The Easiest and Hardest Languages to Learn

Crazy long name of lake on sign

Some languages you can get the hang of, some languages are pretty tough, and some languages are downright difficult. …And then there are those special few, those ridiculously complex ones, that take so long to master, that you’re pretty much hopeless to master it unless you started at a very early age, or moved to the place in which that language was spoken. Let’s look at the hardest languages to learn.

Keep in mind this is referring to difficult languages to learn from an English perspective. The fact of the matter is that if a French person and a Chinese person spend the same amount of hours learning Japanese for 4 years straight, the Chinese person will pick it up much better than the French person. But if the same people learn Italian, the French person will pick it up much quicker. The point is that language difficulty depends on the base language (i.e., the one(s) you already know).

The infographic below is a great resource to explain the extent to which some languages are simply more difficult than others to learn. I am actually not sure I agree with the difficulty of Korea (I have heard that the writing style is actually very easy to pick up from several independent sources), but I can hardly comment because I don’t speak Korean. Do you have personal experience with these? Do you agree/disagree?

Language Learning Difficulties

What I can say for Chinese and Japanese is that even if you speak it, the reading/writing system is so gigantic, that if you don’t use it, you really do lose it, in the sense of the ability to write these Chinese characters (I say Chinese because Japanese scripts were derived from Chinese characters). For many years, this has even been a problem with native speakers – with cellphones writing complex characters for us, we don’t use the mental faculties that reinforce writing ability.

Difficulty of languages, however, should not deter us from attempting to learn them. By bridging the linguistic gap between two cultures, we can make the world more connected. It’s the age of globalization, and there’s no better time to learn a new language. Take your pick.

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2 Responses to The Easiest and Hardest Languages to Learn

  1. Candy says:

    Hi Ryo,

    Very interesting discussion. But I think I disagree on what you said about the Chinese language difficulty that it depends on your base language. We’ve been teaching mandarin for sometime now and we’ve had westerners and European nationalities that learned mandarin faster than our asian students. I believe it is more on individuals dedication to master the language than their base language. And it is the instructors job to recognize the students weaknesses and focus improvement there. Should you be in Singapore, kindly visit Yi Mandarin to learn more. Thanks Ryo!

    • Ryo says:

      Hi Candy,
      Thanks very much for the comment! I’m sure you have an interesting perspective, being that you see students who are dedicated enough to seek out language education.

      My argument is that since kanji was derived from Chinese, these two peoples have a significantly easier time learning to read/write in each other’s language. I remember a Chinese friend of mine who took 2 months of Japanese lessons was able to read about 80% of a normal Japanese novel she was reading. This kind of thing is not uncommon, but that doesn’t mean she could speak it, or even knew how to pronounce the words she was reading/understanding.

      So when I say “learning” I think you are assuming I mean learning introductory/basic Chinese, but I don’t. I am referring to learning to fluency. In universities all over the West, Japanese classes are populated with Chinese students, and the majority of them drop out (along with other Western students) because it is more difficult than they imagined. However, if they keep up with it until the more advanced classes, Chinese students have a much easier time, because they already know the kanji.

      Anyways, thanks again for the comment!

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