The Hardest Languages In The World To Learn

(For an English speaker!)

A lot of people struggle to learn English… it is a strange language made up of many parts. But what many people don’t really talk about is how much English speakers struggle to learn other languages. So, we did a bit of research and now present to you, the Top Ten hardest languages for English speakers to learn!

1. Mandarin
Right at the top is the most spoken language in the world: Mandarin. This is a tonal language which, for an English speaker, in extremely difficult to master. It is also full of idioms, aphorisms and homophones making it very hard to learn without learning some of the culture as well. And then of course, it has its own alphabet on top of that!

2. Arabic
Number two, Arabic, challenges English speakers because most letters are written in 4 different forms depending on where they’re placed in a word. Further, vowels are not included when writing. But it’s not just the writing, it’s also about WHICH Arabic you are learning. There as many different dialects as countries that speak Arabic making it very hard to master overall.

3. Japanese
While Japanese is apparently easier to learn to speak than Mandarin, it has 3 independent writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Each has its own alphabet and thousands of characters have to be learned before being able to write in Japanese

4. Hungarian
Basically, Hungarian grammar is what kills English speakers. It has 26 different cases. Suffixes dictate tense and possession instead of the word order, which is how most European languages tackle the problem. In addition, like Japanese, there are also important cultural overtones which can make it really, really difficult to learn in isolation.

5. Korean
Korean is a strange language in that it does not appear to be related to any other language in any way. It has a unique word order, complex grammar, its own alphabet and many more challenges. Basically, it’s like no other language you may have learned.

6. Finnish
Finish may look and sound a bit similar to English, its complexity is more like that of Hungarian. In addition, there is what you might call classical or old fashioned Finnish and then the way that contemporary Finns express themselves… and they are very different. Prepare yourself for a grammar labyrinth!

7. Basque
Basque is another language that bears no resemblance to other languages around it. It has borrowed some vocabulary from the romance languages though, so it’s not as hard as Korean. The way Basque is written and spoken though is distinct from any other language. Oh, and there are at least 5 distinct dialects just to add to the degree of difficulty.

8. Navajo
From North America, Navajo is a verb-centred language. This means that descriptions are given through verbs, in addition, most English adjectives have no direct translation into Navajo. It also sounds very different and in fact there are a number of sounds in the language that just do not appear in English at all… making pronunciation especially difficult.

9. Icelandic
Icelandic is nowhere near as difficult as some of the languages on this list. BUT the fact that it is spoken by less than 400,000 people on one island and is largely unchanged since Iceland was settled in the ninth and tenth centuries mean that is also pretty complex and idiosyncratic. Iceland is one of those countries who make up new words for newly invented objects instead of adopting an English or French one. Basically, you really have to be there to learn it well.

10. Polish
Number ten on the list, Polish is hardly simple. It has 7 cases after all! But at least it uses a familiar alphabet and in fact has LESS sounds in it, particularly for vowels, than English does.

If you have an eagle eye, you will have spotted what each of these languages has in common: There is no Germanic language root to any of them. This mean they are simply not connected to English or its root and history at all and this is what makes learning them so hard.

TalenInstituut Language Learning Tip:
Try and bear I mind that, as an adult, learning a new language is always hard and requires serious time, goal-setting and follow through. These above are extreme examples that are not often learned outside of their home countries, but these 3 principles apply no matter what language you want or need to learn.

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By: David Chislett
Trainer Business English