Hardest language to learn

Hardest language to learn might not be what you think. Polish is the hardest language to learn. Why is this not common language uncommonly hard to learn? Read on.

Hardest language to learn in the world

What is the hardest language to learn?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Average: French – lots of tenses, but not used and moderate grammar. German-only four cases and like five exceptions, everything is logical, of course.
  7. Easy: Spanish and Italian – People I know pick these up no problem, even accountants and technical people rather than humanistic language people.
  8. 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.
The most challenging language only for the strong and the brave is Polish. Most others are easy in comparison.
  • 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.
If you learn Polish your third language will be easy to learn. It is like training and conditioning for a sport.

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.

Ordinal ranking on how hard a student has it to for second language acquisition.

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.

Map of difficulty with green being a breeze and red being, well more arduous foreign languages.

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.

Author: Mark Biernat

I live in with family between two worlds, US and Europe where I create tools for language learning. If you found my site you probability share my passion to be a life long learner. Please explore my site and comment.

1,422 thoughts on “Hardest language to learn”

  1. Hi all!

    It’s so good that I’ve found this blog here. I had a conversation with one of my finnish friends (by the way I’m Hungarian) who said that Finnish is more difficult for an English-speaker than Hungarian. It’s good to see that you placed them in the same category, this makes my explanation easier. 🙂 Although I’ve read all the posts, I feel like I must react to your “showcase” of Polish language “goldhorn”.

    “…(One of your bloggers earlier mentioned the word “Dog” in four
    languages. Shall we remind our readers of how many ways there
    are to say “dog” in Polish, depending on the case and it’s singularity
    or plurality? Ok…let’s!

    [Pies, psy, psa, psu, psem, psow, psom, psie, psach, psami], these as they
    are only the ones I can think of off the top of my head!…”

    Hmm… dog… kutya, kutyák, kutyával, kutyákkal, kutyától, kutyáktól, kutyából, kutyákból, kutyának, kutyáknak, kutyát, kutyákat, kutyára, kutyákra, kutyáról, kutyákról, kutyában, kutyákban, kutyához, kutyákhoz, kutyánál, kutyáknál, kutyába, kutyákba, kutyám, kutyáim, kutyámnak, kutyáimnak, kutyádnak, kutyáidnak, kutyájának, kutyáinak, kutyánknak, kutyáinknak, kutyátoknak, kutyáitoknak, kutyájuknak, kutyáiknak, kutyámmal, kutyáimmal, kutyáddal, kutyáiddal, kutyájával, kutyáival, kutyánkkal, kutyáinkkal, kutyátokkal, kutyáitokkal, kutyájukkal, kutyáikkal, kutyámtól, kutyáimtól, kutyádtól… and this could go forever… I just presented some… As you can see there are a lot of exceptions… like here: “kutyámmal” it was originally “kutyámval” but the v has assimilated to the m… and here: “kutyáikkal” Even I first wrote “kutyaijukkal” but then I realised that it doesn’t make sense because the j is fading out… Oh… and we use ALL of these in spoken language… (I always mix up the j part though…) No exceptions…

    Another one:
    “…Just the other day, I sent a text message to my wife, wanting to say
    “You are the love of my life”. Easy enough in English…”

    In Hungarian this looks like: “Te vagy életem szerelme” or “Életem szerelme (te) vagy” both are correct… A foreigner said (I’m not saying that every foreigner says): “Te vagy az életemnek a szerelme” (Have heard it in Mc’Donalds when someone asked me if it’s correct) I said yes, it’s correct but it sounds LAME… We don’t say “of my” because you can guess it from the verb…

    original verb: szerelem meaning: love
    then: szerelme “the love of” I don’t know why does the ‘e’ fall out… although we have 40 consonant orders they teach only 8 in high school…
    original noun: élet meaning: life
    then: életem “my life”
    * életemnek a means “of my life” but strangelly when I read it I think of the original sentence, rather than “You are the love of of my life” *
    Te vagy is you are so now you get the full… “You are the love of my life…”
    In the second case ‘Te’ falls out because ‘vagy’ the substantive verb was placed in it’s place… (The love of my life is you…) In the first case we want to emphasize the ‘You’… You can also emphasize the you in the second case if you add the optional you…

    Oh and I’m not a specialist just a simple high-school student who has learned Finnish, French, and a bit Japanese 🙂

  2. Oh… and for the dog part… In finnish it’s even longer…

  3. polish the hardest? chinese is easier??? you are completely out of your mind.
    chinese is impossible, the alphabet, plus the intonation system, and polish is not so hard, it may be just the hardest slavic one.

  4. i have to say that polish is extremly hard if you are learning it as a second launguage or a third . i know that because im 12 and i speak english , splish , polish and russian . its better if you know polish as a first language because if you know polish , then you will have it eseyer to speak russian or german !!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Zaraz, zaraz .
    Pozwolicie, że napiszę w swoim obcym języku.
    Zrozumieją tylko Polacy.

    I’m from Poland.

    Język polski dla nas wcale nie jest trudny.
    Ale jeżeli ktoś z innego kraju ma zamiar nauczyć się naszego języka – to życzę szczerego szczęścia.
    Przypadki, odmiany, czasy, formy . . .
    Czasami sama się sobie dziwię, że tak płynnie mówię po polsku.
    Z resztą każdy polak mówi po polsku płynnie ;).

    rz – ż
    Rzeka – Żyrafa

    ch – h
    Chomik – Hulajnoga

    ó – u
    Ósmy – Umywalka (nie miałam co wymyślić)
    Przyznajcie, ż to jest chyba najtrudniejsze w naszym języku.

    Czasownik “być”.
    W pokoju “jest” 1 uczeń.
    W pokoju “jest” 9 uczniów
    W tym zdaniu prezentuję, iż mimo że, mamy liczbę mnogą – czasownik pozostaje w liczbie pojedynczej.

    Tam jest para “drzwi”.
    W mieszkaniu są “drzwi”.
    Rzeczownik “drzwi” w ogóle nie zmienia formy.
    Mimo że, mówimy o całkiem czymś innym, słowo brzmi identycznie.

    Podobnie jest z rzeczownikami “może” i “morze”.
    “Może” pójdę do kina.
    Mamy pięknie “Morze” Bałtyckie.

    I na końcu interpunkcja.
    Nie trudna, ale zawsze coś.
    Trzeba wiedzieć kiedy wstawić odpowiedni znak.
    Przyznam, iż do tej pory (choć mam już dwadzieścia parę lat) czasami mam z tym spory problem.


  6. Hi MriOla!

    Punctuation you say?

    Hungarian alphabet: a á b c cs d dz dzs e é f g gy h i í j k l ly m n ny o ó ö ő p q r s sz t ty u ú ü ű v w x y z zs. 44 letters…
    And we also have that student students thing you mentioned…

  7. —————————
    Polish is really the hardest language to learn – I’m saing this but i live in poland.
    Nelly_Serbian said,
    November 11, 2008at 11:52 am

    Serbian is the most hardest language to learn(to speak correctly)!

    Zato mani se i ne pali se!!!

    Ja idem u grad:

    U grad idem ja
    Idem ja u grad
    Ja u grad idem
    U grad ja idem……………

    Salute to all of you!!!
    I think that we(polish) can learn to serbian because I’m understanding 1/2 verbs this text

    Faktem jest to, że każdy najlepiej czuje się w swoim języku
    Heheh.I can understand u too.
    Thats coz Serbian and Polish are Slavic languages and they are similar!
    And they both are hard :)))))

  8. Putting in a vote for Pulaar (Fula, numerous other dialects). They have genders beyond male/female/neuter – “things that are round” “things that are long/pointed”, etc. And very, very specific verbs – they have one word for “[a dog] scooting on its butt”. Not to mention sounds that are unheard of in Indo/European languages. I’m sure Polish, Icelandic and Serbian are difficult, but at least they’re in the same language family!

  9. Mandarin, Cantonese and English are all my first languages. I’ve learnt German, French and Spanish and a little Afrikaans, Swedish, Japanese, Arabic and Dutch. I’m no professional linguist, but I can pretty much meet a language in a couple of months if I put a few hours into it every day… i.e. not that genius but not that hopeless LOL! But WELSH! I just cannot make head or tail out of it by first glance, or second glance, or third glance (or fourth, and so on)… And I live very close to Wales and have been there a couple times. The lack of vowels in words scares me a little to be honest, and the multiple “d”s and “l”s in many welsh words… In short, it just doesn’t resemble ANY language I’ve learnt before. It is quite frankly, the strangest language I’ve ever encountered.

  10. It’s lie. The average Polish speaker isn’t fluent in their language not until age 16. it’s considerably earlier. I’m 16 and i speak for polish fluent.

  11. Hey there,

    Wwoooowww! This forum is more than 2 years old & still receiving comments. Isn’t it wonderful? Many people think that nowadays few would bother discussing languages; they should really come & see……

    Serbian??? The hardest language of the world???? R U kiddin’ me?

    Here comes my experience with Serbian:

    My mother-tongue is Persian. I also speak Spanish, French, Modern Greek & Modern Hebrew with varying degrees of fluency. Luckily I had the chance to learn Serbian/Croatian quite effortlessly when I was in highschool. I admit I still don’t speak it like a native lad from Belgrade & telling that I’m a foreigner is no big task for a serb. But, I’m confident that has to do with my lack of practice & lack of motivation to actually sound like one. You know, I found Serbian an easy language to learn, specially compared to Hebrew.

    Although I had no prior acquaintance with any slavic language, Serbocroatian vocabulary & pronounciation were like of piece of cake for me. I didn’t have to get any yoga posture to pronouce a word correctly. Not only because it shares certain characteristics with my native Persian as another indo-european language (which English is a member also), but also owing to the fact that Serbian, in my opinion has lost much of its complex old Slavic sound system that for example Polish preserves.
    And believe me that the easiest part was the grammer. It looked sensible, regular & totally ok with me. I mean, much of the examples to show the difficulty of learning Serbian that is stated in this forum deals with the flexibility of its syntax which in in fact, the easiest part. The lack of a fixed word order in many cases makes a language easier to learn (not harder). See? It may seem to you (a native Serbian-speaker) a likely obstacle for a Serbian learner but it’s vice versa when you consider that this trait of syntax liberates the new speaker from memorizing long lists of formulas on how to construct a sentence. In many occasions, you can forget about English unchangeable “royal” rules like : Subject+Verb+Subject+…..
    The orthography was fine & the stress rules (despite some irregularities) were quite comprehensible & can be picked up really fast just by listenning.

    All in all, I, posessing the point of view of someone who approached Serbian as foreign language (unlike most of guys here who are native speakers of Serbian) don’t really see why Serbian should be included as one of the hardest languages of all on the list! I’m not tryin’ to imply that Serbian is the easiest possible language to learn but sure it’s not one of the hardest either. In my personal experience, I realized Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian language(s) are no harder than any other non-romance european language.
    Still tryin’ to say Serbian is the hardest? Or is it? Try Arabic; try to conjugate a three-letter Arabic root word into all possible cases & the list will never end. You could fill a book with that! And you might be surprised to see that the differences between the Arabic dialects of Mautitania and those of Iraq (e.g Babylonian Arabic) is far far greater than the differences between the seperate languages of Czech & Slovak.

    Hey, listen, what’s with you native-speakers? All of you!!! Native-speakers of any language can never possibly determine the level of its difficulty when you didn’t ever try to learn it in your adulthood. You all know, Picking up a language in infancy, and possibly only the first language, aims a completely different part of the human brain. I mean, for example, native speakers of Polish may find it difficult to study complex Polish grammer/literature at highschool or university level but this has little to do with their almost automatic ability to actually speak the colloquial Polish language fluently on their usual daily basis which they have learnt, well in their childhood. So I’m sorry to say that no matter how hard we try, we can never possibly measure how difficult our native language may prove to be for an adult speaker of another languages who commences learning ours.
    So I suggest you just don’t scare away potential future Polish- & Serbian-learners from these beautiful anguages, without a firm linguistic logic.

    Oh, by the way, the languages that I found too hard for me to learn were Sanskrit (extinct) & Malayalam (a Dravidian language). I clearly lay no claim for them to be the hardest languages of the world, though.
    If you’re really brave-hearted & got a tickle for archeology, try complex ancient languages such as Sumerian & Avestan.

    Good luck to you, all!

  12. My name is Jędrzej and I’m seventeen… Proud to know Polish as my first language :] I also know German, English, and am learning Danish and Finnish. I have Finnish ancestors as well. In terms of the overall language relationships, I think it’s obvious that the Slavic, Germanic and Romance languages have strong similarities but also differences. It will be much easier for a Danish person to learn let’s say, English, than for a Hungarian. However, the main point I want to make is that Finish is harder than Polish because Polish has many similar branches [Slovene, Czech, Ukrainian etc], and Finish can only really be compared with Estonian. Therefore less information can be used to learn Finish, which makes it harder.

    So I’d say Finish is at least as hard as Polish.

  13. I cant say that finnish is too hard. i learned it in about a year and a half or two years. English is my mother tongue but my father is from finland. im only 18 and i started learning finnish language when i was about 13. i picked it up very fast but like i said, my father is from finland. probably having family in finland and having finnish music,movies, and books in the house helped. and knowing a bit of the basics from an early age. i guess i was familiar enough with the language from an early age so i picked it up faster than people who dont grow up hearing finnish at all

  14. Okey lets review iam gana show you how arabic is the hardest
    this is the meaning of what in arabic
    jordanian ppl say esh or sho
    sudi arabia say matha or na’am
    syrian say ah
    egyption say aywah
    and the list goes on and on i only named these countrys coz i forgot how they say it in morroco aljera iraq there is alooooooot of arabic countrys and everyone has their own unique words specially in frequently used items ect ect .
    so if you try to learn arabic as a second lang you can never master all of these unless you live about 10 years around arabic countrys because jordanian people cant teach you to speek in an iraqian tongue i dont know if you see my point about this but you wont know unless you watch arabic tv if you are learning arabic that would confuse the out of you so if your learning arabic stick to formal arabic coz the informal arabic which every country almost has their own unique informal language so it gets confuseing but i guess we share most of the formal language but it not used in arabic country’s between ppl you will only see that in movies and newspapers and so on . okey this covers the tongues and accents i guess .
    now about the pronunciation arabic has 55 letters but every letter changes alittle on how you pronounce it by things called “harakat” and they are very small dots or lines that you put on top or below the letter lets say i wana the letter h there is a letter that you can learn in arabic that is called H its called ha’a but when you wana use it to make a word it can become ha he ho hh (double) (haan heen hoon those are used on the end of words but are often used) with the N .
    about writing its really hard same example the h letter if you put it on the beginning of the word its different on how you write it on the middle or on the end .
    oh and the grammer dont get me started about the fuking grammar iam originally arabic and i took literature high school where they focus on arabic and its grammar and it is hard i still cant say that i mastered the arabic grammar rules tell now and iam a college student , there is an arabic major in univ where they try to teach you the rules so you can master it but when you are originally arabic you know the grammars by practice mostly from how many times you heard it in your life . but its not hard to learn how to speak proper arabic grammar wise but its really hard to learn the rules ect ect .
    one more thing we have a saying here that arabic letters combine all of the worlds letters so if you start with arabic you can learn any other language since it doesnt limit your tongue with few letters like japanese does and its true i learn english japanese french and Italian and i found them all easy to pronounce but ill try polish since everyone says it hard . about japanese letters they are more like drawing pics lol not real normal letters lol specially when you get to kanji :p

  15. @Javier, said,

    March 1, 2009at 1:17 am wow javier iam impressed you know alot for a non arabic i recomend everyone to read javier’s post its real informative

  16. okey arabic examples of what i mean
    okey first is water for those who know arabic a little the first letter is the M letter
    second is sun and the first letter is sheen but in this case its pronounced sha and the second letter is meem and if you notice its written differently than water
    third is water melon and the first letters is sheen but its pronounced sho and the second one is meem and if you notice the last meem which is written with a longer stick going down but its a meem 2 .
    this is the letter ص this letter doesn exist in any other language nor does ض check how it is said on wikipedia i guess but the first one is between s and z in a weird combination the other one i cant even find a letter close to it 😛
    and as for the quran language it is really complected and you cant learn it unless you master formal arabic you might be able to read it but you wont understand 30% of it .
    end of story arabic is the hardest language hands down but its a really beautiful language and it is worth learning .
    but i guess it has to do with getting familiar to a language in a young age and hard work .

  17. The writing in Polish looks more scary than it really is. I think that the Polish language should revamp their writing system and make their language more phonetic like some other slavic languages, and they should get rid of those useless accents. I think English is the most hardest language to learn. If you look at immigrants in English speaking countries, you would note that a majority of them could not grasp the languae in full.

  18. I’m Polish and I have learnt English for 2 years and it seems for me that English is easier to learn.
    If someone wants there is polish subtitles for Star Wars I.
    You can see how it looks 🙂 What is the hardest language to learn?

  19. Swedish – Icelandic – Hungarian
    I think are the hardest to learn

  20. I speak Swedish, Finnish, English and a few other languages. Compared to Swedish, Finnish is a lot more difficult to learn. But it has a great advantage: every word is ALWAYS pronounced exactly as it´s written.

    If you learn the basic rules you can pronounce Finnish perfectly. It only takes about five minutes to get the hang of it. But you´ll still not understand a word of what you´re saying. 🙂

    I have several foreign friends who speak Swedish. According to them, learning to speak is not difficult. But the spelling is another story allthogether. There´s no logic to it, at all.

  21. Hello!

    I am from Germany and I opine German is much harder to learn than all of the languages considered “Very Hard” and “Pretty Hard”, as it might be logical(which is not really true in all grammatical features, e.g. what to write capitalised or how to write the words, as this is changed from time to time, in the last 10 years there were at least 4 different spelling refomrs), and also I assume it is not the easiest to learn the correct pronunciation, as many foreigners seem to have problems with it(similar to Polish, though).
    I opine that languages as Finnish, Estonian and Japanese are pretty easy to learn, in most cases much easier than English, because, as has been said, it is always pronounced in the same way, Japanese has almost no grammar, Finnish has not been changed that much as to not understand what has been written 5 years ago and too is somewhat logically ordered.
    I think many people think of the Finno-Ugric and Japanese language as difficult because they are different, and they might be a bit afraid of learning languages with more than 4 cases. I’d say the hardest language, or better language family, to learn, at least to me, are those with the click consonants, e.g. ǃXóõ, because they are hard to memorize and pronounce at least for most Non-African speakers; same goes for Chinese in the difficulty of how to pronounce, or Arabic languages, as has been said.
    I assume the easiest language to learn is Japanese, for you pronounce it the same way, and you also pronounce the Kana signs always in the same way(excluding dialect-based changes, which do not interfere with one being understood and understand), most Japanese children can write in the first 4 years of school, whereas most children learning the Latin-based alphabet we use sometimes don’t get it even when learning more than 10 years, not mentioning the differences between the pronunciation of letters in different languages using the same alphabet. It also does not have any difficulty in grammar.
    The Scandinavic Languages originating from Old Norse, being Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic and Faroese, also are pretty easy to learn, as the first 3 don’t really use more than 2 cases in spoken language, and the latter 2 are not that difficult to learn, either, as they’re just different, not difficult, too.
    Especially Danish is like understanding a dialect when learning it as a German, similar to e.g. Dutch, whereas Dutch is far more difficult to pronounce.

    I could write more, but you might get bored, so I shall leave it with that.
    -Me, unknown.

  22. Being American and married to a Finnish woman, I am proud of the Finnish I speak. Her mother lived with us for many years and did not speak English well so I had no choice but to speak Finnish. She hammered pronunciation and endings in to my head. I even got a compliment on my “Finnish” accent once from someone I didn’t know and only used Finnish while in Finland. Pretty good for “Yankee.” 🙂

    1. @Don, if you can speak Finnish, one of the hardest languages to learn, hats off to you. Drilling in my opinion is the best way to learn these complex case based languages, that is how I learned Polish.

  23. Armenian is hard to learn to. Especially pronounciation.

  24. I am a native speaker of English and Jamaican patois. I also speak French, Spanish and Russian. I have also studied German, Latin and Japanese and took several courses in linguistics at university. Japanese is by far the hardest living language that I have been exposed to, given the fact that for me, learning involves listening, speaking, reading and writing. I found it near impossible to retain in my memory more than a few hundred characters of kanji, whereas you need several thousand to be able to read even a simple article in a newspaper. I do understand a fair amount, having lived in Japan for 4 years, and can get by in many everyday situations. But the level of my proficiency is in no way commensurate with the effort and time that I put into learning this language. When I started Russian I thought it was extremely difficult because of the cases and the inflections. But for me Japanese has been the most difficult by far.

  25. I was quite amused by Serbians who claimed their language was the hardest. Other than that, there are so many complex languages it’s simply impossible to determine the hardest one.

  26. I agree that Polish is a hard language to learn, i was born in the United States, but my parents and grandparents were from Poland. I had the advantage to learn the language because we had to (no ifs ands or buts). I still slip up here and there with grammar because i wasnt able to learn two languages at once when i was a kid. I had to stop for awhile with Polish and concentrate on English because i was told that i kept confusing myself with the languages as a kid. Now that i am older, i have found that the Slovak language and Czech language is even more difficult than Polish. I am trying to learn the Slovak language by listening to my fiance and his friends, but it is very difficult because they have more noun changes than the Polish language. Even though Slovak language is very similar some words sound like the Polish language but have a very different meaning. For instance, “what are you looking for” in Polish is “czego szukasz” but in Slovak for them the same phrase means “what are you f***ing”

  27. Hi guys i think polish is the hardest language too for me is not hard but i live in england and i try to learn some people polish and is really hard i am 13 years old
    and i learn english in one month 😀

  28. Maybe Polish is the hardest but is the most beautiful too 🙂

  29. People who are saying that Chinese is much more difficult than Polish certainly don’t know both of them ;p I’m Polish and I know that the only difficult thing about Chinese is their writing system and 4 different tones in speaking.
    I’m not sure if Polish really is so difficult, I’ve heard that Korean is the most difficult and the most perfect among others, but I can’t confirm it because I don’t speak this language.
    Anyway, Polish is certaily worth studing. Variety of words and constructions is just amazing, reading a book in Polish is much more fascinating that in any other language, in my opinion of course 😉
    So even if you think you won’t be able to speak fluent Polish, you can always try. It’s worth it (sounds like a commercial, oh whatever :p).

  30. Wow. So many comments! I’ve really enjoyed procrastinating away the last couple of hours reading the very mixed comments accompanying this article.

    I am a native English speaker and have been lucky enough to learn differing levels of a number of languages.

    Reviewing the above comments, I agree with those who made the point that in terms of learning a language, it depends completely on the individual. It is not even enough to say that for native speakers of Language A, Language B will be X% difficult – anyone who has had any experience in a language class and compared their ability, understanding and preferred style of learning with those around them (often of the same nationality, education level etc) will agree that not everyone finds the same things as easy as those around them.

    To those commenting on the Arabic language(s), it is quite true that there are many different forms, and it would be nearly impossible to learn to converse effectively in all of them, probably even if you were a native speaker of one of them. Personally, I am continuing to struggle with the pronunciation of some Arabic letters – I have issues with most “h” sounds, as most of my previous language learning was in the romantic languages – French, Italian and Spanish, in which the “h” is silent. On the other hand, the “th”sounds I have no issues with, and am forever correcting my Urdu speaking friends who pronounce this as “z” because this is the way they pronounce the same letter in their language (this is usually out of revenge because they tease me about my “h”s :P)

    One of the little thrills I get out of learning a new language is finding connections to other languages. Rather than focusing on the difficulties, I enjoy finding these links. Just a small example, when I was reading, sanyynn’s comment with all the Hungarian (?) versions of the word for dog – Kutya etc.. , I immediately thought of the Urdu/Hindi word for dog – “kuta” 🙂

    Just a small point for whoever it was who said that Arabic is the only language that is written from right to left, I think our Persian and Pakistani friends would definitely disagree with this!

    In my experience, I would agree with Mark that learning a language’s alphabet is usually quite a trivial factor. I remember when I was doing a little Greek, my friends would be so impressed because it has a different alphabet – and in that case, it is not even a very big leap away from the one used in English. Really, that was the easiest part – the tiny bit of grammar and my first experience of the concept of cases taught me that! Even my Pakistani friends are impressed to see my write in Hindi which, while looking completely different to written Urdu, when read aloud would be 99.99% comprehensible to them. However, my limited experience with Japanese would tend to make me think that memorizing whole words, rather than simple symbols representing syllables would be an entirely different undertaking, and I admire anyone who has managed to memorize any generous quantity of Kanji (be they foreign OR native Japanese speakers).

    I think the psychological and pedagogical side of this debate has been overlooked. I know personally, I enjoy grammar. I LOVE grammar, in fact. Being given the tools to be able to construct new sentences gives me a great amount of joy. My weak point, on the other hand, is memorizing random vocabulary. However, I am sure that for many it may be completely the opposite. This would definitely be a factor to consider in determining the potential difficulty of learning a new language. Another factor would be the context in which, and the method by which, the language is being taught/learnt. For example, it is often suggested (quite reasonably, I believe), that is most effective to learn a language in a place in which the language is spoken. This, accompanied by the particular teaching/learning style adopted, is certain to play a crucial role in the student’s ability to meet the language.

    It is relevant, of course, to consider questions of grammar and pronunciation etc in relation to these ideas surrounding the teaching/learning and the geographical and personal context in which this teaching/learning is taking place, and I am sure that the more constructive of the commentaries above would definitely be the type of discourse considered when developing new methods of teaching, specialized for particular groups or individuals.

    Thank you all for sharing your personal input. Language learning is my passion and I’m glad to see so many other people taking an interest in it!


  31. Also! I forgot to mention, with Arabic, grammatically it is a beautiful language. Having such a love for the logic (most of the time!) of grammar patterns, Arabic really struck a cord with me. As was mentioned by someone earlier, you can take a simple three letter verb, and from that you can add certain vowels or consonants in specific places to create an endless number of words. For example,

    كتب = Ka-ta-ba = he wrote
    كاتب = K -aa-ti-b = writer/author
    كتاب = Ki-t-aa-b = book
    مكتبة = Ma-k-ta-ba = library
    مكتب = Ma-k-ta-b= office/study

    Love it!!! 🙂

    Someone else briefly mentioned this above as a reason for its being a difficult language, but I would argue, once you become familiar with these patterns, they can only help you in your understanding, eventually to the point where in most cases, as long as you know the basic root verb, you could nearly guess (disregarding the exceptions) what the other related words would be. What an awesome, amazing thing!

    Every language has its own beauty, and its own little tricks, and its just a matter of approaching it with an open mind and heart, and you can discover all kinds of amazing, subtle little characteristics.

  32. co wy gadacie?
    japoński jest najlatwiejszym w wymowie ;dd

  33. “W Trzebiszewie trzmiel Trzciny trze,
    trzeszczą w Tczewie trzy trzmieliny, trzeszczą w Tczewie trzy trzmieliny,


    V tshebishevie tshmiel tshtsini tshe

    tsheshchom v ttchevie tshy tshmieliny , tsheshchom v ttchevie tshy tshmieliny

  34. i forgot…
    in english, spain, netherland – you have one gramatical form for two (2) (two, dos, twee).
    portugal – two forms (dois/duas)
    kroatian – seven forms (dva, dvije, dvoje, dvojica, dvojice, dvojici, dvojicu)
    polish – seventeen gramatical forms! (dwa, dwie, dwoje, dwóch (or dwu), dwaj, dwiema,
    dwom (or dwóm), dwoma, dwojga, dwojgu, dwojgiem, dwójka, dwójki, dwójkę, dwójką, dwójce, dwójko).

  35. Hi!

    Very interesting thread!
    I for my part tend to agree with Mark. I am German. I speak English and Spanish more or less fluently,have a fairly good command of Russian(my favourite language-lived two years in Belarus-I love Russia and Belarus),had 3 years French at school,know some Lithuanyan(our family,ethnic germans,sterm from a hamlet near the old eastern prussian and Lithuanyan border),have been learning Czech for over 8 years,had a scordial at mastering icelandic a couple of years ago(I gave up after a few weeks),and have a basic knowledge of Romanian.
    I ve encountered the same problems as Mark has while learning Polish.The Czechs are a very soft spoken people,very quiet and reserved. They are not used to listening to foreigners tryting to communicate in their native tongue.Very often they abruptly switch to English (especially in Prague) when speaking to a foreigner who can really speak Czech quite well.Makes me angry,this attitude.I always point out that I am not English or American.Therefore I cant speak English.To my great sorrow most Czechs outside Prague speak German quite well.
    Anyway! The Czech language has 7 cases,the pronunciation is a pain for anyone’s ears and the extremely flexible word order makes me go beserk once in a while :).
    While living in the Czech Republic I got to know countless expats from the english speaking word,but have not come across a single one who could speak Czech more or less fluently.Must be pure hell for an english native speaker to learn a language like Polish or Czech.
    As for Polish I for sure find our neighbouring country’s mother tongue tougher than Czech.
    Too many sch,tsch,ts for my taste.
    I once tried to order a beer in Czech while in Poland.I said to the waitress: Chtel bych jedno tmave pivo.Well,I didnt get a dark beer,but a cordial one instead.I was flabbergusted when staring at a cordial beer in the middle of a very warm sommer day.
    I know that most Poles consider Czech to be a kind of micky mouse language.For them Czech sounds as if little kids try to imitate their native tongue.
    Anyway! Czech is a bloody difficult language,but Polish seems to be ever tougher.
    Russian is much easier in my humble opinion.Russians tend to speak clearly,loudly and with an emphasis on certain words.Polish and Czech are truly monotonous languages in comparison with their big brother Russia’s language.

  36. I think if you were born differnt language that language is easy to you so if you
    born Polish, polish micht be easier

  37. First of all I’d like to say how interesting all of these responses are, and I’m glad I came across this site. Both my parents are Polish, born and raised, I lived in Canada until I was 1, moved back to Poland and we lived there until age 3, then we moved to Tennessee in the US. Polish was my first language and mastering English was a breeze at such a young age. Since then I’ve lived in and gone to school in the US and English has slightly overtaken as a more natural language to me, but I still speak read very well and write fairly well in Polish.

    I can tell you honestly that my knowledge of Polish is purely natural, with little logical thought to the way I speak it. I honestly think that it would be extremely difficult for anyone to master Polish coming from a language like English and speak it so that everything makes sense. You can mix up some word endings and cases here and there and still make understandable statements in this language, but still, it is hard for even my parents who’ve been speaking their entire lives to think of all the possible variations on nouns, verbs, adjectives, numbers, etc. in this language. Since starting high school I’ve been taking German classes and find its a HUGE advantage knowing Polish and understanding conjugation and gender nouns as opposed to other students who can’t quite comprehend the concepts which are simpler and more straight-forward than Polish.

    So all in all, I do think that learning Polish for an English speaker would be EXTREMELY difficult, but I’m glad I’ve mastered the language to a certain extent, making it easier to understand the concepts of other languages.

  38. I’m an arabic woman and I’m sure that the arbic is the most hardest language in the world

    and .. english is so easy

  39. I’m a native Polish speaker. And to be honest: it’s really hard 😀 I see many differences between polish and english, or japanese. I understand, why it’s called the hardest language… Especiality grammar. English is much easier. Japanese also, when it comes to speaking… (writing just need time to learn).

    And that’s why we don’t have problems with learning other languages… In comparision to our native it’s just simple 😀

  40. Wow, I would have never guessed Polish is considered THAT hard :). Well, it’s easy for me to say – a Polish native speaker. But when you think of it… all those cases (seven), gender differentiation, pronunciation and what not… Ok, I can imagine it may be unlearnable to some (most?) people, especially those of non-Slavic descent. On the other hand, foreigners who have been living in Poland for some time are able to communicate effectively in Polish if only they devote enough time for learning, or just speaking with Poles. For instance, there are a lot of people from Africa who come here to study medicine and then work in Polish hospitals. They do have persistent problems with pronunciation and inflectional endings, but other than that – I can understand them perfectly well.

  41. I think Spanish is not that easy a lot of Americans have trouble with it and who cares about Polish only people in Poland speak it contrast Spanish is spoken across an entire continent and is the official language of countries while poland has only poland a semi good country,

  42. if you think you are fluent in polish, THINK AGAIN

    can you use all of the following forms of ” two” correctly?
    if you think you can then write a sentence for each one!

    it is hard for native poles and native englishmen would find it virtually impossible to use the following in a variety of sentences:


    good luck!

  43. I think that Lithuanian language is one of the hardest languages 🙂 I’m from Lithuania, but I read an article somewhere that Lithuanian language is on the 3rd place of world’s hardest languages (I don’t know if it’s true). But I can say, that I understand English much better than Lithuanian. Lithuanian language has very hard grammar and accentuation and etc. So… what I can say more?

    Lietuva graži šalis, tik jos kalba labai sunki 🙂

  44. I think no linguist would agree that a normal, 12-year old Polish speaker is “less” fluent than his English-speaking counterpart. Well, at least as long as he or she defines “fluency” within reasonable boundaries. I suppose that if you think the mark of fluency in a language is to be able to use extremely convoluted sentences and florid language, then most 12-year olds, no matter their mother tongue, would not be classified as fluent. However, whether a person is able to translate Shakespeare in real time (for example) can hardly be called a reasonable gauge of language skill. In other words, this whole deal with average Polish speakers being fully fluent first at 16 is nonsense.

    Now, some specific rebuttals.

    “Fairly Hard: Chinese and Japanese-No cases, no genders, no tenses, no verb changes, short words, very easy grammar, however, writing is hard.”

    It is a common misconception, that Chinese lacks grammar or has a very simple and unsophisticated grammar. It does certainly not. At the most basic level, a sentence in Chinese might resemble English, but without articles or verb forms; but this does not mean that the language as such is like a simplified version of English. In fact, saying what you want to say may be harder than in English thanks to these “shortcomings”: No tense means there is no easy way to ground an event in time (you have to use adverbs, or simply expect that the listener will understand you from context), for example. It is not more difficult per se for a speaker of Chinese to say “I went to town” than it is for the Englishman, BUT it requires you (as a learner) to master thinking in quite a different way.

    Of course, the deeper into Chinese grammar you dwell, the more “exotic” it becomes, and the learner will have to take on serial verbs (unknown, except for in marginal forms like “let’s go eat,” in English), aspect, a complicated classifier system, topic-prominent syntax, the detrimental passive, the use of verbs to mark direction rather than adverbs or particles, preposed relative clauses, et cetera. All of these things are “hard” from the point of view of the speaker of a European language, be it Polish or English.

    As for Japanese, it has lots of cases (seven, expressed by postpositional clitics such as /ga/ “nominative” or /made/ “terminative), verb forms, and long words. Take, for instance, the following sentence:

    /wagahai wa omae no bakana koe o kikitakunai/

    Here we have /wagahai/ “(old-fashioned and arrogant) I” followed by /-wa/, a clitic indicating topichood. /omae/ means “(rude) you,” and is in the genitive case marked by /-no/; the whole expression /omae no/ “your” modifies /bakana koe/ “stupid-sounding voice,” which in turn consists of /baka/ “stupid,” /-na/ “suffix indicating that the preceding word modifies the following,” and /koe/ “voice.” After this expression comes the accusative case clitic /-o/. At the very end we have the verb, /kikitakunai/, which we can divide up into /kiki-/ “a form of the verb /kiku/ ‘to listen’,” /-ta/ “want to,” /-ku/ “meaningless element,” /-na/ “not,” and /-i/ “declarative ending for adjectives,” for a total of four suffixes added to a single verb (meaning “I do not want to hear (it)”).

    That is, lots of cases, lots of verb forms, and long words.

  45. Oh, one more thing–an alternative interpretation of /kikitakunai/ has the final /i/ of /kiki-/ to be yet another suffix: That of the “combining form” of the verb, which is very common. Thus we have

    kik -i -ta -ku -na -i
    hear -Combining -Want to -Meaningless -Not -Declarative adjective

    The whole sentence, of course, means “I do not want to hear your stupid voice.”

  46. i am Arabic and i am pretty sure that arabic is the hardest language ever!! u have 22 different arabic countries each with its own accent and dialect. as Lebanese i find it very hard to understand what a Saudi Arabian person is saying or even an Egyptian person!! i am now 18 years old studies all subjects in arabic and i still cannot read and write Arabic in a very good way. there are those “harakat” and those never ending grammatical rules,in addition to letters that do not exist in any other language that make the arabic language a very hard language to learn.

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