Hardest Languages: 10 Astonishing Languages To Learn
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The common belief is that Chinese and French are the most difficult languages to learn, often based on the challenges of reading Chinese characters and pronouncing French words. However, there is no definitive list of the hardest languages to learn because different language learning methods can affect the pace of learning.
Factors that make learning a language challenging include different alphabets, lack of cognates, unfamiliar grammatical concepts, and different writing systems. Despite these challenges, learning a new language can be a worthwhile investment of time and effort.
Here is a compiled list of the hardest languages to learn
Hungarian is the official language of Hungary and also one of the official languages of the European Union. It belongs to the Ugric branch of the Finno-Ugric language family, which includes the Ob-Ugric languages spoken in western Siberia, such as Mansi and Khanty. Hungarian is the most widely spoken Uralic language and the only one spoken in Central Europe.
It is a challenging language, taking around 44 weeks or 1,100 class hours to become proficient. This is partly due to its complex grammar system, which includes 35 distinct cases, some of which are derived from Latin.
To accurately convey meaning in Hungarian, learners must completely understand its grammar and subtle inflexion. Additionally, there are words in Hungarian that have no direct translation into English, making it difficult for learners to fully grasp the language’s rules.
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), the primary training institution for the US federal government, has ranked Arabic as the most difficult language to learn for several reasons. Firstly, Arabic has an entirely different script where the letter forms change depending on their position in the word.
Secondly, there are over 25 different dialects of Arabic spoken by more than 422 million people globally, which implies that the Arabic you learn in one country may have a different pronunciation in another.
Despite these challenges, Arabic is the fifth most-spoken language in the world, and Modern Standard Arabic is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
With approximately 128 million native Japanese speakers, mostly in Japan, where it is the national language, Japanese belongs to the Japonic language family. It is considered one of the most challenging languages to learn for a few reasons.
It falls under Category Four, the most difficult category to learn, requiring 2,200 class hours. Japanese has three writing systems: katakana, hiragana, and kanji, with hiragana and katakana being phonetic alphabets.
Unlike English, which distinguishes between vowels and consonants and has various pronunciations for each letter, phonetic alphabets are always written and pronounced in a specific way.
In Japanese, the verb is placed at the end of the sentence, which feels unnatural for English speakers. For example, to describe going to the store in English, you would say, “I went to the store.” The sentence would be structured in Japanese as “I store (to) went.”
Russian is the primary language spoken in Russia and is an East Slavic language. It belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of four East Slavic languages still in use. In addition to being the primary language of Russia, it is also commonly used as a second language in other former Soviet Union republics.
The Cyrillic alphabet is used in the written form of the Russian language, which is different from the Latin alphabet used in English.
All Russian nouns are classified into one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. This feature resembles other European languages, such as French, Spanish, and German. However, in Russian, the gender of a noun is not always related to the gender of the object it refers to.
Unlike other languages with gendered nouns, Russian does not have a reliable way of guessing the gender of a noun. Therefore, one must memorize the gender of each noun when learning the language.
Finnish is a member of the Finno-Ugric family of languages and is classified as a Uralic language within the Finnic branch. It is spoken by the majority of the population in Finland, as well as ethnic Finns residing outside of Finland.
Finnish is closely related to the Finno-Ugric family of languages, along with Estonian and Hungarian. Finnish is one of the two official languages in Finland, with Swedish being the other. In Sweden, both Finnish and Meänkieli are recognized as official minority languages.
Learning Finnish is considered a challenging task for several reasons. The language has a notoriously complex grammar system, and many words have no equivalent in English. Additionally, many Finnish speakers do not strictly adhere to the grammar rules, making communication even more challenging.
Finnish is also a highly synthetic language, meaning words are formed by combining inflected verbs, nouns, and adjectives based on their role in the sentence. Prepositions often appear as suffixes attached to nouns, and particles are added to express nuances. Due to this complexity, each verb can have over 200 possible endings.
The language spoken on the Korean Peninsula in northeast Asia is called Korean or Kugo. It is believed that the ancestors of Koreans arrived in the region around 4,000 BC, and the language has its own alphabet and writing system.
Approximately 80 million people speak Korean, and it is the official language in both North and South Korea and the Yanbian region in China.
According to the FSI, Korean is categorized as a “super-hard language” alongside Arabic, Mandarin-Chinese, and Japanese. This is because it falls under category four for native English speakers and requires approximately 2,200 hours or 88 weeks of study to achieve fluency or reach the TOPIK VI level.
Additionally, the Hangul alphabet system, which is syllabic rather than using individual letters, can be challenging for English speakers. Furthermore, Korean has an honorific system and pronoun changes based on formality, adding to the complexity of the language. Achieving native-level proficiency requires an additional 4,400 hours of self-study.
Euskara, also known as Basque, is considered the oldest living language in Europe, which makes it a challenging language to learn, according to linguists, experts, and researchers.
Unlike other languages, Basque is a language isolate, meaning it has no known relatives or similarities to any different language. Additionally, its unfamiliar ergative-absolutive grammar system and numerous noun cases add to the language’s complexity.
Mandarin is the most commonly used Chinese language, spoken in all regions north of the Yangtze River and many other parts of the country. It is the native language of about two-thirds of the population and is part of the Chinese language family, which belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language group.
Mandarin has four tones, while other Chinese dialects may have up to ten tones, making it difficult for English speakers to learn. Chinese is known for its complexity due to its tonal and writing systems. Mandarin is a tonal language that uses four tones, and the tone change can completely alter a word’s meaning.
Vietnamese, the national and official language of Northern Vietnam and spoken natively by over 70 million people, belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family. This language tree is known for its inflected morphology and consonant clusters. Vietnamese is a tonal language with six different tones that dictate the meaning of a word.
The high number of vowel sounds and the use of diacritics make it challenging for English speakers to master. The six tones differ in duration, pitch melody, pitch height, and phonation.
Vietnamese grammar includes more pronouns than English and uses a system of special words known as “classifiers” to modify nouns in specific contexts, which English speakers may not be familiar with.
Navajo is a language spoken in the Southwestern United States, mainly in the Navajo Nation. It belongs to the Na-Dené language family, which includes other Native American languages like Apache. It is a tone language, meaning pitch is essential to differentiate words.
To learn Navajo, one must understand Navajo values and worldviews. Navajo is vastly different from English, from its grammar to its verbs, making it a challenging language to comprehend. Due to its obscurity, Navajo was even used as a code during World War II.
Unfortunately, Navajo is not widely spoken, with only around 170,000 speakers in the US, and there is a lack of resources available for learning the language, making it one of the most challenging languages to learn.