The Most Difficult Languages In The World To Learn

(For an English speaker!)

Thinking of learning English and questioning whether it is a difficult language to learn? Sure, English is a strange language that originated from many other languages and as a result has complicated relations with spelling and pronunciation – and all those exceptions to grammar rules! But what many people don’t really talk about is how much English speakers struggle to learn other languages. So, after a bit of research we listed the Top Ten hardest languages for English speakers to learn!

1. Mandarin

At the top is the most spoken language in the world: Mandarin. This is a tonal language which, for an English speaker, is extremely difficult to master. A tonal language uses pitch to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning different from many languages who only use it to express emotions. Mandarin is also full of idioms, aphorisms and homophones making it very hard to learn without immersing yourself a bit in the culture as well. And then of course, it has its own alphabet on top of that! Mandarin has 5 tones and depending how a word/syllable is pronounced it will mean different things, for example:

  1. mā (媽/妈) ‘mother’
  2. má (麻/麻) ‘hemp’
  3. mǎ (馬/马) ‘horse’
  4. mà (罵/骂) ‘scold’
  5. ma (嗎/吗) (an interrogative particle)

2. Arabic

Number two, Arabic, is a Semitic language and the lingua franca in the arab world 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 are 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. There are two ways to write Japanese sentences, horizontally or vertically. Vertical writing is the traditional Japanese writing, and it is used for Japanese language textbooks for Japanese schools in Japan, literature, newspaper,

and official governmental documents. When you write Japanese vertically, it starts from top right of the paper, and books with the vertical writing open from left to right.

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 unusual 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, however it is more closely related to Hungarian and quite different from the other Scandinavian languages in nearby countries. 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. It’s practically a grammar labyrinth!

7. Basque

Even though Basque is a language spoken in Spain, it bears no resemblance ot the other variations spoken in the country, such as Catalan, Andalusian, Galician or others. It has borrowed some vocabulary from the romance languages though, so it’s not as hard as Korean, for example. In addition, there are at least 5 distinct dialects just to make things a little harder for the learner.

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. However, 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 means that it is also quite complex. 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 definitely not simple. It has 7 cases after all! But at least it uses a familiar alphabet and in fact has fewer sounds in it, particularly for vowels, than English does.

Top Up Learning Top Tip:

Remember that, as an adult, learning a new language is always hard and requires dedication, goal-setting and follow through. Learning English is no different and even though the languages above are difficult examples that are often not learned outside of their home countries, the same principles apply. If you’re interested in learning English, browse through out our website for courses, tips and all the help you need to start you journey into learning English.

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