Learning a second or third language is a challenging but rewarding endeavour that can lead to exciting new career and travel opportunities. Mastering a difficult language is also good for the brain, with research showing that it can lead to improved memory skills and increased focus. The most difficult languages to learn are also the most widely spoken, such as Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken by over a billion people. In the following sections, we’ll take you through a list of the 10 hardest languages to learn.
While Mandarin is considered one of the hardest languages in the world, there are many contenders on the list that are often underrated! In this post, we have compiled a list of the 10 most difficult languages for language-lovers and polyglots who are constantly hustling to pick a new exciting language!
What are the Benefits of Learning a New Language?
Multilingual speakers can gain a deeper cultural understanding of a country or co-exist and perform business. Learning a new language enhances worldview, improves nonverbal communication, helps multitask and aids in brain adaptation.
What Make a New Language Difficult to Master?
There are many other reasons why a language is difficult to learn, such as different alphabets, cognates, grammatical concepts unfamiliar to English speakers, and different writing systems. These factors make it difficult to learn a language, so you should invest time and effort if you really want to do so.
Top 10 Hardest Languages to Learn
1. Mandarin Chinese
Chinese is a difficult language to learn for English speakers due to its tones and writing system. It is a tonal language with four tones, with many words sounding the same except for an added tonal change.
The Chinese written script is based on “logograms” – single characters that can represent an entire word. Mandarin is the second most widely spoken language in the world.
Related: 10 Oldest Languages in the World
Albanian is the official language of both Albania and Kosovo, and is spoken by around six million people in the Balkans. It borrows grammar rules and vocabulary from Greek, Latin, and extinct languages. It can be challenging for English speakers to learn due to its complex grammar. For instance, in Albanian, nouns have both a case and a gender, and the only way to learn them is to memorize the case and gender of each noun as you study the vocabulary.
Arabic is one of the most difficult languages to learn. Interestingly, it is also in the top five most spoken world languages. There are dozens of varieties of the Arabic language and its 28 script letters are easier for English speakers to comprehend than the thousands of Chinese characters.
Reading and writing in Arabic is particularly challenging for beginners due to the exclusion of most vowels in words and the written from right to left instead of left to right. There are also characteristics of spoken Arabic that make it hard to learn, such as sounds made in the back of your throat and a dual form of words.
Turkish is a widely known language in the Turkic language family, with over 75 million native speakers in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and many parts of Europe. It is difficult for English speakers to learn due to its Latin-script alphabet and loan words from Persian and Arabic. However, it is a phonetic language, so pronunciation is one aspect that should not be too challenging.
Russian is a valuable language to learn, with 154 million native speakers and 104 million non-native speakers. It shares similarities with Ukrainian, Polish, and Serbian, and has many words where consonants are grouped together. It can be difficult for English speakers to pronounce, as some letters look the same but sound different. For instance, “B” sounds like “V,” “H” sounds like “N” and “P” sounds like “R.” Confused yet?
Vietnamese is part of the Austroasiatic language family and is the national language of Vietnam and the native language of 76 million people. It is difficult for English speakers due to its difficult pronunciation and six tonal variations, but practice makes perfect and Vietnamese grammar is straightforward.
It has more pronouns than English and uses a system of “classifiers” that English speakers would not have exposure to.
Polish is the sixth most popular language in the European Union and recognized as a minority language in countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine and Lithuania. It has a complex grammar structure, with seven cases, three genders, and intricate conjugation rules.
It also has a unique sound system, with several sounds that do not exist in English. Polish pronunciation can be challenging, with many silent letters and differences in stress patterns compared to English. Mastering this language can open up a host of opportunities, from travelling to studying in Poland.
Finnish is the official language of European countries like Finland and Sweden and is known as one of the hardest languages to learn due to its complex case and vowel systems, hard grammar rules and the fact that the language is very different from its Latin and Germanic counterparts.
It is also a highly synthetic language, meaning that a word can be made by juxtaposing inflected verbs, nouns, and adjectives, depending on each word’s role in the sentence. Prepositions often appear as suffixes attached to nouns and other particles can be added to express nuance, making it even more challenging to communicate with others in person.
Hungarian is a Uralic language spoken by 13 million people, most of whom live in Hungary. It has complex grammar and pronunciation, with 14 vowels and consonant clusters with unexpected pronunciations, making it even more difficult for English speakers to learn.
Despite its complexities, Hungarian is a beautiful and creative language with some amazingly descriptive words that don’t exist in English. It is also gender-neutral.
Korean is a super-hard language for native English speakers, classified as a “super-hard language” by the FSI research. It has a unique writing system called Hangul, an honorific system, and pronouns that change according to formality.
To speak Korean fluently, one needs to study for 88 weeks or 2,200 hours, plus an additional 4,400 hours of self-study. It also has a complex sound system and grammar structure, with extensive use of particles to mark the subject, object, and verb in a sentence.
Korean has a unique writing system called Hangul, which uses letters grouped together into syllables, and a complex sound system that distinguishes between sounds that are similar in English
Learning a second or third language is a challenging but rewarding endeavour that can lead to new career and travel opportunities. It is also good for the brain, with research showing that it can lead to improved memory skills and increased focus.