Learning a new language is definitely fun and a worthwhile endeavor. It opens the doors of communication and, alongside it, opportunities to learn a new culture. But of course, not all languages were created equal. Some are definitely easy; you can be proficient just after a few weeks of studying. Then, there are the difficult ones that take—at the very least—a whole year of studying. But of course, this is still largely a matter of perspective. For example, Koreans will most likely find it easier to learn Japanese than English speakers because the two languages share more commonalities in terms of syntax and grammar.
Objectively though, there are some factors also that will affect the difficulty of learning a certain language. For example, it is much easier to memorize all 26 letters of the English alphabet than say the thousands of Mandarin Chinese or the three language systems of the Japanese language. No matter how motivated you are, you will most likely have to spend more time and effort to learn the latter two than languages that use the English alphabet.
From the perspective of English speakers, the following are said to top the list of the most difficult languages to learn.
Part of the Asiatic language family widely spoken (including its varieties) in the Middle East and Africa
Why it’s difficult: With few words that resemble English and the lack of vowels in its written form, learners often experience difficulties in pronouncing words and reading the language.
Belonging to its own language family, Japonic, Japanese is mostly spoken only in Japan
Why it’s difficult: Greatly influenced by the Chinese language—with a few loan words from English, German, and Dutch—Japanese poses a challenge because of its unique three writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji), two different syllabaries, and extensive honorific system.
A language isolate (cannot be categorized in any existing language family) spoken largely in North and South Korea
Why it’s difficult: As a language isolate, its vocabulary is largely unfamiliar from any other existing language in terms of its syntax, sentence structure, and verb conjugation. Also, like the Japanese, it has an extensive honorific system with seven different speech levels. Its writing system, hangul, is also very unique as it was created upon commission in 1443 by King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty.
A branch of the Sino-Tibetan family, Mandarin and Cantonese are the two major Chinese languages spoken by a billion native speakers
Why it’s difficult: As a tonal language, saying the same sound in different intonations will result in different words. Its extensive writing system is also unique in that each character represents a word that does not give readers any clue at all of how it should be read.
So, are you up to take on this language challenge?
People’s Daily Online
The Culture Trip