What is the Hardest Language to Learn For an English Native Speaker?

Updated: June 22, 2022
Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm

Perhaps you’ve found your way to this page because you’ve mastered a few languages and are ready to ramp up the difficulty level a notch?

Maybe, you’re a complete newbie to the world of language learning and you want to start your journey with a bang?

Or, you might simply be here because you’re curious to find out exactly what the hardest language is to learn and why?

Whatever the reason, you’ve come to the right place.

Before you read on, I’ve got a small disclaimer to make: answering this question isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. The difficulty of learning a language can depend on your mother tongue, your experience with similar languages, and your natural knack as a language guru.

For the purpose of this list, I’ve focused on languages that are tricky to learn for those who have grown up using English as their native language. 

So, below, you’ll find plenty of tonal languages, alphabets with weird and wonderful characters, and headache-inducing grammar. Don’t worry though, I’ve also included a few tips on how to make things a little easier if you want to start learning one of these notoriously tricky languages.

So, let’s dive in! 

The 8 Hardest Languages To Learn In The World

Taking the advice of experts and combining it with my own first-hand experience, I’ve put together a list of eight of the hardest languages to learn in the world.

I’ll delve into a little more detail later on, but for now, here’s what makes these languages top the rankings for the most difficult across the globe.

  1. Mandarin Chinese. With thousands of intricate characters to memorize, tongue-twisting pronunciation, and four tones to get your head around, it’s no surprise that Mandarin tops the list.
  2. Russian. Sneaky Cyrillic characters might get you in a fluster first of all, but just wait until you discover six different cases and endless ‘exception to the rules’ when it comes to Russian grammar.
  3. Vietnamese. Six tones await you in this tricky Southeast Asian language where even the slightest sounds can change the whole meaning of your sentence. 
  4. Arabic. After sussing out a new and unusual alphabet, you’ll need to get practising those guttural tones to become a master of Arabic.
  5. Finnish. Over 15 grammatical cases weave their way through the Finnish language, making even the smallest changes to a word integral to its meaning.
  6. Hungarian. Idioms are commonplace in the Hungarian language, as are all 26 of its cases, making direct translation into your native tongue a little difficult.
  7. Korean. Sharing none of its characteristics with any otherworldly language, Korean is one of the most isolated languages in the world, and pronunciation can get tricky.

  8. Japanese. You’ll need to master all three of Japan’s character alphabets before you even start to think about stringing a sentance together.

Why is learning Mandarin so hard?

For people who are accustomed to using Latin characters, learning the thousands of unique symbols is the first hurdle to jump when it comes to Mandarin.

Then comes the four tones used in Mandarin, which, in simple terms, means the same written word can have four completely different meanings. 

And finally, people tend to speak in idioms when it comes to Mandarin which makes communication a little tricky for non-native speakers.

How long does it take a master Mandarin?

A huge 2,200 hours of learning on average. 

Is there a way to make learning Mandarin easier?

Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world and immersing yourself in a place that speaks just that can helps heaps. If you can’t afford to hop on a plane to the other side of the world, try an online platform to connect with locals in a language exchange. 

Why is learning Russian so hard?

Apart from the Cyrillic alphabet that likes to trick us into thinking a ‘B’ is a ‘b’ sounds (it’s actually a ‘v’ sound), Russian grammar likes to add a bit of confusion to the mix too. 

Each word has six cases, verbs have two forms depending on the context you’re using them and don’t get me started on all those consonants being clustered together making even the simplest of words, like hello, take a good few months to perfect!

How long does it take a master Russian?

Around 1,500 hours to become a pro.

Is there a way to make learning Russian easier?

Make sure you master the Cyrillic alphabet before you do anything else. You need to be able to read the words before anything gets too complicated – take it from someone who did it the hard way.

Note: If you're struggling with listening in Russian, or native speakers speaking too fast – try our very own “Bite Size Russian” Course!

Why is learning Vietnamese so hard?

Vietnamese uses mainly a Latin script with the odd tail-flick and dot here and there, so what makes it so difficult? Probably the six different tones!

Pronunciation of the many similar-looking words is the hardest thing about learning Vietnamese, and a simple word like ‘bo’ holds five or six different meanings from avocado to stepdad, beef to bank.  

How long does it take a master Vietnamese?

Once you’ve nailed the six different tones, Vietnamese isn’t so hard, so it should only take around 1,300 hours to get up to a good standard.

Is there a way to make learning Vietnamese easier?

Use one of the many online courses or Youtube videos to nail those tones and hear them from a local.

Why is learning Arabic so hard?

Mastering the 28-letters of the Arabic alphabet can be a tricky ask for someone who is accustomed to the Latin script…

…as can the guttural sounds and velarized consonants that are so common in Arabic.

Add a script that’s written from right to left into the mix, and sentance structures that are all over the place, and you’ve got yourself one of the hardest languages in the world on your hands.

How long does it take a master Arabic?

On average, a learner will need around 2,200 hours of learning to crack the Arabic language.

Is there a way to make learning Arabic easier?

Commit to one Arabic dialect first before you move onto any others to keep things simple.

Why is learning Finnish so hard?

If you thought Russian was a bit of a handful with six cases, just wait until you come to tackling Finland’s mighty 15 cases for each of its nouns.

The language also has no ties to Germanic or Latin languages, so don’t expect to have a helping hand in recognising some of the borrowed words.

How long does it take a master Finnish?

You’re going to want to commit to around 2,200 hours of learning to get this language right.

Is there a way to make learning Finnish easier?

Start watching and reading kids TV shows and books. The language is simple and the images will help you understand the context a little better without having to translate every single word.

Why is learning Hungarian so hard?

Hungarian is famous for having some of the longest words in the world. That’s because instead of having individual prepositions, they just add letters to change a word’s meaning. 

Seriously, the longest word in Hungarian is 44 letters long! 

Oh, and they work with a thing called vowel-harmony where they like to pop a random vowel onto the end of a word… just to make it sound right.

How long does it take a master Hungarian?

Around 1,500 hours of lesson time will help you to become fluent.

Is there a way to make learning Hungarian easier?

Hungarian is best learnt in small bits, so try and do a little bit every day instead of overloading your brain.

Why is learning Korean so hard?

The difficulty in learning Korean doesn’t actually come from its totally unique alphabet – I spent about three weeks there and managed to familiarize myself with enough of these to read street signs and shops!

Like Hungarian, Koreans like to form really long words, which makes getting the grammar right, as well as the pronunciation, a really tricky task.

How long does it take a master Korean?

Put aside at least 2,200 hours of time if you want to be a master of the Korean Language.

Is there a way to make learning Korean easier?

Use flashcards to help speed up the process of learning all of these new characters before progressing with your studies.

Why is learning Japanese so hard?

Another difficult language… another difficult writing system to master! Well, three of them.

Yes, you read that right, Japanese has three alphabets to get to grips with before you even start speaking the language, and the intricate characters aren’t exactly easy either.

How long does it take a master Japanese?

If you’re hoping to become fluent in Japanese, get ready to spend more than 2,300 hours learning the language.

Is there a way to make learning Japanese easier?

Once you’re confident with the alphabet, start practising sounds, and groups of sounds, to make speaking and reading a little easier. 

Some Final Thoughts…

From this list, you can take your pick of what the hardest language to learn might be, and have a good go at cracking it!

Remember not all languages are created equal and neither are the learners, so it might take you a shorter or longer time than what I’ve suggested.

These may be some of the most difficult languages to learn, but the satisfaction of perfecting your reading, writing and speaking in a new language is worth the challenge.

Anyhow, what is life without a challenge? You’ve just got to be willing to put the work in.