The Hardest Languages to Learn in the World
Last Updated On: August 16, 2021 by The Migration Translators
People all around the world learn languages other than their native language for a variety of reasons. In some countries, national boundaries enclose a naturally multilingual population. Switzerland, for example, has German, French, Italian, and Romansh speakers. Most Swiss can speak at least two of these languages. In Belgium, French and Flemish (Dutch) are both official languages. In Malaysia, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, and Tamil are spoken by the three main linguistic populations. Then there are countries that had experienced colonial control for different lengths of time. Often the language of the colonizing country is still widely spoken together with the native language(s). In many countries, people learn one or more other languages because there is a benefit in doing so, for study, work, commerce, leisure or to travel (pre-Covid).
Which languages are hardest to learn?
All these examples limit the choice people have of learning a different language, but there are also those people who have time on their hands and choose to learn a new language to broaden their horizons or challenge their minds. Are all new languages equally easy or difficult to learn or are some languages harder to learn than others? We know that some people seem to learn a different language more easily than others, but do they find all languages easy, or are some languages intrinsically harder to learn than others?
Whether a language is easy to learn or more difficult really comes down to how closely related the two languages they are – the native language and the language to be compared with. During human history, populations have continually moved on to fresh pastures, taking their language and culture with them. In the past, contact would eventually have been lost and gradually the original language would slowly evolve. However, it would take many hundreds of years of separation before two languages become so different that it would become hard to understand each other. This means that the longer people have been separated from each other in historical time, the greater the difference in their languages and the harder it would be for them to understand each other and also to learn each others’ languages.
The closer the contact, the closer the similarity in language
Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia are almost identical although there is some unique vocabulary used in each country, almost a bit like the difference between American English and British English. Dutch and Afrikaans speakers can understand each other after two hundred years of separation, while amazingly a Tahitian on Captain Cook’s first boat to the Pacific could communicate with Maori in New Zealand after a four to five hundred year separation.
Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian speakers find it easy to learn each others’ languages because they are in the same family and have a lot of similarities. Similarly, Koreans find it easier to learn Chinese or Japanese than they do any European language. The Dutch find it easier to learn German or English than they do Arabic or Kiswahili.
The greater the differences in syntax, vocabulary, and grammar as well as the alphabet and form of writing the harder it will be to learn a new language. It’s harder for an English speaker to learn Russian, for example than German, simply because of the use of the Russian Cyrillic script. It’s even harder to learn Japanese, Korean or Chinese for an English speaker and vice versa because of the difference between Latin script and the characters used by the East Asian languages.
Whatever the differences in the language you want or need to learn and your own, probably the most important factor are motivation. The greater the motivation, the easier it will be to learn what you want to learn!