The 5 Most Difficult Languages to Learn
Learning a new language as an adult is always that bit harder, as our brains become less receptive to change and are unable to retain quite as much new information as they once were.
Naturally, this gets even tougher when you’re trying to learn one of the most difficult languages in the world. However, some of these are widely spoken business languages, and knowing them could allow you to communicate with billions of people.
From Mandarin Chinese to Arabic and Hungarian, some languages are so different from English in terms of structure, grammatical rules and even their alphabet that they’re incredibly challenging to learn.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at five of the hardest:
Mandarin Chinese is the most common Chinese dialect, yet it’s probably the most difficult language in the world to learn.
It’s hard to know exactly how many different Mandarin characters there are, but it’s believed to be as many as 100,000. However, knowing around 2,500 of these should mean you’re able to read most written Mandarin – although that’s still a lot for any English-speaking adult to be able to recall.
Every Chinese dialect has its own unique characteristics – for example, Cantonese has nine different tones. Mandarin itself has four different tones (flat, rising, falling, falling then rising), which means the pronunciation of a word can be crucial to its definition, and can be completely altered if the tone is incorrect. This not only makes Mandarin extremely challenging to learn, but also to interpret.
With just 28 script letters, Arabic has significantly fewer characters to learn than Mandarin. However, it has many characteristics of its own that make it almost as difficult to grasp for native English speakers. For instance:
- There are only three vowels in Arabic, which means there are many words without any vowels at all, and most words begin with a consonant
- Arabic is written from right to left
- Every dialect of Arabic is completely different, and some of their sounds don’t exist in other languages, which can make interpreting a real challenge
- In its written form, Arabic has no punctuation
- Although there are only 28 Arabic letters, some (H, G, K, T and Z) can be written in four different ways, making translation a challenge too
While Hungarian may not have anywhere near as many characters as some of the languages in this list, it certainly has the most cases, although opinions vary as to whether this comes in at 18 or 35 – either way, it’s a lot.
Hungarian is one of world’s most creative languages, with 14 vowels, flexible word order and a heavy reliance on idioms, which can make it extremely difficult for non-native speakers to understand.
Such is the language’s complexity that everyday English features very few Hungarian-derived words; even Mandarin lends ‘canteen’ to the English language – a literal translation of ‘dining hall’.
Japanese is generally regarded as easier to learn to speak than Mandarin, but it still has thousands of characters in its written form. What’s more, Japanese has three different writing systems, or kanji, and each has its own alphabet, making it even more complicated to grasp.
Have you ever noticed that most of the Japanese words to have passed into English end in a vowel – emoji, karate, karaoke – except for a few, such as ‘zen’ and ‘futon’? That’s because ‘n’ is the only consonant that Japanese words ever end with. However, this one simple rule does not counter the fact that the language can be extremely tough to learn.
Finnish is unusual in that it has no connection to any other Latin or Germanic-based languages, which means its vocabulary can seem completely alien to English speakers.
Although Finnish is gender-neutral, tends to be pronounced as it’s written, has no future tense and uses the familiar Roman alphabet, it is its other characteristics that make it one of the most difficult languages to learn.
For example, Finnish has six verb types, making its grammatical rules hard to grasp, and each of its dialects has different tenses. The language also has eight vowels, which can be written as either one or two letters, adding another level of difficulty for those learning to read or write Finnish.
At Language Connect, we understand just how crucial it is to get those subtle tones, exact pronunciations and dialect variations spot on, which is why we work with native speakers, writers and interpreters of each of these languages to ensure the highest quality results. Learn more about our interpreting and translation services.