Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm
Have you ever thought which are the most difficult languages you can learn? Chinese, Hungarian, Korean? Here are 7 you might find challenging!
Actually it depends on each individual person, as we all have different linguistic backgrounds and some languages will be further or nearer to our own native tongue.
However, according to the Foreign Service Institute of the USA, there are languages like Arabic, Hungarian, and Estonian that are more complex and thus present a bigger challenge for English native speakers.
The reasons vary why, but the list is greater than the ones mentioned before.
In this article you'll find a few more difficult languages, along with an explanation why they are more difficult than average!
Top 7 of the most difficult languages
- Chinese. There are many reasons why this language is in this list. For example, the characters that are used while writing are very complicated and ancient for outsiders.Each word is denotedby a separate symbol and it’s not phonetic, so you have no idea how it’s pronounced.The tonal system is one more obstacle in the way of learning Chinese. There are a handful or more tones depending on which Chinese language you're studying.One more reason is a big quantity of homophones. For instance, the word “shi” is connected with 30 various morphemes.Some people try to learn Chinese only because of its complexity and uniqueness. Even Korean which shares many principles with Chinese is way easier to learn, and common for all the languages in this article is that the easiest way is probably via Skype with a native speaker – unless you happen to be in the country, of course!
- Arabic. The first difficulty is in writing. Many letters can have four ways of writing depending on their position in a word.The vowels are not included while writing. There is also a real lack of loanwords, which learners could use to identify words already known. In Arabic the verb usually comes before the predicate.The verb has 3 numbers, so you have to learn the verbs in singular, plural and dual forms. The Present tense has 13 forms. The noun has 3 cases and 2 genders. One more problem is dialects. Each dialect sounds as a separate language.Yikes!
- Tuyuca. The language of eastern Amazons. Its tone system isn’t so difficult: simple consonants and some nasal vowels. But agglutination! For example, the word “hóabãsiriga” means «I don’t know how to write».This means on word can convey a whole sentence in English!There are from 50 up to 140 categories of nouns. The strange thing is that it’s necessary to use special verb endings which demonstrate how a speaker knows the thing, the situation he’s speaking about.As an example, “Diga ape-wi” means “a boy played football (I know that because I’ve seen it)”.In English we can mention it or not, it doesn’t play any role, but in Tuyuca it’s obligatory.
- Hungarian. The first thing that is worth mentioning is that this language has 35 cases or the categories of nouns. This fact alone would make Hungarian an obvious candidate for the list of the most difficult languages.There are tons of idioms and suffixes as well as many vowel sounds with relatively small differences (back or front vowels) makes this language complicated in the pronunciation department as well.You will have to make a big effort to maintain this language on the decent level.[Note from Kris: Can confirm Hungarian is very difficult from my 18 month stint with it back in 2016! There are some saving graces, but it's definitely one of the harder languages I've studied.]
- Japanese. The matter is that the spelling here differs from the pronunciation. It means that you won’t be able to learn speaking on Japanese just by learning to read on it – and vice versa.Moreover, there are three various writing systems. The Chinesecharacters are used in kanji system.Students have to learn from 10 up to 15 thousandcharacters.There are two alphabets in the Japanese writing system: katakana – is for the imported words and hiragana is used for the words with suffixes and grammatical parts.The United States Department of State Office provides three times more time for the students that learn this language at Online Japanese Classes.
- Navaho. This strange language also claims to be in the list of the most difficult languages.During the second Word War this language was used as a code for a message sending by telegraphers.The advantage of this method was that it was pretty easy to encode the information.But the Japanese forces couldn’t understand it.Navaho was chosen not only because it’s difficult, but also because there were no published dictionaries of this language at the time, despite the number of native speakers.There are lots of endings in Navaho, depending on behalf of which person you’re speaking of.
- Basque. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Great Britain Basque is considered to be one of the most complicated languages in the world.It has 24 cases. Obviously it’s the oldest language in Europe and it belongs to agglutinative languages, in other words – suffixes, prefixes and infixes are used for the creating of new meanings in words.It’s more a synthetic language than an analytical one. It means that the case endings are used to denote relations between words. Moreover, Basque has its own unique case that is not seen in any other languages.
So if you’re going to start learning one of these languages, best of luck to you!
Any language, no matter how difficult can obviously be learned but the ones mentioned above definitely require a bit more energy than other languages 🙂
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Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.