The world is an enormous place with different cultures, customs, and languages. It’s exciting to travel the globe and learn new things about the planet and the people on it. Learning foreign languages is fun and thrilling but often quite challenging. Some languages are simple and easy to pick up while others are complex and tough to grasp. Several languages rely on tones and patterns that English speakers struggle to pick up.
Many people have just as tough of a time learning the English language. It takes roughly 26 weeks to learn English and French, but when you are trying to speak a complex language like Arabic or Japanese, it takes much longer to learn. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to grasp the mechanics of another language. As long as you are willing to put in the work you can become fluent in any dialect.
So what is the hardest language to learn? Let’s travel the world to discover the most fascinating yet difficult languages for English speakers.
14 Hardest Languages To Learn for English Speakers
Roughly 1.2 billion people around the globe speak Mandarin Chinese, making it the most common Asian language in the world. It’s a complex language that is arguably the hardest to learn. As the official language of China, Singapore, Macau, and Hong Kong, it’s one of the most spoken native languages on the planet. In addition to Mandarin, China has various dialects, notably Cantonese.
Mandarin is a tonal language with four different tones influenced by the Beijing dialect. Depending on the tone, one word has four different pronunciations. The slightest change in tone and the word takes on an entirely different meaning, which can often lead to miscommunication.
Mandarin also has a drastically different alphabet from the Latin alphabet. This makes it a highly challenging language for English speakers to comprehend. With more than 2,000 hours of studying time, it takes around one year and eight months for an English native speaker to learn proficient Mandarin.
The Greek language is not a new language. It is one of the oldest Indo-European languages, with 3,400 years of records. The Greek alphabet dates back 2,800 years and is the foundation for many languages that followed it, such as Gothic, Cyrillic, and Latin. Some of the most significant ancient Greek literature, such as the epics of Homer, are considered classics.
In modern times, it’s the official language of Greece and Cyprus. It’s also a common language in Southern Albania, the Balkans, and Southern Italy. While it might be the predecessor for many languages, it also has no relation to any other.
Furthermore, this European language has many rules, gendered nouns, and irregular conjugations. This can make it difficult to pronounce many of the words because locals put an emphasis on certain words. The incorrect emphasis on a word changes the context and meaning and can get you in all sorts of trouble.
Arabic is one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. Almost 300 million people speak Arabic, primarily in the Middle East and Africa. There are numerous variations of the language that differ considerably from each other. They have different speech patterns and tones, meaning learning to speak Arabic in Saudi Arabia won’t be helpful in Egypt.
In contrast, the spoken form of Arabic differs depending on the region, but media and print use Modern Standard Arabic. Choosing the area you want to travel to will help decide which dialect of Arabic to study. Arabic’s unique speech patterns and sounds make it tough to learn the language. It often uses a sound produced in the back of the throat, which doesn’t exist in English. In addition to learning a new alphabet, English speakers must learn to read and write from right to left. Then there is the fact that the Arabic alphabet doesn’t include vowels when writing or reading. It also has multiple synonyms for a single word, so like other foreign languages, the slightest change in tone, speech pattern, or pronunciation will significantly change the word’s meaning.
None of this has stopped Arabic from becoming one of the top five languages worldwide, with the demand for Arabic speakers in government jobs increasing. It might be a complex language, but it’s actually fun to learn and gives you an insight into a misperceived culture. Just make sure you have plenty of time free, as it’ll take more than a year to master the Arabic language, with around 2,200 hours of study required.
With roughly 260 million speakers, Hindi is one of the most predominant languages globally. Based on the Delhi dialect, Hindi is one of India’s official languages, along with English. It’s a complex language due to the different versions of writing, grammar, and articulation. In fact, speaking the language requires learning a new alphabet, grammar, and sounds.
Teachers often recommend that beginners use the Latin alphabet when learning particular dialects and Hindi characters. Eventually, students should switch to the Devanagari script for a complete understanding and pronunciation of words. Devanagari is a challenge to grasp due to missing phonetic markings to help with pronunciation. It’s a very nuanced language when the slightest change in noise or sound can change the meaning of the conversation.
Around the globe, more than 100 million people speak Cantonese. The Sino-Tibetan language is the official tongue of Hong Kong and Macau. Similar to Mandarin, it depends on tones to distinguish words. The major difference is it has eight tones as opposed to Mandarin’s four.
The majority of mainland China speaks Mandarin, and although it is a common language, resources to learn Cantonese are sparse in many foreign countries. English speakers that want to learn Cantonese will have to rely on traditional Chinese script, which is challenging to comprehend.
The Finnish language is drastically different from its Germanic and Latin counterparts. With 5.8 million speakers globally, Finnish is the official language of Finland and a minority language of Sweden. Despite being in Europe, Finnish is a member of the Finno-Ugric family.
It’s one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn due to the rigid grammatical rules and complex vowel system. The consonants trip new English speakers when it comes to the letters k, p, and t. The context of words takes on new meanings depending on the spelling. It’s one of the most complex languages for English speakers to tackle.
Polish is another complex language that isn’t easy to master. As the official language of Poland, there are roughly 50 million speakers globally. The Slavic language is hugely popular in Europe and is the minority language in Ukraine, Lithuania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. It’s an easy language to speak since it uses the Latin Alphabet. Nonetheless, Polish has a complicated grammar system, hefty dependence on consonants, and includes extra letters, just to make things that little bit more difficult.
English speakers often struggle with Polish grammar and spelling because it has nine additional letters part of the alphabet, ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź and ż. Polish grammar is full of complexity, with seven gender-affected grammatical cases. Thus, there are seventeen different ways to pronounce “ten.” It’s one of the most complex and challenging languages for English speakers to learn.
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In the 15th century, ancient Greek, Montenegrin, and Italian cultures spoke a predecessor to the Albanian language. It’s a challenging but fun foreign language to learn. Roughly 7.5 million people speak Albanian, notably in Indo-European countries, including Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bulgaria. The two main dialects, Gheg and Tosk, share many similarities, although Tosk is standard Albanian.
The Hebrew language traces its roots to the 10th century BCE. It thrived during the 6th century BCE, serving as the primary language of the Hebrew Bible. It died out during 200 CE but lived on during the Medieval Period.
In the 19th century, Hebrew experienced a revival, becoming the official language of Israel. Roughly nine million people speak Hebrew around the globe, with a large amount living in Israel and America. It’s a complicated language to learn with different tones and speech patterns.
The official language of Japan is an intricate language that emphasizes etiquette, honors, and titles. It’s also one of the hardest languages to learn. The high level of politeness in the language is vital to grasp, which might cause issues for English speakers. With 130 million speakers worldwide, Japanese is among the top ten most spoken languages. While it is easier to speak than Mandarin because it’s not tonal, it still has its fair share of complexities.
The language has a complicated sentence structure and several dialects. To master the language, English speakers require learning three writing systems with different alphabets: Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana. Kanji, in particular, features various Chinese characters and syllables. If you want to learn Japanese, it takes roughly one year and eight months, totaling 88 weeks and 2,200 hours of studying.
Compared to other languages on this list, Russian seems straightforward. Well, until you try learning it. Roughly 250 million people speak Russian worldwide and it is the official language of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. It’s one of Europe’s most popular languages.
Learning Russian is another excellent way to immerse oneself in the culture and language of the old Soviet Union. It’s a complex language with strict grammatical rules using a unique writing system and the Cyrillic alphabet. Russian is an easy language to make spelling and pronunciation errors if you aren’t clear on how to write and speak it.
The official language of the Czech Republic, Czech, is one of the most complicated languages in history. The West Slavic language has over 10 million speakers. Those that don’t speak the language tend to confuse it with Russian. While many Slavic countries use the Cyrillic alphabet, Czech uses the Latin alphabet, which doesn’t make it any easier.
It has four genders and an endless list of possible nouns, adjectives, and pronouns. The most challenging aspect involves pronunciation. Czech speakers often say the consonants in a clump, making it tough for English speakers to learn the language. Furthermore, the “ř” sound is difficult to pronounce, along with many other sounds. It’s one of the most complex languages in Europe.
With over 80 million speakers globally, Korean is one of the official languages of North and South Korea. In many ways learning to speak Korean is easier than other languages on this list despite the extensive language having strict and complex grammar rules, hard pronunciation, several alphabets, and weird sentence structures. Japanese speakers share similar words and tones with Koreans, making it more straightforward for them to pick up. English speakers, on the other hand, often struggle with speaking the language.
Reading and writing the language is much simpler and a great way to understand how to speak it. The sentence structure is vastly different for an English speaker too. In Korean, the subject comes first, with the object second and the action last. So you start with the topic and end with the adjective. Formality is vital in the Korean language, with various ways to pay respect. It takes roughly 65 weeks for an English speaker to learn Korean proficiently.
If you’re a native English speaker, Gaelic might cause you a few problems. In Ireland and Scotland, there are roughly 200,000 people that still speak this ancient language that dates back centuries. Also known as Irish and Scottish Gaelic, it’s one of the easiest languages on this list to speak. That doesn’t make it any less complex or challenging language to grasp.
The different dialects and grammatical cases make it tough for English speakers to learn fluently. The good news is since both countries are neighbors of England and use Latin characters, the language utilizes numerous English words.
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