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Zidbits – Learn something new everyday! | September 14, 2014

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What Is The Hardest Language To Learn?

What Is The Hardest Language To Learn?

One question that has been sent in to us more than a few times is, “What is the hardest language to learn?” After some extensive research on the topic, we’ve came to the realization that the answer is a complicated one. The complications occur because the answer is largely subjective (opinion), and it also depends on what a person’s native language is.

The answer for one individual may be completely different for another. This is true even among speakers of the same native language. One English speaking individual may pick up Korean relatively quickly while that same person may have trouble grasping Japanese. Yet another native English speaker may have no trouble picking up Japanese but find it nearly impossible to learn Korean.

However, despite the subjectiveness of the answer, there are a few objective things we can look at and analyze. We can also look at the length of time it takes people on average to pick up a language.

Your Native Language

While no language is simple to learn, those that are closely related to your native language are going to be easier to learn than those that are not. For example, an English speaking person will have less trouble (on average) picking up languages that are Germanic in origin (Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, German) than those that are not. Languages that are closely related have similar writing systems, overlapping vocabulary and loan words. This lowers the difficulty and time it takes to gain fluency.

Languages like Arabic, Mandarin and Japanese utilize a completely different writing system which adds a layer of difficulty for native English speakers. While learning a new, exotic writing system can add to the challenge, it does not necessarily make a language more difficult. Grammar and sentence structure often play the largest role in perceived difficulty.

Adding another layer of complexity is culture. One of the best techniques a person can use to speed up their language acquisition is cultural immersion. Many students working hard to learn a language will immerse themselves in the culture of the language. This involves listening to music, watching movies, TV shows, listening to radio programs, even browsing websites in the foreign language. By immersing yourself in the culture, you can speed up the time it takes to pick up a language considerably. It’s one of the first things language teachers recommend to new students.

The complexity arises when the culture of the language is alien to language students. For example, Norwegian, German or Dutch culture would be much more familiar to a native English speaker than Arabic, Korean or Hindi. If a person is having a lot of difficulty understanding the culture of the language they’re trying to learn, there will be a higher chance of culture shock which can turn a person off entirely.

The Most Difficult Language

Using the few objective factors at their disposal, the consensus among experts is that there are 5 languages in contention for the title of “most difficult”. Those languages are Korean, Cantonese, Japanese, Arabic and Mandarin. While they require roughly the same length of time to gain fluency and comprehension, one language just slightly edges out the other four. According to the NVTC and the Foreign Service Institute, Japanese is, on average, arguably the hardest language for an English speaker to learn. Japanese took an extra week or two longer than the other four and currently reigns supreme as most difficult.

We would like to again stress that this is just for native English speakers and is only an average of difficulty. The difficulty can and will vary on an individual basis, even among native English speakers. One individual may have a hard time picking up Mandarin while another has trouble with Korean.

Since it’s impossible to say which language is going to be the “most difficult” for you on an individual basis, we’ve provided a handy infographic below that will give you a general idea of difficulty levels among the most common languages. You will note that while it takes around 88 weeks (2200 class hours) to gain fluency in a language like Arabic or Mandarin, it only takes 23 weeks (575 class hours) to gain fluency in French, Italian or Spanish. Again, this is due to those languages being more closely related to English.

The statistics and rankings included in the infographic below were taken from data released by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State. Please keep in mind that these estimates are only intended for native English speakers.

What is the hardest language to learn?

Photo credit and Infographic source

Comments

  1. coyote

    I am not sure how you exactly define “proficiency”.

    I am from Croatia and am a native speaker of Croatian, a very similar language to Serbian which is mentioned in your list, and I can tell you that I have never, ever heard any foreigner who was “proficient” in Croatian or Serbian languages! It doesn’t matter how long they learn it, or if they live here, or whatever. Foreigners are constantly making grammatical errors. On several occasions I’ve listened to foreign professors from foreign universities who teach Serbian and Croatian languages, and guess what – they were making grammatical errors during interviews too. (not so many though, but still…)

    Please don’t think that I want to say that my language is something special. I heard that Finnish is also practically impossible to master. The only way to be perfectly bilingual (or multilingual) is to learn the languages when you are a child, preferably under the age of 3. I apologize for my errors. English is not my native language.

    • Steve

      What errors?! Your English is better than virtually every native speaker.

      I don’t think anyone should apologise for their English, no matter how poor, when the majority of native English speakers from the UK, US and Australia (etc) can barely speak any other language.

      • That is the beauty of language,language evolves, If you went around talking like Shakespeare people would think you were crazy,even though in Shakespeare’s time talking like we do now would seem crazy. language is like a tree,you have the base,but everyone has their own little way of speaking it. The whole point of language is for communication,and easy sharing of ideas with others. There really is no TRUE way of speaking a language as long as the idea is understood. “I aint gonna vote for dat candidate” “I am not going to vote for that particular candidate.” both mean the exact same thing, but yet they are different,one is viewed as grammatically correct, while the other is viewed as slang. There is really no difference. Words evolve over time,and different pronunciations arise. That to me is the beauty of language.

      • I have never heard kindness from any other foreigners that I have met. English is my second language and I have worked with English natives for a long time but most of them think those cannot speak English correctly are stupid. :(

        Anyway, their insults inspire me to improve my English and try to learn other languages as well.

        • Allen

          I find that sad and hopefully the exception rather than the rule. English that the listener can understand deserves respect as we have plenty of native speakers who struggle to be understood out side of their home areas as many Irish/Welsh, Bronx, Geordie, etc… can attest to. Accents that do not prevent you from being understood simply mark your origin, not your intelligence.

      • American Beauty

        Look people, coyote is obviously aware that he didn’t make any errors in his comment. It’s no accident to have a completely grammatically correct paragraph. His final statements were really only to prove a point – that foreigners can’t master his language but he can master theirs, with his “unsure” yet perfect English.

        I don’t understand why you all are so quick to belittle native speakers of your language, including yourselves.

        As an American having lived in multicultural cities where there is really no ONE spoken language, and where going to a friend’s house often meant being in an environment where very little English will be spoken, I can understand why grammar can be a little loose. But I don’t think that’s a reason to throw native English speakers under the bus. There’s nothing to prove to anybody.

    • lester

      Proficiency is not the same as perfection or mastery, it simply implies that you are able in some degree to understand a language and make yourself understood. Your assertion that you’ve never met a foreigner proficient in your language shows that you’re probably patriotic, as is very common in your part of Europe, not that foreigners aren’t able to be proficient in your language.

    • Nelly

      I’m a Serbian and I completely agree with you! Also more than half of people in Serbia(Croatia,Bosnia, etc.) can’t speak own language properly,’cause of grammar rules. Maybe sounds strange but it’s a fact! Also many people think it’s easy to write Serbian,’cause there is one sound for one letter, but trust me it’s not there are many rules. So once again, many Serbians (Croatians,Bosnians, etc.) have trouble with it.

      • I tend to think it’s a problem with most languages. English is terrible in this regard because of the deceptive simplicity of its basic grammar. A Mexican friend of mine mentioned that when he started learning English in high school, his class was told that they would spend the first couple of months learning all the grammar of English, and the rest of the next several years learning all the exceptions. Most native English speakers run into problems with this regularly, well into adulthood.

        One reason the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Romanian, French, etc.) fall into the ‘easy’ category is their high degree of grammatical and orthographic regularity. Once you learn the rules, it’s easy to pick up the rest. Also, once you learn one, their similarities make it very easy to pick up their cousins.

    • bill

      When I was in China several Chinese told me of a Canadian, famous in China, who as an adult has learned to speak better Chinese than most educated native speakers. That is some feat, as Chinese is rightly in your “hard” category on this site.
      But some Chinese people also told me that Japanese is the hardest language, because it uses three different writing systems.

      • Chinese itself is difficult depending on which dialect you want to learn. Mandarin is THE OFFICIAL Chinese language along with the simplified written language. There are literally dozens of Chinese dialects, almost making them a mini language themselves.

        Japanese is relatively harder to learn because it does involve a spoken language that’s evolving, like Chinese. It also has 3 written language types, kanji, hiragana and katakana. The first is Chinese characters, second is native Japanese words and the last is the Japanese pronunciation of foreign words. Now mix all three writing styles into one and you’ll be confused as well.

        Don’t worry as even many native Japanese are confused as well.

        Learning languages takes a dedicated commitment and the difficulty depends on each person’s learning ability.

        BTW… if you know kanji, you’ll be able to read Chinese so that’s an added benefit, though the Japanese pronounces and interprets kanji somewhat different than the Chinese meaning. You’ll learn both the Chinese and Japanese meaning by learning kanji, or at least you should, depending on how it’s taught.

    • Gavin

      @Coyote
      I can tell you right now, your English is better than 1/3 of actual U.S. residents, structurally and grammatically. For example, look at my post. I’m sure I messed up a few commas here and there.

    • Jasmine

      Your English sounds perfect to me (a native speaker of American English!)

    • Maggie

      “Please don’t think that I want to say that my language is something special.”

      It may not be what you want to say, but it is certainly what you are implying. It always amuses me when people want to think that their particular language is next to impossible for a foreigner to learn.

      Your written English is good, but I wonder how good you sound when you speak it.

    • prematurecurmudgeonlygrump

      Coyote, your comments strike me as arrogant and biased. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, just because you have not encountered anyone who speaks Croatian well as a second language doesn’t mean there aren’t speakers who have become ‘proficient’. I suggest you expand your social circle, you might be surprised at what you find.

      Proficient, by the way, is not a synonym for perfect and it is also differs from the word mastery, you can still make errors in a language and be considered to be a proficient speaker of that language. A speaker of a second language will never master it – there will always be elusive elements in any language, be they: syntactic, phonetic, phonological, morphological, pragmatic or idiomatic; and the list goes on.

      I have a number of close friends who speak Polish, whom have yet to fully master the articles of English yet I would still describe them as being highly proficient in the English language. You say you do not wish to claim your language is anything special but then go on to suggest that no one but a native speaker could possibly be proficient in it.

      Even native speakers make errors in their language, it is true native speakers tend to make different kinds of errors. However, we should not be amazed that humans make errors when speaking but that we do produce even more errors.

      I do not wish to be too critical but I read far too many comments like these on the internet from people who have an over-inflated sense of the difficulty of their language. English speakers tolerate all kinds of errors and other language groups must learn to do the same. Language is necessary to communicate ideas and feelings. Once linguistic prescriptivism gets in the way of human relationships then language has no value.

    • Mary

      I’m a native English speaker trying to learn Serbian while living in Serbia, and Coyote is exactly right. Between cases, grammar rules and exceptions, etc. I have no difficulty believing that foreigners are always making mistakes. People in Serbia are incredibly patient as I stumble through the language on a day to day basis

  2. Missteigne

    Hello I’am French and I saw a error. There is much more than 67 millions people with native french langage. The chart forgot the people living in Canada,Belgium,Swiss Africa who’s mother tongue is french to. French is the 10th language in the world (with non native speakers).

    I appolagize if my english is bad.

  3. Zaza

    I think you forgot the best and most unique and hardest one the Hungarian language.

    • Moonlightrunner

      …which is related to Finnish so it belongs to the medium group.

      • Jamie

        That’s wrong. Hungarian is one of the few languages that is unrelated to another one.

        • milK

          It’s not wrong nor right since people have been arguing about that for years. Check the wikipedia article somewhere on the bottom “Controversy over origins”. And even if you still disagree there are a lot of words wich are strangely similar to the Finnish ones.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language

          That said I found it a very difficult language to learn.

          • someone

            You are forgetting Wikipedia can be edited by anyone who has a computer. It is not accurate in the slightest because everything could be made up. And by the way, there are a very small handfull of languages that were conjured up with no influence from others. The English language borrows words from many different other languages.

          • Person

            While Wikipedia may be edited by anyone, the changes are usually not permenant, and require approval for the changes to stay in effect. It’s a common misunderstanding that people assume that, since you are allowed to edit Wikipedia, that any person can do whatever permenant change they want to the page. Also, while the English language borrows from various other languages, its rules, mechanics, and the way some words are spelled the same and have different meanings can be hard for people to master.

          • bill

            Not only to Finnish but also to Turkish and Japanese, is what I heard. Presumably that’s because it was Genghiz Khan’s invading forces that left a whole train of populations behind them speaking related languages e.g. the Uighur people in Xinjiang Province/ East Turkestan speak a form of Turkish.

        • Nelly

          Don’t speak no sense Hungarian is related to Finnish and Estonian!

        • Finn

          Of course Hungarian is related to Finnish. Although distantly. You see the similarity mainly in grammar and on some basic words that refer to items people knew several thousand years ago – hand, water, blood… Of course, more modern terms (airplane, etc.) will have very different words, as they didn’t exist at the time these languages separated.

          And relating to a post lower down, Hungarian does have more cases – 18 – while us Finns “only” have 15. However, a more interesting point is the fact that both languages use inflections to express things – changing the ending of the word changes the meaning and expresses various things. In Finnish, any noun, pronoun or numeral can be inflected in over 10,000 ways (verbs only about 5,000 ways) – can Hungarian beat that?

          For those not familiar with Finnish, it is probably the fact of inflections that makes Finnish (and I suppose also Hungarian) hard to master for foreigners. Plus the fact that the Finnish active vocabulary (words that are actually commonly used in general speech) is about three times larger than that of English.

          • england

            True that, I am learning Finnish (as an English native speaker) and I can tell that the language is actually much more complicated than any other European one, not only because of the large morphological system but also owing to the fact that the Finnish words are very often larger and much less related to Indo-European languages than any other one, even Hungarian, which is also very distant from Germanic or Slavic languages, has more words in common than Finnish does.

            A native speaker, by the way, out of pride will always say his/her language is more difficult than any other, but he/she should take into account this fact above. For example, I have been learning German for roughly three years and their morphological system is simple since they have only four grammatical cases. However, many native Germans believe their language is extremely difficult and many words from German are similar to English, just like of polish are. But I bet they would crack a good laughter or cry while facing Finnish or Hungarian which are the most distant European languages. Therefore, my dear proud native citizens, these factors should be considered before any ‘sentimental’ judgement, thanks for reading!

  4. Susan

    Don’t forget that this was put together in the USA – the country most famously known for not knowing much about what goes on outside their back yard. Remember when Bush first invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and he had to be shown on a map where the countries where?

    • milK

      Ignorant Bush maybe, that has little to do with the country as a whole. Check the sources if you don’t believe their information but throwing around insults at entire countries is just plain silly.

      FYI I’m not American.

    • Fish

      I don’t recall ever seeing anything where he had no idea where the countries were at.

      Regardless, what would that have to do with the rest of their population?

      • someone

        It reflects on the rest of the population because we are the ones who elected him to office. Presidents are elected by the people to help the people and give the nation as a whole a voice to the rest of the world. If the President is an idiot, well, that speaks for itself.

        Bush was not our worst president but he was not the best choice at the time, in my opinion.

        • Person

          Well, electing Bush would have been better than Al Gore, because he would have tried to advance green tech, which would have failed since we haven’t the technology to make it efficient.
          Susan, making fun of the US intelligence by a generalized assumption based on one person is wrong. Yes, the US knows a lot about everything that goes on outside tenge country. I have never heard of Bush asking where the Middle East was, but I highly doubt that you could identify and remember where every country in the world is.

          • Cunningham

            I disagree with you, I was living there for ten years and I was horrified about general knowledge of Americans. No offence.

    • Sinko

      It’s “were?” not “where?” at the end of your own display of ignorance, Susan.

    • Michael

      Who cares if he knows where they were or not. I don’t have the world map memorized. Being a good president doesn’t require being able to instantaneously point out any country in the world. He had his reasons for doing what he did(not that i agreed with them) and not being able to quickly point the countries out on a world map doesn’t mean his reasoning was unjust. On another note, if the US was sandwiched between 37 other countries like every other country in Europe/Asia, we would be more aware of what’s going on around us, but because we only border 2 countries, and have two oceans on either side of us, even if we are a major world power, we can afford to be more isolated. I believe the term I’m trying to describe here is independence. We get involved when we feel like it, but our geographical location allows us to stay out of affairs we don’t want to mess with. It’s harder for people from Europe to understand that because they’re so damn close to many other countries.

      • James

        The point is he wanted to send troops to a country that he knew nothing about. If you were going to start a war you might want to know who you are starting the war with, why, and just maybe, where it is on a map.

    • Tami Newton

      Please don’t confuse America with George Bush. Not all “Americans” are idiots. I am here looking for tips on how to learn Arabic, my native English language teaches me that words have several meanings, and while being used to the American Alphabet, I am still willing to try and learn another language. We are not all just “simple dumb Americans”

    • Stuff

      Oh, for the love of whatever… Susan, that statement is biased, ignorant, and culturally insensitive. It is hilarious how a country of 300.5 million people can be judged by one moron. Shut up, please.

    • Chris

      Every village has its idiots. Every country has smart people and its share of ignorant people. No one should judge a country in its entirety based on a few bad eggs.

  5. Gregg

    I agree with Susan that American cultural imperialism shows through in this list. Americans in general have an atrocious lack of awareness of anything outside their own borders.
    I suggest that a VERY difficult language, and one that has never in my experience been mastered by any American is… Australian. I mean idiomatic Australian vernacular. Almost impossible if you were not born here.

    • lester

      I hope that was a joke, ’cause to almost any natively non-english speaker Australian is virtually indistingushable from other English dialects, just like Jutlandic is indistingushable from Zealandic to a Danish immigrant. Or even Afrikaans compared to Dutch when heard or read by a non Dutch speaker, even though they’re classed as different languages.

      I’d dare say you show a lack of awareness (language-wise) of anything outside of the English speaking world so don’t be so fast to accuse an American of the same. American cultural imperialism is inherited from British imperialism. Your’re basically the same seen through the eyes of the rest of the world, except through the eyes of those who actually took the time to go down under. Maybe those are the only ones you’ve met?

    • Fish

      I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never met any Australian who’s English differed so greatly from any other English speakers that I couldn’t understand them. Unless of course you’re talking about unique “slang” words that are only found in Australia. I’m certain nobody outside of the country would be able to learn all of that because there would be absolutely no use to know it outside of Australia.

    • Most people that speak English as their first language find it near impossible to speak compared to other languages.
      Well, at least all the people I know are like that…

      • What a load of rubbish. You probably don’t realize that there are millions of people in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and India that speak English as their FIRST language but also speak another language or two from their own country. Or take Kenya, Nigeria or pretty much any other ex-British colonial country. English is the first language of many people from these places.

    • Rob DeVaun

      I both agree and disagree. America’s culture, which is impossible to define due to its vast diversity, can not and should not be generalized to the point it has been in your post. Though, one could argue that the geographical location and size prevents many Americans from needing in-depth knowledge of international affairs. I would say that a citizen of Michigan listening to news covering North Carolina is very similar to a citizen of France listening to news covering Greece.

      As an American living in South Korea, I’ve found listening to Korean as the most difficult challenge. The sound and word composition differs from English to the point that vocab memorization isn’t sufficient for recognizing words within the spoken sentences. One requires an anticipation for what will be said in order to be able to recognize with ease.

      People who are overly nit-picky about foreigners making mistakes when speaking another language need to relax. Learning a new language is difficult, and communicating a thought or idea is often sufficient for casual speakers. Anyone who can carry a conversation for a solid 30 minutes is likely proficient, even if they make numerous mistakes. I’m consistently humbled by the amount of Koreans who speak English fluently, and persist to apologize when they make slight errors.

    • Chris

      America is geographically huge and only borders Canada (speaks English…. mostly) and Mexico (Spanish). There historically isn’t a huge need for Americans to learn anything other than English in their every day lives… unlike Europe, for example, where the countries are so small and jammed together, all speaking a different language. Europeans, therefore, have a larger incentive to learn another language for communication with their neighbors.

      As the world become more connected by technology, it becomes smaller, and there will be more of an incentive for Americans to learn more languages. It is already beginning here in America.

      Please remember to keep historical and geographic context in mind when thinking/judging other countries.

    • If the United States has a complete lack of knowledge for anything outside its borders, as you say, then World War II would have turned out completely different.

      The United States is a collection of States with different flavors and personalities and even language mixes and slang. There are many languages spoken here. English is the main language, but for some Americans, it isn’t their first language. Spanish is often sought of in job postings. Doctors, for example, who can speak English and Spanish are greatly sought after. Depending on where you live in the United States, other languages are sought after as well. For most people, simply knowing English is all you need to know to get along in any day to day activities, but immigration is changing that. Don’t judge Americans too harshly. It is a changing landscape.

  6. pierak

    Just for background: I was born in Italy and live in the US.
    I think the list is reasonably accurate, as far as difficulty of learning a different language.
    @Coyote: ‘Proficient’ to me does not mean that you know the language perfectly and will make no mistakes, but that you can easily be understood by a native speaker.
    @Susan: I understand some people have the urge to bash the US any chance they get; ‘famously’ by whose standard? I don’t remember Italians being all that much knowledgeable about countries ‘not in their backyard’ than Americans are.

  7. Anon

    I always heard that Icelandic is so unique and unrelated to other languages. Why does it not appear on this list?

    • Chris B

      Agreed. It’s also virtually unpronounceable, at least by me.

    • Sam Butler

      Reread the post. It says, “We’ve provided a handy infographic below that will give you a general idea of difficulty of the MOST COMMON LANGUAGES.”

    • england

      Iceland is unrelated to other languages? I don’t want to be rude but the person who told you that is completely ignorant, Iceland is a language from the Germanic family and this is more than an obvious fact, search for some basic vocabulary on Google translator and you will realize that. ;)

  8. Zsolt Barczy

    This is an incomplete and mostly incorrect list, alas. Nice graphic, but little content. Here comes my explanation:

    1. German is missing. It is easier than Spanish, for English speakers, and it is basically the biggest language in Europe. Yes, sorry you guys on that tiny island: on mainland Europe we speak German, French, Dutch and Italian. Good luck with English in Paris, Rome, Berlin or Geneva.

    2. The list is anglocentric. E.g. for a Japanese speaker it is easier to learn Chinese than English. Oops.

    3. The number of speakers is mostly underestimated for all languages. The Latin languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese) cover 2/3rd of this planet and about half the world’s population. And WHAT A POPULATION, by the way… Not only a quantitative miss, but qualitatively what people these are… intelligent, civilized, etc. Can cook, just to name something simple. Oops.

    4. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic DIFFICULT?? I think the person who assembled this list certainly doesn’t speak either of them. I speak all four. Chinese is the world’s SIMPLEST language by far… may be scary for a white man at first, because it is based on a different logic. But once one got the gist of it, one can speak it in a matter of days, not weeks or years as indicated here. Arabic is similarly simple, and mind you: our alphabet (what I am using now, the Roman one) has SUCCEEDED the Greek and Arabic alphabets, so… trust me once you learn the Arabic script, you will find it a lot easier to read and write than ours.

    Nice try… but I know a guy here in Switzerland who has a much more accurate assessment of the difficulty of these languages (because he, just like me, DOES speak all of the languages that he judges for difficulty). Search for howtolearnanylanguage and you will find him.

    Zsolt

    • 1. Actually, German is among the more difficult languages to learn for the average native English speaker. Many people have difficulty with the German language- when I was in Germany learning how to speak German almost everyone there thought I was crazy for trying to learn because it is notoriously difficult. Personally I myself found Spanish to be far, far easier than German because there are not so many rules.

      2. Read under the title of the report: “A look at which languages are easiest and most difficult for native English speakers to learn”. Of course this is Anglocentric- thats the whole point of the article.

      Finally, you’re berating people for judging difficulty based on experiences quite different than yours- from your claims I estimate you must speak at least 7 languages. Native English speakers find Arabic and Chinese difficult because they do not feature familiar alphabets that English speakers can interpret phonetically-this takes practice. And I highly doubt you learned the Chinese alphabet AND the language in “a matter of days”. Stop kidding yourself. If you’re Swiss or even European, you probably grew up in a household that was multilingual which gives you a huge advantage, so keep that in mind before you start judging people’s evaluations that come from a very different perspective than yours.

    • Steve

      1. I learnt both Spanish and German, and I can tell you that Spanish is much MUCH easier for English speakers because the sentence structure and verb conjugation is more similar to English than German is. Moving verbs to the end of the sentence, as with the second and subsequent verb in German, is very alien to English speakers. There are a few similar words, but then there are many similar words in Spanish because of the shared Latin heritage.
      Good luck with German in Paris, French in Berlin, or Spanish in Geneva. Speak English in those places, however, and you might be understood because, like it or not, the language spoken on our “tiny island” is the world’s second language. You must be bitter about that.

      2. You didn’t read the article very well – the list SPECIFIES that the list is based on difficulty for an ENGLISH speaker to learn. Of course it would be different for people from other parts of the world, but that is not what this list is about.

      3.You’re concentrating on first languages. Like it or not, English is the most commonly spoken second language in the world, as well as being the second most common first language (after cantonese). Again, you sound very bitter about this.

      4. Can’t comment. I don’t speak any of those languages, but I can see why a totally different alphabet would make learning them *initially* harder.

      5. “A much more accurate assessment” is entirely subjective. As you seem to have misunderstood this list, and are in denial about the spread of English across the globe, I have severe doubts about your objectivity anyway.

      Finally, you’re trying too hard. Try to be less bitter about the success of English and instead help the spread of Swiss. No, I mean French. No, German…

    • Fish

      Unless you can prove to me that you are a literal genius, or possibly just a savant for languages you are lying through your teeth about learning Chinese in a few days. You memorized thousands of Chinese characters in a weeks time?

      The only way I could believe someone mastering Chinese in a few weeks time would be if you did in fact already speak Korean, and Japanese. Considering they borrow a lot of Chinese characters and are phonetically similar.

      • Even for Japanese and Korean speakers Chinese can be a little tricky because the characters often have completely different pronunciations and meanings. So Japanese students sometimes have to forget what they already know to avoid confusion.

        Also the writing systems makes the languages seem more similar then they are, the grammar is actually quite different. Japanese is not classified in the same language family as Chinese

      • Cali

        @ Fish

        Even for Korean or Japanese speakers, leaning Chinese is greatly tough.

        Why? Grammatically Japanese, Korean, Manchurian(extinct), Mongolian and even Turkish are related, while Chinese grammar is completely different from them. Phonetically as well Chinese are tonal(the unique sets of sounds, derogatorily called “ching chong chang”), while Japanese(sounds like Polynesian) and Korean(sounds like Mongolian) aren’t tonal. Korean and Japanese are highly heirarchical in their expressions based on ages, gender or ranks, while Chinese is not.

        The only thing in common is there are considerable amount of Chinese origin words that are pronounced in their own phonetics.

    • Shinzan

      @Zsolt

      I’m not really sure how you can say Chinese is the simplest language by far. I can attest to the fact that the grammar and overall structure of the language is very logically put together, but that is one of the only simple things about the language. Really, “Chinese” is many different dialects (Mandarin and Cantonese obviously more commonly spoken than the rest) and quite often the language is highly unintelligible between the dialects. Native Cantonese speakers still often have trouble with grammar differences between the languages and end up taking many hours of classes for it.

      If anything of what you have said is true about your language proficiency, you are most likely autistic.

      But you’re probably just lying

    • Zsolt, I agree with some of the things you’ve mentioned.

      Yes Chinese is a bloody easy language to learn. There are no tenses, articles or plurals. It’s like talking baby language.

      But you should also realise that the list is aimed at ENGLISH SPEAKERS.

      BTW, Malay / Indonesian is probably one of the easiest languages to learn. Not sure why it’s not mentioned given Indonesia is the world’s 4th largest country.

    • Huhh

      You only learned how to “speak” Chinese using pinyin which is basically romanization. You obviously cannot read a single Chinese word. If you ever tried, you’d take at least 20 years. Also, I highly doubt you’re understood by people who actually speak Chinese/Mandarin considering that it’s a tonal language. Unless you get the tone right, you’re completely unintelligible.

      Every sound has four tones, and every tone has a different meaning and is a different word.

      You used pinyin to learn so basically you know the sound ‘ma’ has four sounds for instance, and all four sounds mean a different word.

      The odds of a non native Chinese speaker mastering the tones is almost zero. I worked in a language institute so I’d know. In other words, I doubt you are understood by native speakers even though you bask in your self-bestowed glory of having “mastered” Chinese and concluding it’s a “Baby’s Language” after your Rosetta Stone escapade.

  9. klaus

    I think English and Latin need to be included as well.
    Both are very easy to learn.

    • Steve

      This list is based on difficulty of these languages for English speakers to learn, that’s why English isn’t included.

  10. Aviva

    Good grief. Of course this article is Anglocentric. It’s written in freaking English!

  11. Cananatra

    I’m slightly sad Irish wasnt included. Sure it has a tiny number of people who speak it, but it’s not exactly easy to learn.

    • milK

      Surely you mean Gaelic, since Irish is not a lot more than an English dialect. Though if you’re adding that you might want to add Frysian as well. It’s a Dutch dialect not very similar to Dutch, some might even go as far to call it a language in itself.

      • I’m pretty sure that in Ireland the language otherwise known as Gaelic is called Irish.

      • You ignoramus. I’m Irish. Irish IS a form of Gaelic. Our dialect of English is known as Hiberno-English

  12. Why is Icelandic not on the list? It is WIDELY reported to be the hardest on the planet!!

    • Arne

      Because they could not afford the entry fee to this website, they are broke you know. :-)

  13. barren

    Do people expect an infographic to be comprehensive? The languages presented at each level are meant to be representative of that level, not all inclusive. It is also mentioned specifically that the levels of difficulty are based on the learner being a native speaker of English.

    I agree that proficiency means the basic ability to understand and to be understood. Most people do not speak even their native language in a manner that is free from grammatical error. So LIGHTEN UP, PEOPLE!!

  14. Perhaps the title is what seems to be causing most of the problems with this list. The list talks about learning to speak a language, which is very different from learning to read in that language. This is especially true with those languages that use ideograms (Chinese et al) as opposed to separate letters.

    If you were to travel to a country and do nothing but talk to people it would take very little time to learn the language, any language, and become fluent, without knowing how to read that language. This is how language immersion courses work. This is how children learn their own languages.

    So are we talking about difficulty in learning to speak or to read?

    • You are correct that learning to listen and speak a language would be a lot easier than learing to read and write it if someone was immersed in a country that speaks that language but in today’s world reading and writng can’t be avoided. Think about it stop signs, menus, bills, checks, labels. . .we are surrounded by written language 24/7. Writing and reading have to be included because of this. To survive in any modern country, the written language must be known.

  15. Rachel

    I want to say one thing about the Japanese section: I don’t know who exactly made the section for the infographic, but they’re making it seem harder than it is. First of all, the issue of two sound syllaberies: there is one basic sound system, and you can create other sounds by combining some of the basic sounds (like you already do as a native English speaker). Two of the writing systems, hiragana and katakana, or the kana, are just two different ways of writing the basic sounds: you use one or the other based on whether the word is a loan word. The third writing system, kanji, is used mostly because it’s much neater than using hiragana from a writing standpoint. But the readings for the kanji are still pronounced using the sound system I mentioned before. Look, I’m not saying learning Japanese is a walk in the park. No language is. But if you want to be fluent/proficient/whatever, that badly, then you’ll agree that the level of difficulty doesn’t really matter. You’ll find a way to do it somehow.

    • Mostly concur, Rachel. The Japanese hiragana and katakana syllabaries should not have been given as reasons for that language’s difficulty. It would be more apropos to mention the unique grammar (which I believe is similar to Korean), and the fact that kanji (Chinese ideographs) have multiple pronunciations in Japanese, and it is often very difficult to decide which pronunciation is correct.

      BTW kanji are used in Japanese to distinguish among numerous homophones; for example, there are over a dozen Japanese words pronounced kousei, with wildly different meanings.

      I’m an American who knows one language in each of these groups–French, Russian and Japanese…and the levels of difficulty ascribed above roughly agree with my own personal experience.

      As noted above, the list is anglocentric; so what?

      Also as noted, the omission of German was a major gaffe….

    • riyoh

      Leaning kanji is not that hard. It’s only confusing because of the numerous readings. If you are already familiarized with the word, your brain will hear the appropriate kanji automatically. It’s important to study the basics first because you need knowledge of compounds.

      Practice kanji by reading visual novels and manga with a kanji/Japanese dictionary.

      “Gogaku ga muzukashii janai no doryoku aru”

  16. Sebastian

    I’m swedish, and consider myself bilingual, Swedish and English. Not the best speller in either. I’m also proficient in German and I have to disagree with this list. Most people that I’ve meet, English speaking and otherwise, don’t find swedish an easy to learn language. It has a lot of rules and even more exceptions to rules, some rules don’t actually apply. They’re just there to try to structure it. I find German is quite easy to learn, while there are alot of rules there are very few exceptions. Just my opinion, take it or leave it.

    And please stop using Wikipedia as a source to support your claims and use a reliable source if you feel the need of a source, and by the way there are acording to this chart over 1 million swedes incapable of swedish…

  17. Anika

    Ok, there’s a few things which I find wrong here. To start it off firstly…
    I’m 14 and a native English speaker. I’m taught French and Spanish at school, Spanish is super easy, but I sometimes struggle with French.

    I also like to learn Japanese outside of lessons. To be honest Japanese should not be put in hard, I would say it’s medium. Sure it has 3 different writing systems (hiragana, katagana, kanji). And in the kanji system, they use approx. 2000 Chinese characters. I understand why that is difficult, even I struggle with the Kanji. But overall I find it about medium level of difficulty, even though I don’t know all the characters, I can speak quite a bit. It’s something different, which is good. I also hope through time, I will be able to go to Japan one day and have my university studies there and maybe live there. It’s quite a big dream I know, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Actually many universities in Japan teaches all the courses in English, it’s so it breaks the language barrier between international students.

    Recently I’ve been studying a little Korean as well, which I find very interesting. The language should not be hard, I would say it’s either going to be medium or easy. To all native English speakers, Korean looks really complicated, but actually it’s quiete simple and they have a very logical writing system. Their writing system is based on all the sounds of constonents and vowels. For an example – (안녕) – translated into Romanji it literally says ‘Annyeong’ an informal way of saying ‘hello’. In the first half 안. The ㅇ is silent, it’s just used to accompany the vowel. And in the second half, 녕. The ㅇ is used for the ‘ng’ sound in ‘Annyeong’.

    The Korean language does not rely on the Chinese characters at all, they only use Chinese numbers as well as their own native Korean numbers. I believe whoever wrote this article, got it mixed up. Sure in Korea everyone use to learn Chinese. But as many farmers had to work all day and struggled with learning the writing system, their king decided to invent a whole new writing system. Which will be a lot easier to learn. So the Korean writing system is only a few centuries old… (A little bit of Korean history in a nutshell).

    In my opinion I would say Chinese is the most difficult. As they use over 10,000 characters. Even some Chinese people find it difficult to learn their own language.

  18. aliciafish

    I understand braille is not a language, but for someone like me, it would be. :)

    • Nona U. Buisiness

      Why, are you deaf? :-)

  19. Paul Ski

    As an American it is disappointing how little we know about other cultures, I would like to learn other languages dissimilar to English such as Russian or mandarin but we get a choice of either french or Spanish french which I have a general understanding of, apparently our government just doesn’t care about other cultures.

  20. Pieter van Pelt

    Nice discussion, but one point is overlooked: English is not a proper language. It is a mixture of Norwegian (the ‘Normans” from french Normandy and Bretagne (hence: Brittania and ‘british’)), French and Latin with remnants of celtic and gaelic and parts of Dutch. The mixture of these original languages evolved over the last 1200 years to what we now know as English. Roughly 65% of the english words have a clear root in one of these ‘mother-languages’. Before about 900 AD, English did not exist as a language.

    • Josh

      “English is not a proper language”…”Before about 900 AD, English did not exist as a language”

      Which is it? Is English a language born around 900 AD, or is it not a language? One’s irregularities discredit them.

    • Sam Butler

      I would imagine if the humane race was created or evolved, whichever you prefer, together then there would have only been one “original” language to begin with.

      • Poop.

        There isn’t going to be an “original language” because not everybody is around each other, so every “section” develops their own language. That is, unless body language is the “original language”

    • Undinae

      Of course English is a “proper language”. Just because it did not exist before 900AD does not mean it isn’t a proper language now. And the Normans did not speak Norwegian, they spoke French which, yes, did greatly shape modern English. English is based on an old Germanic language – Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Frisian (Anglo hence English) which then become old English, but the verb and sentence structure was greatly simplified by its collision with Scandinavian languages from invaders who occupied large parts of the north of Britian. Of the top 100 most used words in English, something like 94 come from old English virtually unchanged and of the rest they are mainly Scandinavian.

      Yes, we have a vocabulary largely made up non-old English words, but that is what is so wonderful about English. We don’t worry about it being “corrupted” by foreign words (as, for instance, the French often do). We embrace foreign words to enrich our language. That being said, I do believe that every child, unless constrained by some physical impediment, should be raised at least bi-lingual, and in that respect the native English speaking world tends to be sorely deficient.

  21. Raul

    I was reading an article on the internet about learning to speak another language, and what the person suggests is that you start speaking it as soon as you start learning it. It is the way children learn and I started practicing what he suggests, and I was amazed at how true this is (I am learning Italian and my mother tongue is Spanish, and I speak English fluently).

  22. What about Icelandic? I’ve heard that that is the hardest language to learn. Specially for people who speak english.

  23. Andrelle

    Did you know that language on a whole does not only refer difference in speeches by different cultures but can also has other meanings. When I searched Google for the definition these are some of the definitions I got:

    1)The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way
    – a study of the way children learn language
    – language development

    2)Any nonverbal method of expression or communication
    – a language of gesture and facial expression

    3)The system of communication used by a particular community or country
    – the book was translated into twenty-five languages

    4)A system of symbols and rules for writing programs or algorithms
    – a new programming language

    Therefore the hardest language may even very well be programming language or body languages.
    lets look at it this way, if english is not your native language but your in the process of learning english and lets say you know some amount of english, you’re then given an english essay to write. When your done and hand over your essay to an english speaking person, though your english is not perfect that person can still understand what your essay is saying. When doing programming on the other hand, in writing up your code the language must have a SPECIFIC structure, imagine this as being perfect english having no grammatical errors, every little detail counts. One small error in this language can cause your program not to work or in this case your code would look like a foreign language to the computer.

  24. Chinese is not a language, by the way.

    • Yuki

      I think it’s referring to all the types of Chinese. Not everybody knows what Wu or Hakka or Xiang is. Mandarin is ‘Standard Chinese’ which, does in fact say the language is Chinese.

  25. slawek

    ok every one thing that his language is most hard to learn bot the true is that my language is one of most dificult on the world becouse we have many times whatwe eaven don;t nead bot we use them however i don t thing it is hardest couse chineese is hardest iI thing and all asian is like theme so we can speculation I thing my language is one of most hard but not hardest and I ;m polish

  26. Harpeer Bizarre

    What about Klingon?

  27. ulric

    I actually don’t think Japanese and Korean should be in the hard section. I believe that maybe Chinese but come on, Japanese isn’t that hard and know, I’m learning Chinese as we speak. I believe Spanish should be in the hard because Spanish is one of the hardest languages for me anyways.

    • Actually, Spanish is pretty easy but maybe that’s just being native English speaker and also me being a child.

    • The chart is just showing what the hardest language to learn for most native English speakers is. Obviously there will be exceptions. The chart basically is talking about people whos mother tongue is English and did not learn any other language at a young age.

  28. brianna

    I’m surprised that English wasn’t one of the languages on the list of Hard Languages to learn. The amount of words that have the same spelling, yet are pronounced differently and the many different rules for certain spellings and letter groupings alone confuses me and English is my native language. Even trying my hand at writing a book brings to my attention just how confusing the English language is. In fact, it has made me rather hesitant to learn a new language.

    • Thats because the chart is made for English speakers.

  29. SunKissed

    I believe Arabic language should go to either the easiest or medium to learn languages. I taught my self arabic for a few months trough music and chat. And for a small time while i took lessons. And i could read it in about a year because i wasnt fully concentrating my self in learning arabic. It was more like every now and then when felt like it. Only the pronounciation could be difficult to asians and westerns. And the tricky part is that you need to know the arabic word to read whats its saying there or know the whole content/sentence. Because in the arabic writing they hardly use vowels. Its like reading this: h hw s yr dy gng s fr. And sometimes they drop a consonant wich substitutes as a vowel to read it correct.

    At this moment im in a big dillema. I don;t know which language i should learn. At this moment im into Korean because of the whole K-pop phenomenon and its really easy to find Korean movies/drama/soaps/series/music with english subtitles.

    But i feel like i should learn a langauge which is spoking by allot of people. So my second choice is Japanese or Chinese. But Chinese seems like forever to learn ( but im eager to learn that langauge since it will be the futures language) And there you have the Japanese language. Its sounds nice and stuff but i hardly feel anything for it lol. I don;t see my self going to Japan in the near future. But Korea and China sound more better.

    OMG did i just gave my self a conclusion?

  30. Interesting. I’m an Indonesia who had to moved to Japan when I was 4years old, I had to enter local school in Japan. As result I can’t speak a single word in Indonesia until 8 years old, even can’t recognize ABC, I only able to write in Hiragana Katakana and Kanji. When I came home in Indonesia, I had to study hard to learn Indonesian. Indonesian language is actually easy to learn, but it was very difficult for me because Japanese had very different language system with Indonesia, and finally I can speak and write Indonesian fluently (my own national language) when I’m already 11years old.

    Now I’m 31years old, sure I can speak and write in Indonesian, I’m still able to speak and write in Japanese (I’ve passed grade II on Japanese language test). As a moslem, I can read and write in classic Arabic. I’m also able to write and speak in English beyond average Indonesian people.
    Total, I can write 4 languages, and speak 3 languages (I’m only able to read Qoran but can’t speak Arabic).

    However I often met foreigner in Indonesia (specially in Jakarta, Yogya, and Bali) who can speak Indonesia fluently, only after they stayed there for months. I think it’s because Indonesian language has some similarity with English, specially on language structure.

  31. Geen

    I think this report from the FSI is a comprehensive and large-scale and unbiased report from an institute carefully documenting how much time is required on average for native English speakers to reach proficiency in the most common languages. Their results shows that Japanese is the single most difficult for native English speakers (followed by Chinese, Arabic, and Korean in similar level).

    This was a large-scale and objective study, and so I will trust their results more than the opinions of some of these comments from people who have only studied one or two languages sporadically, and then possess a desire to claim that their target language should be placed in a more difficult level.

  32. bharat thapa

    Interesting blog!! Appreciated =)
    Well i am a Delhi(New delhi) born guy who can speak 4different languages easily or i’d rather say fluently(Some of these not as good as a native speaker)
    My parents they are from Nepal so that gave me an advantage to learn it(Never tried it at home but when i was in my teenage saw lot of hot nepalese chicks so i tried to learn and now i can speak it fluently =P)
    English is something which very popular here in India and considered as second language for indians for example if you can’t speak hindi no problem speak in english.
    Even in Govt. schools they teach english for no charge but people they prefer to admit their kids in expensive English medium schools(It’s obvious because here english our daily necessity).
    Frequent use of english words and phrases has made hindi as hinglish(Now i see even nepalese people are also following the same trend.)
    Technically if we try to compare English and Hindi with each other these are two extremely different languages but you see when a child is born here he/she learns a lot of english words directly/indirectly and later takes admission in good english medium school, watches english movies, listens english songs so this helps a lot learning english.
    Especially people living in big cities like bombay.new delhi, chennai and calcutta they get extra advantage of being metrohites means interacting with people from different states and different places so if someone is not good in hindi they try(if fluent) to interact in english. And people from big cities they also prefer to chat in english rather than Hindi(might use some hindi words….it’s a style for an indian) but again that depends.
    Depends what sort of education that person had or what kind of upbringing he ever had.
    Frequent use of hindi words also effects the quality of english while conversing but nevertheless it’s fine.
    Indian english is understandable and makes sense when spoken. People from semi-english(where english is spoken in families) background(like mine) they learn it spontaneously and find it much easier than anyone else but if someone is from rural parts of India they might find learning english as difficult as learning chinese(my personal experience, i tried to teach english to an illiterate security gaurd but he couldn’t learn it however now he can read it atleast. 0=) )

    My point of view or let’s say my opinion is everything depends on the learner how fast you grasp things and information in your mind.
    No one can teach you any language if you don’t have the will, even if it’s the easiest language.
    Nothing is easy and nothing is impossible, all we need is just dedication.
    I agree that you might not get native fluency but if you try,practice everyday by your own atleast you’ll be able to understand the conversation, you will be able to understand songs and would be able to express yourself.
    That’s it! If you can communicate what you are trying to express or say than that’s more than enough. Rest you can practice by immersing yourself into their culture and their language.
    Learning never stops and everyday we learn something new.

    Buena suerte a todos.

  33. Jake

    Seriously? Under Japanese they put:

    “Three different writing systems and two syllabary systems add to the language’s difficulty.”

    Uh…wrong! Japanese does have three writing systems, TWO OF WHICH ARE SYLLABARY SYSTEMS! There is a huge difference. The way they put it, they’re saying that Japanese has five writing systems…NOT TRUE!

  34. China,IL

    Actually, I must dis-agree. 中文 and Japanese are very easy to learn… It’s just getting the vocal right.. In me, I can manipulate my voice to sound like anything.. And they symbols are very easy. :D I think Espanol is very heard thou.. Hmm,, Maybe I’m special??

    • Yuki

      First of all, not everybody has a memory as good as you claim to have. You’re not special.

      Most symbols are made up of other, smaller symbols, but you probably find them easy because you don’t write them correctly, hmm?
      So you’re saying a language retentively close to English (I don’t understand any of it thought, I don’t learn Spanish) is very hard compared to Chinese which has over 10,000 symbols?
      Dream on.

  35. Maggi

    I can’t agree with this table, because Russian, Polish and Finnish are much harder than Japanese… There should be also something about Hungarian which is as hard as Chinese.

    • fredrick

      After reading the entire list, I am rather impressed with all of your dedication to the internet.

  36. someone

    All of you complaining, please read the title page.

    The statistics were gathered by the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State for native English speakers.

    This is specifically for English speakers and is ESTIMATED to be the easiest and hardest languages for native English speakers.

    • Exactly, this chart is not going to hold true for every single person that walks along.

  37. Hase

    Serbian hasn’t 16.4 million native speakers. Serbian is a form (along with Bosnian, Croatian and Montenegrin) of Serbo-Croatian ( which is politically and demographically incorrect,) Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (unwieldy to the max,) the South-Slavic diasystem (unwieldy,) mid-Yugoslavian (obscure,) Slavonic (prone to cause confusion next to Slavic, Slovenian, Slovak, Slavonian and not in use for 150 years) or Illyrian (a gross misnomer everybody has forgotten long ago.) Whatever you call it- that language has 16.4 million speakers.

  38. Zain-al Fadzly

    Debating on which one is harder than the rest, i must say that everyones pretty much have their own justifications and perspective towards certain languages. forgive me if my english is not that very good but still i think everyone here can grasp what im trying to say right? in malaysia, the formal or official language is the bahasa melayu and the second is english. so for me being an ethnic malay, i can speak,read and write in malay and english. i also can read and write in arabic and understand few words/sentences. furthermore with the ethnic chinese form a quite majority in Malaysia, you cant miss to know some words in mandarin or cantonese. huhu.. plus im currently learning japanese and from my point of view, i think japanese is quite hard to master or to be proficient. with all the kana’s and kanji’s you could imagine how many months or years it would take for a regular guy like me to be proficient in it! but still im trying my best to learn it.. i like japan.. a lot ! thats what drives or motivates me i think.. if it wasnt for the passion, i would say sayonara nihon already ! haha.. anyway keep the discussions going on ! i can see the passion in everyones opinions! good luck in whatever language your trying to pursue ! strive hard and god will do the rest ! ganbatte ne ! and by the way i think that the Foreign Service Institute forgot to put “Bahasa Melayu/Indonesia” in the chart.. i think it should be at the EASY section. hehe.. spoken by quite a number of natives also.. more than 200+ million i think..

  39. blergh

    I’m from Poland and I can tell you one thing. There is NO WAY a foreigner could learn Polish even moderately well, not to mention proficiently in 44 weeks. Just forget it, that’s not true.

    • Monster

      Yes, 44 weeks is not enough time to master Polish, though it is enough time to learn to express oneself with ease in daily situations.

    • Matt

      Remember that this list assumes that one is learning the language by spending 7 hours per day, 7 days per week. As difficult as a language may be, that is a LOT of time to spend learning.

      • kakaka

        There is no way to be able to have a conversation in Polish after 4 weeks EVEN at 10 hours per day.
        In polish everything is irregular, you need to learn everything by heart…
        It’s the hardest Slavic language and I believe it’s in top 3 the hardest in Europe

  40. While not wanting to be one of the many people wingeing about various languages being left off the list, I’m going to have to be. Malay / Indonesian should have been included on this list because not only is it one of the easiest languages to learn for an English speaker but Indonesia is also the 4th largest country in the world (by population). Together with Malaysia, Brunei, Timor-Leste, Singapore, Pattani (Southern-Thailand) and parts of the Philippines, Malay/Indonesian is spoken by by about 300 million people.

  41. airtioteclint

    “Proficiency” means to be understood right? Then I would have to say Vietnamese should be reclassed to “hard”. The entire language is made of one syllable words but each word takes on a totally diffrent meaning just by changing the tone. I have only witness one V.S.L. speaker that I was able to undertand without much work on my part. A word with the same spelling can have as many as ten different tones. Most learners who simply memorize phrases and repeat them will get the tones wrong. It is then up to the listener to digest and figure out what is being said. It’s almost like figuring out the combination to a bike lock. You know there are only a possible of nine digits for each row. Figuring out which nine is the task.

  42. Patrick

    Having studied French, German, Irish, Ancient Greek, Spanish, Old English, Russian, Latin, and Arabic (although having fluency in only German and French, with proficiency in Latin and Ancient Greek,) I can say without a doubt that the most dificult language to learn (although dead) is Old Irish. Imagine, if you will, a language that makes the most complicated phonetic changes with them also being written down orthographically, and also with the orthography being completely screwed up. Then, adding to the mix the grammatical difficult equal to that of Ancient Greek, with the grammar being further mixed in with non-indo-european substrata. To top it all off, having a nightmarish syntax that is more comprable to that of Semitic languages than that of Indo-European (paradoxically without them being related.) Thus, Old Irish is born. The most difficult modern language for me however, though still very easy, was German. The V2 word order was very reminiscent of any of the Ancient Indo-European languages, or dare I say the notorious isolate Sumerian. However, phonology and morphology were very easy and simplified when compared to a doozy like Ancient Greek.

  43. This chart displays neither American imperialism nor American ignorance. It merely reflects American experience. Like all countries, America trains linguists for diplomatic, military, and intelligence purposes. Experience has shown us which languages are hardest for our people to learn. It has nothing to do with prejudices, ignorance, or preconceptions. Simply put, the largest percentage of our people fail to learn languages like Chinese and Arabic, even though they have highly skilled native speakers as instructors. A smaller number have trouble with languages such as Russian and Thai, and so on. This is how we judge the difficulty of any given language for native English speakers to learn.
    (BTW, this also explains the sampling of languages on the chart, they are mostly the languages that have the most diplomatic or military significance to the US.)
    It’s not meant to insult or belittle anyone’s language or country. It’s just statistics.

  44. James

    67 million native French speakers? That is an underestimate. There’s 59m in France, 4m in Belgium, 1.5m in Switzerland, 7m in Canada, maybe like 4m in Cote d’Ivoire… There’s at least 80m people who speak it as a native language. And also, around 150-160 million people speak it as a second language.

  45. Clark

    Actualy, your all just debating the more popular languages, some native dialects are much worse due to gutteral speach patterns, mosquito, even Innuit are harder to speak than european languages, they were basing it on the largest spoken populence obviously, since there are languages in the world spoken by under 200 people, learn that…LOL

  46. llama

    English is difficult because there are so many different ways to pronounce each letter. Each vowel can be said three or four different ways. Spelling is confusing, too since so many words are derived from other countries. Also English is just odd. I before E except after C but that is a weird rule. Weird. Writers write, but fingers don’t fing. If teachers taught, why don’t preachers praught? We have noses that run and feet that smell.

    If a vegetarian eat vegetables then why aren’t humanitarians cannibals? Grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham. It may sound simple, but it isn’t. How can hotter and daughter sound alike if they aren’t even spelled alike? Daughter and slaughter sound and are spelled similarly. Then you would think that laughter would be like saying, “lot-er” right? Nope. Silent Ks’ in knock, knuckles, and knees but know and no aren’t the same. Rough and bough aren’t pronounced the same. If “the” is like “thu” then why ins’t “she” like “shu”? You can bow, or shoot a bow and arrow, or cut boughs off a tree. Caret and carrot sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things. Sew-so. Watt-what. Whirled-world. Tolled-told. Eye-I. Sea-see. One- won. Bread-bred. Toe-tow. Peer- pier.

    • Thomas

      English spelling is indeed bizarre. In other respects, though, the language seems simple. There’s no arbitrary ‘gender’ of nouns, and no need to vary adjectives to match that. There’s only one word for ‘you’. There are fewer forms of each verb than some languages. There’s only 26 characters in the script, and essentially no accents.

  47. kyle

    Korean isn’t that hard. Honestly to me, its so much easier than English and English is my first language. I think what makes it seem hard is the characters but its really not hard to learn. Korean has a lot of sounds that you would hear in English. Its harder to get use the characters because my eyes are use the alphabet letters and then there formal and informal language that’s a big deal in Korean. I guess it depends on how determine you are to learn the language. I find french hard for me because I wasn’t that determine to learn while I find Korean easy because I’m super determine to learn it. Then there so many sound for one letter in English. Like in English if you want to ask a question, you have to put the sentence into a question while in Korean, you can say the sentence as a sentence but just raise your voice at the end of sentence to make it into a question.

  48. Buran

    As I noticed from the infographic, population details of native speakers of the languages listed are far from today’s actual numbers (maybe 1987).
    I am a Russian living in Turkey. Russia has 138mil. population and Russian language is spoken in former Soviet union this makes at least 170mil.
    Turkey has itself 75mil. population, 8 mil. in Germany, 3 million in France, and nearly 3 more millions in all other countries over Europe also There are Turkic language speaking countries such as Azerbeidjan, Kazakhistan,Turkmenistan, Ozbekistan,even in China East Turkmenistan, oh was forgetting even in Russai Tatars, Chuvashes,… and this makes more than 180 mil. in population where it was shown as only 51 mil.
    I heard many people telling me about how hard is to learn Russian but have Turkish friends which are perfectly speaking in Russian. For me Turkish is hard.
    Met with and English man before who was living in Istanbul for 42 years already, when I told him that how good he speaks Turkish, he said that definately not and every new day he is learning. Because in Turkish, every word can have 10 very different meanings. He said that it is taught in every school but not the street language of Turkish. So I think how hard is to learn a language it depends how you learn it and where you practice it..

  49. Zeiss29

    Excuse me, but Spanish is not closely related to English. I’m a native Spanish speaker, and I can say I have never heard any foreigner speaking Spanish correctly. They are often making spelling errors, even foreign professors. Not that I wish to imply my English is perfect but Spanish is a completely different issue and has nothing to do with English.

  50. I once heard somewhere for a non-English speaking person, learning English is rather difficult.
    Because we have so many different uses for one single word, across different parts of England, or in general.
    Also, the fact a lot of words with different meanings sound the same. Such as “they’re”, “their” and “there”, for example.
    I’d say people who are born into English speaking families are somewhat lucky xD
    I wouldn’t like to learn English if I was non-English.

  51. Renraku Fortyk

    As a native English speaker, I found Japanese remarkably simple. Far easier than French or Latin. There are simple rules for almost all circumstances, a lot fewer tenses and there is very little variance.
    Sure, learning the kanji was difficult, but that’s more of a problem with learning to read the language rather than learning to speak it.

  52. Just

    As you can recognize from the picture. Written Korean is completely different from the Chinese characters. Instead, Japanese writing relies on many Chinese characters. Yes, my native language is Korean. Please correct the information.

  53. Steve D

    FSI used to group languages into four categories. Why they merged the first two into one baffles me. Category 2 used to include German, Romanian, Hindi and a few others. Category 3 was most East European and Asian languages and 4 was Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Merging the former 1 and 2 accomplishes nothing that I can see and obscures the significant difficulty difference most Americans find between Spanish and German.

    I’m working on Arabic. A little grammar in Arabic goes farther than in German or Russian. The most difficult thing for me isn’t the lack of English cognates (after all, there’s nothing that relates Russian “sobaka” to English “dog,” either. It’s that so much of the vocabulary consists of combinations of consonants that are senseless in English, lots of random agglomerations of h’s (two kinds), kh’s, and gh’s. One of the best learning tools would be to present vocabulary by the root system found in the Semitic languages, but I can’t find any texts that do it that way.

    Oh, and if you’re writing a language book, put the chapter vocabulary UP FRONT at the beginning, not at the end the way too many texts do.

  54. Polish is easier than Korean? haha
    and since when Korean uses Chinese characters? Korean alphabet is super easy and the grammar is NOT THAT hard…

  55. Kata

    I’d like to point out that these days Chinese-borrowed characters aren’t really used that much in Korea, so whether or not one needs to know hanja really depends on how one would understand “proficiency”. In daily life you only really see it in the fancier newspapers (there are newspapers which do not use hanja, too). Korea’s native alphabet, hangul, is credited to being a writing system one can learn in less than a day, and the more commonly used transliteration is adapted to English. But I agree the grammar might be tricky.

    Also, as a Finn with some experience teaching Finnish to foreigners, in my opinion it really should be much higher than mid-class – 14 or so cases that are completely different from English in both behavior and form (some don’t even exist in many other languages), a completely different pronunciation, and a few extra letters don’t really help foreign learners. Apparently Finnish is graded 3 out of 4, four being the hardest for native English speakers to learn.

  56. I’m studying Russian, and from what I’ve heard, Finnish is on a whole other level. As are all the Finno-ugric languages, which I think should be put in the difficult section. Russian is difficult but if you have a feel for languages you can learn a lot quite fast. I get the impression Finnish and the others I mentioned plus the ones in the difficult section require an extremely rough discipline and lifestyle – not just a feel for languages.

  57. Molly

    There are so many languages in the world and no one has ever tried to learn each of them declaring any language as the most difficult is unreasonable. How about African languages where “r” is pronounced as “g” which is still very difficult for white south Africans to pronounce? And “vh” as a soft “b”? There is not a language we can all agree that is the most difficult in the world. Some people are smart, some are not…also it depends on your native language. Obviously isiXhosa was not included in the “testing” of most difficult language. I am not saying isiXhosa is the hardest…no, it is not. South Africa.

  58. The hardest by far, are Swiss & German which is mostly spoke at home. High German is what they learn in school. Very few people have been able to speak it. The Basque language is also like that – almost impossible to learn.

  59. Singapore Tourism

    What about the indian languages like hindi, tamil, telugu, malayalam bla bla bla bla bla

  60. Minduagas

    I think that most difficult languages are Belgian, Austrian, Canadian and American. If somebody has heard about Lithuania, they must know that Lithuanian is a mostly Indo-European language and is very, very difficult. I am Lithuanian but do know Polish & Russian pretty well; I can confirm that Lithuanian is the most difficult.

  61. hicran

    I don’t understand people, yes Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese & Russian can be hardest language to learn, but everybody feels that for their own language. I agree with my Croatian friends; their language (and a few others) have really difficult grammar. But their speech is easy, so nobody cares.

  62. I am a fluent welsh speaker but I have been told by English speakers that Welsh is a very hard language as a second language. This is because of the mutations and how to pronounce certain letters. Some words have been adapted and sound similar to the English, for example Rygbi, which translates to Rugby. But with Welsh you don’t translate the words directly. For example, “What’s up” would be “Beth ydach chi yn gwneud?”.

  63. Eric

    The says Japanese is the hardest, but I don’t believe that. When I went to Japan, no one spoke to me in Japanese. It gave more opportunity to practice speaking Japanese.

  64. Blove

    Carribean people are hard to understand too. They tend to speak extremely fast, and it’s hard to keep up with the pace of broken English. (Jamaican or Guyanese patois)

  65. Chaoky

    I disagree with this list.
    I learned Mandarin, and it is fairly easy and simplistic. A language’s writing system should not be used to determine whether a language is difficult or not. Japanese is not very difficult either; I think what is the most difficult part of Japanese is its grammar (for an English speaker). English is my third language, I grew up speaking Russia. But this list is completely biased.

  66. Nona U. Buisiness

    I don’t care what you do to god, of course I’m kidding, and I’m about 3% Nitrogen, 1.5% Calcium, 1.2% Phosphorus, and .1% Sodium… so what’s it to ya? I don’t think comma’s work quite the way you used them.

    “Obviously” braille is for the blind? Are you trying to be ironic? I guess sign language is “Resoundingly” for the Deaf then?

    And you ask ME if I’m kidding. Save your rubles, yen, baht, what ever ya got, and purchase a sense of HUMOUR!!! (or HUMOR for all you retarded yanks who can’t spell!)

    BTW, you really thought you were going to educate me on how to spell Business!??!?! Ching Ching!?!??! People who can’t spell Business, don’t know what Braille IS. :-)

  67. Lozay

    Ok first, it is extremely rude to call deaf/hard of hearing people “deaf and dumb” because they’re probably very smart by the fact that they can sign and write (if not speak) English. And yes, some languages are probably harder than certain sign languages but ASL isn’t easy either. ASL is totally unrelated to English; it has a different syntax. You also speak as if there is only one sign language, there is not a universal sign language out there; there are hundreds of different sign languages.

  68. Dumb means Unable to speak, so those that are dumb (i.e. unable to speak), would use sign language. One example is the Dumb Friends League. It’s not a shelter for stupid animals, it’s a shelter for animals… who can’t speak.

  69. DasMes

    You are wrong, the deaf people aren’t dumb at all, they can speak, i know many friends which are deaf and they can speak, but yeah it sounds sometimes really weird or funny but u can understand them.
    The sign language really are interesting and amazing language. I myself am deaf and master the Swedish language well as like the native does with pronouncing and spell. All I have met said that they didn’t even notice or understood that fact i am deaf:

    (sorry for bad English)

  70. Allen

    Words change over time – dumb offends some now so “mute” is more politically correct.

  71. For me it wasn’t really hard to learn English. I am from Holland, but we get it taught in our classes and there’s so much attention to learning English here that almost everyone knows the basics. I think my advantage is that I have been on the computer ever since I was young, playing video games, listening to music, watch movies etc. because you learn so much from it.

    I always hear that the other way around, so for English people to speak Dutch is much harder because we have an incredibly difficult grammar system which more than half of our own population doesn’t even know well.

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