The world’s most difficult languages

Ever wondered which is the most difficult language in the world? Well that depends on what languages you already speak.

It makes sense that languages which are more similar to your own native language are easier to learn. If you’ve ever been in a Spanish class with an Italian, for example, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Add a different alphabet or writing system and things get even more complicated. When we asked recently if Chinese is difficult the main conclusion was that the characters make things a lot harder.

This diagram gives an idea of which are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. It shows the length of US Foreign Service intensive language courses. (source: The Atlantic)

most difficult languages for English speakers

That’s right – it takes more than twice as long to learn Chinese or Arabic as Swahili.

For native English speakers this is not good news – apart from Spanish, the fastest growing languages both spoken and on the internet are some of the most difficult to learn.

Do you agree with this list? And, if English is not your native language which languages are most difficult for you?

Read More:
How difficult is Chinese?
Top 20 Languages of the World
Arabic dialects and their future
‘The awful German language’: experiences of a German student

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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130 Comments

  • Thank you for this very insightful article. I was brought up with English and studied Malay (I grew up in Malaysia). Mandarin was offered at school as well but I just couldn’t get my head around it!
    When I moved to the Netherlands, it wasn’t too difficult learning Dutch (both English & Dutch are Germanic languages and hence closely related…that said, the pronunciation of Dutch words are sometimes wacky for foreigners, & tongue-twisting!). I had (and still have) trouble with the Latin languages, especially French! Spanish & Italian are somewhat easier, though not by a lot!

  • Hi Keith. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. You confirm that Chinese is harder than Malay then? :)

    I only had the information for these languages but I guess Dutch is in the first group with the other European languages – like you say the pronunciation can be tricky, but the grammer is quite simple isn’t it?

    At school I found French a lot easier than German, and so from there it was relatively easy to learn Spanish and Italian. I haven’t tried any of the others though!

  • I often get asked this question (I live in Taiwan and use Chinese for business). In this part of the world, many assume it’s Chinese. I think your first point in the above post is absolutely correct: difficulties are contextual. What languages you already speak may facilitate what languages you want to learn.

    But another important point to consider is that it’s also situational; that is to say, it depends on your opportunities in that language. Chinese may be difficult, but there are free lessons, books, TV, worldwide radio, restaurants, and even job opportunities (incentives). If you tried to study a lesser-studied Bantu language, like Lingala or Zulu, how would you start and who would you speak with in the beginning?

    To me the true difficulty in language learning is deeply rooted in access to that language.

  • Andy – That’s a really good point. In my experience the easiest way to learn a language is to go and spend time in a country where it is spoken. I have a lot of respect for people who manage to learn a foreign language to a good level without leaving their home country because I think this is very difficult.

    Your comment reminds me of a post I read recently on Aspiring Polyglot blog. Kelly is challenging herself to learn 26 languages A to Z, and the A language was Albanian. She said her main obstacle was not being able to find enough teaching materials. And Albanian is well-documented compared to some other languages.

    Have you tried to learn Japanese or Korean by the way? I’d be interested to know if you find them easier to pick up through knowing Chinese.

  • Hi! Interesting article. Though Korean uses lots of Chinese characters in newspapers, everyday Korean signs are easier to read than you think. The pure Korean alphabet is all phonetic and we were able to learn to read it after a couple of hours of study. (helps with travel mobility on subways, shops, etc.)

    For me, Polish is incredibly hard. I’d bet that just the pronunciation could stump linguists even with the most gifted, flexible of ears and tongues!

  • Hi Ann and thanks for visiting! That’s interesting about Korean. Did you find other aspects of the language difficult?

  • I’m Thai. i’ve learned English for 3 years; it’s quite difficult for me. it took me 1 year to be able to understand what people are talking. English seems common to me as it’s spoken in every part of the world. However, now i’m learning Spanish. The conjugations make the language hard. If one speaks English, Spanish becomes easy because words are familiar. Before I started learning Spanish i took a look at Chinese. Chinese seems friendly to me, and I thought I could learn Chinese with in a year because Thai and Korean are based on the tones as Chinese. Now, i wanna focus on Spanish first.

  • Hi Tom. It’s great to hear about your experiences with different languages. It makes a lot of difference which language you speak first doesn’t it? I’m sure a lot of people will say you are lucky to find Chinese friendly.

    Good luck with learning Spanish!

  • Hi Liz, just noticed you asked a question earlier (on 5/27) about the relative difficulties of learning either Japanese or Korean compared to Chinese.

    Background: I lived in Korea for 1 year and in Japan for 3 years and studied languages intensively while working as an educator, so I’ve had a bit of experience with all 3 of these languages mentioned.

    I think all I can say is that each language is inherently hard for English native speakers, perhaps impossible if you don’t put the time in. That being said, I think I had the order right when I learned them: Korean first, then Chinese, and finally Japanese.

    Korean words are normally written phonetically, but about half are related to Chinese characters. When I began studying Chinese, I could easily attach meanings to the Chinese characters because of the Korean phonetic foundation.

    As you likely know, Japanese also uses Sino-based characters in almost every sentence, but often (about half the time) gives them Japanese pronunciations instead of guessable Sino-based pronounciations. It helped that I could use my Chinese to understand what a sentence roughly meant even if I hadn’t yet learned its pronounciation at the time.

    I believe that learning these 3 languages in a different order might have mitigated some of the shortcuts I used.

    Apologies this was so long-winded. ?????????

  • Interesting insights – thanks a lot Andy!

  • I am bilingual,native speaker of both Chinese and English,(not so native in English I think,being growing up in China)but I truly think English is harder than Chinese. Especially vocabulary,you cannot imagine how revolting some words are. what do you think when confronted with “pseudocholinesterase” an kind of enzyme present in blood and certain organs? My teacher used to say I could remember it by root and affix,but roots and affixes largely come from Latin or Greek,and I had no knowledge in the said two languages at all,so I concluded that I could not remember the word for the world. take ,DNA,for another example,if you write its full name ,you’ll also find it terribly long to remember.

    as for the most difficult language,I think it must be a dead language-otherwise,why are dead languages “dead”? it may be old Egyptian or Chinese before AD 200,which nowadays could only be learnt by specialists.the living languages,however hard as people think,if assiduously practicing,sooner or later they can be conquered.

  • Thanks for giving your perspective Dawn. A lot of us have been wondering which is harder out of English and Chinese, and I think you are in a perfect position to know!

  • I am Spanish and I study Japanese and English. I could say English pronunciation is more difficult than Japanese phonetics, but you have to learn almost 3000 characters to read a japanese text.

    In Chinese, there is often one reading for each character. Anyway, in Japanese you will find at least two readings; in some cases, three or more, and involving basic words too. In my opinion, Japanese it’s the most difficult language…

  • That’s interesting Gabi. I think English speakers forget sometimes how difficult it is to learn English as a foreign language. But it sounds like characters make reading much more difficult. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Karolina

    I’m a native speaker of Polish and I know how many difficulties it can cause. I’m suprised that you haven’t involved this language in the article.
    I think it’s a very difficult language to learn for a speaker of “hard” language, like English, German or Finnish. Polish is very melodic and its pronounciation can break your tongue.
    If you can cope with the pronounciation it’s good for you, but check out Polish grammar. If you don’t give up after seeing 7 cases for nouns, adjectives and numbers and more than 11 conjugation types then I’m very proud of you and I admire you.
    Don’t forget that there are 5 genders in Polish, 3 in singular and 2 in plural, not only for nouns and adjectives, but also for verbs in past and future tense.
    A thing that is quite interesting for me is that there can be even 3 negative forms in one sentence, e.g.: Nikt nic nie robi, literally Nobody is not doing nothing.

  • Daichi

    Hi, I came across this interesting article through a search.
    I’m a native speaker of Japanese, and in fact a researcher in computational linguistics.
    From a viewpoint after intense training, I have been constantly surprised what a difficult language it is.
    Yes, maybe the basic grammar is as difficult as Chinese or Korean; however, contemporary Japanese includes tremendous amount of new words and jargons that sometimes even requires a lot of English knowledge (many people cannot understand these words).
    Moreover, when it comes to express a complicated thought, it needs a very intense knowledge of difficult Chinese character idioms and subtle semantic differences between them. (For example, “get” a knowledge corresponds to “eru” “kakutoku-suru” “shutoku-suru”, almost equivalent but slightly different.)
    I think that even a native speaker do not have all commands over this fiendish language.
    It’s difficult, but not in the same sense that more structured languages like Polish or Latin are difficult.

  • Hi Daichi. Thanks for sharing your expertise. It seems there is a lot of agreement on the difficulty of Japanese! I think it’s interesting how some languages can seem easier at first and are very difficult to master, whereas others which may seem difficult are in fact much easier once you get past the basics. Sounds like Japanese is in the first group.

    Karolina – thanks a lot for your comment. I think Ann (above) agrees with you on the difficulty of Polish pronunciation. Unfortunately I could not find information about Polish, but you are right it should be included.

  • Matthew

    Wow – great post and interesting comments!

    As a learner of both Japanese and Hungarian, Hungarian is definitely more difficult as far as vocabulary and grammar go. Japanese is also much easier to pronounce and two of its writing systems are actually more logical than the Roman-letter system English uses. And as Daichi said before, contemporary Japanese has an amazing number of borrowed English words – this makes it even easier for an English speaker!

  • Thanks Matthew! It’s really interesting to hear your opinions – and I guess there aren’t many people in a position to compare Hungarian and Japanese! For English speakers I would still expect that learning another writing system slows things down. Has that been your experience? I’m trying to learn Arabic at the moment, and although the writing system is logical just the fact that it’s different is slowing me down a lot.

  • besiki

    Georgian ქართული არის ერთ ერთი ყველაზე ძნელი ენა :) can you read this :) ?

  • Well no, I found this site which helped me though :-)

    http://www.translate.ge/

    So you vote for Georgian as the hardest language? From that script it certainly looks difficult!

    By the way is Georgian similar to the Laz language spoken in the Black sea region of Turkey? For example, if you are a Georgian speaker can you understand Laz?

    • Marika

      Hi Liz! I can see that besiki has never replied to your question about Georgian and Laz.
      Only those Georgians who live in Mingrelia (Megrelia) can understand Laz with no problem. That’s because Mingrelians also have their language in addition to Svan which is also related to Geogrian but is IMPOSSIBLE to ever be understood!!! The thing is that no matter which out of the 4 languages you speak, you are Georgian. (but Laz people do not call themselves Georgians because of political reasons). What makes everything confusing is that English and Russian never separate ‘Georgian’ from ‘Kartvelian’. In Georgia we say Georgian language but Kartvelian people, which includes all 4 subdivisions of the nation.

  • But what about polish language? it’s very hard to learn, particularly pronunciation.

  • This is a great topic and one which always creates a lot of debate and differing opinions. We published an article on the hardest languages to learn last year and got a lot of responses. We conducted a poll where people can vote for what they think the hardest languages to learn are http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/top-list-of-the-hardest-languages-to-learn . Were hoping to come to some kind of conclusion!

  • Anett

    Hi!
    Great article and topic and very interesting posts!
    I’m Hungarian and I’ve started learning English when I was 6. Also I had French and Italian lessons in high school, and now I have to learn medical latin, but I’m extremely interested in Japanese. (((I wish I could actually be able to use these languages properly…well I guess I’ll need to re-upgrade my long-gone English knowledge first and foremost)))

    Hungarian is a conjugative language and pretty much unsimilar to other European languages, that is why it is said to be difficult. Plus, there are a powerful lot of exceptions.

    Learning English have always been fun and relatively easy for me.
    I’ve started Italian in parallel with French and I must admit that it helped a lot! I could always trace it back to French in Italian class and vice versa. Often when I couldn’t figure out the meaning of a French word, I found it’s similar to an English one I know. Learning the gender of nouns is very intriguing especially when you’re just being told that the beard is feminin!:P
    Medical latin does not contain a large amount of grammar, mostly it’s about creating syntagms.

    I have to agree that the pronunciation in Japanese is easy, but for someone who is a native European it gives a headache to memorize the characters (not to mention trying to write a phrase in Japanese). Even though hiragana and katakana alphabets are indeed logical.

    Sok sikert a japánhoz és a magyarhoz Matthew!
    Good luck with learning Arabic Liz!
    Köszönöm, hogy elmondhattam a véleményem!

  • Thanks Anett! Good luck to you too!

  • sella

    hello everybody ^_^

    I am a native arabic speaker and i can tell you that arabic is the MOST difficult language ever , yes chinese is hard and its writing script makes it classified as hard , but actually the hardest to speak is arabic ..

    we have almost infinite grammar ..
    i will tell you the easiest most basic words ..

    as for the word YOU .. in arabic it depends
    anta >> if you are talking to a single male
    anti >> if you are talking to a single female
    antoma >> if you are talking to 2 persons !
    antom >> if you are talking to male ploral
    antonna >> if you are talking to female ploral

    for example , we don’t have the word YOUR in arabic ..
    it’s conjucted to the object directly making it a one word ..and surely depends on whom you are referring to .. wether it is a single male or a single female or ploral male or ploral female or to two persons .. !!

    your book ( as for a single male for example ) = ketabuk
    your book ( as for ploral females ) = ketabukonna

    your book ( as for two persons ) = katabukuma

    another example of the VERY BASIC structure in arabic ..

    word THE , is pronounced depending on the word that follows it , we have 28 letters in arabic alphabet .. some are classified as moon-letter and some are classified as sun-letter ..
    if the subject or object starts with a moon-letter THE is pronounced as al , if it starts with a sun-letter it is pronounced as a+streching the first letter …

    for an example , walad means boy , M is a moon-letter in arabic alphabet .. so the boy = al walad

    sama mean sky , S is a sun-letter in arabic alphabet , so the sky = assama

    emmm , there’s also .. the comparative rule ..
    in english you just say nicer , hotter , more beautiful …
    jameel ( beautiful ) , put an A in the beginning , eliminate the vowul aftar the constant letter and add another A before the last letter in the word , and here we go AJMAL means more beautiful in arabic .. that’s just in case the word ends with a constant letter .. !!!!!!!! I KNOW

    ktaba = the original word of write.. if you want to say writting , written , wrote .. then take the verb and do some work with it .. it’s all about adding vowls before and after constants and in every time it gives a new function of the original word .. !!

    who wants to speak arabic should understand these ULTIMATELY BASIC things very well , because usually it takes you to think for few moments to before you spell a very simple word .. I , you , she , he , they .. or even me , her , them ..
    always sticked to the word making it a one word ..

    I love you =
    ahebek .. it’s a one word now lol ..
    i loved you ,
    habetek !!

    told u , it’s about re-ordering the vowls and consistants .. and that should be very basic .. we are not into the real arabic grammar YET !!

    complex enough ? =)

    and yeah , about the arabic script , it’s written from right to left , and we use dots in letters alot , dropping a dot or a adding a dot or changing the dot’s place may change the whole word thus the whole meaning ..
    plus , this may be shocking but seriously we don’t write down vowls unless they are extended in pronounciation !!!!! the reader must figure ‘em out by himself ..

    PEACE , salam =)

  • sella

    hey just had read that you are learning arabic .. i can help you if you want =)

  • Wow, great comment Sella! These are exactly the things I am struggling with. Especially the writing without dots. And you wrote some I haven’t found out about yet too… so your offer to help is very kind and much needed. Thank you!

  • Merri

    wow! thanks for the interesting topic here^^
    i’m from indonesia..i find that japanese is easy..chinese also..imo the hard part for them is just memorizing the characters though..
    well..i find myself hard to learn french coz it’s grammar for the conjugation is really hell to me..
    it changes depends on the sentence..
    i am learning arabic now..the spelling is hard..haha..

  • Thanks for commenting Merri! Glad you liked it. Very interesting to hear your perspective (and good to know I’m not the only one struggling with Arabic spelling!)

    I live in Turkey and many people here (Turkish speakers) say they find French difficult too.

    Also please forgive me, I’ve just noticed I spelt Indonesian wrong in the picture. I will change it…

  • I believe that portuguese is the most difficult language to learn

  • I find lithuanian one of the most difficult languages. That’s for sure.

  • Insightful!

    Well, Chinese Mandarin is my first language. I think, it’s equally easy and difficult. We only do grammar at primary schools. Afterwards, we mainly focus on linguistic analysis, Classical Chinese, etc, at high schools.

    To conclude, I’d like to emphasise that all languages are similar: Simple English is brief and clear; technical English is specific and esoteric. The same applies to German, Hindi or Arabic. Just to name a few…

  • Nyagoslav

    Hey! Very interesting article that was.
    I am Bulgarian and for me the easiest language to learn is Russian and other Slavic languages like Serbo-Croatian, Czech and Polish. I suppose I cud learn them for less than a month if I attend intensive courses.
    I have studied English, Portuguese, Spanish, German and Japanese. All in all from the European tongues I encountered – the most difficult proved to be German in terms of grammar and in terms of pronunciation – Portuguese by far. Japanese is something extremely different and I suppose even if one goes to the most intensive course available it is impossible to learn the language for less than 1 year (if outside Japan) or 6 months (if studying in Japanese institution). Japanese is 100% harder than Chinese I cud say.
    I have friends from almost every country in Europe and I think overall the most difficult European language is Hungarian, followed closely by Finnish… Maybe for English speakers Bulgarian or Russian seem quite difficult to learn but for me Russian is like a piece of cake :)

  • Veronika

    Hi guys!!!

    I’m Hungarian, and I’m agree with Nyagoslav that in Europe for sure Hungarian and Finnish are to most difficult languages (they have the same roots). I’ve tried many times to teach Hungarian to my friends, but it was extremely difficult to them. It’s true that there are a lot of exceptions, and eg. we say with different suffixes “I see” and “I see that”. However I like Hungarian, the only problem that nobody understand me.

    By the way I’ve been learning English for 10 years, I’m learning on English Department, so I like it:). I used to learn Latin in high school, and that time I hated it. Now I see that it was extremely useful. It helped in learning Spanish( i just learned for 2 months,so I’m a beginner:)), but I’ve been learning Italian for half year, and Latin helps a a lot:)

    In the future I’d like to learn one of the Scandinavian languages and also Russian.

    Bye!!!

    Oh, I have a question, Liz! From these langueges whoch one you tried? you’re and English, tried Arabic….

  • Hi Veronika! I heard a lot about Hungarian and its difficult suffixes. I know some Turkish, which also uses suffixes. I read a few times that Turkish could also be related to Hungarian and Finnish. I think distantly though! Did you hear the same?

    Otherwise, I can speak French, Spanish and Italian. They were quite easy to learn. German for me was more difficult – I studied for many years at school and I know very little. So the only ‘difficult’ language I have tried is Arabic. I can confirm it is difficult :) although I think Turkish grammar is more complicated.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Finnish is so hard. Have been studying it for 10 years and have also been living in Finland for two years. It has 15 cases and conjucations is really hard. Then you also need to figure out the ending of a word. And pronauciation is also very difficult. Hungarian is the same. I have also studied Russian and Germanic languages (Swedish and Danish) and I found those to be ralatively easy.

  • Hi, I’m from the Ukraine.I was 12, when I went to live in Barcelona,Spain.Now I’m 26, and I can speak seven languages in perfection: Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Arabic, Polish, Romanian.Also I can speak German, Japanese, Turkish, but I can’t say that’s easy for me.Spanish is very easy.Franch and Italian are similar to Spanish in grammar and in words, but they are different in pronunciation.
    German is very hard.Articles, sort and plural forms one of complexities of this language.
    Russian and Polish are very similar to Ukraine, but they’re very difficult because you have to change almost each word in the sentense.There are a lot of problems in plural forms of the nouns.Besides there are many exceptions, because there aren’t articles and many verbs and pretexts.English and Spanish speakers,do you think that Polish is more difficult than Russian?If you answered “yes” you are mistaken.If you have ever learnt Polish, maybe you remember about 17 grammatical forms for the number 2:
    dwa
    dwie
    dwoje
    dwóch/dwu

    In Russian is similar, but it is more difficult for reading:
    два/две
    двух/двоих/
    двум/двоим
    два/двух/две/двоих

    So to my mind Russian isn’t easy enough for English speakers.But Russian isn’t more difficult then Arabi, Japanese and Turkish.

  • Wow, that’s a lot of languages! I’m interested you said German is difficult as well. I thought it should be easier than Russian.

  • Neil Fox

    Great post,

    I am a native English speaker and I speak several languages. I would love to learn Arabic, however; I am currently studiying Tien Viet. That is to say Vietnamese. By far the most difficult languauge so far. Speaking Chinese on the street is a cake walk compared to this langauge. I live in TP Ho Chi Minh and everyday someone will have to correct me on my pronunciation. The tones are very difficult but I live hear so I can hear them. My english tounge just can’t seem to pronounce correctly.

    Great site and regards

    Neil

  • Neil Fox

    BTW

    I gave up on learning Dutch. ABN Nederlands is not difficult but learning to speak where you live is. Local Dutch vernacular is amazing and diverse. The people who live in this country are witout doubt the best linguistson earth. I lived in Rotterdam for two years and my friends finally told me “Just speak English it’s easier, we do”.

    Neil

  • Hi Neil, thanks a lots for your comments. I have to say I know nothing about Vietnamese so I’ll take your word for it.

    Really interesting what you say about local Dutch variations. It’s such a densely populated country as well.

  • lila123

    and what do you think about slovak language???
    i am from slovakia, so i really wanna know what do people think about our language….thanks=))

  • Hi Lila, I am from Bulgaria and I have travelled quite a bit in Central and Eastern Europe. For me Slovak is one of the ¨friendlier¨ Slavic languages. I found it quite easy to listen to and read, I thought it was more accessible than Czech, and certainly more than Polish. I haven´t tried to study it though, maybe the devil is in the details..

  • This post gives another source (Defence Languages Institute) with ratings for more languages. I couldn’t verify it, but for the languages here it more or less agrees.

    http://hi.nciku.com/space.php?uid=20&do=blog&id=1174

  • Paulina

    Hello, my name is Paulina, I come from Poland. I’m very interested in learning languages, I’m addicted to them, so if anybody from you want to develop new skills, and find out something about Poland and Polsh(both are extraordinary), please write me an e-mail. I’m willing to learn every language in the world;]

  • I am a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese and English, and have studied some Japanese, Korean and Spanish. To comment on different aspects of the three major East Asian languages:

    GRAMMAR: Chinese grammar is remarkably similar to that of English. Its order is subject-verb-object. It has no verb conjugations (cf. Spanish/French), no noun declensions (cf. Latin), no noun genders (cf. Spanish/French). Korean and Japanese, on the other hand, have grammars that are quite alien to English speakers. For example, the verb always go at the end; nouns and verbs have a wide assortment of inflection (declension/conjugation).

    HONORIFICS: Noun and verb endings in Japanese and Korean change depending on the relationship between the speaker and audience, and the level of politeness. Chinese, on the other hand, is just like English in that there is generally one way to say something, though you can always add extra words to make it more polite (“May I ask who’s speaking?” vs. “Who are you?”).

    PRONUNCIATION: Japanese is easy to pronounce correctly: It has few consonants and vowels, and its syllables are very short (“arigato”), similar to Spanish or Italian. Chinese and Korean, on the other hand, have many consonants and vowels that do not exist in English. Furthermore, Chinese has tones.

    VOCABULARY: Chinese vocabulary is actually quite small and self-logical. Instead of turning to foreign languages like Latin/Greek for sources of new words, Chinese looks to itself. For example, “computer” is literally “electronic brain”, “elevator” is “electric stairs”, and “snack” is “little eat”. Korean (and to a lesser extent, Japanese) has historically borrowed heavily from Chinese vocabulary in a similar way that English borrowed from Norman French, Latin, and Greek, so knowing Chinese helps in understanding Korean vocabulary. However, this means that many words exist in two forms in Korean: the “native” form and the Chinese form. A similar situation occurs in English: “sweat” is (native) Germanic, but “perspire” is from Latin. Knowing when to use which form depends on the context (use “sweat” in casual conversation but “perspire” in medical journals), which can be a headache to learn properly.

    WRITING: The Korean alphabet, Hangul, is widely praised as the most scientifically designed writing system. It is incredibly easy to learn. Japanese is more complex: It has two sets of syllabaries (kana), both of which has one symbol representing one whole syllable (and thus has more “letters” than Korean or English), and also uses some Chinese characters (kanji). Knowing which of the three systems to use to write a particular sentence is straightforward, yet a skill to learn. Chinese has perhaps the most complex writing system in the world: Each morphemic word has its own character.

    In terms of learning curve: If you’re just learning a bunch of basic phrases, Japanese is the easiest to pick up (simple pronunciation). A Chinese learner, on the other hand, would have to spend hours getting the tones and new sounds correct. Once you move on to full sentence construction, though, you’ll be able to breeze through Chinese, while Korean and Japanese will bog you down in inflection and honorifics. At the most advanced level, you will always have to learn many new Chinese characters, some (but not as many) new characters in Japanese, and none in Korean.

    In terms of learning all three eventually: Korean uses mostly Chinese-origin vocabulary, and Korean grammar is similar to Japanese grammar. Thus, someone who knows both Chinese and Japanese should be able to learn Korean very quickly. Alternatively, one could learn Korean as a “bridge” language if one already knows Chinese or Japanese, which eases the learning of the remaining third language.

    Hope this helps!

  • This is amazing information. It could be a post on its own. Thanks Alex!

    This might be a difficult question, but from your experience, do you think it’s easier for English speakers to learn Spanish or for Chinese speakers to learn Japanese / Korean?

  • No problem!

    > from your experience, do you think it’s easier for
    > English speakers to learn Spanish or for Chinese
    > speakers to learn Japanese / Korean?

    For me, learning Spanish as an English speaker was easier than learning Japanese/Korean as a Chinese speaker. In all three cases, there is overlap in vocabulary (though in the Japanese-Chinese case, the similarity is in the written characters, not in the spoken form). Spanish grammar is far closer to English grammar than Korean/Japanese grammar are to Chinese grammar. Finally, other than the “tu vs. Usted” distinction, Spanish does not have the complicated levels of speech/politeness than Korean and Japanese have.

  • Justin

    So many insights above to share.I’m a Chinese,and I am taking painful efforts to learn English now.I think English quite difficult to grasp.Chinese has little common with English in either writing system or grammar as they belong to two distinct categories,Chinese is pictographic while English is alphabetic.Chinese characters didn’t change much all through her long history,so people today can understand those incisive ancient literary output 2000 years ago rather well,while ordinary English people today can seldom know what Shakespare said 400 years ago.However, English is more time-efficient than Chinese in writing.It really matters in such a Time-Is-Money era.

  • Justin, thanks for your comment. You gave us some new and useful insights. It’s true that English has changed a lot in the last few hundred years.

    Also, now English is spoken as a second language by many people in different countries, so there are many different versions of English.

  • johanna

    My first language is finnish and I live in Finland (north europe), and I still think that FINNISH is much difficult to learn than spanish or portugese of like these! You should try, so you could know ;D

    ” vai olenko ainoa suomalainen korpisoturi täällä joka aattelee samalla lailla kun minä? Ehkäpä mutta ei se haittaa”

  • The correct is INDONESIAN . not INDINESIAN .

    i’m an Indonesian , I learn deutsch, dutch, suomi, french, and turcke .

  • Hello Reza. Thanks for the reminder, I corrected it :) I’m sorry for the bad spelling.

    Good luck with your studies!

  • Matthew M

    While it is true that to speakers of English some languages appear difficult, but consider this:
    There is no difference in the make up of our brains whatsoever.
    We use the same area of our brains to learn a foreign language as we do our native language
    Most of us have no difficulty learning our own language, and by the age of five have a pretty good grasp of it (I understand that Chinese and Japanese characters take a little longer, no personal experience though).

    Therefore rating languages in order of difficulty in my view, merely makes it harder to teach. Our adult brain tells us it should be hard, and this makes it hard. If a Saudi child can learn Arabic, why shouldn’t I be able to, having already learned my native language. We should therefore avoid “rating” languages, and concentrate on promoting the simplicity of languages – so easy, a baby can do it!

  • Being a Chinese Malaysian, we’ve been brought up in 3 languages – Malay (the national and official language), English (the language of international business and trades), and Mandarin Chinese (my mother tongue). I’d say that, even though I’ve been exposed to Chinese more than any other languages, to me it’s still the hardest among all those languages I’ve learned. Classical Chinese is even harder, and I tend to screw up that particular section in high school exams. English and Malay, by comparison, are much more easier to master compared to Chinese. And according to a friend, Japanese is a lot easier than Chinese (He’s a Chinese Malaysian too btw).

  • Binyu

    that means chinese is actually the hardest for native english speakers hugh? is it vice versa?
    i mean i’m chinese, and chinese people should regard english, spanish or french as the hardest language to learn?

  • Postrediori

    Interesting post.

    It was quite surprising that such a big number of people pointer Polish as complicated. Try to learn Russian – that’s much more difficult.

    English is neither the easiest nor the most complicated tongue. The same thing can be said to Hungarian, Arabic and even Chinese. Mandarin Chinese it’s not difficult to read indeed, but the pronunciation is uncommon for an English speaker. The easiest ones are Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili and Turkish. Korean is the most comfortable Far East language to learn as it has easy writing system and logical grammar. German is the most complicated European tongue.

    I’m a native speaker of Lezgian (a Caucasian mountain ridge language that has got unique and plain grammar, with the vocabulary to consist of Turkish and Persian loanwords). It took me three years to become fluent speaker of Russian and only two years to learn English. For me such a widespread “difficulties” as Polish and Hungarian look strange.

  • Why you people matching Latin with Greek?

    There is absolutely no similarity!

  • Manal

    I’m going to go with Arabic as definitely one of the most hard to learn.

    But at least the people are really friendly.

    Anyone ever interested in visiting the Middle East?

    http://www.youtube.com/user/AtlantisthePalmTV

  • Samira

    Russian most difficult language for writing, reading and grammar, respectively. I am Russian and I make mistakes, do not write properly and do not speak properly and not just me. So if the Russian can not even speak well in Russian, foreign people especially can not. Polish for Russian people is very easy, forget about the Basque language, there is nothing to do!
    Arabic, Chinese and Japanese are very complex reading and writing, and grammar is very easy! As for the morpheme:
    In Russian: “Beautiful” – Красивая, Красивый, Красивыми, Красивого, Красивый, Красивых, Красивой, Красивым, Красивые! in Russian is difficult to put right the end of words, and English all is said in one word

  • Julit

    You have forgotten about something. But where polish?

  • Ah I just want to mention that the similarity between Turkish and Hungro-Finn languages (Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian) derives from the fact that all of them are agglutinating languages, i.e. they use suffixes to connect the words. The same goes for Japanese and as far as I know for Korean.

  • CongeeeOn

    Thank God i’m Chinese o_O
    In my opinion, Korean and Japanese aren’t too difficult, because they have relationship with chinese, like the pronunciations and letters :p

  • Chelsea

    I’m a native English speaker currently in Brazil learning Portuguese. All the Brazilians give me props for learning Portuguese and consider their own language to be difficult. Most Brazilians who have studied English think that English is a much easier/simple language than Portuguese. As far as spoken Latin languages goes, I would put Spanish as the easiest, then Italian, then finally Portuguese and French as more difficult since the pronunciations and spellings of the words are quite difficult.

    Tonal languages, in my opinion, can be extremely frustrating for a native English speaker who is not used to controlling tone. Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Thai use a lot of tones and I met many frustrated foreign students (like the man in Vietnam who posted above) while in those countries. However, several other posts correctly stated that it depends on the level of proficiency you are trying to achieve. While Japanese and Korean might seem easier at first, mastering the slight changes in formality and connotation is challenging. In general, the Asian cultures rely heavily on subtle hints and connotations to express an opinion. In western cultures it is generally ok to speak your mind and express your opinion outright. In many Asian cultures this is not ok. In this regard, even a foreigner who has a command of the language will still miss out on subtleties which can change the whole connotation of the message. This is partly language, partly cultural, and in order to master an Asian language, you must also understand and internalize much of their culture.

  • Stani

    In my opinion, there is not such a thing as “the most difficult” or “the easiest” language to learn. It is all relative. I think it all depends which background you come from. If you are of a Slavic origin, you will find other languages belonging to the Slavic group easy to learn. If you are Italian, you will not find the rest of Latin based languagues difficult. For a European person, any Asiatic languages are hard to learn as they do come across as totally foreign and as per the comments, any Chinese/Japanese person can say English is difficult for them as once again they are not used to the structure English is composed of. I could go on and try to use the same logic for other linguistic groups but most importantly, as long as you have a strong will and a talent to learn a language, there should not be a problem. Though living in the country helps immensely :-)

  • Charlee

    Yeah, Stani. totally agree! I don’t think Chinese people is doing fine trying to learn spanish or basque, than trying to learn korean or japanese.
    :)

    Note: I’m surprised that many of you think spanish is very easy to learn.. I mean, I’d like to hear you speaking it fluently. lol. There are like 2 or 3 synonyms for every f** word. That and the grammatical tense, I’d say. HOWEVER, to me, ENGLISH was very easy to learn. I think it depends on oneself. If you like it and really wanna learn it, you will. I’ve got a lot of friends struggling with english @ school. lol

  • Mike Chellew

    I have studied several languages. Interestingly
    Many say that Spanish is “easy”. I beg to differ.
    Proper usage of pronouns and prepositions ranks in much difficulty. Let us not forget mood usage as well. Also Spanish pronuciation is quite difficult because of syllabic structure.

  • Marcos Rodrigo

    Hello everyone, My name is Rodrigo and I am brazilian so therefore i speak portuguese.
    To me is so much easy to learn spanish because it’s like Portuguese cousin.
    I can communicate in spanish but i’m not good enough heheee..
    I Just started off studying french and i want to become fluent in 6 months. That was actually my goal a week ago.
    Although it is a romance language just like portuguese is, it is as complicated for us Portuguese speakers to learn french as it is to learn English.
    Italian Is way better to learn than French. That’s crazy isn’t it? heheheee..
    My next step is to learn German. I can’t wait dude :)
    If anyone wants to add me on Facebook Search me as METALCORIAN RODRIGO SOUSA… i will be glad to add you :D

  • maria

    hallo everyone, my name is majka.I grew up on slovenskua and I live here.everyone says that Slovak is the hardest language in the world. I think this is the easiest language in the world.Seems to me many exceptions but they are easy to learn

    • (Comment has been edited)

      • Hi Bela, I’m sorry I had to enforce our comment policy on this one. We love getting comments and of course it’s no problem to disagree with someone else’s opinion. However the aim of PocketCultures is to help understand each other so we ask you to write respectfully. Please have a look at our comment policy (point number 5 on this page) if you want to know more: http://pocketcultures.com/terms-of-use/

  • My Native tongue is Arabic and I find it fairly easy to speak in English & French. I personally think that since I have the advantage of being able to pronounce Arabic letters and English ones languages are fairly easy.

  • Chandani

    heyy i’m born and brought up in india, but i’m studied medicine in russia, saint petersburg, and now i’m in the states doing my specialization. so i can speak hindi, english, russian, li’l bit german. and marathi which is another indian language. and my arabic friends teach me some words here and there. i think that language is slightly tough to write , and some pronounciations. but i really love learning new languages so i kinda dont find them so tough. :)

  • Interesting topic, which is obvious considering the number of comments! As someone who teaches language and has an M.A. in linguistics, I would agree that languages that are far different from one’s native language are the hardest to learn. For English native speakers, Slavic languages, particularly Czech and Russian because of the pronunciation and alphabet (respectively), are very difficult to learn. The grammar is completely different from English and is extremely complicated. Asian languages like Chinese are also very hard because of the tones and writing systems. Portuguese, contrary to popular belief, is not difficult for native speakers of English. The pronunciation and spelling are regular and follow rules; a lot of people find it hard because it’s so unexpectedly different from Spanish.

  • Anshifa

    Three minutes,you can acquire Korean
    Three hours,you can acquire English
    Three days,you can acquire Spanish
    Three weeks,you can acquire French
    Three mounths,you can acquire Japanese
    Three years,you can acquire Russian or Deutsch
    Three hundred years,perhaps you cannot acquire Arabic

    This is the impression of some widespread languages on the earth in Chinese people’s mind

  • Ah Zhen

    hi…ive heard about a lot of difficult languages and it looks like there are many opinions on the most difficult language…i would like to say that the most difficult i have encounter so far is hebrew..without many resources and the writings are so complex, i studied it for 3 months and managed to get only a few words….

  • italian its probably the most easy language in the world, only 21 letters alphabet, wonderful sounds. really italian it is a “mother language”.

    turkish its really hard !! i went there 10 times and i learn just 10 words :D

  • Asmaa

    Hi Liz:
    I’m from Egypt & i thank God for that, you know we speak Arabic & I definitely think it’s the hardest language ever. did you know that every Arab country has it’s own slang? not only that but also every city or village has a distinguished way to speak in their slang…urrrg,really confusing.
    But I’m lucky being an Egyptian coz our slang can be easily understood in all Arab countries due to movies & TV .
    English is so common here ,almost all Egyptians speak English well,so, for us it’s the easiest foreign language.
    I think European languages can be relatively easy to learn (Italian & Spanish are soooo similar )
    As for Asian languages
    I think Chinese is the hardest yet the most important being a participant in many other Asian languages & it’s so commercially useful.
    I’m learning Korean now, at first it was sooooooo easy (I’ve been able to read and write in a week) but as I went on in grammar it became really confusing.
    i heard that Japanese is hard at the beginning but rather easy in grammar.

    that’s all i know about languages i guess.
    salaaam….

  • Zoltan

    Hi!

    I’m a native Hungarian. I’ve learned German, English and now I’m studing Japanese. My opinion might be a bit outstanding, because all my laguage teachers used to say I have a talent learning languages.

    Well, because by us the TV programs weren’t entermant at all for children, I used to watch German TV programs all days. I mastered some what German so about 2 years. Of course the spoken version, the true reasoning why they say something that way was unknown to me that time, and of course the grammatic also. But, I had a large vobuculary (sorry if I mistyped that). What was hard and is still hard as hell to me in German are the genders.

    For English it took me 7 years, but it was not countinues learning. What were hard for me in English are: the non-phonetic writing-system, countinues and perfect tense, the “th” sound and the “w” sound.

    Now for Japanese: I’ve started learning it so a bit longer than 1 year. I’d say in logic and sturcture it has some similarities with Hungarian. Hiragana and Katakana are not to difficult, but Katakana is a bit more because there are few very look-a-like characters: シ (shi), ツ (tsu), ソ(so), ン (n), ジ(ji), ヅ(zu) and Katkakana has more combiinations than Hiragana. Hiragana took me 2 weeks and Katakana 3. And I had to learn two additional sounds: f and u. Neigther of them is hard, u is somewhere between my laguage’s “u” and “ü” sound, and “f” is like you try to say “f” but without using your teeth. The Kanjis, well, they are hard but not impossible. They are not so hard to remeber as said. If you encounter a simpler kanji, you can expect that it’ll be a part of an “komplex” one. The secound thing, Kanjis are more difficult than English words, but are somewhere the same. I had to learn how to spell every word in English, and I have to learn how to spell every word in Japanese. I’ve learned about 130 in 2 mounths, but there are pretty more to go. Although my language is full of suffixes and postpositions, Japanese suffixes and particles are sometimes hard, because they are reused. For example: the paritcle “no”-s meaning/function depends on if it’s after a noun, verb or adjective. Otherwise it’s a logical language.

  • I Love being lebanese because we speak 3 languages here.My native language is arabic, I can also speak French, English and Spanish fluently! I think that Arabic is the most difficult language on earth because it’s so difficult for foreigners to learn the pronounciation it’s like a mission impossible:P
    But the good thing is that Arabic is an alphabetic language we have only 28 letters not like the chinese, japanese or korean language…

  • amilio

    Well it’s true arabic is a difficult lang.,..erm,,ok, the most difficult, happy? but so is english, german, italian , japanese, russian, etc.. if u dont try enough. all depends on to what level u wanna learn , how much time u r prepared to put into it, how u go about it, and most importantly how patient and determined u r, and so on.. difficult but not impossible, so dont give up. u might think this is easier said than done, especially when i tell u arabic is my native lang. but not quite. i’ve seen many individuals from russia, uk, france, come on tv channels like aljazeera and alarabia, speaking an impressive arabic a native arab can only envy! it’s like watching “How do they do it” series. so agian dont give up. at times i tend to think maybe there’s a genetic side to it! some were born to be “monolingual” some others “bi or multi-lingual”, gone too far? maybe. but what i no is that those who keep whinging r bad at languages, apart from the “genetic thing” maybe they dont try hard enough, or if they do, they do it the wrong way. the pyramids were built the easy way.. logically.
    there’s one point i’d like to make here about English. obviously it’s beautiful and easy language by comparison, but for many is not so easy. easy maybe ’cause we grew up with it. everybody speaks eng. we (non-native) start learning it at school at the age of 8, 9 or 10. it’s taken for granted, or rather the other way around..English’s taking everybdy for granted!

    a friend of mine(italian speaker) once told me an interesting story (ghoti and fish) about how funny languages(in this case english)can be, and would like to share it with you. it’s abt funny spelling and pronunciation variations in english, which can be found on wikipedia:

    Ghoti is a constructed word used to illustrate irregularities in English spelling. It is a respelling of the word fish, i.e., it is supposed to be pronounced /ˈfɪʃ/. Its components include:
    gh, pronounced /f/ as in tough /tʌf/;
    o, pronounced /ɪ/ as in women /ˈwɪmɪn/; and
    ti, pronounced /ʃ/ as in nation /ˈne͡ɪʃən/.

    An early known published reference is in 1874, citing an 1855 letter that credits ghoti to one William Ollier (born 1824).[1] Ghoti is often cited to support the English spelling reform, and is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw,[2] a supporter of this cause. However the word does not appear in Shaw’s writings,[1] and a biography of Shaw attributes it instead to an anonymous spelling reformer.[3] Similar constructed words exist that demonstrate English idiosyncrasies, but ghoti is the most widely recognized. Linguists[who?] have protested that the placement of the letters in the constructed word are inconsistent with the claimed pronunciation.

  • Hoyeon, KIm

    Hi, Liz. I’m a student and i’m learning at graduate school. My question is “where did you get this picture?” For just my article, i really want to know who define this criteria.Please send me e-mail.

  • Hi Kim. We made the picture ourselves and the data are from the US Foreign Services Institute. I’ve emailed a document to you with the original data. Good luck!

  • Maggi

    I can’t understand it. I’m Polish and I’m learning Japanese, and in my opinion Japanese language is much easier than Polish. Japanese has very easy pronunciation, it has only 2 tenses and kanji are not so hard to learn… In Poland a lof of students have problems with saying some polish words, in addition our grammar and orthography are very difficult.
    Try to say “konstantynopolitaneczka” or “kwas deoksyrybonukleinowy” :D

  • Audrina Casters

    Dutch is the most difficult language in the world

  • Miles Maftean

    I have been living in Georgia for the past month and it seems that this language is beyond difficult. Prior to living in Georgia, I did a Master’s degree in Hungary. The program was in English, but still, the language did not seem nearly as bad. Georgian is by far the hardest language that I have come across.

  • Milan Zlámal

    One from the most difficult languages for slovanian (without Slovak) and other speaker, is my – Czech.
    It have not quasiv like english, you may say almost everything and dont using quasiv and it is correct, have longest vocabulery, own letters like: é (bear-bér = long e), á (far – fár), ě (yie or special), ř (only in czech), č (czech – čech), š (shoulder – šouldr), ž (like in chinees zh – ž withouth speaking h, zhu-pan žu-pan), ť (as in slovak), ď (like in slovak) and others (ý, í, ň, ď, no ” only “on the left down before word and right up afther words, commands sentences have no “.”, but “!” same as stressed sentences, we use … as pause, but sometimes -, english have -ing=moving czech have many words for it with/withouth termination or with -at, or -ání and so one)… But writing language is most difficult in the world because grammatic. It says, where to take a “,” between sentences, words, if you want to say someone hello, hard y and soft y (i)

    Mostly difficult for english speaker is pronunciation and gramm.

  • Ashleigh Giles

    I’m a native British but I have spent my school years in Indonesia and I personally say that Indonesian is not hard to learn. However, the limited (so as I see) words do hinder a lot in conversations.
    Chinese is not too hard too to speak with. However, writing and getting the right intonations right is a different story.
    I would personally say that Arabic and Russian are the two hardest languages. I have been learning Russian for some months and I still can’t remember the basic alphabets!

    But that’s me :)

  • Anushka

    I honestly have to say that russian is by far one of the hardest languages to learn and speak. I’m a native russian speaker and I constantly mess up when I speak it. Theres more then a few ways to say one word depending on the situation, whose involved, and the gender of the person or group of people. If you say one word wrong in a sentence, it can change the entire meaning of the sentence. Russian also doesnt have your, is, or the. Instead you substitute them with other russian words. For example in english you would say “Where is the bread” which in russian is “Gde hleb” which translates to Where bread? It gets way harder then that. It can be very confusing. I studied Japanese,Korean, and Chinese and found all of those three languages were fairly easy to pick up and vocab isnt too complicated once you get the hang of it. Sure I had some difficulties along the way but not as close as russian and its my mother language! I’m surprised that many people are saying russian is not that hard. Clearly those of you who are saying that probably didnt study Russian fully. The other language that I find to be just as hard as Russian is deffinetely Arabic. Being fluent in Russian is one of my goals.

  • Anushka

    I forgot to mention, Russian has so many LOOOONG words like this for example превысокомногорассмотрительствующий. No this isnt a whole bunch of letters scrambled together. Its an actual word. It means very keen observer.

  • Sikandar

    I speak Chinese , Arabic , Urdu , Hindi & English.
    Spanish & French is next on my list. I personally found Chinese most difficult to learn as it does not have any alphabets. It totally based on Chinese characters & you have to learn at least 8,000 to 10,000 characters to read & write fluently.
    Arabic , Urdu & Persian have similar alphabets & many common words. So if you learn one language other is easy.
    But the fact is , it worth nothing. I learned many languages & Now i do not speak all languages.

  • I’m swedish and i would say that swedish is clearly in the top ten most difficult languages to learn because of our grammar and when we prenounce words we say them very well. No mumbling or anything so that can be hard in a way i guess.

  • Sofie

    Naturally any language that uses a different letter-system than the English language (Georgian, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Yiddish, etc) would make it so, so much harder because you have to memorize brand new shapes and place sounds on them. However, if ALL languages used the Roman alphabet, well…it would be super interesting to see how that would change the way we view “hard” languages. German and Yiddish are mutually intelligible, so if Yiddish had the same alphabet, it too would be one of the easier languages for English native speakers. And Chinese has the same sentence structure (SVO,) while German does not (SOV.) Anyways, just a thought. :) I have studied French and Japanese very thoroughly and I am in the process of learning German. French is, of course, the easiest. I can say, without a doubt, that Japanese is insanely hard because the sentence structure is COMPLETELY different and incredibly difficult to get the hang of. Beautiful language though, and I loved learning Hiragana and Katakana.

    I have loosely studied Georgian and Russian (I would have been bilingual in both had I not been adopted,) and I’d have to say that Georgian is harder than Japanese. Simpler alphabet (only 33 letters,) but unlike Japanese, there are barely any words that resemble English. Japanese has hundreds of words that were taken from the English language. Hundreds. And Georgian sentence structure is even more weird, as far as I’m concerned. But hey, Russian is barely any easier. :)

  • Shefaa

    Well, I’m Arab and I speak English. For me, Spanish and Indian are the easiest cause of the two languages backgrounds. Spanish has a lot of words driven from Arabic and it shares the Germanic origin with English. Plus, is the grammatical rules which are similar to the rules of English. Therefore, It will be the easiest for someone like me to learn.

    Indian especially Urdu uses the same writing system that’s used in Arabic and Arabic goes way back to Urdu in many words and costumes so I’m already half the way there.

    While as for Japanese the main difficulty, As far as I know, is in the Writing system the grammar rules are, comparing to Arabic, are very few.

  • John Holmes

    I’ve tried learning Japanese and German. I studied Japanese for 2 years, and I’ve been studying German for about 3 months.

    I can say that, so far, Japanese has proved far easier than German. Japanese feels far more logical than German. German is a mess. Why have genders? Why have nominative, accusative, dative and genitive case, and have almost every word in a sentence alter based on these? Why put strings of verbs at the end of sentences? German is similar to Old English, and that died over 500 years ago.

    Japanese, on the other hand, is simpler in some ways. The grammar is not so obfuscated, plurals of nouns don’t exist: the singular also means the plural; the sounds don’t change (an ‘ah’ sound is always an ‘ah’ sound, it doesn’t become an ‘ay’ sound like in English, etc), the word order in Japanese is far clearer. Sure, there are a lot of symbols in Japanese, but when you first start to learn, you’re learning Japanese using the English alphabet. Eventually, you pick up Hiragana which isn’t too hard, then you learn a few common Kanji and build up from there.

    I’m thinking about giving up on German. Why learn a language that can do less than my own? That’s like a C programmer learning BASIC.

    Japanese seems cleaner and clearer, more streamline than German.

    Learning German makes as much sense as groping around in a dark, smoke-filled room, with flippers on your hands and feet, trying to find a slimy metal penguin that you hate, so that you can marry it and inflate its macaroni cheese wedding vows in the 4th dimension.

  • Here’s the perspective of someone who is bilingual and rapidly adding a third language.

    My first language ever was Spanish, thanks to living in Texas and have parent who could hire a nanny. I do not remember any of it and promptly learned English. I am fluent in English. Starting when I was 13 in 8′th grade, I began taking Latin. That instantly throws everything else into perspective. I studied Latin for 5 years, all through high school. It took about 3 years to achieve high end mastery over it. I am now taking German. I am in the 120 level course now. Half the 110 beginners’ course declined to continue. One of my roommates was in the same class as I was. He said that it was just plain crazy hard. He was terrible at it. I am good at German. I actually had a slight head start by going to Germany with the family for vacation. Since I always wanted to learn German, I began right away. On the second day, I was doing things like placing orders and doing basic exchanges in German. Compared to Latin, German is just so damn simple and easy. Word order is a certain way for certain things. Reverse the order of verb and noun in order to switch between statement and question. Certain words mean certain constructions. Ö is pronounced like uun. Try to sound like an Irishman yawning. Say shoohn (schön). Ä is pronounced like eh. Try to sound like a snobby Frenchman. Say oonivursitayt (Universität). To be simple, Ö is a long o sound and Ä is a short e sound. And as for ß, it is pronounced like s. Oftentimes, the normal German s has a z sound to it. ß is used to convey a pure English s sound. Try to sound like an iritated kitty. Say strahsseh (straße).

  • Carla

    I am brazilian, I speak both Spanish and Portuguese with fluency. Right now I am learning Russian, I have to say it is a quite difficult language, it indeed has characterecistcs similar to the languages I know, and the cirylic alphabet isn’t a problem, but the declinations are kinda difficult to learn and apply, since I end up forgetting to use them…

  • This is great!! I hear way too often “English is the hardest language” or “Chinese is the hardest language” when really this isn’t true. Now I can fully explain that it all depends on which language you learn first.

    The reason Chinese is so difficult is because its structure is largely different than English. One word, pronounced five different ways, means five different things.

  • Hey everyone! =)

    I clicked on “Europe” and I tried to search our country and … nothing. Czech republic is not THAT little to delete it from map.

    I´d like to let you know about us. I´m sad that It´s not there. We are young country with very hard language and if you look at the map of Europe, you should be able to find us there. I just want to say : please, add us there! =D

    I´m not mad at anybody. But we kinda belong to Europe ;-) . Sorry for my mistakes and have a nice day! =)

    • Hi Bety

      I’m very glad you wrote this comment. Actually all articles on pocketcultures are written by people from around the world who want to share their culture. So we don’t have any articles from Czech republic because noone from your country wanted to write yet!

      If you want, please write a little post to tell something about czech republic to our readers. Or even better, become a contributor! I’m going to send you an email in case you want to ask more about it.

  • nakamura

    Hi Liz, Im Kurdish and I know Kurdish,English,German and Turkish and Im currently studying Japanese and Spanish.. Well what makes Japanese difficult is memorizing the characters. Turkish grammar is complicated. Kurdish has similiarities with Persian in terms of grammar and many words are the same , its very hard :) of them the easiest one is “ENGLISH” :)

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. Very interesting to know! Actually I live in turkey so I know exactly how hard Turkish grammar is :) good luck learning Japanese.

  • Aisha AlKetbi

    I am an Arab, at school they teach us English and Arabic, and even though Arabic is my “mother tongue”, I find English 100 times easier. Arabic has very hard grammar and in Arabic class I feel like I want to bang my head on the wall, whereas English grammar is so mush easier. Also, i find it harder to write in Arabic, I have bad handwriting in Arabic, while it is good in English. I think Turkish is an easy language to learn.

    • Hi Aisha, I am trying to learn Arabic and it is difficult for me! So thanks for your comment, now I feel better.

  • Korean is my native language so Japanese is so easy for me compared to English. I even learn Japanese by myself.

    • Hi Joon. Thanks for your comment! We didn’t have any writings from Korea so far on PocketCultures. Do you want to write something about Korea?

  • Really? I find Korean relatively easy to learn…

  • Tornike

    :D Georgian is hardest i think cuz there is no rule in verbs , its look like this: აი ასე გამოიყურება ქართული წინადადება და ვთვლი, რომ ყველაზე ძნელი ენაა. : )

  • PASSYPOGI

    native language from india like kerala..this is also a difficult language

  • Hendrik du Plessis

    I am in Botswana and I am studying the Qgoo language and I don’t think it is possible for any language on earth to be more difficult than the Qgoo language. It is a tone language in the extreme and has got 85 different click combinations and 120 letters in their alphabet.

  • I am a Malay and I have learned Malay, English, Arabic and German. I think Malay and English are the easiest languages to learn because they don’t have gender for every noun. Arabic and German has a lot of grammar rules but they are simple rules. Arabic to me is a lot of fun and mathematical if you learn it from this teacher http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKv_afOpIiw

  • This post is pretty old but I thought I would make a comment. I spent about 2 1/2 weeks in tanzania and picked up the language incredibly quickly even though I had never spoken swahili before. On the other hand, I’ve been studying japanese off and on for about 6 years. And while I understand and can speak quite a lot of japanese, I would still feel more comfortable conversing in swahili just because of the way that I learned. It makes worlds of difference actually learning the language IN the country where it’s spoken and speaking with locals. Really amazing.

  • ITSJUSTME

    I speak Dutch and I must say it is even for me very difficult. In Dutch you have five letters that give sounds a, e, i, o, u. If you put these together you will get another five sounds: aa, ee, (ii does not exists), uu, and oo. There are also other combinations: au, ai, ei, eu, ie, oe, ou, ui. These will also get eight new sounds. There are eighteen different sounds in the Dutch language.
    We sometimes use double letters for no single reason. You just have to learn when we use double letters. The Duch language has seven kinds of do-words:
    We take the word work (work = werken).
    I werk,
    he werkt,
    we werken,
    (past time) he werkte,
    (past time) we werkten,
    (p. t.) he has gewerkt, (sometimes we use a “d”here)
    He is still werkend.
    The Dutch has also a unicum: The weird “G” sound.

    Short: the Dutch language is in my opinion the worlds most hardest language.

  • marco

    Most difficult languages to read with a full understanding for a Indo-European native language speaker (minority languages excluded) :
    1) Japanese
    2) Chinese-Mandarin (other Chinese are not written)
    3) Tibetan
    4) Thai, Laotian
    5) Burmese
    6) Cambodian
    7) Korean
    8) Arabic
    9) Hebrew

    Most difficult languages to speak fluently at a professional level for a Indo-European native language speaker (minority languages excluded):
    1) Japanese, Korean
    2) Chinese-Cantonese and other non-Mandarin Chinese
    3) Tibetan, Burmese
    4) Vietnamese
    5) Chinese-Mandarin, Thai, Laotian
    6) Cambodian
    8) Arabic, Hebrew

    Most difficult phonetic writing systems (Indo-European included):
    1) Tibetan
    2) Thai, Laotian
    3) Burmese
    4) Cambodian
    5) Arabic, Hebrew
    6) Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Punjabi and other Northern India languages
    7) Tamil and other Southern India languages
    8) Korean

  • Look, what about Polish?
    Well, I am from Poland and I probably don’t know how hard is it to learn but I know the rules. We’ve got lots of rules and far more exeptions, terrible for foreign people pronounciation, and everything is not logical. We have got 7 cases!!!

  • Robin

    Hello everyone,

    My name is Robin and I come from the Netherlands. I hear from various people that Dutch is very hard to learn. I can speak English, German and a little bit of Portugese and I found it that other languages aren’t that hard to learn if let you the grammar rules out.

  • Keegan

    My first language is English. I have to say, I find English pretty freakin hard. But a language I am picking up easily is French. However, Something about French that is really hard is ” masculin and feminine” There is a certain way a male speaks and a certain way a female speaks; I think that is a little silly if you ask me. Although in English, a single word can have so many different meanings, such as: To, too and two. Bear and bare. Light and lite. Sea and see. This can be very tricky sometimes. And this could also be considered “silly” to a lot if people who don’t speak English. I personally find polish and kashubian extremely hard. Along with Cantoneese.

  • i think hebrew is the hardest language!
    and also greek

  • Caramba! eu moro no Brasil falo português e não entendi nada!

  • Michele

    I have a little bit of experience with learning languages and thought I might add a comment after reading everyone else’s about what makes a language difficult. I studied linguistics at university, with French and Spanish as target languages. Spanish seemed slightly easier than French as far as grammar and pronunication goes, but both are difficult as far as comprehending the spoken language because of liason – one word melting into the next. This makes understanding spoken English also a challenge, because of the liason factor. Another thing that will make a language difficult for the hearer is the number of vowels in a word. The more vowels there are, the more difficult it is to catch the spoken word. Then I moved to the Czech Republic and started learning Czech, which has a super complicated grammar and difficult pronunciation, but because it is so consonant-rich, with the accent always on the first syllable, with words that are the majority of the time longer than one syllable, catching what is being said is far easier for me. Saying what I want to say correctly in Czech is still a challenge, however, after more than a decade here, mainly because Czech has an even more different take on the world than Spanish and French and I can’t directly translate my thoughts into Czech. Now I am learning Chinese and am finding its vowel-rich, one-syllable words with distinguishing tones an enormous challenge. At first they’re easier to pronounce than Czech words, but then there are so many similar sounds with subtle differences. My poor ears just aren’t picking them up. Japanese has been mentioned as a difficult language to learn. But I have it from an acquaintance who lived for three years in Japan then moved to Czech, that Czech is far more of a challenge to learn than Japanese. So what is the most difficult language? If there is one that is vowel-rich with subtle differences in those one syllable words, with a super complicated grammar, I would cast my vote for that one.

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