All languages are not equal. Some are easiest, but some of the popular foreign languages are difficult languages to acquire. But what are they?
Let’s dive into the seven hardest but also rewarding tongues to learn.
Although studying a different language is always fun, but not all are similar as per language complexity.
The language difficulty depends on multiple factors — Native or related Languages, methodology, convolution, interest, and available resources.
According to Ethnologue, there are currently 7,111 known living languages in the world. The precise number varies, but nevertheless, it is simply overwhelming.
Some are difficult languages to acquire, whereas many are relatively straightforward. I’ve only considered major ones here, which means no less taught languages.
7 Hardest and Difficult Languages for English Speakers
Do you like challenges? If yes, then why not pick a foreign tongue that can open a world of possibilities?
Here, you can explore the seven most difficult languages to learn.
1. Mandarin Chinese
Mandarin is the most widely spoken Chinese language with more than 1 billion native speakers. If you want to learn Chinese, be ready to sacrifice to spend upward of 2,000 hours from whatever time you might have.
Chinese is a tonal language, making it even more challenging for people to learn and convey the different meanings of words according to the tone and pitch.
The ability to speak the Mandarin language doesn’t help you read it, and vice-versa.
Mandarin characters, with an infinite amount of intricate hanzi drawings, are pretty hard.
You need to learn a minimum of 2,500 characters to read a single newspaper or pass the Intermediate level 5 of the HSK exam. And up to 5,000 characters to communicate fluently and master Mandarin.
Mandarin is probably one of the most difficult languages in the globe for an English speaker to learn.
Regardless of the language challenge, it’s a feat that is amazingly impressive for those who speak Mandarin fluently.
- Speaking and Writing: Very Difficult
- Grammar: Difficult
- Conclusion: Very Difficult
With the rise of K-pop, K-drama, and K-movies, the Korean language demand has been rising as one of the most popular tongues.
Korean is spoken by roughly 75 million people, mainly in South and North Korea.
Unlike Japanese and Chinese characters, Korean alphabets (Hangul) are ridiculous straightforward.
You can start sounding out words and sentences pretty quickly. Despite easy characters to read, Korean is one of the most difficult languages to study.
The Korean language is hard due to its contextual nature, where one sentence can be said in three different ways.
The verbs and syntax can also be conjugated in hundreds of ways, depending on intensity, age, seniority, and mood. Besides, the pronunciation is unique and hard-to-master rules.
- Speaking and Writing: Tough
- Grammar: Very Tough
- Conclusion: Very Tough
No other popular language sounds—or feels—quite like Japanese.
The Japanese grammar is uncomplicated since Nouns have no gender, no articles, and no plural forms: only two verb tenses, present, and past.
With only five vowel sounds and uniform phonetic orthography, it is moderately simple to pronounce. Like Chinese, Japanese requires that you master thousands of different elaborate characters.
It has a two-syllable system and three independent writing styles (Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji), which further complicates the learning process.
It also has a highly contextual format that requires different forms depending on the situation’s formality. It is tricky to express yourself in a culture with such strict rules.
Besides, it also has a complex system of honorifics.
Japanese is not for the faint of heart. No surprise, it is considered as the super hardest language as per FSI studies.
- Speaking and Grammar: Difficult
- Writing: Very Difficult
- Conclusion: Very Difficult
Boasting a whopping 300 million speakers, Russian is one of the more popular languages globally.
While Russian is not that hard for some speakers in Eastern Europe, it appears challenging for English speakers. It’s beautiful and valuable when you travel to that side of the world.
The alphabet looks complicated, and the pronunciation seems impossible in sounding. It doesn’t use the Latin alphabet, but the Russian alphabet in its Cyrillic script form.
There are several unique letters like Ю, Я, Ж, Д, Ф, Г, Щ, Э, Б, Й that look difficult for native English speakers. However, the language is phonetic as well. With the right mindset, you can learn Russian and speak it just as other native speakers do.
It is, undoubtedly, isn’t an easy language.
However, as long as you are motivated enough, it isn’t that challenging to study either.
Despite its complexity, Learning the Russian language might be worth the extra effort to acquire.
- Speaking and Writing: Difficult
- Grammar: Very Difficult
- Conclusion: Difficult
Arabic is spoken by over 400 million speakers spread across more than 20 countries, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa.
Arabic is a widespread but equally tricky language.
While the letters are fewer than Chinese and Japanese, they also look intimidating. Plus, there are only three sounds in Arabic, not present in English.
The Arabic cursive script includes 28 letters with three vowels supplementing them. There are 13 verb forms, and the pronunciation is difficult to master.
Plus, there are many Arabic dialects across the region.
Some are mutually intelligible, meaning that the Arabic language is spoken in Saudi Arabia or UAE is different from that spoken in Egypt or Sudan.
- Speaking, Grammar, Writing: Difficult
- Conclusion: Very Difficult
Turkish is one of the most popular Turkic languages. Over 80 million people speak Turkish, and most of the speakers live in Turkey.
It is an agglutinative language, which means prefixes and suffixes are attached to words to determine their meaning and indicate the flow of the sentence.
While Turkish uses similar Latin alphabets like French or German; however, it is totally different in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.
It follows the subject-object-verb structure (SOV) in linguistic typology, which is like Spanish or French.
Turkish is phonetic, and the pronunciation of each letter is unique. Besides, there are no confusing double constants. To sum up, you speak it the same way as you write it.
Also, Turkish has loaned over 5,000 words from French alone. Hence, it will benefit you immensely if you know French when trying to acquire Turkish vocabulary.
The words, however, can be challenging to remember.
The vowel harmony offers endless possibilities, many words of Arabic and Persian origin, accusative cases, and too many tenses that add to the difficulty of learning the Turkish language.
To add to the misery, bewildering grammar and numerous affixes, which is quite different from other European languages, make it a little tricky to learn from a language complexity.
- Speaking, Grammar, Writing: Slightly Difficult
- Overall: Somewhat Difficult
7. Persian (Farsi, Dari, Tajik)
Persian is an Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. It is called ‘Farsi’ in Iran, ‘Tajik’ in Tajikistan, and ‘Dari’ in Afghanistan.
The Persian language is a very straightforward type of grammar functionality.
The verbs are ridiculously uncomplicated. The language morphology for the classical and contemporary forms has not changed significantly.
Moreover, there aren’t lots of exceptions. People and objects are referred to in the same way.
There are no cases or articles. Comprehension is manageable because it has essential words from English, Arabic, Turkish, and French.
The pronunciation is a bit difficult for English speakers.
There are two different varieties, a literary form, and a conversational style, both with very distinct features. Plus, Persian words with Arabic roots have complicated rules for being transformed in different ways.
Mastering the art of speaking Farsi, Dari, or Tajik can take up to two to three years or even more, depending on one’s native language.
- Speaking: Moderate
- Grammar: Moderately Easy
- Writing: Difficult
- Conclusion: Slightly Difficult
This list is not exhaustive. There are many other difficult languages like Cantonese, Croatian, Czech, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Mongolian, Polish, Slovenian, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Thai, etc.
While some languages are more comfortable learning and adapting than others, the key to successful language learning is developing the right mindset and strategy.
Any language would be complex for you to learn if you aren’t genuinely motivated. So, which language you’re going to learn?
If you wish to ask any questions, leave a comment below.