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Photo: Mark Heard

Last week, we talked about some of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. Round two: we take on the toughies.

WHILE THE EASIEST LANGUAGES for English speakers to learn have some syntactic common ground with English, the toughest ones are quite alien. Learners tackle writing systems, tonality, and grammatical systems so different, they can make an English-speaking head spin.

If you’re studying or have mastered one of these nine languages, Matador salutes you…and we want to learn your secrets.

1. Arabic

Arabic breaks down into families. One is the Modern Standard Arabic of print, media, and online content. The other is spoken Arabic, which encompasses many colloquial dialects which vary by region. This means that if you pick up conversational Arabic in Tunisia, it might still be tough to be understood in Kuwait.

For all dialects of Arabic, pronunciation is difficult for English speakers, as many consonants are formed at the back of the mouth.

Arabic, Photo: Nasir Nasrallah

Arabic script is a phonetic, 28-symbol alphabet descending from Phonecian. Most letters change shape depending on their position in the word, and letters may or may not be joined. The most basic challenge in tackling written Arabic is in reading from right to left, working against an English speaker’s deeply embedded instinct.

Arabic grammar has very few parallels with English and Indo-European languages. The plural is expressed by changing the vowel structure of the word: kitab (book) becomes kutub (books). The bulk of verbs are irregular and can be formed 25 ways. It’s a logical grammar system, but a complicated one too.

2. Basque

In a study conducted by the British Foreign Office, Basque was ranked as the hardest language to learn. Geographically surrounded by Romance languages, it is one of the only language isolates of Europe, with no syntactic parallels to English. The regional dialects are highly diverged, though a standardized Basque is used for media and academics.

Like many languages on this list, Basque is agglutinative, meaning that words are formed and modified with prefixes and suffixes. While “law” is lege in Basque, the phrase “according to the law” would be structured by suffixes as “legearen arabera.” Instead of prepositions, Basque uses cases endings to show the relationship between words, such as mendi (mountain) and mendira (to the mountain). It sounds simple, but with eleven cases, each taking four forms, the grammar is complex.

Basque is written in the Roman alphabet and pronunciation is fairly easy, even with new consonant sounds like tx or tz.

3. Cantonese

Cantonese is a tonal language, which can be hugely challenging for English speakers who are used to speaking with emphasis (“I didn’t eat YOUR sandwich!”) and inflection, rising tones to pose a question. Cantonese can be difficult even for those fluent in other Chinese dialects because of its tonal system. While Mandarin has four tones, Cantonese has eight, with pitch and contour shaping a syllable’s meaning.

Chinese has a logographic (pictoral) writing system of 5000+ characters. This gives a new hurtle to language learning, since a reader of Cantonese can’t sound out syllables in a text as we can with phonetic alphabets. They must know and recall the name of each character. It is a myth that all Chinese languages are written in the same logographic form, though Cantonese and Mandarin share many traits of their writing systems, and the Mandarin writing system is often used by Cantonese speakers.

Finnish, Photo: Martin Terber

4. Finnish

Barry Farber, the author of “How to Learn any Language” and a polyglot many times over, says that Finnish is one of the hardest languages for him to learn.

Finnish is in the Finno-Ugric language family, with Estonian and Hungarian. Without Germanic or Latin influence, Finnish vocabulary is completely alien to English speakers. Its grammar is also somewhat notorious. There are fifteen noun cases, sometimes with subtle differences. Talotta means “without a house,” while talolta means “from a house.” Tricky.

There are six verb types, classed by their stems. These stems alter as the verbs are conjugated. The language is agglutinative and verbs are conjugated with a succession of suffixes.

The good news? Finnish is written as it sounds (in the Roman alphabet!), and pronunciation is comfortable for English speakers. A common speaking problem lies in remembering single or double vowel sounds, as in tuli (fire) and tuuli (wind).

5. Hungarian

Though it uses the Roman alphabet for writing, don’t think that reading Hungarian will be a snap. Unique vowel sounds (á,é,ó,ö,ő,ú,ü,ű,í) and consonant clusters (ty, gy, ny, sz, zs, dzs, dz, ly, cs) make it difficult for English tongues to read and pronounce Hungarian.

Instead of articles, Hungarian conjugates verbs in one of two ways for definite and indefinite objects. Olvasok könyvet means “I read a book,” while Olvasom a könvyet is “I read the book.”

Because possession, tense, and number are indicated by suffixes, not word order in a sentence, Hungarian sentence structure is very loose and flexible. Sounds forgiving for a novice speaker, huh? The truth is that any sentence can take on several meanings if the suffixes are altered slightly. It’s a confusing system to learn.

6. Japanese

The good news about Japanese? For English speakers, pronunciation is a cinch. Japanese vowel and consonant sounds are very familiar to those fluent in English, which makes the language easy to parrot and understand.

The tough part? Written Japanese can be a headache to learn. It uses four alphabets including the Chinese-influenced kanji (pictoral), two phonetic writing systems, and the Roman alphabet (Romanji).

The notion of honorific language is challenging for learners. Japanese speech can vary with levels of politeness, with each level having set forms and rules. English has no set way of speaking honorifically or intimately, and learners may have trouble recalling when and where to use honorific speech.

Grammatically, Japanese is a mixed bag. There are only three irregular verbs and a pretty consistent structure, with verbs at the end of the sentence. Nouns carry no gender or number, though they can function as adjectives or adverbs, which can be confusing for readers.

Studying Japanese? Check out Matador’s 10 Essential Tips for Learning Japanese and 10 Extraordinarily Useful Japanese Phrases for Travelers.

7. Navajo

The Navajo language was famously used as a code by US forces in World War Two. In the Pacific battles, Japanese codebreakers cracked other allied dialects and coded language. They could never decipher Navajo.

Navajo is a verb-centred language. Even adjectives have no direct translation into Navajo; descriptions are given through verbs. It’s a prefix-heavy language, with 25 kinds of pronominal prefixes which can be stacked onto one another. This forms incredibly long phrases like chidí naaʼnaʼí beeʼeldǫǫhtsoh bikááʼ dah naaznilígíí which means “army tank.”

Another feature unique to Navajo is animacy, wherein nouns will take on certain verbs according to their rank in the hierarchy of animation. Humans and lightning are highest, children and big animals come next, and abstractions sit at the bottom. It’s a fascinating aspect of the language and culture, but a tough one to memorize and put into practice.

Though Navajo language learning materials may be hard to come by, Rosetta Stone offers a Navajo course, released in August 2010.

Photo: John Dyhouse

8. Mandarin

Written Mandarin is pictoral and contains over 20,000 characters. Some base characters, like root words, appear in other symbols, like (the character for “woman” forming part of “sister.” The written form of the language has no phonic connection to the spoken form.

Mandarin, like Cantonese, is a tonal language, and a misused inflection can change the meaning of a sentence. The syllable “ma” can mean mother or horse, depending on the inflection, which could lead to grave insults at the dinner table.

Grammatically, Mandarin is far simpler than Indo-European languages. Words, for the most part, have only one grammatical form. Their function is shown through prepositions, word order and particles. Building and comprehending this syntax, however, takes time. There are some tough elements like Mandarin adverbs: a dozen words which have no direct English translation.

9. Korean

At first, the language seems far easier than other East Asian tongues. No tones! No pictoral writing system!

It’s true that reading and writing in Korean is easy to master, as the language uses the very logical Hangul phonetic written system. Speaking and listening, while tone-free, can be challenging with unique sounds that are hard for English speakers to recognize, let alone master.

The biggest challenge with Korean lies in the grammar. Verbs can be conjugated hundreds of ways, depending on tense, mood, age and seniority. Like Japanese, one sentence can be said in three different ways, depending on the relationship between the speaker and addressee. Adjectives are conjugated too, with hundreds of possible endings. Also, there are also two different number systems, quite different from one another.

Community Connection

Have you studied any of these languages? What did you find most difficult? What other languages have you studied that are particularly hard for English speakers to learn?

Language Learning

 

About The Author

Anne Merritt

Anne Merritt has lived in Canada, Europe, and Asia. She teaches ESL, writes, haggles, hikes, and wears sunscreen fanatically. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, GoOverseas.com, and The Compass. Check out her blog.

  • stormkite

    If you ever find yourself in the Andes with nothing to do, try Kichwa. (Or get therapy, before or after trying to learn Kichwa.)

  • Adeel

    Pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar differ, but the written form of Chinese languages is the same. Yes, there are simplified and traditional characters, but if I can tell them apart as a traveler, I don’t think it’s holding literate Chinese back.

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to Cantonese speakers as using the Mandarin writing system.

  • Lara Kroeker

    I would argue that Vietnamese is a crazy language to learn. I spent a month trying to lean some basics with my 12 year old daughter and her grandfather. The tones are so subtle that it is hard to differentiate between words that mean entirely different things! Our story is here:
    http://www.bcliving.ca/adventures/roads-between-us-journey-vietnam and you can see learning with my daughter’s grandfather at the end of chapter 1.

    Lara

  • http://arwafreelance.wordpress.com Arwa

    glad to see Arabic way up there! As a person raised to speak Arabic I have to admit I still struggle with it- so much grammer, dialects. I guess that’s part of its uniquesness :)

  • Mike

    I have often heard that Caucasian languages (Georgian or Dagistani, for say) are some of the most difficult languages in the world to learn due to the extensive number of sounds that are used in their spoken language. Few languages use as many of the pronounceable sounds as Caucasian languages. Additionally, they all have a unique written language.

  • http://beatnomad.wordpress.com Jessie Beck

    This article is a for sure less motivating than the 9 easy languages to learn… but enjoyable nonetheless!

  • Sue Ellen

    Having tried both Mandarin and Arabic, Mandarin was far more difficult for me. There is not an ‘alphabet’ per se, the tones are critical to meaning, and the characters are not grouped in words. Arabic pronunciation is fairly easy to master, there is an alphabet one can learn and vocabulary can be acquired quickly once one understands the three-letter root.

  • Chris Bevan

    I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for 5 years in the 1970′s.

    I found spoken Arabic fairly easy to talk, once you master the K sound as in Khamsin (fifty), which comes from the back of the throat, and Q as in Qatar (the country) which has a G sound as in Gatar. You can get by with a fairly small number of words and phrases.
    I was recently in Malta and discovered there are lots of Arabic words in Maltese, so knowing some Arabic was useful.

  • http://helsinkippusa.wordpress.com/ PPusa

    International English seems to be one of the hardest languages for native English speakers. When someone says something in broken English, everybody understands except the native speakers!

    The first foreign language is difficult to learn. The second and third are much easier. A motivated person will learn any language.

  • http://www.canvas-of-light.com/ Daniel Nahabedian

    Ha! Good post Anne :)

    But seriously, try to learn Armenian. It should be up it should be up there too!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny Lewis

    There’s no such thing as “hardest languages” and posts like this do nothing to help language learners. Even the “easiest” post is unhelpful and discouraging if the language someone wants to learn isn’t on it.

    This is nothing but a p*ssing competition – the only people who will agree with aspects of this post are natives (out of pride) or people struggling with the language who need confirmation that their task is the hardest.

    The hardest language I ever learned was Spanish – I was not confident in myself and found the concept of speaking anything but English too foreign. Hungarian was a breeze in comparison. Grammar and vocabulary are irrelevant if the person is in the completely wrong and unhelpful frame of mind.

    It all depends on attitude and context. French will be harder for someone who isn’t interested at all in it than Arabic would be for someone genuinely passionate about it and willing to make mistakes to progress quickly in it.

    Sorry Anne, but unless you actually speak these languages I don’t see how your opinion is in any way valid by selectively picking out hard points and ignoring all of what’s easy in these languages.

    I learned Hungarian, could converse in it (I even uploaded a video of me being interviewed in Hungarian) and met the downers and their attitude is what made the language hard. I have no doubts in the same for all of these languages. Most of the consonant clusters you mentioned are actually easy – “sz” is just “s” and “cs” is just the “ch” sound etc.

    With a doom and gloom attitude, I could make ANY language sound like the hardest one in the world. Don’t see how that helps anyone though.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Benny,

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. As a linguist though, I disagree that “There’s no such thing as “hardest languages” and posts like this do nothing to help language learners.” While I don’t believe any language is inherently ‘easy’ or ‘hard,’ some languages are clearly more related to each other based on linguistic heritage. For a native English speaker, some languages are more similar to English in regard to syntax, phonetics, phonology, morphology, writing system, etc. If an English speaker learns French, he already has the advantage of a similar alphabet, same word order, similar morphological structures and a large amount of similar lexicon because so many English words have French origin. The same cannot be said for the relationship between English and Mandarin or English and Arabic.

      Mastering any foreign language is difficult and takes interest and passion, as you mention, but English speakers most certainly have an advantage in learning other languages that are more linguistically similar to English than languages that are not.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny Lewis

        I argue with linguists a lot. I studied engineering, so know nothing about language theory and history. However, I speak 8 languages fluently and have degrees from language authorities (A.F., IdeC etc.) that confirm my level. I speak languages, and take pride in the fact that I don’t “study” them.

        Someone once said that active language learners vs linguists are like athletes vs sports commentators. The latter knows all the theory and history and seems so wise from his comfy leather seat. But the former actually has relevant experience.

        Sorry but I respect the opinion of people who speak languages more than linguists. What you said is totally irrelevant to individual learners. Perhaps some people pick and choose languages based on grammar points, but for those interested in culture or who have to learn a given language for work or family reasons, then any list of differences is *pointless*.

        As I said, I reached conversational level in Hungarian. Do you actually speak any language on this list, or are they not worth even trying because they are so hard?

        In the real world telling a learner that he is learning one of the hardest languages in the world adds to a feedback loop that will make that language harder. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy and it makes me very angry that linguists contribute so much to this. They are damaging language learning potential. “Interesting” as it may be, I prefer to work on finding ways to HELP people speak languages.

        Linguists have told me that they do have to study something relevant to psychology and social dynamics. Where is that in these most-difficult-languages claim?

        I agree that English speakers have an advantage when taking on particular languages, but this list of hardest languages is extremely narrow minded. French posed major problems for me not because of grammar and vocabulary but because Parisians were so arrogant and unhelpful to someone butchering their language compared to other countries I’ve been to. Then French got easier when I moved to Montreal. The social aspect and relevance to individual learners makes a language way harder and easier than any impersonal generic list of demotivators you can give.

        Please read the link I gave about Hungarian and you will see what I mean about how you could reframe ANY of these languages to be easy. THAT is a worthwhile goal – many people have told me that that post I wrote has helped them to get over a barrier holding them back and now they finally have confidence in the language. What good does a post like this do to anyone apart from mental masturbation for academics?

        Yes, if you have two grammar books side by side and list the differences, then Arabic or Basque will win over Spanish or Italian when compared to English. But that does NOT make the languages harder unless you are sitting a grammar exam. That’s not how the real world works.

        But what do I know, I’m not a linguist – I just live and talk with actual language learners all day long and have done so for almost a decade. I don’t have any statistics or links to studies to back up my claims, just many many encounters with individuals, each with very different challenges and problems, actually trying to learn languages. But I don’t have a PhD with my name so perhaps what I have to say should be ignored…

        • Heather Carreiro

          Benny, it seems you assume that the majority of linguists don’t speak foreign languages.

          “Someone once said that active language learners vs linguists are like athletes vs sports commentators. The latter knows all the theory and history and seems so wise from his comfy leather seat. But the former actually has relevant experience.”

          From my experience, I haven’t found this to be the case and I have no idea where the ‘comfy leather seat’ comes from, as many linguists spend a large amount of hours doing field work and it’s certainly not a highly paid career. I have a background in linguistics AND am an active language learner, and I can’t think of any people I studied linguistics with who weren’t working toward fluency in at least one or two other languages.

          You ask, “Do you actually speak any language on this list, or are they not worth even trying because they are so hard?” – I’ve reached fluency in French and intermediate conversational levels in Arabic (MSA and Moroccan colloquial) and Urdu-Hindi. I’ve also studied Spanish, am married into a Portuguese family (who I strive to understand although I speak little at this point), and have had a go at Biblical Hebrew, although I dropped the Hebrew because I found learning a ‘dead’ language to be incompatible with my language learning style and goals (not much conversation to be had when limited to phrases like “And the priest made the sacrifice in the temple”) at that point in my life. I progressed much more quickly in speaking and understanding in the Romance languages than in Arabic and Urdu-Hindi, and I found reaching conversational level in Urdu-Hindi to come MUCH faster than reaching the same point in Arabic.

          So yes, in my personal active language learning experience, I have found languages that are more closely related to English ‘easier’ to learn and languages that are more distantly related more difficult and time consuming to learn. I don’t think any language is ‘not worth trying because it’s so hard,’ and I don’t believe that’s where Anne was going with this post.

          • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny Lewis

            Fair enough. But I still don’t see what she hopes to achieve with this post. It’s “interesting” but detrimental to people who are learning these languages. There’s a reason you went much slower in those languages and constant nagging about how much harder your job is would do you no help at all.

            I learned Hungarian much quicker than I did Spanish because I had a better attitude, used a communicative rather than study-based approach and because I wasn’t focused on the negative so much. Studying does nothing but emphasise the hard aspects. Going out and speaking drowns out the fact that a language might have different cases or adjective agreement and gets you to simply start using it.

            Someone focusing on the nitty gritty details and ready to have a woe-is-me attitude because they have different grammar structures to learn is doing nothing productive. I treat all languages as equal and focus on speaking from the start and get to the grammar later. This has been more effective than pessimism.

            Yes, I have more work if there are less commonalities compared to another potential language. But there are other factors at play here. I disagree with Hungarian being on this list and someone else disagrees with Japanese being on this list. The reason is because we had motivation to do well in the language that made it easier. This motivation is ignored in inhuman point-by-point comparisons of languages.

            The communicative approach means you just speak it and don’t worry about doing it wrong at first. Every language is human and saying it’s “harder” is just wrong if you are outside of a study environment with so many other contributing factors.

            And yes, lots of linguists pester me who have learned just one or two languages, and learned them slowly and inefficiently in my opinion. I hope you see that I’m not interested in attacking particular people, but in my experiences posts like this and attitudes about hard languages, true as they may be in a closed academic restricted look at languages, are useless to language learners.

            I am genuinely passionate about getting as many people out of the monolingual bubble as possible and demotivators like this post do the opposite, so that’s why I’m angry when I see them. Linguists are respected for their academic background and I wish they’d use that for good rather than evil.

          • iwaka

            I am a linguist and an avid language learner. I am a native speaker of Russian, fluent in English and Mandarin, have moderate knowledge of Spanish and Japanese, and have also studied Arabic, Korean, Ancient Greek and some other minor languages. Right now I’m involved in some fieldwork on Ausronesian languages in Taiwan.

            I have to disagree with Heather and agree with Benny on some points (not all of them, mind). I have met plenty of linguists who could not speak many foreign languages, and have also met people whose language skills were quite poor. Linguistics isn’t all about learning languages, it’s mostly about analysis and such (of course, this also depends which branch of linguistics you’re into). Moreover, experience in fieldwork does not necessarily guarantee you can actually speak the language you’re working with, as I have seen too many examples of faulty transcriptions and incorrect analyses.

            On the other hand, I have seen plenty of people who claimed to speak lots of languages, only to find out that either they had minimal proficiency, or their grammar and pronunciation were lacking severely. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good when people learn languages, but for me when someone says they know a language, I expect them to speak it well.

            Language learning is indeed about motivation and the time spent practicing. I have had 4 years of German in secondary school and learned nothing, while 4 years of Chinese allowed me to converse freely with native speakers and perform simultaneous interpretation into the language.

            Nevertheless, I have to say that linguistic theory and formal linguistic training can give a person a huge boost in their ability to learn new languages and a better understanding of the languages they already know. My personal experience suggests this is true, as I have studied languages both before and after I enrolled in my linguistics programme, and I found that my studies (even the ones I disliked) have had a noticeable impact on my ability to comprehend a new language.

          • Dhani

            Biblical Hebrew is a dead language, but modern Hebrew is spoken in Israel and in various Jewish communities around the world. Certainly is not dead!

  • http://www.rebeccaandtheworld.com Rebecca

    Argh, Arabic! I’ve been learning for over a year and still feel like I’ve gotten nowhere. One of the things I struggle with the most is the written part – many newspapers don’t include the vowels so it’s very difficult to read the word, pronounce it or know which word it is! I’ll keep trying though…

  • Mich

    I actually started learning Korean quite by accident! I used to teach English to a group of Korean housewives, and they’d tend to lapse back into Korean on occasion. I am also an audio learner, so do the math :)

    The writing (hangul) is quite easy to pick up, and it’s easy to read characters once you’re familiar with it, but of course the meaning will elude you. I’m still not entirely familiar with the diphthongs though.

    In terms of the grammar, YES it is a challenge… but once you’re familiar with the various forms (honorific/formal/informal), it gets better. As much as I try to listen in on conversations on Korean Dramas and try to learn some of the forms, it’s not always easy as they tend to say things in different ways. But i’m having fun learning Korean, especially when I have people to speak it with. ^ ^

    And Mandarin. I’ve been speaking/writing it since I was in kindergarten so it’s not easy for me to quantify its difficulty level. Although yes, I’ve had some hard times learning the language since I don’t speak it at home! Learning it the way I did in school (we call it ‘dead’ learning – memorizing words for the sake of it and not really having the language come alive) didn’t help raise my interest level; it’s only when I began speaking it more in the real world, when i studied overseas, and when I traveled, did I truly begin to appreciate knowing how to speak the language.

    (it still takes me 2 times as long to read a mid-length magazine article in Mandarin, though!)

  • http://helsinkippusa.wordpress.com/ PPusa

    I wonder how many noticed that the Finnish sign contains the same text also in Swedish (on the 9 easy languages list).

    • Dauvit Balfour

      Didn’t notice that when I was reading, but I do know that is generally the way of it. There are quite a few Swedish families in Finnland, and my understanding is that all Finnish children are required to learn Swedish in school as well as English.

      • http://helsinkippusa.wordpress.com/ PPusa

        Typically a Finns need to study two national languages (Finnish & Swedish) and a foreign language. Most choose English but not everybody.

        In the eastern Finland many people would prefer to study Russian instead of Swedish and this is a big no-no to the small but loud Swedish speaking minority. This is one of the very few issues in Finland where principles become more important than practicality.

  • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

    I completely disagree about Japanese, other than the fact the writing is more difficult than speaking. Even native Japanese don’t use keigo that often, and the two forms most speakers use (informal and polite) are easy enough to recognize and speak. The grammar is incredibly simple when compared with English. And I agree with most of what Benny said: identifying a language as hard is arbitrary. Many Japanese believe their language is impossible for foreigners to speak at even the lowest levels. This is not at all true, and it’s up to resident foreigners to dispel those myths.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny Lewis

      Hear hear!
      Let’s those of us actually out there learning languages continue working to dispel myths like this post. ;)

      I’ve also heard from many people that Japanese is easy and I look forward to learning it when my travels take me to Japan. Whether it’s easier or harder than French, Spanish or Italian is absolutely irrelevant and a pointless demotivator if Japanese is the only language you are currently interested in learning.

      I see a discussion like this as being the same as someone coming up to me as I’m trying to win at a game of chess pestering me that checkers would be so much easier to learn and that I’ll probably lose because chess is too complex for me to fully understand. If I’m in the middle of a game of chess, then why do I care how easy or hard any other board game is right now?

      • Imelda

        Ugh. Your posts are incredibly obnoxious. Why do you keep commenting as if you’re the only person in the world studying foreign languages?

        Guess what. I’m studying Japanese, and its freaking hard. Its much harder than learning either French or Spanish was. The title of this post is “9 of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.” It isn’t saying that these languages are *innately* difficult. Its just saying that they have grammatical structures or vocalizations markedly different from English. There is really nothing so objectionable about that statement. So please calm down.

  • Kelo

    I think polish language is hard too.Our ć,ś,ź,ż,rz are very hard to pronounce for English speakers.They often nearly break their tongues while trying to say them :)

  • Jed Worthen

    Nice article. Also good points Heather! I’m surprised that Basque & Navajo made it on to the list over Russian. Seeing as how there are more Russian speakers & countries where Russian is spoken. It would be interesting to hear from speakers of languages other than English which languages were the hardest or easiest to learn. Also where the criteria or source for determing the hardest language for a English speaker comes from. Academia? NGO’s or corporations that send workers overseas? Government departments (whether military or Foreign Office/State Department)?

    • Heather Carreiro

      We started off with the 5 languages listed as Category III by the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) which you can see detailed here: http://web.archive.org/web/20071014005901/http://www.nvtc.gov/lotw/months/november/learningExpectations.html

      Anne can chime in for where her research took her after that!

      • http://annemerritt.blogspot.com Anne

        The research came from the FSI, the British Foreign Office and a handful of linguists from my university.

        Many sources have told me that Russian is a tough language too. Personally, I’ve always loved the sound of it, but the pronunciation just won’t work in my mouth.

        Thanks for the comments Jed. I agree, it would be very interesting to hear from non-native English speakers about which languages are especially easy/tough for them. My ESL students give me both extremes; some say English is a piece of cake, and others say it’s their hardest subject.

    • http://helsinkippusa.wordpress.com/ PPusa

      Russian is easy for English speakers because the languages are related. It takes a few evenings to learn the cyrillic script and then PECTOPAH suddenly reads as restoran.

      For me Swedish has been the most difficult language to learn. “You must study Swedish to get out of the school” is not the best motivator.

      English has some strange concepts like articles, stone age writing system and a lot of things you just have to memorize (e.g. prepositions x is used with verb y). There’s a rule to the mentioned talotta/talolta (without a house, from a house) but there are no rules to the English combinations.

  • ThaisChalencon

    What about Russian and hebrew? Loved it the article.

  • Agnieszka

    Yep, those are hard to learn… but try POLISH :D

  • Hayleigh Paige

    As a learner of Chinese and Korean, I have to disagree with them being difficult ^^ I think Benny made very valid points in that how “difficult” a language is to learn is all in the attitude one approaches it with. I studied Spanish when I was younger and can’t even order in a restaurant simply because I didn’t approach Spanish with motivation and the right attitude. Once I began learning Chinese, I choose to focus not on how “difficult” the character system and tones are, but instead rejoiced in the fact that I wouldn’t have to conjugate verbs! You know one form of a verb, you know them all, because it doesn’t change. And that helped me keep going ^^ Same with Korean. Sure, in Korean you do have to conjugate, and there are levels of respect, but in reality, once you learn one form, it’s easy to change it into the others, and the Hangul writing system is refreshingly logical. These advantages are even mentioned in the article, but are later negated by the aspects that supposedly make it “difficult.” If this article was written the other way around, this could easily become “9 Languages that Actually Aren’t as Bad as You Think”. Focusing on the positive parts will make learning any language that much easier. ^^
    Sure, the languages on this list may be languages that are very different from English. But piano and trombone aren’t in the same instrument family as my first instrument – saxophone – but I still became proficient in all three ^^

  • Salma

    Kurdish needs to be included here- completely nonsensical grammar from an english speaker’s background!!

  • http://www.janesan.fi Jaana Nystrom

    I’d add Thai: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_script
    As a Finnish speaker I’m used to learning several languages as nobody understands ours and as a result of our school + living abroad for many years I speak / write 7 languages more or less fluently. Some languages I seem to manage only orally and the difficult ones have been Thai, Arabic and Cantonese. Also was too lazy to really study Greek grammar while living there.

    Thai however takes the prize: In spoken Thai there can be up to 9 different intonations for the same word, depending on the region… I’ve ordered fried grandmother in a restaurant for lunch! And the squiggles (letters) I just leave alone.

  • http://kopikido.tumblr.com/ Mary Escano

    I think the national language of the Philippines. Officially called Filipino but we locals call it Tagalog because it’s derived mostly from the subdialect called Tagalog (which is among the 100+ dialects spoken all over the country).
    For Spanish and some Chinese and HIndi speakers, pronouncing the words would be fair but what makes the learning process quite nerve wracking is that the language appears to be alive and continues to add a new word to describe something.
    I was born and raised in the country and have been living in Europe for 3 years now and the last time I went home, it surprised me to hear new words (credit belongs to the gay community for their creativity in inventing words) which I’ve never heard before.
    Being part of Asia where there’s use of “honorific” words to connote respect to an elder or somebody of higher status, we also put honorific words such as “ho” or “po” although the tricky part is which to use and where in the sentence structure it is put.
    Aside from that, those who are studying the Filipino grammar would find that it’s surprisingly repetitive. There’s a popular anecdote of a scene in an elevator with a foreigner and a local. When the door opened, the person who wants to board the elevator asked ,”Baba ba?” (going down?) and the local replied “Bababa.” (going down)
    But the advantage of learning the language is that you might find it a pleasant adventure as Filipinos find it amusing to hear a foreigner trying to learn the language in contrast to some Filipinos who claim not to speak Tagalog after only living in another country for several years.

  • http://youthnasia.wordpress.com Tanya

    I’ve studied 5 of the 9 (Arabic, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Japanese) and I’m close to fluent in Mandarin. I’ve sung in Hungarian but that’s definitely not the same thing ;)

    I totally agree with Korean being deceptively difficult. The first semester is a breeze of “look at all these borrow words” and “wow this writing system makes sense” and then the grammar kicks in. All those particles! What is the difference between ka and o and when do I use them?? etc etc etc

    I’m surprised there’s nothing Thai/Khmer in there. The languages around Cambodia/Vietnam have horrific numbers of vowel sounds to differentiate and mimic. And the Thai writing system is also deceptively difficult, with all those silent sanskrit letters, different letters to indicate tone, and writing vowels on all sides. That said, Thai was one of my favourites and I want to go study there some time :)

  • http://www.hannahinmotion.wordpress.com Hannah

    I spent some time with a very international group recently, who told me that Finnish and Turkish actually come from the same language family. The root words in Turkish also change slightly depending on if you’re going “into” a house or are “in” a house. Does anyone know if this common language link is indeed true?

    • Heather Carreiro

      According to the Ethnologue –

      Classification for Turkish: Altaic, Turkic, Southern, Turkish

      Classification for Finnish: Uralic, Finnic

      Looks like they don’t come from a common language family, but there may be other reasons for the commonality. What you’re talking about regarding “into” and “in” relates to the language’s way of dealing with prepositions. Many languages have these sort of systems, often referred to as “case” in linguistics.

      • http://helsinkippusa.wordpress.com/ PPusa

        I’ve met a few (half-)Turkish people who have said that Finnish and Turkish are related. In Finland I don’t remember anyone who would have said anything about the connection.

        Turkish feels more familiar than many other European languages but I don’t know why.

        • Neşe

          you are right, Turkish also belongs to Uralic family, and I have also heard from many people that the syntax as well as vocabulary has common points..

          • JMT

             No, Turkish is not related to Uralic languages. There is no common inherited vocabulary. The grammatical similarities are areal features. Uralic and Turkic are neighbours, not relatives. For more information: http://www.sgr.fi/sust/sust258/sust258_janhunen.pdf

  • theaviatrix

    I actually don’t think Mandarin is that difficult to learn to speak! The grammar is very simple and there are absolutely no conjugations, so every tense uses the same verb, with different words added to indicate when the action happened. Even though there are 4 pitches, most people can tell what you are trying to convey through the context, and most people will be more understanding if you’re a foreigner. I do have to admit confusion over pitches can lead to pretty humorous situations, though. “Spicy chicken” can be misheard as “garbage”!

    Now, as for the writing… I’m a Chinese American and I can write as much as a kindergartner. Hah!

  • Paulo

    Good try, but Vietnamese, being a monosyllabic (every word is only one syllable) and tonal is harder than Mandarin, Korean, or Japanese which are multi-syllable of course.

  • http://vidalondon.net Jon

    A really fascinating article. The debate about whether a language is hard or not is a bit misleading – of course it depends on the person, their motivation and circumstances, and yes I believe that given the right motivation and circumstances (and lots of time) anyone can learn a language if absolutely necessary.

    Nonetheless it is really interesting to read about languages that have been classified as particularly difficult for English speakers to learn, with solid grammatical and phonetic explanations as to why this is the case – which this article supplies.

  • Linda

    Hello,

    I am a Swedish speaker from Finland – I have a good verbal and written knowledge of French, German, English and Italian. Grammatically these have been easier for me to learn than Finnish (spoken by the majority of the Finnish population)!(!) The Finnish language will always be a struggle for me, and for that I am ashamed. I have had a go at Russian too, but at this point I cannot master the grammar nor the pronounciation…I would suggest that this is because of a lack of motivation, but I also think that this is one difficult language to learn. I have not made any attempts to learn most of the languages on your list, but Arabic is the only one that I can get a grip of – I can actually distinguish words and I feel that the pronounciation would be easier than for example the Cantonese. Generally, any language is very hard to learn if you want to achieve complete fluency – there are so many dimensions of even the English language, I am still using words that would not be the first choice of an English native etc. But anyone passionate enough will get the desired results :)

  • Roman

    I wonder why you didnt mention Lithuanian. It’s grammar is one of the hardest in the world to learn.

  • Jack Taylor

    I have a question for Anne:

    I’ve been reading on various websites about a survey done by the British Foreign Office that found the difficulty of languages for embassy staff. These pages typically list Basque, Hungarian, and Japanese as being the hardest to learn. The thing is, I can’t locate the original source to check this. Did you use the original source to help write this article, and if so, could you point me in its direction? Any pointers you could give me as to its whereabouts would be much appreciated.

  • Suomisue

    Growing up with a Finnish father & adopted Finnish sister (who came from the orphanage speaking beautiful Finnish at 3-years-old), I learned to speak day-to-day Finnish.

    When my sister started school in the U.S.A. she sometimes slipped into Finnish & the other students called it “garbage talk” so she became ashamed & refused to speak Finnish anymore. This was in the San Francisco Bay Area (suburb) in the late 1960′s so it wasn’t that cosmopolitan at the time.

    Later when we were teens we both took Finnish classes at the Adult Ed in Berkeley, Calif. & found the speaking much easier than reading & trying to compose original writing ourselves was pretty low-level! But so what if we weren’t fluent? We had fun. My father continued to speak Finnish to his visiting relatives & friends in the Finnish community. When we visited Finland with him, everyone understood him but looked at him like he had been in a cave for 40 years as his Finnish was from when he moved to the U.S.A. at 8-years-old. His parents never spoke English at home, but did learn to speak English well.

    When visiting our relatives in Finland I was ashamed at how uneducated we were compared to our Finnish cousins who spoke 5 or 6 languages easily & fluently!

    A teen-aged Japanese exchange student we had living with us spoke English that sounded like poetry! It was beautiful as was her writing.

    I don’t think labeling a language “difficult” is so harmful. Many things are difficult, but we still do them & can excel at them at times.

    My husband is learning currently Navajo.

    I’m trying to learn how to cook. Talk about HARD!!

  • Shiva in Exile

    And what about Russian?

  • Shiva in Exile

    Is it difficult to learn Russian?

  • Me 2

    Another aspect is that what is “hard” for someone (many people have mentioned conjugating verbs as “hard”) is FUN for others (such as myself). It is like a fun math problem to learn all the proper tenses & how they are used, spelled, etc. & compare them to the English & other languages. I LIKE “hard” stuff.

    I also like to knit, but I don’t like to sew. That doesn’t make me better or worse a human being than anyone else (even those who speak Hungarian with ease & brag about it).

  • Roman

    Russian is hard, grammar is much harder than English or German, but on the other hands many words have the same roots. Lithuanian, on the other hand, has a much more difficult grammar than Russian.

  • KM

    You forgot Mongolian

  • Ahmad

    Totally Agreed Arabic Is really hard to write! Thank god I grew up learning how to speak up and can understand and say the Khaa sounds and all that! But yes Arabic, Russian, Icelandic, And Chinese are the Hardest!

  • Mary KT

    I am a Bulgarian, who after quite a few years of lessons (during middle school) and then a lot of practise (during high school) was fluent in the language at age 18. By this I mean, that expressing myself in English has become more comfortable than using my own native tongue. I suppose English is my primary language now.

    Over the years, I have studied Russian, Hebrew, Mandarin and Korean. The last two, I am still in the process of studying. Since Russian uses pretty much the same alphabet as Bulgarian, I never considered it a big challenge. However, for an English speaker it would surely be one as it is very very different.

    Korean and Mandarin however are on a whole new level of difficulty. As mentioned in the article above, Korean’s grammar is extremely complicated. You can say the same thing in 5-6 ways (or sometimes more), by changing the verb form. In addition, you have to keep in mind who you’re talking to as the politeness levels are the backbone of the language.
    Mandarin on the other hand has grammar so simple that it was almost enough to make me think ‘oh studying this won’t be that hard.’ when in fact , it is. Memorizing such a large number of characters takes a lot of time and effort. Adding the tones on top of that? I figure even an English speaker (the sentence structure in Mandarin and English is similar) would need 5+ years to master it. For other foreigners whose English is not quite 100%, I figure another year or two needs to be added to the equation.

    Having said all that, no language is impossible to learn. Some languages are simply difficult to achieve fluency in. But as long as you have ambition and passion for the language itself? Things will turn out well.
    Patience is essential.

    Good luck to everyone! :)

  • William

    It’s BARRY Farber, not Harry Farber who wrote the book you make reference to.

  • Rhealm

    I have hammered my nail half-way in with Korean.  I spent some time learning Hirogana because it is so beautiful, and Japanese speaking and culture is so refined – everyone likes it.  I tried learning to read Arabic before a holiday once.  Love the letters, but I think it takes years of living there to get that gutteral throat sound, and I think I’m too feisty as a western woman to stomach the culture for too long, yet all the Muslim people have been more than kind to me as a guest in their countries when visiting.  I read this and think, what the f*ck have I been doing?  Why not hone my French, learn Spanish, or maybe even Romanian would be easier than this???  I really should move out of Asia.  It’s just so intoxicating though.  ~  Rhea 

  • ibrahim alazzaz

    i think not that the arabic language is hard 
    much of students can learn it by 6 months in arabic language institute  of king saud universty

  • http://www.facebook.com/anastasiay92 Anastasia Young

    I studied Japanese and although pronunciation was super easy, the sentence structure, specifically the word order, was the hardest to learn. 
    A tip? Save up and move to the country (after learning some key phrases). It’ll be much easier to pick up things like sentence structure and cultural nuances. 

  • Nina Hansen

    I’m studying (Egyptian) Arabic. It’s not easy to remember the different letters at first, but I’ve come a long way since my first lesson. It’s fun. There’s nothing more satisfiying than recognizing a word and understanding what it means. That goes for all languages.

  • Blogan

    I should mention, if no one else has, that English has its own agglutinative remnants.  There good old “-ward” for skyward.  We also have some strange verb prefixes.  Think of “unpitch hay” popular during the birth of our nation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rouillie-Wilkerson/100001478899633 Rouillie Wilkerson

    I disagree with some of this.  Korean is not difficult to learn, is
    comprehensive and logical with a written language that can literally be learned
    in weeks.  Japanese is difficult to a
    point with respects to written form, but the spoken language is extremely
    logical and comprehensive.  As for
    Finnish, it deceives the eyes by appearing difficult with consonant overkill,
    but it is logical.  Each letter, vowel, and
    consonant sounds the same every time!  Arabic
    and Russian I think are more difficult for a native English speaker, however.
    With Arabic I can find nothing in comparison to aid in learning, so one
    approaches it like a newborn baby!  And
    Russian has an alphabet that looks familiar, but the sounds attributed to “familiar”
    letters are completely different!

  • chick

    I’ve tackled spanish, Mandarin and Korean. I believe how well one learns a language depends on how much they are interested in it… When I was learning Spanish, I didn’t really focus on it much, so although I learned a lot, and it easy for me as a beginner, i didn’t go far.
    THen i switched to mandarin. i was so fascinated by the fact that there were characters for each word, and that i tackled the tones in a positive way. I didn’t have any one to speak it with, but i sure had fun learning the language. ^^And then Korean came along and i fell in LOVE. Such a pretty language to me. ^^ I understand why English speakers would think its hard, once you get all the structures down, it becomes easier. However like it was mentioned, there are a LOT of ways to say things (changing the endings and what not).. that mean almost the same but a little different. haha what got me was when you watch TV (like a drama or something).. what I learn from class, is applied..but A LOT of the times the ppl say things, simple things, in a totally different way. Using different grammatical endings and stuff. then with the dialects that can have totally different words… ^^However challenging, I find it SO MUCH FUN!! you gotta love languages ^^

  • Guest

    Mandarin is not a written language.

  • http://twitter.com/AutumnMage Autumn Rush

    Hi, I have been studying Japanese for 6 years now, and am still only considered an intermediate learner… It is a very difficult language to get your head around, especially honorific language,  but it can be very rewarding and fun as well.

  • Ambrosia Jane

    WELSH is one of the HARDEST languages on the earth, how come it isn’t mentioned on websites??

  • Wisrlpeh

    Have you ever heard someone speak Icelandic? Just the phrase “How are you?” seems almost impossible to a foreigner.

  • 주얼

    Korean sounds and pronunciation aren’t very difficult, and the native number system only goes 1 to 99. Honorifics and levels of politeness when it comes to verbs are usually not that difficult. I would have to say a language such as Icelandic is more challenging.

  • faken

    “Olvasok könyvet” means “I read book”, properly we write  
    “Olvasok EGY könyvet”
     (egy means ‘a’), and there is a typo in the sentence “Olvasom a könvyet”:  könYVet
    the correct spelling.

  • monmon3

    I speak Japanese and Korean, the former much better than the latter, but most people with experience in one Asian language find that it’s far easier to learn another. For example, I started learning Korean and actually taking classes once I was already fluent in Japanese and all my notes were in Japanese instead of English because the two languages are so similar. Korean really isn’t that hard, and it’s definitely the easiest Asian language to learn. The vowels are tricky but in context you can easily differentiate them. Learning Japanese is different for everyone, but for me it was easier than Spanish. It just depends on your motivation to learn, I think. Anything is possible with the right tools and motivation.

    • Bijay

      heard that too….really want to learn korean and make a korean girlfriend….I am good at almost many european lang like  english,spanish,italian,french,portugese and german…right now wanna learn japanese or korean…dying to go there and make friends…asian people are the best.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/CLDWOKFNCFWKRULPC2WI6EJZWE Jacque

        bet you’re a Filipino, because you just inserted there the word “lang”. . .

        • what

          what are you talking abut? “lang” = language

    • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

      I think Indonesian is probably “easier” than Japanese. :-) Same pronunciation (basically), but all phonetic romanization! But yes, like you I’m learning Korean “through” Japanese because it’s just easier that way, since the grammar is so similar.

  • SNL

    Being of mixed ethnicity (English is my first language), I would say that the Asian languages you have listed are pretty easy to master compared to the European ones (like Hungarian).

  • David

    I speak competent Korean and yes the Grammar becomes very difficult as you dig into it verb endings in particular seem to just have limitless variation!

  • Rissa

    My suitemates and I are learning Korean from an international student at our college, we have found it simple to say but difficult to remember, though once you’ve memorized it you will not forget. Since the sounds are similar it can be both helpful to remember and confusing.

  • Ohmy

    where is Spanish?

    • Bookluver2011

      The author of this article doesn’t feel that Spanish belongs in the list, I suppose. I have to agree

  • Sophie

    Japanese Romaji is super easy to learn though! Because there is only one way to pronounce each letter, there is only one way to spell the word. Romaji is super easy, and I loved learning Hiragana. Katakana was a bit harder though…not as pretty and I some times got the two mixed up. Now I ONLY read Hiragana, Katakana, and Romaji. I know no Kanji, and I am not fluent in SPEAKING Japanese.

    • Another Japanese Learner

      I can write most of the 常用.  They really make things easy to learn after that… take a word like 原子破壊機.  It really is an agglutination of the words [atom][smash/destroy][machine] and it means particle accelerator.  Very awesome.  Many interesting kanji await you, Sophie!

  • http://twitter.com/ibraheemhodithy ابراهيم خالد الحديثي

    i am a native Arabic speaker  just want to tell the Arabic grammar  is hard for the native speakers also

  • conlang2014

    I spoke Japanese since I was young and I am now able to speak Korean, Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese. As monmon3 said, it is easier by a lot to learn Asian languages after learning one. Japanese and Korean aren’t that hard… Japanese kanji are the only hard things to learn. Currently I’m learning Arabic and Hungarian. Arabic isn’t that hard other than the ability to remember the pronunciation of the words. But Hungarian which will be followed up with Finnish later is hard. I think that it really depends on what your childhood and what your environment is and was and with a right amount of motivation to learn and study will make anyone successful.

  • AudraLG

    I’m learning Japanese right now and have been for about a year. And I’ve just started on Chinese. I figured since I have to learn Chinese characters to learn Japanese, I might as well learn Chinese, as well. I’ve always found Japanese very easy. Here and there it gets challenging but I find it easier than any other I’ve tried. I’d LOVE to learn Arabic and I started on it at one point. I didn’t get too far until I decided to stop. It IS difficult. Maybe after I get done with Japanese and Chinese I’ll move on to either that or Latin. Getting done with a second (or third) language always makes learning another one easier. :)

  • Guest

    I think Vietnamese is hard to learn. Maybe not harder than any of those on this list, but certainly challenging. They don’t use special characters like other Asian languages (other than Chinese symbols for ceremonial type purposes) but with 6 tones, unique stresses, age based usage, and it’s own special alphabet, it’s tough. And native speakers speak really fast and have a very hard time understanding what English speakers are trying to say when they speak Vietnamese.

    The college I use to teach at in Da Nang was called “Duc Tri” and I always pronounced it “Duck Tree” and everyone loved it haha! 

    I also think that some African languages could be on here too. Some of them are not hard to pronounce, but the actual memorization of the vocabulary and grammar, especially in Central Africa, is very difficult.

    I think it’s all relative based on the speaker. Some people I know can easily speak 5 languages and pick a new one up in every country they go to, but I have the hardest time learning languages. I’ve been studying Spanish off and on for years and I am hardly fluent. So frustrating!

    Cam on (C’mon) haha!

  • Guest

             Well, Anne Merritt your work inspires me to tour around the word! Does it not encourage you to get out there and be extravagantly spontaneous? Therefore I have traveled to all countries that speak these tremendous languages seeking adventure! Sadly I have found but a stone… A stone that I will keep forever in my fragile old heart. You have touched me! Now I hope these old widow’s sadly words have touched you too.

  • Josh7743

    Im half American and half Brazilian. I was born in America and moved to Brazil when i was in middle school, so Im kinda used to using both Portuguese and English. Because of my work, I lived in Japan for 6months and South Korea for 3years. According to my experience, Japanese and Korean are somehow similar, the character they use are quite different from each other though.
    They both have a totally different sentence structure from many Latin based languages. Say, you wanna say “I go to school”, then Jap or Kor say something like “I + School + To + Go”.
    I didn’t have much time to learn Japanese but I’m pretty sure I can speak some basic korean.

    And like the article says, Korean verb conjugation really made me freak out. Them are CRAZY. It looks like there are literally LIMITLESS verb changes. Even if your listener is just one year older than you, you HAVE TO use honorific sentences, using complex variation of the verb. If you don’t, they think youre soooooo rude.

    Oh, and one more, the number system. It drives many foreigners crazy too.
    They use differnt nuber system depends on situations. Its really tough for foreigners to pick that point up. For example, when they say “Can I have 2 hambergers?” and “I came here 2years ago” they use different 2……those numbers mean the same thing though..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ashley-Jackson-Cooper/1242330022 Ashley Jackson-Cooper

    I’m a Korean minor. For me, the hardest thing is definitely the relationship/seniority thing between speakers. 

  • Monie_thomas

    Well…. I’m studying Korean now and I have to agree with you. What you said is very true. Although I listen to  Korean music and watch Korean dramas all of the time, it’s still hard for me to understand what they are saying when speaking in conversation. I also have a little be of trouble when trying to speak it myself. I’m pretty good at typing it and chatting online with it though… Maybe I should expand my studying more?? Even though it’s getting rough, I won’t give up ^_^ 화팅!!

    • Cocoinkorea

      I can totally relate with Monie. I have lived in Korea for two years now and my listening in daily conversation has improved significantly, and I can read and write hanguel. Understanding dramas and music however is difficult and my speaking is not so good. I have tried self-study but I think in order to truly master Korean, formal training is required. 

  • system637

    Yay!! My native language, Cantonese!!

  • Guest

    I’m in my fourth year of Japanese, and to be completely honest, Japanese really isn’t that difficult to me. I think I’m a little backwards though, because the languages everyone claims are easier to learn like Italian and German, and ESPECIALLY French are really hard for me to grasp. I just can’t seem to pick up the genders of words, all of the verb tenses, and, for French, the pronunciation. I’ve spent weeks trying to pick up even basic sentence structures for those languages, yet when I tried my hand at Korean I was able to learn the hangul in an hour or two and could say some basic phrases. I guess my brain is just wired more for Asian languages…

    • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

      Indeed, your brain is probably primed for Korean, because you learned Japanese. The pronunciation and grammar aren’t very different. A lot of Korean grammatical and lexical things will be familiar to you (like honorifics, the word for “hang” also means “take [x amount of time]“).

    • JA_JP

      I’m right there with you. I found Japanese to be quite easy and now starting on Korean. I find Spanish to be difficult and French not so much as I took some classes in college during the time it would have been my second language.

      Only difficulty about Korean is a few vowel sounds that aren’t in English. Just need to train my ears to listen.

  • Courtney

    This article says that Japanese has FOUR writing systems. Actually, there are only three. Romaji (which is incorrectly written as Romanji in this article) is NOT used by Japanese speakers. The only purpose of that is to help foreigners learn the language. My elementary Japanese class was weaned off of romaji a few weeks into my freshman year of college. As intermediate and advanced students now, we never use it. 

  • http://www.mezzoguild.com/ Donovan – The Mezzofanti Guild

    If you’re undertaking a grammatical study of a language or focusing solely on reading, then I’d say this article is almost spot on (Arabic should not be listed here as a difficult language – apart from a pronunciation hurdle and the different script, Semitic languages are a piece of cake). If on the other hand you’re focusing on speaking and listening – I don’t believe any language is necessarily more or less difficult. 

    Georgian should have been listed here as it’s similar to Basque in its grammatical complexity but far removed from the influence of Romance languages (not to mention its alphabet).

  • http://www.arabic-alphabet.org/ islamic quotes

    Arabic is not so hard to learn see this: 
    http://www.arabic-alphabet.org/

  • Keith Rusler

    Arabic is number 1? That’s a load of crap. It maybe difficult, but it is not harder than Hungarian which has about 24 cases to learn, then it would be Finnish, then Arabic, then Chinese, then Japanese.

  • Okos21

    if anyone wants to learn hungarian contact me : okos21 at freemail dot hu , 
    magyar nyelvtanulás

  • Phoebeg3005

    Russian is quite tricky because of multiple consonants put together even in words like “hello” (Здравствуй) took me ages to learn.

  • Masunius

    Absolutely true for Finnish. I was in Finland for quite a long time and I could not even speak the word for STOP in the bus. It was like psähtyy (pronounced something like pussa-hu-tu ). However Swedish does come to  rescue at times.If you know any Germanic language(I did knew German), Swedish is a life saver in FI. But the good things is Finns dont expect you to learn Finnish; they know its not a walk in the park. And moreover, Finns speak English fluently, so life is easy. 

  • Nynnebling

    You forgot danisk :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/allavoevoda Alla Voevoda

    I wonder how many people in the world speak Navajo? Strange that Russian language with 5 mln.speakers in the world is not listed. For English native speakers it is pretty hard. Living 20 years in Russia, almost forgetting their motherlanguage, English speakers still make awful mistakes and have accent. 
    To learn Chinese a person should just have naturally good ear to music. 
    Arabic language is beautiful, the same as Italian. Always dreamed to speak, but no chance yet. 

  • Amazon07

    Again, the Hungarian is incorrect.  You would not say ‘Olvasok konyvet’.  That’s just not a correct way of saying it in Hungarian!  You would say ‘Konyvet olvasok’ (I’m reading a book).  ”Olvasom a konyvet’ does mean I’m reading the book (minus the typo you put in; you wrote ‘konvyet’ instead of ‘konyvet’…)

  • Lucas (or Sin Rae Hoon)

    I am Korean, but I didn’t know that Korean was one of the nine hard languages for English-speaking countries!

  • http://twitter.com/_jeremyhunter Jeremy G Hunter

    I dare to say English should be on here…

    • Patrik

      I think, that it depends on how you learn it. I learned it as a small child, by moving to an English speaking country and with the help of TV. But I go back to my home country sometimes, and see, how my friends are learning all the irregular verbs, tenses etc. of by heart from a book. This is so much harder, because Engliush has got rules, but also lots of exceptions!

    • Blank_Stairs

      The argument your making here, could be one of the smartest comments ever posted to the internet!
      Just think about this everyone, specifically U.S. And American English speaking Canadian natives. Just think of all of the words and ridiculous abbreviations we create on a near daily basis. There are so many, we need websites like “Urban Dictionary”, just to tell people, what other people from a different city, 500 miles away are talking about. LOL, LMFAO, cool, hip, “bad”! …c’mon, how can “bad” mean good?! It gets out of control!
      Seriously though, even without all of the “new words”, I personally, with a 170IQ, a large vocabulary, and a love of language, likely don’t know 30% of American English-words and grammar.
      …and don’t even get me started on original “island” English from the UK. It’s a good thing that I love ‘Top Gear’ and ‘Dr. Who’ or I really wouldn’t understand you guys!

      • Lee

        What, Top Gear and Dr. Who and you ‘claim’ to have an I.Q. of 170. Ha
        Maybe you chanced on one single occasion an absolute anomalous score or you simple stumbled into the correct answers by chance. Repeating the fete consistently over many years is truly the conclusive method of assessment regarding I.Q, By all logic, two main obvious flaws in your 170 I.Q. claim is, why would you just blurt it out? Those who do have a high I.Q. do not, through reason of intellect; that you would understand if you truly did have a 170 I.Q, don’t advertise our I.Q. freely. Secondly, you wouldn’t have time or the inclination to be on this site as you would be chairperson of Mensa and likely pushing the frontiers .of human collective knowledge and science. Don’t make such claims falsely, it’s very awkward when someone who really does have a high I.Q. catches you out. You are likely incensed at me by now, but I did try and try to use my usual level of everyday language for your convenience. I hope you didn’t take umbrage at my rebuke, a person with an I.Q. of 170 would have found what I said funny, they would have comprehended the humour.

        • jon

          lol

  • http://carseatcoversforgirls.us/ Keith Taylor

    I find all Asian languages incomprehensible (to the extent that I live in Bangkok and still point to the food I’d like rather than ask for it by name), but of any language the one I’ve found most baffling is Mongolian.  My girlfriend is speaking with her sisters on Skype as we speak, and even after three years of listening I can only just work out when one word ends and another begins.  Right now I’m hearing an endless stream of noise with the occasional sound that sounds like a 70 year old smoker’s first hacking cough of the morning.  

  • Jake

    how come Russian is not up there.

  • Guest

    haha i`m really proud of that Korean is the hard language for English speaker. that means “English” is the hard language for Korean speaker too. but all of the korean student studied that  fucking english as a “First foreign language” from 3rd grade to 12th grade and of course it`s compulsory.  and i studied english for 13 years since i`m a 10-year-boy, but still can`t speak fluently, can`t understand well what to say. it`s very hard to learn foreign language especially not be related to grammar or something. EXCEPT babies. they`re genius for learning language. sometime i wanna be baby to learn foreign language perfectly. praise baby~

  • http://twitter.com/LukealiciousX Luke Blatt

    Um, excuse me? What about Polish? Polish is extremely hard. Much harder than probably all of those listed above.

  • JD

    I am currently learning Mandarin and i have to say i would agree with it being on this list but also agree with it being lower on the list. It is by no means easy, especially memorizing the characters, but the language itself is fun to learn and has a logical and easy to follow syntax and grammar for those fluent in English. What i do find difficult about Mandarin, however, is that it is the opposite to English in that is it very difficult to start. Basic/simple English is easy to learn, it’s when you get to higher levels of speaking when you run into all the funny little rules and arbitrary nature of English grammar that makes English difficult. Mandarin is very difficult to start. Simple sentence structure is the same as English, but you start to run into arbitrary grammar rules and the frustrating           task of character memorization immediately. After my first semester of Mandarin over half my class dropped because they couldn’t stick it out. Some of them seemed even more eager to learn Mandarin than i was. All in all the language is hard but really fun to learn, and i would suggest it to anyone looking to learn an Asian language.

  • Scott Gallagher

    Just to clear something up about Japanese – it DOES NOT have 4 alphabets. In fact, this “Romanji,” is first off, pronounced “Romaji”,”and it is NOT used in Japan, and it is NOT taught outside the absolute beginner course in Japanese, and even then, most teachers greatly prefer to just skip it., because It is a complete crutch. 

    This is an easy enough mistake to make, but now I have to question the credibility of the description of all the other languages you’ve written about. 

    Sorry if this has been mentioned already in the 105 other comments, but I’m just throwing it out there. 

  • JMT

    “Without Germanic or Latin influence, Finnish vocabulary is completely alien to English speakers”

    I’m afraid that’s wrong. As a trained linguist and native speaker of Finnish I can tell you we have borrowed at least 500 hundred Germanic words.  If you know Swedish or German, learning Finnish vocabulary will not be a great challenge. English itself hasn’t preserved as many early Germanic words as Finnish. For heaven’s sake, Finnish even borrowed the word for ‘mother’ from Germanic (Finnish äiti, Gothic aiþei)!

    Latin influence is much later but since the 19th Century there has a been a steady flow of Latin words into Finnish vocabulary (even the word for hangover stems from Latin). And don’t forget the English loan words like “baari” ‘a bar’ :)

    • JMT

      “English itself hasn’t preserved as many early Germanic words as Finnish”

      Whoops, this is an exaggeration. I mean Finnish has preserved many archaic Germanic words that were lost in English.

  • CAM

    I learned a little bit of Japanese, but I am far more fluent in Korean, as I have been studying it longer. Hangul, the Korean alphabet it VERY easy to learn how to read, but writing it can sometimes be a confusion due to the syllable blocks. As for the Korean language itself, it’s a little hard at first, then it gets easier. But, just when you’re starting to think you have the hang of it, it gets harder. :P Although it can be a headache at times, it’s very fun to learn and is called “the most logical language in the world.” It really is. :) I definitely recommend it!

  • Kennethkutschman

    I take mandarin chinese and although remembering the characters can be a setback the speaking is incredibly easy, the tones are hardly ever paid SUPER close attention to since we usually can tell what is being said just by context of the situtation, such as “wo shi meiguo ren” which means i am american the word shi can mean 100 different things but in this sentence we dont pay attention to tone b/c we just know it stands for “is/am”

  • gość1996

    You forgot to add polish lanuage. Even I as a native speakr don’t know how to say something correctly at all. During speaking every Pole make lots of mistake. Thist language is much harder than these that u gave here!!!!

  • Andoni Aiduri

    Hey, this is Andoni, from the Basque Country. I’d like to add that it’s true what it’s been said about the Basque Language, but only with the standard one. For example, I live in a fishermen town in Biscay called Bermeo. Here we talk a subdialect (Standard -> Biscay’s Basque -> Bermeo’s Basque) which makes incredibly easy the auxiliary verb formation. In fact, you only need to know the present simple in order to form the rest of the tenses: Ni nai (I am), naien (was), lekinai (would be), al nai (can be). Guk du (we’ve got), dun, lekidu, al du, etc…

    Prepositions don’t exist and the system is close to the one in Latin: txakur (dog), txakurra (the dog), txakurrari (to the dog), txakurrarentzat (for the dog)… It’s very easy to talk and you can transmit a lot of information in a very little time (not the case for the standard Basque).

    Some examples:
    I got home (etxera/home heldu/get to naien/auxiliary verb[I in the past]).

    you eat a lot of apples (Sagar asko jatenzuz – sagar/apple asko/a lot jaten/eat zu/you z/plural)

    If they were smarter I’d be able to teach them better (askarragoak balekidiez hobeto irakatsiko lekitzatez – askarragoak/smarter balekidiez/if they were hobeto/better irakatsiko/will teach lekitzatez/I would – to them).

    Love Basque! And English!
    Greetings!
    andoni.aiduri@gmail:disqus .com

  • Dziakova Darina

    I am from Slovakia. I can say it is really a difficult language. Even people here need about 12-14 years to learn to write Slovak correctly. (Yes writing is way more harder for us.). Seven cases mentioned here are not the main concern! There are tons of other aspects and complications in the Slovak language. I will list some of them: the rule where to use y/i at the end of words (really a though and complex thing), rule where to use y/i after consonants like b,p,m,v,k,r,z,l (we have to memorize hundreds of words and for the rest there are other rules/or exceptions), different declensions for masculine/feminine/neuter gender (each of them contain at least four patterns how to declinate), several tenses, rule of using ‘ť’/'t’ ‘n’/'ň’.. , rule how to use ‘de’/'ďe’, ‘te’/'ťe’, ‘ne’/'ňe’..etc, adverbs prepositions numbers adjectives – all of them are declinated too.
    There are also tons of rules in pronunciation: the rule of assimilation (Consonant clusters containing both voiced and voiceless elements are entirely voiced), rule for pronunciation of the letter ‘v’… and many more.
    And in addition to comparison with Czech language – in Slovak language there are things you can’t find in the Czech language. To mention a confusing rhythmical rule (A long syllable (that is, a syllable containing á, é, í, ý, ó, ú, ŕ, ĺ, ia, ie, iu, ô) cannot be followed by another long syllable in the same word.) and also you can’t find ‘soft’ letters like ‘ď’,'ť’,'ľ’,'ň’,'dž’,'č’,'ä’,'ô’,'ia’,'ie’,'iu’ in the Czech language. (And yeah – for them there are just another rules in the language.)
    Well I mentioned just some aspects of the Slovak language (there is a fairly long book covering just Slovak syntax and grammar) and you can see it really complex with plenty of rules. Not to mention that with every rule there come even more exceptions.
    So at the end you need to even double the complexity of the Slovak language.

    Try to say this: ZNAJNEPREKRYŠTALIZOVÁVATEĽNEJŠIEVAJÚCIMI its the longest slovak word, and this is the hardest: škvrnka,čučoriedky….
    Slovak alphabet has 46 letters…

  • Michielglas

    I am becoming pretty proficient in Finnish. I do not know wether this already came up, but Finnish is very much influenced by German languages. Finland has been part of the Swedish Kingdom for a long time, and I think it has left definate traces. E.g. Kung in Swedish is Kuningas in Finnish, Pojke in Swedish, Poika in Finnish. Finnish still has a very interesting vocabulary but saying there is no distinct German influence is overstating I believe. 

  • name name name

    I’m a Japanese Kansai dialect speaker, so ours has tones like Chinese, but I’ll never  master Cantonese…

  • Kimkimkims

    I’m Korean and definitely, Korean grammar is crazy. In my case, sometimes, some words are really strange for me, and I also take a mistake. For my friends, they always take a grammatical error; nonetheless, other people also do not know about this… I think, phonetic system is really convenient and comfortable… but other things are terrible.

  • Abby

    I’ve studied Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese in their respective countries, which is quite a mix. I agree that I don’t find Japanese to be terribly difficult. Sure, you need to study kanji and work your way through the honorifics, but everyday conversation comes pretty naturally. Thai is another matter. I think I would have had an easier time with the language if I had been taught the alphabet from the beginning (my book was all phonetics…ugh). I could never get a good grasp of the tones – it seemed like each of my teachers said words completely differently – and the phonetics in the book actually made pronunciation harder. The grammar is quite easy, though, and the Thai people seem quite skilled at understanding garbled tones from travelers. Vietnamese is another matter as well, not sharing any similarities with Thai like the other countries in the area. It is written with a Roman alphabet, the only difference being it uses tone markers to – go figure – mark the tones. At least for me, the tones were much easier to catch onto than Thai, and because of the alphabet I could easily begin to read words and pronounce them. The big thing with Vietnamese is the honorifics, but it mostly revolves around how you address yourself and the person you’re talking to. Past and future is also very simple – you just add one word to the beginning or end of the sentence and there you go.

  • http://www.facebook.com/szabolcs.agai Szabolcs Agai

    Well, actually ”
    Olvasom a könvyet ”  has a spelling mistake, it is more like:
    “Olvasom a könyvet” and its translation to English is “I am reading the book”.
    Cheers!

  • Huangziyang

    Based on the 5 languages that i speak to different levels of fluency i have to say that Cantonese is the most difficult. Even though i have spoken it since birth, it is almost impossible to master, with gutteral sounds that do not exist in other languages, the written form is also extremely difficult . Anybody out there from a non chinese background and can speak Canteonese – i salute you !!

  • Joj

    What about Hindi? The main language of India. Should be on the list.

  • Anonymous

    > – < I’m learning Korean and it is fairly easy! You can say things like “i love you” in many ways depending on who you are speaking too, but it is the easiest out of the asian languages = _ =.

    • Aleks Kaulana Akiyama

      i’d have to disagree. I studied japanese when i was younger. I also lived in korea for 20 months while learning the language and talking to people every day in korean, it’s still been much harder learning korean than japanese was. I’m at the point where people think I was born in korea but raised in america but still it’s hard to be fluent in korean.

  • Maaria Vikström

    Ou, ai laav juu! Duu ti inglis rili tink juu pronauns äs juu sei?

    • Csirmaz Dávid

      Jeah inglis ríli tink deör lengvics iz fonetik. :D

  • Matthew Milner

    I’m learning Korean. But by far Danish is the hardest language ever!

  • Sarah Mack

    Korean is easy to start learning, but it is so so so so hard to really master it. Learning Hanja has really helped me a lot, but the grammar and the verb endings are killing me :( Gah!

    • 할머니

      I am so much appreciative of you learning my mother language. I just started learning French which at first looked similar to English but in no wise even close. I can truly understand your hardships dealing with Korean but also in deep respect of your interest and effort as well.

  • Marta Alonso

    Interesting ;)

  • Yogesh Dhanda

    go for f.

  • Christianne Wiggins

    I’ve been making an attempt to learn Finnish. English is my mother tongue, so it’s easy for me, and I’ve studied Spanish along with a bit of German and Italian. To me, none of these languages are nearly as hard as Finnish. I will probably never need to know the language unless I go to Finland, but the language just interests me so much. My biggest problem, however, is the double consonants and vowels, and figuring out how to say it so that I’m not misunderstood. What I learned is that “tapaan sinut” means “I’ll meet you,” but “tapan sinut” means “I’ll kill you.” Memory isn’t the issue – pronunciation is. >.<

  • Ammie Wilde

    I love Korean! I was never good at languages at school, I really did suck, but then I was introduced to some Korean music and fell in love with the language immediately. I get everything I learn in minutes! I have never been so happy because after deciding to learn Korean, I learnt about the culture and spoke to a few Korean natives. I love everything! The people, the language, the culture. :’3 If you are from Korea, you are very lucky, very awesome and you have the best language ever! ^_^

    • Brook Wolcott

      Except for the whole “eating cats and dogs” part, right? And no, it’s not a stereotype, it’s common practice there. And if you’ve actually ever been there, you might have seen a truck load of dogs on their way to a slaughter house. Other than that, I like Koreans as well.

    • Young-hyun Ji

      @Brook Wolcott: Cultural absolutism, Mr. Wolcott. That’s borderline racism.

      Cows suffer just as much as dogs (whatever you may have heard, Koreans do not consume cats) when they die; disgusting to Hindus. So do chickens. Pigs are arguably more intelligent than dogs, and the consumption of pork would be unsavory for Muslims and non-secular Jews.

      I hope you can change your stance on this. Granted, some restaurants use inhumane methods. But so do institutions affiliated with major chains such as McDonalds. Eating dog, in itself, is not too different from the consumption of any meat. Your criticism of dog consumption is based on nothing but an assumption that your culture can be a standard to measure other culinary cultures by; a wrong assumption.

    • Young-hyun Ji

      @Brook Wolcott: Cultural absolutism, Mr. Wolcott. That’s borderline racism.

      Cows suffer just as much as dogs (whatever you may have heard, Koreans do not consume cats) when they die; disgusting to Hindus. So do chickens. Pigs are arguably more intelligent than dogs, and the consumption of pork would be unsavory for Muslims and non-secular Jews.

      I hope you can change your stance on this. Granted, some restaurants use inhumane methods. But so do institutions affiliated with major chains such as McDonalds. Eating dog, in itself, is not too different from the consumption of any meat. Your criticism of dog consumption is based on nothing but an assumption that your culture can be a standard to measure other culinary cultures by; a wrong assumption.

  • Csirmaz Dávid

    Hungarian grammar is very hard I agree. But at least its completely phonetic (each letter and consonant cluster represents a sound). English has all the sounds to pronounce all of them except ü and ű.

  • Csirmaz Dávid

    The funny thing I understand those very easily who learned English as a second language (just like me) but I simply cannout understand native speakers. I said the reverse of this is true too.

  • დავით ახვლედიანი

    And Georgian? it has such consonants that don’t exist in other languages. ქართული ენის მორფოლოგია და ასობგერათა წარმოთქმა ყველაზე ძნელია.

    • Juarez Alexandre Silva

      To me, Georgian is the hardest language. I’m from Brazil, I speak Portuguese. Although, I’m a master on English, Spanish and French as well. I’m friends with this girl named Ana Berikashvili & she taught me a few things in Georgian like “Gamarjoba”, “Brazilia”, “Dzalian lamazi”, “Me shen mikvarxar” and stuff like that & I swear, any other language seems so hard like Georgian. And now I’m down to some Korean! :)

    • Havah Alaverdashvili

      I lived in Georgia and initially the language was intimidating and way over my head and now that I live in South Korea Georgian isn’t so awful for me to learn lol!

    • დავით ახვლედიანი

      yes, because you were native speaker then, it shows your surname. but Georgian’s grammar and structure is awful. we speak easily because we are natives, but we don’t recognize why or when we must put the correct tense during speaking. if we pay attention to it it will be very confusing. believe me!

    • Havah Alaverdashvili

      No I do agree with you Davit. I’m not a native speaker of Georgian by the way. I am married to a Georgian. Georgian was the craziest language I’ve ever experienced after Arabic. Now we live in South Korea and I see I was able to pick up Georgian faster than Korean so that’s why I say Georgian isn’t so bad (compared to speaking Korean). But yes Georgian is interesting and complex!

    • Alison Bate

      What a beautiful script!!! Georgian looks like lots of hearts in a line…

    • დავით ახვლედიანი

      thank you…

  • Charles Henry Wetzel

    First of all, let me start by saying that I have lived in Asia for over 11 years: five years in Korea, three years in Hong Kong, over a year in Taiwan, and over a year in Japan. I can speak Chinese (conversational), Japanese (intermediate), and Korean (advanced, graduated from YSKLI in Seoul).

    I graduated from Yonsei University Korean Language Institute (연세대학교 한국어학당) and therefore can obviously speak Korean. I also speak Japanese (just took the JLPT N3, results pending, and I have passed the KanKen Level 5). I can also speak conversational Chinese.

    Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are all BEASTS to learn. None of them can be called “easier” than the others; they are all extremely difficult for different reasons. However, they are not beasts for the reasons that most people think.

    First of all, people get hung up over characters. There might be 80,000 characters, but you only need to know ~2,000 or them for everyday literacy (i.e. ~99% comprehension of most ordinary materials). Most Chinese only know ~3,000, and most Japanese only know ~2,000. Just learn about five per day, and it’ll take about a year to learn all the necessary characters. A good SRS (Spaced Repetition System) like Anki can help with this immensely. I easily mastered between 1,000 and 2,000 when I put my mind to it, and can now read roughly 95% of the characters I see. I also sat the Kanji Kentei Level 5 test in Japan and passed. Seriously, the difficulty of characters are vastly overrated. There are only 2,000 of them. Suck it up. That number is NOTHING compared to the amount of vocabulary words you’d need to know to be fluent.

    Second of all, people get hung up over tones. Well, I can speak conversational Chinese and my tones are awful, but they still understand me just fine. I get especially irritated when people start saying “Well, Cantonese has EIGHT tones and Mandarin only has FOUR!” All languages have tones and intonation. English. Japanese. Spanish. Chinese just chooses to mark them. I could easily start writing a complex system of tone marks over all my English words and proclaim that “English has 36 different tones!” And it would technically be correct. But it would be very, very absurd to do that. Just like obsessing over Chinese tones is. Learn the basic tones, sure, but don’t split hairs to the point of ridiculousness (which is what linguists have decided to do with Cantonese).

    Want to know what’s REALLY difficult about Chinese, Japanese, and Korean? Not the characters. Not the tones. Not the formality levels. All these things can be learned in a simple one-year intensive course.

    VOCABULARY. Vocabulary that has virtually NOTHING in common with English, except for a relatively small number of loanwords. The average educated Chinese/Japanese/Korean native speaker knows 60,000-100,000 words. 2,000 characters, difficult? You’ve got to be joking. 60,000-100,000 words in a native speaker’s vocabulary? Now THAT is the difficult part. Sure, you can have a conversation with only 3,000 words, but any reasonably intelligent discussion about anything more than household things and who’s dating who will require AT LEAST 6,000 words; 10,000 words will be necessary for most employment. And even at 10,000 words, there will still be a ton of stuff you don’t understand.

    So I wish people would quit bitching about characters, tones, and formality levels. Vocabulary is where the true difficulty lies, and vocabulary is extremely difficult in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. And also listening comprehension. And before you claim that “listening is easy,” I challenge you to pick up a variety show from broadcast TV in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. We’ll stop the tape whenever I feel like it, and I’ll ask you “What did they just say?” and you tell me exactly what they just said and why it was funny. What? You can’t do that? Oh. I guess listening comprehension ISN’T easy, then.

    And THAT is what I have to say about linguistics.

    • Charles Henry Wetzel

      Thank you for your support, Ted and Emily. Fight ignorance about the language learning process!

    • Charles Henry Wetzel

      …DREW!!!
      What are you doing these days?

    • Peter Caramella

      Wow. That list is very stupid. Reading right to left is probably one of the top three easiest things about Arabic. Right up there with the letters taking different forms depending on how they are connected. Ever hear of cursive?

    • Charles Henry Wetzel

      Totally agree with you, Peter. People get hugely hung up over phonetic alphabets which can be learned in a matter of days with reasonably diligent effort. Vocabulary mastery can take a lifetime. I don’t necessarily disagree with the SELECTION of languages on the list (all the languages on the list are well-known for being tough Category III or Category IV languages), but reading right-to-left? Big deal.

      At least they didn’t put Russian on there. Few things irk me more than when Russian (an INDO-EUROPEAN language with a ton of cognates with English) gets put on these “most difficult” languages lists simply because it uses Cyrillic…

    • Zachary Turner

      Boom, headshot. As in, you couldn’t have hit the nail more directly on the head. I learned Japanese for probably 5-6 years and eventually I just quit and gave up because I couldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t the kanji, or the formality levels, or anything else other than exactly what you said – Vocabulary. Actually, grammar is a big part of the difficulty in Japanese (for me anyway), but it’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t progressed to at least N3 level. But I’ll put it like this: Find me another language where the concept of a “grammar dictionary” exists. I challenge you.

      Pay attention here. Not a “dictionary”, not a “reference grammar”, not a “dictionary and grammar”. I’m talking about a **grammar dictionary***. You know, like a word dictionary, but instead of words, the entries are grammar. Wait what? “What the heck does that even mean?”, you ask. My answer to which is “Exactly”.

      I’m now learning Vietnamese. It has fewer tones than Cantonese but the tones are physically more difficult to produce. Yet I’ve come further in just 2 years than I came in 6 years of studying Japanese.

      Tones are not hard, this is just some myth propagated by people trying to sell sensationalist journalism. What’s hard is, as you mentioned, vocabulary, word usage, and listening comprehension.

      And you’re right on the money about people’s exaggerated claims about how listening comprehension is easy. When I studied Japanese it never failed, every single person you ask about how much they understand of a movie they never give you an answer less than 25%. “Oh yea I understand about 20%” “40%ish here”. Are you retarded? Do you have any idea what you’re saying? You probably understand 2%, if you’re lucky. Stop the tape and if you can’t repeat the sentence or give a translation then you basically have no clue what’s going on. In Japanese it happens because people catch the last word of the sentence, which is usually the verb and they’ll be like “OMG HE SAID DEKIMASU I UNDERSTAND THAT SENTENCE!” or “WHOA I CAUGHT ‘KONO HEN NI’ AT THE BEGINNING THERE” but the thing about Japanese, and this goes back to that whole Grammar Dictionary phenomenon, is that if you miss even one single letter of the alphabet there’s a good chance you have no idea what the meaning of the sentence is. Maybe you know it involves the color red, an ice cube, a refrigerator, and lifting something, but that’s not called comprehension, it’s called recognizing a few words in a sentence.

    • Drew Fator

      Charles Henry Wetzel – I agree that vocab is potentially the hardest as there are almost no words that are similar to English, however, the tones are tough for a lot of people. I actually speak Mandarin well, but most foreigners I know here in China have their tones all messed up.

    • Andy Olson

      Charles Henry Wetzel Russian is hard because of the verbs of motion, verbal aspect, and completely unpredictable verb/preposition pairs. Not because of Cyrillic.

    • Tony Jiang

      i dont see how people consider Chinese so hard..honestly i find french harder to learn because of the verb conjugation… i guess my mind just works really mechanically

    • Tony Jiang

      i dont see how people consider Chinese so hard..honestly i find french harder to learn because of the verb conjugation… i guess my mind just works really mechanically

    • PPyy

      FINALLY someone has said something about vocabulary and listening comprehension! Even if you can’t write certain kanji, if you see it enough times, you’ll learn to distinguish it. Vocabulary, however, is a total pain to learn. Some words like “use” can be said in SO MANY different ways in English, and if you ask a Japanese person about the difference between them, you’ll get a lecture full of nuances.

      I’ve been studying Japanese for two years now and listening comprehension is still difficult. The speed, the slight nasal/guttural speech of native Japanese speakers, the endless vocab…it drives me nuts! And if you please, Japanese professors might play tape/CD tracks two times at the MOST (three if you’re lucky), and spend no more than a week on a chapter (my Japanese conversation teacher spends only a DAY per chapter).

      I’m not saying that I’ll never be fluent, but quite honestly, I’m far from it. Japanese isn’t a language you can master by speeding through textbooks and dialogue recordings. Time really must be invested in learning it (in any language, actually), that’s all.

  • Julia Howland

    I’ve been studying Arabic at UNC-Chapel Hill going on 4 years. Maybe its my young brain, but I don’t think learning to read and write a new alphabet should even rank in what makes a language hard. It becomes second nature quite quickly in my opinion.
    What’s truly difficult about arabic is grammatical features like the Awzan! How would you like to learn to use different forms of a verb depending on whether it happened once, many times/very fast, whether you yourself did it or you made someone do it, etc, etc…YEAH.
    Oh and I’m starting Korean so we’ll see how that goes…

    • Yumna Salim Warind

      so you speak arabic as well?

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

    • Amadei Broski

      well done juila..actually i am arabic native speaker and i find the grammar so hard that i am still at this time studying it!! its so complex but not impossible to learn..you said Awzan: its means weights in english but actually it refers to something like measuring the words structure and the types of it..حظا موفقا

  • Mai Berti

    nik euskaraz hitzegiten dakit, baina euskadin jaio naizelako!:)

  • JoAnne Harbert Bhati

    I’m studying Hindi right now, and it is challenging me because of the use of a different script. However, one difficult language that I believe should be included on this list is Ethiopian Amharic. It is a semitic language, and while it has a very structured grammar, is very, very complicated.

  • صفاء معلم

    I have a great way to learn Arabic, so useful, intersting, and great, pray for me if you like it, one site gives lessons for free, one of the greatest: http://www.laflwsp.com/EViewer.aspx?id=The%20First%20Sentence%20%7c%20Beginner%20and%20Predicate.

    Another:

    http://www.laflwsp.com/EViewer.aspx?id=First%20Song%20-%20Mawkly%20-%20Arabic%20Language

  • Henrik Boxer Hovhannisyan

    YOU FORGOT THE ARMENIAN LANGUAGE (FIRST CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD), THE BASQUE LANGUAGE COMES FROM THE ARMENIAN LANGUAGE AND ITS THE HARDEST IN THE WORLD! Հայոց լէզուն աշխարի ամենա բարդ լէզուն է. Իմ սիրէլի հայրենակիցնէր եկէք սովորենք հայերէն:

    • Arthur Pap

      Im sireli exbayr yes amboxchovin im ozhandakutsyune padrastvumem nuynisk tal nran ov tsankanume hayren sovorel yev varzhetsnel ir lezvi entunakutsyune yev anvchar kanzi yes misht tsankanumem npastem yev adjaktsem im Hay azgin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Park mer Hisus Kristosin mer tiroche ov mez ohrnele mer azgin ohrnutsyunnerov bayts te aysor grete metsamasnutsyune chen gnahatum yev shat tsavaliye.

    • Henrik Boxer Hovhannisyan

      Վախ քո ցավը տանեմ ես աղպերս, դու մեծատառով տղա էս մեռիմ կյանքիդ աղպեր ջաննն:

    • Brook Wolcott

      Thought the first Christians were Hebrew…

  • Emanoel Neves

    Portuguese language is extremely difficult to learn, even for Brazil and has a very complicated grammar.

  • Oliver Antosch
  • Study Finnish

    Hungarian “unique vowel sounds (á,é,ó,ö,ő,ú,ü,ű,í)”? All those sounds exist in English language. Hungarians just tend to mark the lengt of sound by accent marks.

    • Osváth Zoltán

      Lol..no.

  • Yumna Salim Warind

    ive been learning arabic from when i was 4 years old till now and im in middle school its super easy! reading this makes me laugh so hard xD

    • anon

      of course it’s easy for you, you’ve been learning it since you were 4! when you learn a language when you are a small child, you just soak it up like a sponge. you could say that children are made to learn languages. after age 13, it becomes significantly more difficult to learn a new language. it is also easier for people who already are bilingual (fluent in two languages) to pick up new languages. if you know someone who only speaks English and tries to start learning Arabic when they are 14 or older, it will be much harder for them than it was for you!

  • Dmitry Fedorin

    And russian easy, in your opinion?

  • Dmitry Fedorin

    And russian easy, in your opinion?

  • Dmitry Fedorin

    And russian easy, in your opinion?

  • Dmitry Fedorin

    And russian easy, in your opinion?

  • Garaba Flórián

    I think English is even more harder sometimes than the listed ones, because it’s stupid “grammar” and “pronunciation”. And Hungarian isn’t hard at all. The pronunciation is 5 minutes, the grammar can be hard, but there is and it is logic. And the thing that make the Hungarian language into one of the easiest is the Vocabulary. You don’t have to learn so many words: The words with a connection between their meaning are usually built up from the some root by a defined rule. For example: “ad” means give, and “adó” means “tax”, basically translated into giver for you give the fee to the goverment. And so on. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language#Lexicon ) So it’s pretty hard to decide whether a language is difficult or not. So basically the Hungarian is the easiest language for lazy people, but probably one of the hardest for those, who aren’t able to think.

    PS: One of my friends learnt the Hungarian language (almost native level) during 4 years, which is a pretty short time.

  • Garaba Flórián

    I think English is even more harder sometimes than the listed ones, because it’s stupid “grammar” and “pronunciation”. And Hungarian isn’t hard at all. The pronunciation is 5 minutes, the grammar can be hard, but there is and it is logic. And the thing that make the Hungarian language into one of the easiest is the Vocabulary. You don’t have to learn so many words: The words with a connection between their meaning are usually built up from the some root by a defined rule. For example: “ad” means give, and “adó” means “tax”, basically translated into giver for you give the fee to the goverment. And so on. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language#Lexicon ) So it’s pretty hard to decide whether a language is difficult or not. So basically the Hungarian is the easiest language for lazy people, but probably one of the hardest for those, who aren’t able to think.

    PS: One of my friends learnt the Hungarian language (almost native level) during 4 years, which is a pretty short time.

  • Garaba Flórián

    I think English is even more harder sometimes than the listed ones, because it’s stupid “grammar” and “pronunciation”. And Hungarian isn’t hard at all. The pronunciation is 5 minutes, the grammar can be hard, but there is and it is logic. And the thing that make the Hungarian language into one of the easiest is the Vocabulary. You don’t have to learn so many words: The words with a connection between their meaning are usually built up from the some root by a defined rule. For example: “ad” means give, and “adó” means “tax”, basically translated into giver for you give the fee to the goverment. And so on. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language#Lexicon ) So it’s pretty hard to decide whether a language is difficult or not. So basically the Hungarian is the easiest language for lazy people, but probably one of the hardest for those, who aren’t able to think.

    PS: One of my friends learnt the Hungarian language (almost native level) during 4 years, which is a pretty short time.

  • Garaba Flórián

    I think English is even more harder sometimes than the listed ones, because it’s stupid “grammar” and “pronunciation”. And Hungarian isn’t hard at all. The pronunciation is 5 minutes, the grammar can be hard, but there is and it is logic. And the thing that make the Hungarian language into one of the easiest is the Vocabulary. You don’t have to learn so many words: The words with a connection between their meaning are usually built up from the some root by a defined rule. For example: “ad” means give, and “adó” means “tax”, basically translated into giver for you give the fee to the goverment. And so on. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language#Lexicon ) So it’s pretty hard to decide whether a language is difficult or not. So basically the Hungarian is the easiest language for lazy people, but probably one of the hardest for those, who aren’t able to think.

    PS: One of my friends learnt the Hungarian language (almost native level) during 4 years, which is a pretty short time.

  • Garaba Flórián

    I think English is even more harder sometimes than the listed ones, because it’s stupid “grammar” and “pronunciation”. And Hungarian isn’t hard at all. The pronunciation is 5 minutes, the grammar can be hard, but there is and it is logic. And the thing that make the Hungarian language into one of the easiest is the Vocabulary. You don’t have to learn so many words: The words with a connection between their meaning are usually built up from the some root by a defined rule. For example: “ad” means give, and “adó” means “tax”, basically translated into giver for you give the fee to the goverment. And so on. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language#Lexicon ) So it’s pretty hard to decide whether a language is difficult or not. So basically the Hungarian is the easiest language for lazy people, but probably one of the hardest for those, who aren’t able to think.

    PS: One of my friends learnt the Hungarian language (almost native level) during 4 years, which is a pretty short time.

  • Garaba Flórián

    I think English is even more harder sometimes than the listed ones, because it’s stupid “grammar” and “pronunciation”. And Hungarian isn’t hard at all. The pronunciation is 5 minutes, the grammar can be hard, but there is and it is logic. And the thing that make the Hungarian language into one of the easiest is the Vocabulary. You don’t have to learn so many words: The words with a connection between their meaning are usually built up from the some root by a defined rule. For example: “ad” means give, and “adó” means “tax”, basically translated into giver for you give the fee to the goverment. And so on. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language#Lexicon ) So it’s pretty hard to decide whether a language is difficult or not. So basically the Hungarian is the easiest language for lazy people, but probably one of the hardest for those, who aren’t able to think.

    PS: One of my friends learnt the Hungarian language (almost native level) during 4 years, which is a pretty short time.

  • Danielle Rushton

    what about Icelandic?

  • flower

    hahha I’m hungarian and this article is not true XD….”Olvasok könyvet” does not mean I read a book….”Könyvet olvasok” means it ;)….(or it would be an answer to the question: “Do you read books sometimes?”)

  • Patrik

    I am 14 and I have been learning Chinese and Japanese together for around 2 years. So far, it is nat too challanging for me, the main thing I need is the motivation and the beleif that I will one day be able to go to one of these countries and speak fluently. I’m thinking of starting Korean aswell, but that will probeably have to wait. Also, mandarin has got 5 tones, not four. Great and interesting article, thank you!

  • Joseph

    Nope, I think Georgian is extremely Difficult too study, I am from Georgia and nobody can study it due to Georgian having extremely difficult Grammar >

  • DreTaX

    Hello. I’m from Hungary, There is a mistake. Instead of articles, Hungarian conjugates verbs in one of two ways for definite and indefinite objects. Olvasok könyvet means “I read a book,” while Olvasom a könvyet is “I read the book.”It’s “Olvasom a könyvet”. Though there are many examples, here is some of the I, You, We, They, etc…. Én olvasom – I read | Te olvasod – You read | Ő olvas/olvassa (indefinite ) | Mi olvasunk – We read | Ti olvassátok – You read(If its about 2 or more persons) | Ők olvassák – They read

  • John Grant

    I speak German, Russian and Spanish and now live in Iceland and I find Icelandic quite difficult. 120 forms for each adjective, tons of irregularities and very difficult pronunciation, not to mention the problem of definite and indefinite articles of nouns + adjective. I love difficult grammar, however, so it is fun to be sure, but it can also be quite frustrating at times.

  • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

    This is a fun article to read, but there is some misinformation in here.

    Chinese characters are not “pictographic,” nor are there 20k characters in Modern Standard Mandarin. According to my Xiandai Hanyu [Modern Chinese] textbook, 4000 characters cover more than 90% of the words used in written Mandarin. Reading Mandarin is indeed quite complicated, as at least 20% of these common characters have multiple readings, but can be learned with sustained effort, because the characters have READINGS and not MEANINGS. They record the spoken word. Whether or not they have additional “meanings” or magical powers or direct links to ideas in the brain is a fun thing to think about but has no bearing on the actual study of the spoken and written language Modern Standard Mandarin, which is not the same as “Classical Chinese” (aka Literary Sinitic).

    The picture accompanying the Mandarin section is not written in Mandarin. That’s Classical Chinese, which could be read aloud in Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation. :-)

    As for Cantonese, I know there is some disagreement about this, but there are basically only six tones, and they are basically just two rising tones, a falling tone, and three flat tones. The falling tone is so low that it’s almost a flat tone, so in practice there’s low-rising, high-rising, and four “levels” of flat tones. This is only marginally “harder” than Mandarin, which has four distinct contour tones (flat, rising, dipping, falling). Among my Chinese friends who speak Mandarin, they cannot understand Cantonese, but they can learn it very easily, often simply by watching TV shows and movies. So, an English speaker can first learn Mandarin, and then learn Cantonese. ;-)

  • Wut

    I am currently learning Korean and French but surprisingly French is harder than Korean although I am an English speaker. Hmmm..

  • Paul W Dixon

    Why is Slovenian not on the list? It has declensions like in Latin, and also singular, plural and DUAL form. Even nouns vary, like Ljubljana (the capital), which can appear as Ljubljane or Ljubljani, depending on the sentence structure.

  • Tim Johnson

    I’m taking Basque 101 at Boise State right now. It is hard lol but I’m gonna try to keep going through 202. The vocab is difficult to remember because you can’t connect it to anything in english. I speak spanish which helps because there are a lot of spanish loan words. It’s cool to learn something unique connected with such an interesting culture and history.

    • Andoni

      Tim, feel free to ask for help about your Basque challenge. I’m a teacher and I teach in Basque in Biscay. Zorte on!

      • Tim Johnson

        Eskerrik asko Andoni :)

  • asdasdasd

    Dayumn, do your homework. It’s “Könyvet olvasok”, which is I’m reading a book.

  • Blank_Stairs

    I was forced to take French in 3rd grade. …in Iowa, ya that’ll be useful. it was pretty easy, but understanding speech is all I’ve retained mostly all these years later. I took 2 years of Spanish in 9th/10th grade, which helps in CA.
    Japanese, Italian, Tagalog (Filipino wife), Romanian,Norsk,etc. There are 100 Id like to know.

  • Blank_Stairs

    Just one more comment. Why is Icelandic not on the ‘hardest’ list? They say most of the native Icelandics’ (Icelanders) learn American English as a first language, due to their native language being so difficult.
    Ive heard it spoken, it sounds near impossible to me, but is this claim actually true? Is it legitimately that difficult?

  • Alex

    Well, I am studying basque, I’m not English, I’m Galician and I’m Galician and Spanish speaker, but we have the same problem for learning that language. Even so, it’s a very interessant language, and when you understand it and you found the way for learning it becomes easier. The most difficult things are verbs. Good article. Greetings from Galiza

  • JA_JP

    I’ll have to disagree with you about Japanese as they only use romaji for the benefit of tourists in their country. Romaji based textbooks for learning Japanese are only for non-natives. Any normal book written for a native Japanese only has hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Learning kanji is time consuming, but not difficult. I find learning five a day to be quite reasonable.

    The grammar is quite easy and conjugation is logical. As far as politeness level, I haven’t had trouble with that either me speaking it or be spoken to unless I don’t know the words yet. How is any of this difficult?

    As for Korean, so far the vowel sounds are the hardest along with the b/p, t/d, and other combinations of consonants that change depending on where they’re located in a word/sentence. I’m actually using Japanese for the pronunciation since the romaji used for Korean is totally messed up. IE – I’ve always heard “Pusan” and now we’re being told to spell it as “Busan” with the pusan pronunciation. Once I get over the pronunciation and learn all hangul, I’ll start learning actual Korean sentences via Japanese since they’re so similar.

  • Tim Marksman

    Oh come on, if Mandarin or Korean were hard for you, you’re doing something SERIOUSLY wrong. I highly doubt the author can speak any of these languages, and therefore she shouldn’t be qualified to write this. I taught myself both of those languages when I was fifteen, juggling highschool work and a social life. They are incredibly easy languages, and in Mandarin you only need 4,000 characters to read newspapers or articles, and at a rate of 25 per day (using a good mnemonic system, and linking together the smaller parts this is VERY easy) you can learn them all in half a year; 160 days. People keep making excuses as to why their language is the hardest instead of using that time to study it, and that’s why they’re monolingual.

    • X

      Korean is definitely not an easy language to learn. Korean grammar and natural speaking are incredibly difficult to master, especially without living in the country. Even if you can get by with relative ease, that does not mean you can achieve high fluency in the Korean language easily.

  • harryspaz

    “Rômaji”, not “romanji”—there’s no “n”

  • joppy

    Any language is easy to learn if you are around people who speak it. And any language will be impossible if you try to learn it from a text book without ever listening or speaking with native-speakers.

    Although this list is made for native English speakers and my native language is a slavic language, I personally would not list Arabic as the most difficult language certainly not more difficult than Mandarin or Cantonese, I managed to learn it even though I was intimidated by lists such as these claiming it is impossible for me.

    First of all Arabic is not case-based like some Indo-European languages, relations between words is expressed using prepositions which merge with the definite article. As for the plurals you do the same as in English you just remember all of them as you use them. Verbs also have patterns which you’ll notice as you use them, and you’ll you understand the patterns when you know their usage but you cannot explain them.

    The alphabet admittedly is intimidating at first but the hardest part about it is definitely not that it is written from right to left, when you read Arabic your mind automatically makes the switch so that was no problem at all. The most difficult part about the alphabet is that vowels are mostly omitted and you just have to remember the word.

First came Meteor Garden, then came the soundtrack.
Not every language learning attempt spells disaster for English speakers.
How can I ever learn another language when I can barely master my own?
Pidgin, officially known as Hawaii Creole English, is the language on the street.
How to compare people to cucumbers, and when, exactly, to flick your neck.
The man, a large, burly Israeli, said in perfect English, “What? Carrot?”
Just two hours of Mandarin instruction per week is ineffective.
Before he climbed up into his top bunk, I said tentatively, “Konbanwa.” Good evening.