Hardest language to learn?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Oniw17, May 7, 2007.


Which is the hardest to learn?

  1. Basque

  2. Mandarin

  3. Icelandic

  4. Finnish

  5. Japanese

  6. Arabic

  7. Other

  1. Oniw17 ascetic, sage, diogenes, bum? Valued Senior Member

    In your opinion, of course.
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Not getting much action, I see. You've picked a pretty esoteric assortment. How many of our members know enough about Finnish or Basque to be able to rate them?

    I think you'll get a different consensus from each language community. Of the languages that are commonly studied in America, I suspect most Americans would vote for Russian as the hardest to learn. But Germans would probably not feel that way and Czechs of course think it's fairly easy.
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  5. Genji Registered Senior Member

    Of course I don't know which is hardest to learn because I've never tried learning any of them. I have read Finnish, Icelandic, Turk and Asian tongues are most difficult for English speakers. But learning Arabic would be most challenging imo. A completely different language world in every way. So much emphasis on inflection. Mandarin would be my 2nd choice.
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  7. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

    When I started to learn Russian at age 13 we were told that we'd picked the correct course (a 3rd language was compulsory for the stream I was in, everyone did French) and that the German students had picked the harder choice.
    Supposedly Russian started off difficult and got easier, whereas, we were told, German started easy and got progressively more difficult.
    Strangely enough the guys who'd picked German had been told exactly the same, but reversed...
    I took German a few years later and didn't find either particularly difficult, and then found that I had few problems picking up snippets of Italian, Czech, Portuguese, Polish or Spanish (which my then-wife spoke as a second language) or Japanese, which a couple of friends took courses in.
    I've since started (on and off) learning Arabic (but only written).
  8. Starthane Xyzth returns occasionally... Valued Senior Member

    Of the few I've tried to learn, Greek has to be the toughest. Its extreme inflective nature means that, for a single verb in English, there can be effectively 15 different words in Greek.

    Voted for Mandarin actually, because I know nothing about the others listed - except that Arabic and Japanese are the quintessential agglutinative languages.

    BTW: just how many languages do you speak, Oli? You seem to have had a varied history of linguistic learning.
  9. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

    Few of them well but I read (sufficient for my purposes) most of the European languages, and enough to get my head kicked in in most countries round the world...

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    French is my second best (after English of course), then German. Russian is nearly good enough to get through the day - but most of my languages I learnt for military technology purposes, so it's specialised, not conversational.
  10. EmptyForceOfChi Banned Banned

    i know finnish looks like elvish from lord of the rings and is a very pretty language.

  11. Chatha big brown was screwed up Registered Senior Member

    Most African languages are the hardest to learn, I've tried to learn some of them to no avail. Arabic seem impossibly hard too
  12. ashpwner Registered Senior Member

    english becusase so many word mean the same thing
  13. spuriousmonkey Banned Banned

    Finnish is difficult to learn because the words have no relationship to other European languages. There is no way you can guess the meaning of words like you can for English or French if you happen to be Dutch or Spanish.

    That means you will have to learn the meaning of every single word!

    The easy thing about Finnish is that the language is pronounced exactly as it is written. That's also the most difficult part, because you have to pronounce every word accurately. Otherwise the meaning changes. And you might think Fins will compensate for this when they hear a foreigner talk, but they don't. They look like you are nuts.

    Grammar is predictable. It's all rather regular. No propositions though. The structure of the language is different than most European countries. No difference between him and her.

    It's probably an easy language to learn if you are very young, but every language is easy to learn when you are young.
  14. Starthane Xyzth returns occasionally... Valued Senior Member

    Ulifanya kujifunza Kiswahili? (Have you tried Swahili?) That's not too difficult.

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  15. dreammen Registered Member

    Really? I am willing to study Swahili.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Being able to guess the meaning of words is only one aspect of "ease of learning." Grammar and syntax can be daunting. Many Greek and Latin words are instantly recognizable but their grammar is so complex that it's bewildering for anglophones.

    Phonetics can make a difference too. Chinese grammar is even simpler than English, but the sounds are hard for us to master.
    Everyone says that, but I would like to know how you determine which syllable in a word gets the accent? Is it always on the first syllable as in Czech, or always on the next-to-last syllable, as in Polish? Or is it just not very important, as in Chinese and Japanese?
    Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Turkish are the only major languages spoken in Europe that are not members of the Indo-European language family. Finnish and Estonian (as well as Sami and several languages spoken in Russia) are related to each other and, more distantly, to Hungarian. Turkish is related to Mongolian.
    Yes, foreign languages should be taught in elementary schools when they're easy. It's a catastrophe that this is not done in American schools.
  17. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Which of these languages finds its native speakers having the most trouble learning English?
  18. Tyler Registered Senior Member

    As a native English speaker who can manage French and speaks Chinese about a step above conversational level, I picked Finnish. It just looks damn near impossible to me.

    But as an English teacher I would say the Chinese have the most difficult time adjusting to English. Chinese is a tonal language and has very few sounds if you take away the tones. There are so many dozens (or more) of English sounds that the Chinese find almost impossible to pronounce. Moreover, because the Chinese come from a language with no similar filler words (to, that, which, etc.), do not differentiate between he and she (which even high-level students have difficulty with in their speaking), and think of 'grammar' in a completely different way, English is particularly difficult. Chinese does not conjugate verbs, verbs do not affect nouns or subjects or anything. So the idea of 'grammar' in Chinese is much more centered around specifically strange vocabulary that changes the structure of a sentence. When learning French - or most languages - your grammar nuisances will be learning how to conjugate, how to form a certain tense, etc. Chinese students don't have any of these concepts in their head.
  19. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I would think speaking whale or dolphin would be very difficult!

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  20. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    I always thought Enlish was hard.

    read and read (Read this book that I read)
    polish and polish (I will polish the polish furniture)

    and then all of these
    their, there, they're
    wore, war
    one, won
    pear, pair, pare
  21. lucifers angel same shit, differant day!! Registered Senior Member

    in my opinion its got to be WELSH!! it was hard to learn, and i am welsh, but now i am fluent and love it

    the sounds are nothing like i have heard anywhere else
  22. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    Why is there no 'Dutch' in the poll ?
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    When you learn to speak someone else's language, to a great extent you learn how they think. Imagine what it would be like to learn the language of another species!

    At least two species of apes (gorilla and chimpanzee) have learned American Sign Language. That must have been an amazing experience for them. Not only did they learn to communicate at a much more advanced level than their own species had ever developed, but they also learned how humans think.
    Well I guess so!

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    Well you're just talking about the written language. Humans got along without those for tens of thousands of years. That's not a true measure of the difficulty of learning the language.

    In my experience with non-native speakers, I'd say the most difficult things for them are:
    • A. Prepositions. What's the difference between arriving at your destination on time and in time? Am I at my house or in my house? We'll have a party in December, during the fourth week, on Thursday, at two o'clock, in the afternoon.
    • B. Syntax. It's not too hard to express oneself clearly, but it's really hard to put the words together the way we do. There aren't really any good rules for syntax, and if there were they would be a myriad micro-rules, each one applying only to about six situations. I have the same problem in Spanish. Everybody understands me but I make them giggle.
    • C. Articles. Most of the European languages have them, but no two use them the same way. And many other languages don't have them, including major ones like Russian, Chinese and Japanese. I breathe air, but birds fly in the air. I love rice, but when I went to a Chinese restaurant last night I didn't eat the rice. I feel happiness, but where is the happiness in your family life?
    • D. Pronunciation. English has more phonemes (individual sounds) than most languages. Many of them sound alike to foreigners: least and list, caught and coat, would and wooed, hot and hat. Some of our phoneme combinations are impossible for them: disks, world, hatched. TH is a very uncommon phoneme and we have two versions of it. In America we flap our intervocalic T and D like a Spanish R: waiting and wading are homonyms.
    You're not the first person who's told me that. That sound they write as LL is sort of like THL, right? I think all the Celtic languages are difficult for anglophones.
    German isn't there, and to an anglophone Dutch is similar to German only easier. No umlauts, a greatly simplified grammar. It's like half English and half German. Now if you want to talk about a difficult Germanic language, try wrapping your tongue around Danish! Not the pastry, that's real easy.

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