What are the Hardest Languages for English Speakers to Learn?
Learning any language is valuable for so many reasons, but if you want to feel like you’ve really battled the elements, you could master one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.
All languages are as easy as each other to learn as a native tongue, but when it comes to a second language, languages which differ more from your first language tend to be harder. Vocabulary varies, of course, but so can word order, grammar and word formation, so you might find it harder to predict how to build a noun from an adjective or turn a verb into a noun.
You might be au fait with chic designers or talking about the Zeitgeist. So it’s no surprise that French, Spanish, Dutch, German and Italian are considered among the easier languages to learn because of their closeness to English. We know they don’t always sound that close, but linguistically they’re similar. Besides, they all share an alphabet, with only a few letters – like é, ö, ñ, ü for example – differing from the ones we recognise and write every day.
Other languages can seem vastly different, with writing and reading systems so far from our own we feel we’ll never grasp them. In no particular order, some of the hardest to learn are:
Arabic uses a right-to-left cursive script and has 28 letters. Sometimes you don’t even write a vowel in the word, you add a little mark above the word and fill in the gaps as you read.
Mandarin Chinese uses a completely different script, based on characters which need to be memorised. As it’s a tonal language, the tone of the word changes its meaning completely, which can lead to some amusing differences when you first start to speak and listen.
Japanese also involves memorising characters from two character sets, Kana and Kanji, and has a complex grammar too. There are also two syllabary systems and three different writing systems to add to the difficulty. Some say it’s the hardest language to learn.
Korean’s initially simple alphabet of 24 letters also has additional characters borrowed from Chinese, just to make it trickier for you. There are also some complex sounds which English native speakers aren’t used to making or hearing and there are several degrees of politeness, meaning you have social norms to navigate in the language too.
Saying a language is ‘harder’, really only means it takes longer to learn. After all, you can find plenty of English speakers who’ve mastered any or all of these languages no problem, you may just need more time or more intense focus when you’re learning it. Have you tried learning any of these?