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The earth is home to thousands of languages. Some are relatively easy for English speakers due to grammatical and lexical similarities. Others are complex and exotic, such as Chinese, Hungarian, Arabic, etc.
It’s undeniable that each language has variable levels of difficulty, depending on what the learner’s mother tongue is. Perhaps you’re interested in what are the hardest languages to learn for English speakers? Congratulations! This article is glad to introduce you to a reliable answer.
Chinese is probably the hardest language to learn, with more than 1 billion native speakers and 5000+ years’ history. According to FSI, the Chinese language is placed at the hardest level Category IV.
Compared to 26 letters in English, there are 3000+ commonly used characters in Chinese. For many Chinese learners, the most challenging thing is to remember and write these “painting-like” characters. Furthermore, Chinese is a tonal language, which indicates the meaning of words can be variable by changing tones.
After Chinese, Arabic is the second hardest one for English speakers. The Arabic alphabet has 29 letters, and each letter can represent multiple sounds depending on different situations. So even though you have learned how to read and write, you may find it challenging to speak Arabic. Add to Arabic includes a variety of dialects like MSA, Egyptian, and Maghrebi, which drives many crazy!
Japanese is the veritable third place winner, with a unique writing system comprising hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Influenced historically by Chinese, the 2000+ Kanji (Chinese characters) in Japanese is also tricky for learners. Another factor is that Japanese grammar differs significantly from other European languages. For example, a typical Japanese sentence follows an SOV order rather than SVO as in English.
As one of the most popular languages, the number of Korean learners has been rapidly increased in recent years. Like Japanese, Korean had been influenced dramatically by Chinese but has its own unique writing system (Hangul) and pronunciation rules. Although there are many loanwords from English in modern Korean, its grammar is quite different from European languages. For example, the sentence structure of Korean is as same as the Japanese one (SOV)
Russian is one of the most widely spoken Slavic languages and is also considered as difficult because of its phonetics and vocabulary. Russian uses a Cyrillic alphabet that contains 33 letters and signs. Some of them may seem like English ones but sound totally different, which can be hard for beginners to grasp. Also, a trait of Russian pronunciation is clustered consonants. For example, the most common greeting “Здравствуйте” has 3 consonants in the beginning and 4 in the middle.
When coming to Thai, it isn’t the grammar that will hold you back, yet the writing and pronunciation. Thai has five various tones and long and short vowel sounds. What’s more, there are astonishing 44 consonants and 32 vowels in the alphabet. Moreover, writing Thai scripts also can be challenging for English speakers. Even though it’s not as hard to write as Chinese characters, it still takes much effort on your part!
Hungarian is another difficult language for English speakers to learn. Hungarian has its own alphabet and only about 20% Latin-derived words in its vocabulary. Hungarian is also famous for its complex grammar rules like 35 different cases and subtle differences brought by suffixes and prefixes. Furthermore, like to Japanese, strong cultural overtones of Hungarian can make learning in isolation challenging.
Even though the languages mentioned above are complex, many people still struggle with learning them for various reasons. Undoubtedly, these languages have been proven beneficial in terms of academics and career prospects.
If you are hesitant to learn a new language, you should be more courageous. As a polyglot, I could responsibly say that the hardest part of learning a new language is not the grammar or vocabulary but taking your first step.
Enrolling in a language course is an excellent option to learn a new language, but it comes with a hefty price tag. Not to mention, in the post-pandemic era, offline courses are fraught with risk.
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