we add or modify a prefix or suffix. Hungarian also uses suffixes… not to create variations of words, but to change a word’s tense (thus, its conjugation). These languages have an added level of difficulty because we not only have to worry about sentence construction, but also word construction. Think of it as a bonus challenge.
And of Course… Writing
We kind of have been avoiding bringing this one up on purpose. Because we believe that to learn a language quickly, you don’t necessarily need to be able to write it. However, we have to include it here because it can add difficulty! Take Mandarin and Japanese, for example. English speakers, with our knowledge about our own language and those that are similar, really have no clue how to go about starting to decode writing in these languages. What’s more, they aren’t necessarily pronounced the way they are written.
So, we think it would only complicate things to factor writing systems into our ranking.
Some Tips to Help You with a Few of the Hardest Languages to Learn
We’ve said it a few times now, yes, these 10 languages are some of the hardest languages to learn. But difficult doesn’t equal impossible. If you pick the right learning method and are motivated enough, there’s no reason you can’t learn one, or all of them! If you’re ready to take the plunge, we’ve put together some resources that are sure to be of interest to you.
We recently interviewed Vladimir Skultety, a Slovak polyglot who has learned no less than 20 languages! Among these, Mandarin Chinese, for which he has also become a translator. In the interview, you’ll discover his best learning tips, especially some of the most difficult languages to learn, like Mandarin.
Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel for loads of other tips and videos for language lovers.
And don’t forget to check out our resources for learning Chinese. You’ll find helpful podcasts, videos, games, and online lessons for taking on this beautiful but complex language.
A few months ago, Salim Kecir, who has been teaching this amazing language for over 15 years, shared some tips to help learn Arabic vocabulary. If you want to know more about this language, and benefit from expert advice, I highly encourage you to take a look at it. Did you know that there are several different versions of the Arabic language? In this article, you’ll learn about them and also how to learn them efficiently.
We consider this one of the most difficult languages to learn, mostly because of its writing systems. Lucky for you, we have some great articles to help you break them down and understand how to use them.
- an overview of the different Japanese writing systems
- a presentation of the Japanese alphabet and characters
- and tips for how to learn Japanese the easy way
You can also visit our page of Japanese learning resources.
You could say that Cedric is kind of obsessed with the German language. He loves talking to users about it and sharing tips he has found useful during his own learning experience. If you are interested in learning German, I encourage you to start with this short video, in which he reveals 5 tips for speaking German without too much difficulty.
Also check out:
- our page of German learning resources where you’ll find podcasts, TV series, and movies to accelerate your learning
- our article about how to learn German quickly and easily: a treasure chest of helpful tips to get you to fluency in no time.
Ah, Russian. Lots of our MosaLingua users have expressed interest in learning this language… Which is why we have decided to develop an app just for you. Now you can use our method to learn this beautiful, if not difficult, language!
While you wait, head over to our list of resources to help you learn Russian. You’ll find tons of great websites, podcasts, movies, videos, news pages, books, and more to hold your hand as you make your first baby steps into the language.
Share your own language learning experiences with other readers in the comments section below. Tell us about the tips and tricks you use to learn and stay motivated when tackling the hardest languages to learn.
Bonus: 10 Tips for Tackling the Hardest Languages to Learn
- Push yourself to have conversations no matter your skill level.
- How frequently you study is more important than how long you study.
- Practice the language in your head.
- When you learn a new word use it a few times right away.
- Make language learning fun!
- Foreign TV Shows and movies are an excellent supplement.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people that are fluent in the language.
- Find a language buddy.
- Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks.
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