What is the hardest language to learn?
- Extremely Hard: The hardest language to learn is: Polish – Seven cases, Seven genders and very difficult pronunciation. The average English speaker is fluent in their language at the age of 12, in contrast, the average Polish speaker is fluent in their language after age of 16.
- Very Hard: Finnish, Hungarian, and Estonian – The Ugric languages are hard because of the countless noun cases. However, the cases are more like English prepositions added to the end of the root word. However, anyone arguing Asian languages like Korean trump Uralic languages in complexity, really needs to hit the books and do more research.
- Simply Arduous: Ukrainian and Russian – Second language learners wrongly assume because these languages use a different script (Cyrillic) that it out ranks Polish. This is not objective, as an alphabet is only lets say 26 letters. It is really the pronunciation and how societies use the language that influences ranking. Ukrainian and Russian complex grammar and different alphabet, but easier pronunciation. (the Poles use a modified Latin alphabet which does not have a neat orthography fit to the sounds of their language). Slavic languages have sophisticated case and gender systems, also something that approximates a complex tense system with aspects of time-verb relationships.
- Challenging contender jockey for position: Arabic – Three baby cases which are like a walk in the park compared to the above, but the unusual pronunciation and flow of the language makes study laborious and requires cognitive diligence if you want to speak it.
- Fairly Hard: Chinese and Japanese – No cases, no genders, no tenses, no verb changes, short words, very easy grammar, however, writing is hard. But to speak it is very easy. Also intonations make it harder, but certainly not harder than Polish pronunciation. I know a Chinese language teacher in NYC that has even authored an the authoritative book on modern Mandarin says people meet Chinese very easy. This same teacher, if multilingual yet could not learn Polish. I am learning some Chinese, it is not the hardest language maybe even one of the easiest language to learn. Despite prideful proclamations of armchair linguists, to verbalizes Asian languages in general are not top ranked by any measure. Try to learn some Chinese and Polish your self and you will see which is the hardest language.
- Average: French – lots of tenses, but not used and moderate grammar. German-only four cases and like five exceptions, everything is logical, of course.
- Easy: Spanish and Italian – People I know pick these up no problem, even accountants and technical people rather than humanistic language people.
- Basic to hard: English, no cases or gender, you hear it everywhere, spelling can be hard and British tenses you can use the simple and continues tense instead of the perfect tenses and you will speak American English. English at the basic level is easy but to speak it like a native it’s hard because of the dynamic idiomatic nature.
- Some people cocooned in innocence, go around parroting linguistic relative difficulty ranks by looking at a list created in the ivory towers. This list might be based on the number of hours required to achieve a degree of fluency, or intermediate conversation in a language, in an academic environment of teaching, in contrast to most people in the real world. This simplistic one variable model is simply wrong. I suggest a more robust model.
The following is support for my argument.
The way you approach this is a simple equation that illustrates hypothetical rankings of variables importance.
Formula for difficulty in a language = O*(G+V+(w*.1)+(A*2.0)+S+V(1.5))
O= Openness of the society to communicate in their own language to a foreigner as opposed to English.
G = Grammar, specifically the number of exceptions in each cases
V= Verbs Conjugation complexity
P= Pronunciation and Phonology.
W=Complexity of the written language, including script and alphabet variation.
A=Average number of syllables in each word. Do not underestimate this as the working memory for the brain to hold bits of information in your brain is manifold more if you are considering a language with a long orthographical constructions.
S=Speed of the language.
V=Vocalness of the people speaking.
If you can assign an O factor as the major determinant variable then you have your answer. The openness of a society to transmit their language on a person to person, on the street level day-to-day experiences is what really makes communication hard to easy to absorb. I can attest to this after living in Europe for about a decade.
Are you a citizen of Stratos or trying to speak to you boyfriend or girlfriend?
What good is a theoretical understanding of a language, if in reality you can not practice it to fluency beyond the classroom. Lets separate the academics from real people, when trying to analysis the question.
This is not just a ranking of the hardest language to learn mind you, rather a ranking for realistic, practical people who are in the trenches of life and want to learn a new language for communication purposes. Not a ranking for academics who are living on Stratos, the city of clouds or lost in the labyrinth of the stacks in their university library.
I have not considered languages that have under one million native speakers. Even through humanistically important on equal par with all other languages, they are too remote or inaccessible for any real life learning. Patois dialects are excluded. These are important languages, just not for the average person. I also have not considered extinct or ancient languages which have even a more alien grammatical structure.
People write me and say hey Mark here is a language that has a hundred cases and sounds mostly like whistlers, and people often talk backwards, certainly this must be the most difficult. My reply how many people speak it? Similarly, you might say well there is a language spoken by some children on my block, they made it up. For me unless there are a million speakers does not pass the cut.
My reply to the FSI’s rank of the number of hours needed to learn a language -Anti-glottology at its best
There is an annoying mythology of language difficulty, that is perpetuated by Foreign Service institute. How many hours it takes to achieve various levels in a language after academic study. This is no valid. Unless you are 18-21 and a full-time student at a university and giving equal or greater weight to written language as compared to spoken, then that is bunk.
Who has the time to study in the ivory towers a language university or prepare like a diplomat except someone in some cushy government job? It is not the real world. Speaking is much more important than writing and reading.
Written language for the masses only came into significance in the last 100 years, in contrast to the 7 millions years of Homininae communication when there was first a divergence in our evolutionary tree and changes in our heterochrony gave us the capacity for prolonged language acquisition. Further the written language is in the process of a strange de-evolution with rise of texting messages and ADD. Lets be honest here, few people can study like an egghead, rather they want to just communicate.
Example of how people learn in Africa and the Middle East
When I was in North Africa (several times) I was amazed people could talk in the open market in several languages with little effort. They never opened a book or wrote in a foreign language. Language is about speaking. It is about communication not something you learn in a book. How long was it like that? The first one million years of human evolution from Primates until about 1950 when world illiteracy went from less than 1% to over 50%. So for tens of thousands of years for most humans, language was about the speaking, that is it. For a few thousand the landed elite and first estate class has some form of written language but this was not most people. Lets be real language has nothing to do with a book, only the tongue and ear. Therefore when FSI or any other person assets Chinese or Asian languages are hard, they are not if you strip away the crazy characters to a non-Asian person.
The worst thing about the modern communication
It irritates me that one person will state something on the web and it is recycled by every content mill blogger ad infinitum. People take ideas for fact without looking at them objectively. I call this the flat earth syndrome of language learning. Just because an expert says it does not mean it is true.
Aristotle believed the heart was the center of human cognition and the brain was an organ of minor importance. For centuries people took this as fact.
That does not mean the academics are wrong, and Asian languages are not more difficult for an English native speaker to achieve a level of mastery, but look at this objectively.
Modern linguistic snake oil salesman
Also when someone says on the web, you can learn a language in three hours or even three months, and they are trying to sell you something, I would say, ‘I have some swap land in Florida to sell you that will appreciate in value any day now’. I would like to personally like to call them up and test their fluency in Polish. My point is the web is a great place but discern sensation seekers and academics from someone like myself who is linguistically challenged, yet has dedicated his life abroad to learning foreign languages.
How linguistic science is different from physical science
Despite my quantification above, there is no way you can objectively measure linguistic ranking or difficulty like the hard sciences like physics or chemistry measure a phenomenon in a vacuum. Even in physics things are tested, regression are run and retested. There is debate and paradigms are challenged every few decades.
So are you telling me, that in not a social science but a humanities like Language that because some government organization for a very specific program makes a statement fifty years ago, everyone including people on the Internet take it as fact and recycle it ad nauseam?
Evolution of phraseology and variance from linguistic universals as a measure of difficulty.
Departure from universal grammar and linguistic universals and structures is that are natural constructs of the human brain could be a measure of difficulty with some objectivity, however, how you measure it I have no idea how you would do this. Typological universals and other measures are left for future research.
Why Asian languages are not hard – Palaver about Asian foreign language acquisition
No grammar to speak of, no cases, not complex plurals, short words. People argue they have tones but these are subtle pronunciation differences and in my experience I am understood when I speak Mandarin for example with poor pronunciation easier in comparison with Polish. I know author and teacher of Chinese in NYC and he says most of the people who walk in off he street learn Chinese pretty fast. He has a book called Easy Mandarin. It is only the written language that is hard.
Errors and omissions statement
Yes I know in the image I typed Finish and Hinidi, need to fix this, when I get my computer back from Amishland. I am writing an Amish language program. Also the scope of this article can not be comprehensive because the proliferation of languages, for example, I need a follow up to cover, Turkish, Greek, Armenia, Georgian etc. When writing you have to make choices to make a point rather than cover ever detail, however, these are worthy for discussion in the comment area.
Back to Polish – the trophy winner
When you speak of Phonology, sound approximation from the native language to the target Polish ranks near the top as the tongue twisting, multi-syllabic mixing of consonants and vowels are unmatched by any shorter Asian word, even with tones. I stated at the top that the average Polish learner is not fluent until the age of sixteen. It sounds like a bold statement but read on.
Yes Poles can communicate before that, but subjectively, for such an intelligent population of people (and Poles are highly intelligent and educated) proportionally I have seen an inordinate amount of Polish youngsters struggle with their own orthography, pronunciation, grammar at disproportionate levels compared to say English speakers.
Factor out any genetic differences by comparing Polish Americans who are identical genetically to Poles in Poland, yet learn English as their native language at a different rate than Polish as a native language. My daughter who is bilingual finds English much easier than Polish. There are differences in the rates humans learn languages based on the complexity of the language, and this is seen in native speaker language acquisition.
Examples and references that back up my theory of modern of linguistics that give a better understanding of how people acquire a second language:
- In social linguistic acculturation Model or SLA, was proposed by John Schumann and focused on how an individual interacts with the society. Some societies more easily transmit culture.
- Gardner’s socio-educational model – Similar to above and deals with the inter-group model of “ethnolinguistic vitality”.
- Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky developed a theory of zone of proximal development.
I want to know your feedback and research so they may benefit second language learners.
1,420 thoughts on “Hardest language to learn”
Comments of Polish native speakers like “even for us our language is difficult” absolutely don´t surprise me since in German it´s the same. Many of us have problems to speak and write German correctly even in adult age (i also heard once that former German prime minister (Bundeskanzler) Helmut Kohl had once made a bad mistake in writing) and especially people from lower adducation level make a lot of mistakes, in both speaking and writing.
Romance language are usually easy to learn at the beginning but they get much harder if you have reached a basic level. Even Spanish, which is said to be the easiest romance language gives many people a lot of headache when it comes to the tenses and irregular verbs.
The main reason why I consider Czech harder to learn than Polish is because in Czech (as in Finnish) the spoken language differs from the written form, so you have to learn two different languages. In addition it has less Germanic and Romance based loan words in it´s vocabulary than Polish.
And finally everybody who really had studied Lithuanian knows that Lithuanian a lot harder than Polish- this is not even a contest.
Marek is absolutely right. I may add an opinion from a simultaneous interpreter who said that he loved to interpret from German because “by the time the speaker gets to the verb, I can finish my hamburger”…
Mark Twain himself, no slouch when it came to his favorite language he loved to tease mercilessly (yet knew inside out, I might add) once commented in >Die schreckliche deutsche Sprache< (The Awful German Language) that some German sentences are so long, they have a perspective!!
I'm reminded too about the court interpreter who while a German-speaking witness was giving testimony, being nudged by the defense lawyer "Well, what'd he say already??", replied calmly "'Be with you shortly, am waiting for the verb."
Word order per se isn't really a problem in any European language, certainly not Polish. With Polish, apart from certain case-driven functions along with telicity, it's the quirky counting system which continues to dog your truly, e.g. "Ilu jablce", "ile lat", "ilu studentow", "ile kobiet", each quantifier requiring a different final latter.
Marek, you probably meant “ile jabłek”…
BTW, word order does have some function in Polish. Compare:
Kobieta wyszła z domu (The woman left the house) and
Z domu wyszła kobieta (A woman left the house)
There, you see?
In German though:
“[Die] Frau ist schon weggegangen.” = Kobieta juz wyszla.
“Schon weggegangen ist [die] Frau.” No change using standard word order!
Furthermore, there’s the gentle ambiguity of such (‘normal’) constructions, such as:
“Marianne gab Ulrich das Buch.” = “Marian gave the book to Ulrich.” as well as “Ulrich gave the book to Marian.” etc. Who have the book to whom might be an issue here (and to be sure, a legally most t one in translation:-))
This ambiguity may lead to marital conflicts 🙂
I taught Polish to American students for several years – their comments about their struggle do not qualify to be published anywhere due to “special” language…
Furthermore, German has something which neither Polish nor English has, and that is a special form for indirect speech known as Konjunktiv 1:
“Frau Merkel sagte, sie SEI mit dem Haushaltsplan unzufrieden.”
If she were satisfied, but it was reported that she weren’t, such might easily lead to a nice big, corpulent libel suit!!
“Pani Merkel powiedziala, ona JEST niezadowalona…….”
Either she is or she isn’t; the concern is of the journalist’s own making:-)
As a first-time out learner of Albanian, I’d have to admit that this language might be even MORE inflectionally intricate than Polish, with practically as many exceptions, as rules, especially as regards the verbs or verb classes (nearly one hundred, I’m told!!!!)
Wish me continued luck:-)
I am a teacher of Italian as a foreign language. I am myself fluent in English and German.
I don’t know where this myth of Italian being an easy language comes from, but it is not a simple language. Believe me!
Many people start a beginner course just to leave it after seeing how complicated verb conjugations or prepositions are. Many more complete the course never to begin another one again, because they realize they don’t have the time to learn and do the exercises (my students and I estimated 3-5 hours a week for a single weekly meeting of 90-180 minutes).
It might be that many people are motivated to learn Italian and therefore simply keep going on. Probably socializing with Italians and imitating them helps a lot. Nevertheless, I’ve never seen foreigners mastering all verb tenses and moods or the terrible consecutio temporum. Moreover, we have many different standards and registers, and professional or academic Italian are much more complicated than the average handbook-Italian. There are, indeed, many clever students who keep it simple and therefore manage to express almost everything they want to say or write without any mistake. However, a perfect A2 level is still “speaking some Italian” and not “mastering the language”.
Sometimes I suspect that Italians always praise foreigners speaking some Italian out of fondness/sociability/maybe even laziness, regardless of their mistakes, whereas native speakers of other languages might have different attitudes that demotivate learners.
How many Italians have mastered the consecutio temporum?
Now my personal suggest of European languages from hardest to easiest (for native English speakers)
Tier 1 (hardest): Basque, Lithuanian
Tier 2: Hungarian, Finnish, Czech
Tier 3: Polish, Slovakian, Estonian, Latvian, Gaelic
Tier 4: Russian, Ukranian, Belorussian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Albanian, (Modern)Greek, Hebrew, Maltese, Welsh
Tier 5: Icelandic, Faroese, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Turkish
Tier 6: German, Romanian
Tier 7: French, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch
Tier 8: Italian, Spanish, Catalan
Tier 9: Swedish, Norwegian
Tier 10 (easiest): Esperanto
English is not in the list because it is from the perspective native English speakers.
Hebrew is infact not European, but it´s learnt and spoken by many jewish people within Europe since hundreads of years. That´s why I have put it into the list too.
You see, Polish isn´t easy, but there are definetally harder languages than it, even in Europe
I’m really curious as to how you separate Czech into a difficulty tier above Polish and Slovak, into a tier above Slovenian and Russian. That doesn’t really make any sense to me. To me, they’re all pretty much the same tier, and I’d argue Polish being the roughest of the bunch for an English speaker (the phonemes, especially, being more unfamiliar), although Russian or Serbian also have the added complication of having to learn Cyrillic (not all that tough, but yet one more thing to learn.) I’m not sure how Czech ends up being trickier than Polish. Slovenian also has the added complication of having a dual number, which is an odd concept to English speakers. Not _that_ difficult to figure out, but yet another complication. I would tend to agree, though, that Polish or Slavic languages in general are not the most difficult for an English speaker. Maybe in terms of languages written in the Roman alphabet. For me, it’d be between Hungarian and Polish, though I don’t know enough about Basque or Lithuanian to comment.
I have learnt Welsh, and not found it too hard. Yes the spelling is different from English, but it is a much more coherent system for going between spelling and pronunciation than English, and the difficulty of the sound represented by the digraph ll is sometimes overstated (e.g. in a lot of placenames in Wales such as Llanelli). The only difficulty is not being able to get ŵ to appear in a text message if you have an old phone.
Welsh is especially tricky because of her constant mutational changes in both nouns and verbs.
Then again in Polish, there’s “tne” 1st person of “ciac”, etc…. ad infinitum!!
Slovenian should be classified a tier higher in terms of difficulty, as it has retained the dual unlike other Slavic languages and most natives cannot even master it.
I don´t like that many people enjoy saying that Liithuanian so difficult. Look better on Websites like this https://www.google.at/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiBufP83NbRAhWBIJoKHR-CBmQQFggfMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.effectivelanguagelearning.com%2Flanguage-guide%2Flanguage-difficulty&usg=AFQjCNErAvQfoN_8dWGDoqImKj_S6yTvgw- It is from the british foreign language Office, and also on you tube you can here an American girl speaking Lithuanian quite well.
Please put us lower and do not spread fear!
I cannot agree that Polish pronunciation is difficult, especially when compared to English. In Polish you just read what is written there, each letter has it’s exact sound linked to that letter (with a few “double-letters” that also have one sound). In English a syllable can be spoken in couple of different ways even in similar words. Plus all the accents, each with it’s own pronunciation. So as long as you learn the pronunciation of each letter, you can read everything in Polish without making mistakes (like in German as well), which is pretty impossible in English.
”Pani Merkel powiedziala, ona JEST niezadowalona…” Ekhm… I’m from Polish, but for me Eanglish is difficult :/.
Mrs Merkel speak, she isn’t satisfied- Pani Merkel powiedziała, ona jest niezadowolona.
Mrs. Merkel said that it is dissatisfied-Pani Merkel powiedziała że jest nie zadowolona.
In Polish we distinguish letters: ż,ź,ą,ę,ł,ó; and digraphs: dz,dż,dź,dzi,cz,sz,rz,ch
I’m [name]- Ja jestem [imię]/ Jestem [imię]
Sorry for mistakes 😉
I’ve found all too often, as you just posted regarding those who “claim” to know Japanese well, that a great many non-native English speakers from, among other countries, the Scandinavian nations, rate their English level higher than it actually is! The reason for this is because the expectation among monolingual Anglophones is that EVERYBODY out there knows English fluentlyLOL Baring that, the overwhelming majority are sadly often satisfied with merely a “good enough, let the chips fall where they may”-type attitude.
In other words, the expectations for those non-native speakers of, say, Swedish, Finnish, German, Polish, even Spanish and French is usually so high, native speakers of those languages frequently expect nearly perfect, at least damned good, ability in that language, only waiting (so it seems) to pounce on the most pittling mistake by the foreigner, with an almost gloating “See, we told ya so! Our languages is tons harder than English, so quit mangling our language and let us speak English, ok?” As English has long since become so commonplace, expectations of standard, among foreign-speakers at any rate, is relatively low in comparison with the reverse situation:-)
The double standard which I’ve encountered is that it’s not so “important” for an American visiting Stockholm, Warsaw, Berlin etc.. to know resp. Swedish, Polish or German, while at the same time, it’s conversely of equally little importance for a Swede, Pole or German to apply the same care in speaking English as it is their native tongue.
And herein lies my eternal beef with Globish!
Buon pomeriggio, Signora Felicita!
Si, Lei ha ragione sulla difficolta del italiano:-) Imparo italiano insieme con la mia
moglie e sono troppi “amici falsi” -francese/italiano, italiano/francese-, sopra tutto nella ortografia, ma anche nel uso, per esempio “question” vs. “questione” etc.!!
L’italiano ha tre formazioni del plural, solomente due in francese e spagnolo.
Grazie per il Suo messaggio,
Marco aka Marek
najpierw nie ma polskich literek na mojej tastaturze:-)
Zatem co jest lepiej – “Pani Merkel powiedziala…” czy “Pani Merkel MOWILA..”?
Wierze, ze drugie zdanie jest poprawnie.
I’ve met countless foreigners who claim to speak Japanese well (in real life or on the Internet, e.g. YouTube), but it’s extremely rare to find someone who speaks good Japanese. Most of them have bad pronunciation (though understandable) and wrong grammar (especially in the choice of てにをは). And I don’t even mean the use of keigo (honorifics) which is difficult even for native Japanese. In the case of English, I occasionally meet non-native speakers who do speak almost perfect English. I think there are a fair amount of people like this from countries like the Netherlands or Sweden.
Nice discussion. Yes Polish is tough to learn. Czech is also tough to learn. Agree!! Language acquisition is different from learning. We should no mixed with learning and acquisition. I wonder is there any experimental result with Sanskrit as second language.
I never have studied Sanskrit but looked a bit in it, and I beliefe that Sanskrit is in fact on a wholly different level of difficulty than each indo-European language of today. It uses a different script and the grammar is the most complex of all indo-European languages ever spoken, by far. If you have never tried Sanskrit you probably can´t even imagine how difficult it is. Polish has approximately 5 percent of the difficulty of Sanskrit!
Latin and classical Greek aren´t easy too but not even close to be as complex as the ancient language from India. Also the Finno-Ugric languages and even Basque are easy by comparision!
nach welchem Schwierigkeitsgrad wuerdest du Deutsch einordnen?
Marek, schau auf die Liste, die ich vor kurzen vorgeschlagen habe. Aus der Perspektive eines englischen Muttersprachlers also etwa im Mittelfeld der europäischen Sprachen (6. von 10 Stufen). Für einen Romanen, Slawen oder nicht- Indoeuropäer würde die Liste wohl etwas anders aussehen. Ich selbst kann aber Deutsch als Fremdsprache nur schwer einordnen, da es meine Muttersprache ist.
Ich denke außerdem dass wir Deutschsprachigen mit stark flektierenden Sprachen wie Polnisch weniger Probleme haben als Englischsprachige, da auch Deutsch über eine flektierende Grammatik verfügt (Englisch nur sehr schwach).
Darum faellt es Deutschmuttersprachlern leichter, Altenglisch zu erwerben, als Englischmuttersprachler, deren Muttersprache vor beinahe achthundert Jahren ihre reichlichen Flexionen verloren hatte, d.h. seit der Erscheinung Edmund Spensers “Faerie Queene”, das angeblich Chaucer absichtlich nachahmen sollte:-)
Darum faellt es Deutschmuttersprachlern leichter, Altenglisch zu erwerben, als Englischmuttersprachlern, deren Muttersprache vor beinahe achthundert Jahren ihre reichlichen Flexionen verloren hatte, d.h. seit der Erscheinung Edmund Spensers “Faerie Queene”, das angeblich Chaucer absichtlich nachahmen sollte:-)
I think too much is made of the difficulty of learning new languages. If you’re into linguistics and really motivated you shouldn’t let a perceived difficulty put you off. I’m a German learning Czech and I don’t find it that hard at all. Having also (unsuccesfully) learned Russian in school I’d say that Czech is much easier. Though objectively that is probably not the case (and people from different backgrounds may differ on that). It’s just that I really love the sound of the Czech language and the country itself which I think has to go hand in hand with learning the language. When I read Finnish all I see is jähääälääävyyytinen but I’m sure if I were to learn for some reason and were really into it, I could do so in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also important what you measure it up against. Compared with English every language seems incredibly hard, but English really is one of a kind even though it is closely related to other languages.
Please do not use the term “linguistics” (a science dealing with languages) for “language learning”.
Nice to see you like sound of Czech language. This is actually first time when I see some discussion about my mother language under this type of post, which is a bit sad, but well, we are small country, so I am not really that surprised.
I have been learning German for almost seven years now and I don’t find it extremely hard too, maybe it’s because there are some similarities between our languages, even though Czech is Slavic language.
German is considered both structurally and syntactically the most complex of the extant Germanic languages, with the exception of Modern Icelandic:-)
Icelandic is morphologically far less predictable than German, with much of the Old Norse case inflections basically intact since ancient times! Old English scholars can and could easily navigate an Icelandic text, Old Icelandic therefore even closer to the English of my ancestors pre-Norman Conquest 1066 AD!
Like Polish, Czech, Lithuanian and Albanian, German is inflected as well, although with a mere four vs. six, seven, or (in Hungarian and Finnish) some twenty odd cases in all. German is more difficult for foreigners, primarily because of her umpteen plural markers in addition to the habit of separating verbs from their prefixes in longer sentences, plus the tendency towards hypotaxis, pushing the principal verb to the very end of the sentence (on occasion, nearly paragraph length monsters!!).
Linguistics and language acquisition do indeed overlap, Stefan!
Frankly, I think your objection is meretricious:-)
They do overlap indeed, but in that particular context “linguistics” was not appropriate. E.g. whenever I say that I studied linguistics, most people ask me how many languages I know. I know a few but I could have studied linguistics learning ABOUT languages and how they work for communication, without learning any language other than my native one…
Nun, jetzt ist’s mir ersichtlich, worauf du hinauswolltest. Stimmt, die Linguistik ist naemlich “die SprachWISSENSCHAFT”, nicht unbedingt “der SprachERWERB”.
Bloss ist es auch wahr, dass die Mehrheit der Linguisten, so wie wir, ebenfalls schon mehrere Sprachen koennen, m.E. beinahe eine Vorbedingung, Linguist werden zu wollen.
Es stimmt allerdings, dass viele Laien “Linguistik” mit “Philologie” sowie “Phonologie” aber haeufig verwechseln, was z.B mich zu schaffen macht.
Amharic? Tigrinya? I know third generation emigrants who want to learn the language of their grandparents, but always give up because it’s too hard.
I find ASL the easiest language to learn.
I can see the wisdom in that. After all, signing is universal, right?
“After all, signing is universal, right?”
No. Different sign languages are used in different countries or regions.
Here’s what I would title this interesting article “The hardest language to learn – If all you want to do is travel and chit chat basically and do not want to be able to express complex ideas and only talk a few minutes at a time. For a lot of the polyglot community this standard is okay. The polyglots might know 20 languages but with just a 1000 or so word vocabulary in most of those those languages. Different people use their acquired languages different. If you want to do research you probably want a fairly large vocabulary. Personally I visit industrial facilities in China and discuss how to solve problems of the factory. For this you need to be able to understand a large variety of accents in China and you had better have pretty good pronunciation. If the discussion is 5 minutes about booking train tickets, the ticket seller is going to be patient with your poor pronunciation. If you talk for 2 hours about factory automation and your pronunciation is bad it is going to be very easy for the factory engineer to dismiss or misunderstand what you are trying to say. If you go to the factory and can’t read the specifications, which are always in Chinese you will see how much a problem limited Chinese ability creates. The same is true of languages in Asia that I know. Chinese, Japanese, Cantonese, Taiwanese-Hokkien and more limited Korean and Thai. For natives in these regions Western speakers of their languages are really a challenge to understand. Why else would it be true that Western people would live in many of these countries for decades and not be able to speak these languages. It’s not because speaking these languages would not improve their lives, knowledge would improve their lives it’s that learning these languages for people is very hard and often next to impossible. The Western learner failure rate for Chinese and Japanese must be way more than 95%, so for me the FSI scale seems more creditable than the above. That said I can’t comment on European languages, because I only did a very little bit of Spanish, but what I can say with great certainly is that knowledge of Chinese, Japanese, Cantonese or Hokkien-Taiwanese for professional use is much more time consuming and the failure rate is much harder than the characterization “fairly hard” seems to indicate.
Quite frankly, this is all very subjective and un-scientific. English is easy because “you hear it everywhere”? That’s hardly an objective marking of difficulty. Plus if you grow up in a shanty-town in Brazil, you might not hear it everywhere.
Chinese is easy, because some Chinese people say so? That’s the best one yet. Chinese is killingly difficult by any objective standard.
English may well be “easy” because “you hear it everywhere”, however, you and most others like you (typically way under fourty!!) hear it MISSPOKEN everywhere:-)
This has thus turned English into the garbage language of our planet, easy on the surface to (mis-)speak, and just as easy to misunderstand since nearly everybody speaks it as they wish, without standards or necessarily skill level.
That’s really the crying shame here. To then blame this change on simply the “natural” evolution of language is a cop out if I’ve ever heard one.
At least Polish, French and German maintain some standard.
I am native Chinese speaker. I can speak a bit of English and Chinese. I make a lot of mistakes in English. I am currently learning Polish and Spanish. My view is, Chinese is difficult to learn and fairly difficult to break through and have the ability to be understood by native speakers. The reason is, you have to speak right tones in Chinese, otherwise we can’t understand it. Every Chinese characters has their own pronunciation. Usually we speak Chinese very fast. Therefore the speed of the language is a factor in comprehension. Even if you study it for many years you can get lost in translation when a Chinese person is talking.I would weigh in on the grammar is not as straight forward sincere there are subtleties natives speakers know how to use.
As someone who has tried to “crack the Chinese code” on several occasions, I can concur with your observation to a great degree! English however, being a stress-timed language, much like other Western aka Indo-European languages, can also be nearly impossible for native speakers of that language to understand if the emphasis is even slightly off, e.g. “I’m looking for the buthROOM.” vs. “I’m looking for the BATHroom.” etc.. A native speaker upon hearing the first sentence might indeed puzzle for a second over the utterance, then finally getting it and even repeating same just for clarity’s sake:-)
I imagine though, the situation with Chinese is simply quantified considerably.
Finally, nobody with just a minimal IQ will take this article serious. You should just ignore that bull Even if Polish is the most difficult language of the ones listened here (which I kinda doubt), there are still more than 6000!!! (I´m just thinking of Lithuanian, Basque, Georgian and Sanskrit) others in the world. And quite a few of them are spoken by more than 1 Million people. Sorry, but everybody who really believes Polish being the hardest language in the world is an id..t!
The opinion that German is a logical language is probably one of the 10 greatest lies in human history. In my opinion it is absolutely not logical.
Why do many people even think so?
And your proof, Janko? What possible evidence can you furnish to support the contrary?
If you contend that German is not logical merely because you believe so, then you are arguing in a tautology (Doppelsagung) and is therefore bereft of meaning:-)
I’ve heard people claim that they too can show statements such as yours to be accurate.
I’m still waiting (….and expect to for some time.
For example look on the irrational gender system. Why for example is “der Turm” masculine and “das Haus” neutr. And there are much more examples of that. Or the plurals? Why there is “der Wurm- die Würmer” and “der Turm- die Türme”, etc…? Or the auxilary tenses “haben” und “sein”. And last but not least the setences with completely different meanings (Bsp: Der gefangene Floh, der Gefangene floh). Do you would call that logical?
Claiming a language is “logical” vs. “illogical” means something completely different from “precise” or “exact”:-) The logic of German may escape more than a few of us, including perhaps a number of Germans themselves, yet we can at least agree that with all her fairly regular, if often repetitive, case/adjectival endings, German is an almost mathematically exact tongue, requiring from the user that everything fit, so to speak, from the number, gender, and case of the noun.
To say that ANY language is logical is already a value judgement based upon the speaker’s OWN definition of logic, or illogic! The examples above indicate the degree to which a language such as German (along with Polish and many others)attaches different plural markers in order to indicate the different stems of each noun.
The history of a language involves the development of its morphology.
In contrast with Old English aka Old Norse (not unlike Modern Icelandic) which contained elaborate inflections compared with the English we know today, German retained much of her original inflections, due in large measure to her social and cultural history, which made for a language with more conservative rules regarding gender assignment and case-driven structure than Modern English.
The origin of individual words in German also defy an “easy” categorization of plural markers, let alone gender assignment! Lest we fall into the trap of expecting “der Turm” and “der Wurm” etc. to have identical plurals, we must remember that NEITHER word is identical, either in meaning or in derivation.
Lastly, the examples “der gefangene Floh” vs. “der Gefangene floh”, while a clever riposte indeed, scarcely negate the well-known fact that nearly all languages have their share of homonyms- and/ -phones, English being perhaps past, present, and future master in this regardLOL
“I take it you already know of cough and bough
And rough and dough….”
And you call GERMAN illogical???!
Japanese is not a gender language. I took French in college and being English speaking the concept and required use of referring to objects as male or female was difficult for me. A few years ago I decided to try to learn a language.
Japanese has no gender. all is expressed in the singular. parts of speech are indicated by a syllable after a word which indicates grammatical function is very helpful. verbs are past (what has happened) and present-future are the only two forms. sentence order seems to me logical.
the use of two “alphabets” and a large number of Chinese symbols is difficult but over time I have begun to fell comfortable with these writing methods.
I took French in my 20’s and started Japanese in my 70’s.
the one language I have not mastered is my native English.
It should be also noted that German was once considered to be one of the 10 worlds strangest (weirdest) languages (only Armenian and a few very exotic ones were “stranger”), while Hungarian was considered as one of the 10 “most normal” ones.
Finally, I absolutely don´t think Polish being an easy language, for English speaker it´s definetally harder to learn than most western- european languages, including Icelandic (look on my list), but saying that it´s the hardest in the world is absolutally riddicolus. But I assume that the whole article is just a joke!
By what yardstick, pray, was German deemed “strange” or “weird”? There’s so much relativity in language acquisition, it boggles the mind. German is to be sure a relatively conservative language, in comparison with English, but among European languages still extant, perhaps Lithuanian is the most conservative (though I’d never even consider using the amorphous term “weird” to describe it.
Linguists prefer conservative or productive (when speaking about a languages morphology).
Polish is easy for people from Bielarus, Czech, Slovakia, Croatia. On the other hand even Netherlands language is hard for English people. As they don’t want to learn on elementary school any foreign language – everything is hard .
Precisely, because the American continues to labor under the comic delusion that all he needs is EnglishLOL
Well, for “getting by and around”, I too would scarcely suggest shelling out even a few hundred bucks on say a crash course in Swedish for a two-week stay in Stockholm. On the other hand, for truly experiencing what any non-native Anglophone has to say in their own language with a satisfactorily aesthetic fluency, learning the target language of any country is a must:-)
So Chinese it should be 2-3rd place. I have a friend who’s Chinese and she struggles with it to. It also is complicated I’m even learning it and I find it hard. She’s 12 and she can’t write in Chinese at allL. But never mind now let’s get to polish
I am Polish and I am always struggling. Speaking is the hardest even if you copy it off someone. I find it easy because I am originally polish but when my friends ask me Polish the cannot say it at all
Such an easy word but have to practice a whole day to say it properly.
Cześć . The Cz is one sound and and they always say it separated and the ś and ć
Are said as an normal s c. They think I’m accidentally adding lines
Reading is really hard
Children still can’t write or read fluently until there at least 16. I 13 and I read really awful. Because Polish is more a fast language and makes it harder when it’s a double letter that make a sound such as
Dz, dż , cz, rz, ch,
Even harder is writing
Sometimes you use a normal h but sometimes you use ch because it’s the same sound . But it only comes after special letters
The same with rz sometimes you use it sometimes you use ż.
Αll I’m saying Polish is hard and Chinese is complicated too
And 1 thing
Polish tongue twisters are kind of impossible until your like an adult.
In my opinion, Chinese is not so difficult. I took 5 years of it and what I took away from it is this:
1) The grammar of Chinese is very simple. It is uninflected, no past, present, future tenses, no singular or plural, no noun or adjective cases. It is an isolating language. Virtually all of the grammar can be learned in one year of a standard course. (I’m talking about modern Chinese, not classical, which I have also studied).
2) Writing using characters is indeed difficult as it is a prodigious memory task. Advantage can be taken to some extent of the fact that the great majority of characters do have a phonetic component (but the principle by which the phonetic component is incorporated is very different from an alphabetic or syllabic writing system). Nonetheless, I think it is important to distinguish between the language itself (spoken) and attempts to record it (written).
czy znasz lamie jezykowe: “W Szczebrzeszynie chrzaszcz brzmi w tcicinie”?
The English version is roughly “In the town of____________________ a beetle
buzzes among the reeds.”
Essentially, compared with written as well as spoken English, Polish is COMPLETELY phonetic:-)
My various forays into Estonian, Lithuanian (Unrelated though categorized geographically as “Baltic”!)and Finnish (tangentially related to Estonian, SCARCELY mutually intelligible however)suggest that the difficulty of Estonian lies principally in the multiplicity of meanings, even parts of speech, to a particular word! In some regard, it reminds me of Turkish, also Hungarian, e.g.
“ho” = snow, month, “eg” = sky, fire etc..
I must admit to never having made a serious, academic study of the above languages as for example Polish, German, Italian etc. Yet, I continue to be a foe of arguments supporting alleged language “ease” vs. “difficulty”!
It already has been scientifically proven that for native English speakers Finnish and Hungarian are harder to learn than Polish (not sure how about for e.g. Chinese or Arabic native speakers). And since Polish is less difficult than Finn. and Hun. it logically can´t be the hardest language anymore!
One the first sight the finno- ugric languages might look easier but it´s just an objective fact that they are overall harder than Polish (for native Eng. speakers)!
I’m a bit leery of such “proof”, Janko:-)
As language difficulty is deemed relative anyhow, who or what standard determines that Finnish or Hungarian are “harder” than Polish, Lithuanian, German or Icelandic??
Allegedly Estonian’s supposed to be the real ballbuster in that group, yet there are those linguists who blithely claim the opposite!
Who then is right?
The Finno-Ugric languages sound very different and their grammar is also very different from the Indo-European languages , Yet, people learn and speak them. I believe it is all a question of methods . Young Russian children in a kindergarten become bilingual very quickly and as for grown ups, it all depends on the motivation. Find an Estonian(Finnish , Hungarian) mate, girlfriend or boyfriend and-here we go.
I have studied Polish-just on political reasons( when Communists jammed radio in the 80s). I had a very high motivation and in six months I was able to understand it. Polish is not difficult-if it is interesting for you.
my last comment wasn´t even thought to be serious. I just wanted to find out what are you saying if someone else (not the author) writes such an arrogant nonsense. I hope that everyone of you just realizes how ridicculus the whole article is.
For example about German: only the cases are mentioned, but what´s about the irrational Gender system? the plurals? The verbs? the syntax?, etc..
Second of all Chinese and Japanese are not related at all. This is like comparing Swedish and Finnish to each other just because both countries are in Scandinavia. Chinese is a tonal language, Japanese isn´t. Japanese on the other hand is an agglutinative language, therefore rather comparable to Turkish (not very much though) than to Chinese!
The most complicated part in learning Arabic is arguably neither the cases nor the pronounciation, not even the script but the verbs (I´m told).
I recently tried a bit of Hungarian and the biggest problem isn´t really the complexity of the grammar, but the completely different way of forming words and sentences (probably in Finnish too. Spanish and Italian might start easy but overall they aren´t as easy as many people think, especially because of there many tenses and irregular verbs.
And finally “hardest language in the world” would mean harder than over 6000 other languages not just harder than 15 others. I don´t think that the british foreign institue and others are 100% correct but you should definatelly trust them more than the pseudo linguist who wrote this article here!
To which “pseudo-linguist” might you be referring, pray?
I wish to add that the above-mentioned languages all have relative levels of difficulty, which is why the entire thread remains solely academic!
While interesting to ponder, it cannot ever be “answered”, as there is no question which could ever be posed to which a requisite response could be provided.
A professional linguist myself, I’ve labored long enough in the field to recognize that labeling languages as “easy” or “hard” is usually more politically or economically, rather than linguistically motivated:-)
I did not see it ranked in your list. Georgian has a unique alphabet, unique syntax (when not borrowing from Russian) and a phonetic structure that certainty makes it a candidate for being ranked number one. There are also languages which are spoken by so few native speakers that the opportunity to learn them is nearly nil. So like any ranking this one must come with qualifiers.
Czech as well as Finnish apparently has a spoken aka colloquial grammar as different from the written as day and night!
Native Icelanders and Hungarian speakers too claim NOT to understand foreigners who speak their language unless both the pronunciation and even the grammar aren’t letter perfect.
Perhaps, they’re merely giving the rest of us a hard time:-)
For the various reasons you state in your post, this is why when I’ve had dealings in the past with Finns, as an English native speaker, I’ve normally preferred to use Swedish!
Although I did make some forays into Finnish umpteen years ago, I found most middle-aged Finns speak far better Swedish than English, therefore, I usually converse with them in their “second” language:-)
Considering the long arm of the once mighty Vasa Empire, such isn’t at all surprising, although today probably no Finn (or even Finnish Saami speaker) wishes to conjure up historical associations with their colonial past.
Merely curious as to where my colleagues would place Albanian on the alleged “scale of difficulty”!
Certain texts have claimed the monstrous complexities of standard Tosk verb forms (some citing nearly 50 or more!!!, not even to mention those clitics found for nearly every word and place name:-)
The introduction to the one-volume “Oxford Albanian-English” paperback edition, states that there is STILL not complete dictionary of Albanian owing to the seemingly endless productivity of verbal endings.
Intriguing, I find. How about the rest of us?
Looking forward to hearing back!
I recently tried to learn Finnish and I can tell you that this language is insanely difficult!!! Polish may be hard too but there is absolutely no comparision to Finnish! So odd,that your beard starts growing after 5 minutes, dozens of declination and conjugation patterns (combined with the freaking 15 cases) and the damned consonat change(Stufenwechsel)(talo= house, talossa= in the house, but Helsinki= Helsinki, Helsingissa= in Helsinki). There are also a lot of similar words and only a little mistake in spelling can give them a totally different sense. For example: Tapaan sinut = I meet you, Tapan sinut= I kill you, etc.. It´s simply absolutally wrong that Finnish works only by adding sufixes on the words ending, and even though there exist rules for the consonant change they are very hard to understand for non- Finns. While in Polish, even many native speakers are said to make grammatical errors in Finnish the grammatical form must be absolutally correct, otherwise you have no chance to be understood. I also heard that spoken Finnish differs very much from the written version which would make the language even worse and in addition most native speaker speak incredibly fast! However a friend of mine managed to learn Finnish quite probably (no Idea how he did it, which means it´s clearly not impossible but Finnish is in my opinion, without a doubt, the hardest european language (even above Basque and Lithuanian, I should change my list). If you learn Finnish I whish you good luck, and after that, learning Polish will be like a walk in the park for you…
PS: one Finnish word can have about 200 (!!!) possible forms. Take for example the finnish word for “dog” whose base form is “koira” (koira, koiran, koiralt, koirassa , etc…)
In case you have finished with the Finnish language , try Estonian . It has even more to offer-three vowel and consonant lengths! . Hungarian is also a great challenge .
regards , Viktor
Is Estonian even harder than Finnish? Than I will not try it because I´m not going to commit suicide!
Any”hard” language is worth learning. Beauty lies in the eyes of the seer. Estonian is hard-yet people learn , speak and even translate it . A new non-indoeuropean language is a challenge to meetyour mental powers .
regards , Viktor
I´m from Lithuania. I know that my mother tongue is considered to b e extremely difficult by linguists, but unlike most Poles we are usually not proud of the complexity of our language´(maybe proud that it´s very unique but not that´s difficult). For me it´s simply my mother tongue and I see nothing “Special” on that. I also don´t really believe, that Lithuanian is the hardest language in the world.´It probably is one of the toughest ones in Europe, but Basque and Finnish seem to be worse!
But if you´re interesting in learning my language I can say you for sure that´s not impossible. In my neighborhood (I live in Kaunas) there lives a German woman who is married with a Lithuanian and started to learn the language in her early 20 s. Now (39 years old) you would barely recognize that she is a non-native Speaker, if you don´t know it.
I also think that our grammar is fairly regular, however there are so many rules, that a learner might feel, that´s irregular. The pitch- Accent in indeed quite irrational and simply has to be memorized, but if you want to learn it, I am sure you can!
PS: I´m curious that German is considered to be only “average” in difficulty. I have learnt German in School and found it very hard,even though the inflection is much weaker than in my mother language. The German Syntax is quite confusing and the Gender System is irrational and has to be memorized (it reminds me a bit on our pitch Accent). (The 2 children of the German woman in my neighborhood grow up bilingual, Lithuanian and German, that´s really great.) I never studied French, but friends who learnt it told me that´s pretty hard too!
German presents grammatical challenges unique to German.
While English spelling is nearly completely unphonetic, our grammar is relatively transparent for the purposes of basic communication.
German requires an arsenal of knowledge right from the beginning, different perhaps from Lithuanian or Polish, owing to the often quixotic word order of the language which many times drives my students to distraction.
In an also highly inflected language such as Polish, it’s not the structure of the sentence which can baffle the learner, as much as its intricately synthetic morphology, not to even mention quirky-looking gender assignment for both person as well as number:-)
How often have my students come and said that they can understand the German of a basic sentence, the words, yet frequently not the meaning!!
The Czech language is very difficult. You can read and get know about it here:
Doučování matematiky v Hradci Králové, doučování českého jazyka a angličtiny Hradec Králové. Příprava na maturitu, přijímací zkoušky a státní zkoušky.
One funny part in Lithuanian are the Family names. My fully Name is Arunas Jankauskas, my father is called Petras Jankauskas, my mother Danuta Jankauskiene and my sister´s Name is Julija Jankauskaite. At first this seems confusing but if you are really intersted you may have fun with learning. I would be happy if more foreigners try to learn my language.
I don´t understand the Poles why they are so proud that their language is arguably so difficult. I read in this forum that some People also wrote such comments about Lithuanian, but this doesn´t make me proud. Please stop writting in this way about my language!
Try Icelandic! Family names in the capital city are so repetitively the same that they are not even listed, the given or Christian name having preference, as there may well be a plethora of “SIGURDSDOTTIR”, for example, but less then fifty “EVA SIGURDSDOTTIR”:-)
This was explained to be by a native icelander, but in English, and so I might not have gotten it straightLOL
Seriously, for native speakers it would be surprising, but for people with another Indo-European based languages, especially for Slavic it totally hard to understand the logic of English.
Also, you say Polish is hard, try Tibetan.
WoW, I have never seen comments on one page in so many languages yet…
Pozdrawiam wszystkich. Zawsze jakoś tak cieszy mnie, że (według wielu klasyfikacji) startuję z nauką do łatwiejszego poziomu.
P.S. Marek, both translations about mrs Merkel are correct. “Pani Merkel powiedziała, że jest niezadowolona z budżetu” is just more like “She spoke that she was dissatisfied” and “Pani Merkel mówiła…” more like “She was speaking that…”. You know, past completed and past imperfect verb mode (or as you call it).
Dziękuję za artykuł, Marku.
I understand what you are going through. I am an Albanian native speaker and I struggled during my grammar classes throughout my primary school. Honestly I continue to make silly mistakes. My German boyfriend is trying to learn it too but finds it very difficult and it’s hard for me to explain it as there are no rules in some cases.
1. Japanese, Chinese – most difficult
Both are correct but there is slight difference in the meaning, due to there being ‘finished action’ and ‘unfinished action’ versions of most verbs. The first sentence means that she said all there was to say, the second one emphasizes that she was talking but it is unknown (although we can assume) whether she finished. The difference may not be clearly visible there, but look at the examples of:
Pisała list – She was writing a letter.
Napisała list – She has written a letter.
Ona go biła – She was hitting him.
Ona go zabiła – She killed him.
In my case to learn Polish is much easier than to learn Thai, and I am Hungarian – language difficulties depend on where your native language came from.
Very subjective and un-realistic. Also the 8 tier subdivision to pretend some kind of accuracy to this list? Leaving aside the fact this such list, if realistic, would only apply to English speakers, It’s all going to depend on what other language each ones speaks. Plus, does not elaborate much. In 2) mentions the cases, which being agglutinative require way less effort than learning Russian or German cases, or those of any other flexional language. Moderate grammar? What does this mean? Pick up Italian and Spanish no problem? I see with so many English speakers trying to bubble in any of those two.
Polish natives saying Polish is a very difficult language to learn, come on guys! You acquired it, how is it going to be hard, it’s the easiest language for you as you already have it and can express whatever you want in it.
I never understand why my people are so obsessed with telling everyone Polish is the hardest language out there what’s the point there are so many languages on the planet just because it’s not the most popular doesn’t make it the hardest lol the cases? come only seven of those besides soooo many languages have them nothing special here. also, we have only sing and plural number. a minimal number of tenses. 2 voices. we don’t change the gender of the verb when addressing the person, no tones, minimal number of letters…also, its literally just a language belonging to a language group there’s no such thing as an objective classification of how hard a language is when you know a language from a similar group you get a similar set of rules end of the story please stop boosting your confidence on such a silly thing lmao