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Which is the Most Difficult Language to Learn?

By Edited May 29, 2016 0 0

Which is the most difficult language to learn? If you're reading this article, maybe you're currently studying a foreign language or wish to learn one.

Many languages have claimed to be the hardest. Criteria for which are more difficult than others include:

  • Similarity to native language
  • Grammar complexity
  • Tonal language (or not)
  • Writing system

Sometimes, the reasons are just personal. 

What you will read next is subjective and in no particular order of difficulty but here are five "candidates" for difficult languages:

1. Arabic

Arabic has very few words that resemble European languages. It is also distant from English itself, hence one of the most challenging languages for an English speaker to learn.

To start with, the script itself is a challenge. Each letter has four forms, depending on where it is found in a word—at the beginning, in the middle, at the end, or all by itself.

There are also very few vowels in Arabic, which are not included when writing it. To project this into the English language, the word 'house' would be written in the Arabic equivalent of 'hs'.

Also, Arabic grammar is complex. It is a VSO language, so the verb usually comes before the subject and object E.g. Verb: go, Subject: my mother, Object: house. The language also has a dual number[4] whereby a certain Arabic character is added at the beginning or ending of nouns, verbs and adjectives to indicate that there are two of it. Also, nouns and verbs must be learnt in singular, dual and plural (more than one or more than two).

If this hasn't got your head spinning, the many dialects of Arabic make speaking this language in Egypt, Morroco, Saudi Arabia etc. a different ball game, or games, altogether.

2. Chinese

Many factors make Chinese very difficult to learn. Mainly, its tonal system. Mandarin has four tones (not counting the neutral ones) and these are essential to master in order to learn this language. As opposed to English, where tones are used for inflection, changing the tone of a Mandarin sentence could change its meaning altogether.

Also, thousands of Chinese characters known as 'hanzi' in a complex writing system and no alphabet means that one will have no choice but to memorise those characters. How to make 2,o00 characters stick into one's mind? Constant practice, of course.

To add on, Chinese dictionaries are also very difficult to use. As there is no alphabetical index system and because it's not possible to decipher a Chinese word based on how it sounds, one has to first figure out how to count the number of strokes (and this itself is no easy exercise) then search for the character under a stroke-index, which will lead you to the right page.

3. Hungarian

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Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn for the following reasons: it has masculine, feminine and neuter genders, 14 vowels, 35 cases or noun forms and about 7 different verb conjugations. Its origins are also relatively unknown and are not linked to any base language set such as Latin (French, Spanish, Italian). Out of Hungary itself, the language is also very hard to learn, as native teachers are hard to find.

4. Japanese

While similar to Chinese, learning the Japanese language has its own complexities. First, the need to memorise thousands of characters. Also it has three different writing systems, of which the kanji system uses characters borrowed from Chinese (hanzi).

There are also two syllabary systems, namely hiragana and katakana, which are in essence, sets of written symbols that approximate syllables.

5. Korean

Sandwiched between China and Japan, much of Korean vocabulary is similar to Chinese, while the grammar is similar to Japanese.

While written Korean also relies on many of the difficult Chinese characters, the Korean alphabet or hangul has a total of 19 consonants and 21 vowels, and the sheer number of sounds add to the difficulty of this language. While in Japanese, one might still get away with awful pronunciation, this is not so for Korean.

**Research has also cited Icelandic, Polish, Swahili, German and even Spanish to the list of hardest languages to learn.

What makes learning a language easier

Passion definitely makes a world of different in learning a foreign language. If a Spanish local was crazy about anime and had dreams of moving to Tokyo or working in Japan, he or she would be more motivated to learn Japanese than say, French which is closer to his or her roots.

Motivation is another reason to make learning a language easier. Would you require it for employment reasons, education, charity or simply to get to know another person better?

The most difficult language in the world might be your easiest yet.

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Bibliography

  1. Tae Kim "Which is harder? Japanese or Korean?." Tae Kim's Blog. 15/03/2013 <Web >
  2. "I'm Trying To Learn Arabic - Why's it taking so long?." Slate. 15/03/2013 <Web >
  3. "The Japanese Writing System." Bathrobe's East Asian Writing Systems. 6/04/2013 <Web >
  4. "Dual." Language Guide.org. 6/04/2013 <Web >
  5. "plural." Merriam-Webster. 6/04/2013 <Web >

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