Learning a language is the ultimate way to connect with an individual from another part of the world. An individual who can interact, even with just a reasonable amount of basic words and some phrases for good measure, has a one-up on an individual who see another’s mode of communication as simply gibberish. However, no two languages are alike when it comes to of ease of learning because ease of learning is subject to the learner’s native language. Languages in the same family tree as your mother tongue are easier to learn. Today, we will focus our attention on 10 of the hardest languages for native English speakers to learn and why you may have such a hard time with them.
Arabic is one of the hardest languages for native English speakers and is a language I have been learning for four years now. Along with having a completely foreign alphabet, both in script and direction of reading, individuals find difficulty with new speech patterns and sounds not found in English. When learning other Germanic languages there are similar vocabularies and cognates, but this doesn’t hold true for Arabic and English. Those who are able to get even a basic grasp of the alphabet must master the vowel markings that can drastically change the meaning of a word. Here’s the kicker: native speakers and most day-to-day text come without the markings.
Various Asian languages have a certain level of difficulty for native English speakers. Aside from the new text, they all have a special feature that differentiates their difficulty for a new speaker. In the case of Japanese, thousands of characters must be mastered to be able to adequately write the language correctly. This is because Japanese has three separate writing systems, all of which have a different alphabet to master. Aside from these drawbacks, it is a language that can open the learner to a culture that even has respect for elders expressed in its linguistic structures.
Chinese is a unique language in that it is one based heavily on grammatical structures and the tone of the speaker. In some languages novice speakers with a basic understanding of grammar can survive; however, with Chinese, a mixup in grammar can land you in an awkward situation of misunderstanding. Additionally, the writing system and the spoken system are separate entities, making reading and writing a separate issue to tackle from conversation.
For starters, individuals introduced to Korean find that its sentence structure is rather foreign to them. If you are describing an action, the subject goes first, then the object that is being acted upon, and finally the sentence ends with the action itself. In terms of describing something, you begin with the subject and end with the adjective. Aside from sentence, speaking, and syntax pattern differences, novice learners of Korean have a hard time with the alphabet, which is heavily influenced by Chinese.
While Greek is less difficult for native Anglophones than the top four languages we mentioned, there are still some aspects of the language that can prove a challenge to new speakers. The difficulties with the alphabet are a given challenge for some; however, what confuses many is the stresses required when speaking to ensure that the other individual understands what you are saying. Improperly placed stresses change the meaning of the word entirely.
Icelandic makes this list, but not because of whether or not it is a difficult language to pick up. I must emphasize that it comes with some complexity, but for the most part it’s not unlike any other language in its challenges. The issue comes in mastering the language. Icelandic is complex in its spelling and word order practices, as perfectly illustrated in the photo above. Cognates are also few and far between. Lastly, as would be the case for any language with 330,000 speakers, resources are very few. This adds to the difficulty.
Estonian takes the seventh spot due to its complex language structure, which is an issue shared with many other countries in Europe that have their own language system. Many times, because the language is kept alive in the countries of their origin, grammar rules can sometimes be less formalized and cognates aren’t often present due to the lack of influence from other languages.
Similarly to many European languages, Finnish is preserved within the country itself, influencing the language’s growth and mannerisms. Aside from this, for many individuals Finnish and Estonian can be described as close cousins in their speech and grammar patterns. Granted, while Finnish is a bit easier to pick up for new users as opposed to Estonian, the similarities are shown in language acquisition difficulty overall for both. As mentioned with Estonian, Finnish doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities for learning the language. Thankfully, there are more speakers (five million) of Finnish than Estonian if you have your eye on acquiring it.
Taking a short detour from European languages, we find ourselves in Thailand. Thai comes with medium difficulty to acquire in comparison to the top half of our list. Through researching Thai, I found that the main difficulties arose in speaking the language rather than anything else. Grammar rules are similar to English, but sounds and speaker’s tone are the most important and the most difficult things for new speakers to master. The alphabet, for those accustomed to the Latin alphabet, will cause some trouble as well.
Finishing off our list back in Europe, we have Norwegian. Norwegian is last on our list for a reason. It’s a language that is easy to get a hang of in a classroom or formal setting. However, the fact that Norwegian is spoken mainly in Norway is the contributing factor to its ranking on this list. Why exactly? Because, spoken Norwegian is highly informal and much less organized when used amongst native speakers. Similar to Arabic, dialects reign and while most Norwegians understand each other, dialects can complicate communication.
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