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What are the easiest and the most difficult languages in the world?
Thread poster: Paul Dixon
My Personal Opinion Jun 23, 2009

Reading all the postings above, in my objective view, I agree that Japanese is the most difficult language. We have three different forms of writing, namely, hiraganas, katakanas, and kanjis. We usually mix hiraganas and kanjis to write or speak, and they are totally different characters. Katakanas are mostly used for foreign loan words. So you have to learn 3 types of scripts, and I think that is hard even for natives. To my knowledge, I think Japanese is the only lanugage which uses three types of scripts. The aforementioned languages, including different scripts like Russian and Bulgarian have only ONE type of script (Cyrillic) and other European languages all use alphabets.

From what I heard, Danish and Polish are one of the hardest languages to learn. And from my experience Arabic >>> Russian were the two languages I had difficulty in, since Arabic does not indicate the vowels in the words or sentences, except for the letter "aleph" which is considered to be a vowel. There are only three vowels excluding aleph in Arabic, which are a, i, and u. Only in children's books, the vowels are indicated, and if you read a newspaper or a novel, the vowels are not there. So if you come across a word you don't know, you have to guess how it's pronounced. This last part sounds like English.


 

chica nueva
Local time: 11:08
Chinese to English
measured by L1 or L2 learning?; measured by proficiency/hrs of tuition (US data) Jun 23, 2009

[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardest_language
One can approach the question of determining the most difficult natural language in two ways: L1 methods: determine the hardest language for infants to naturally acquire, L2 methods: determine the hardest language for adults to learn as a second language ... ]

http://www.proz.com/forum/chinese/34417-questions_of_a_student_in_japanese_not_too_sure_about_the_potential_of_chinesein_french.html#242521
According to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California (1973):
The most difficult: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
The easiest: Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish
(measured by speaking proficiency/hrs of tuition)

@ Yasutomo Re: the Monterey DLI grades - these grades seem to be for English-native speakers.

Here is more from Wiki. Note: the FSI measures proficiency in speaking and reading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardest_language
1 The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State ... the five most difficult languages to reach proficiency in speaking and proficiency in reading (for native English speakers who already know other languages) ... are: "Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean", with Japanese being the most difficult.
2 In the Defense Language Institute of the US Department of Defense (DLI), Korean is seen as the hardest of the Category IV languages, which are Arabic, Chinese, and Korean. ...

[Edited at 2009-06-23 09:20 GMT]


 
Very interesting Jun 23, 2009

[quote]lai an wrote:

http://www.proz.com/forum/chinese/34417-questions_of_a_student_in_japanese_not_too_sure_about_the_potential_of_chinesein_french.html#242521
According to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California (1973):
The most difficult: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
The easiest: Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish


It's very interesting to know that all of the most difficult languages to learn are languages which don't use any Latin alphabets and the easiest languages are all in Latin alphabets.


 

Oakie620
Brazil
Local time: 20:08
English to Portuguese
+ ...
JAPANESE IS THE MOST DIFFICULT. Jun 23, 2009

Japanese is by far the most difficult language, especially as spoken. Actually Chinese is more similar to English than Japanese.
I think Portuguese and Spanish (written and spoken) are probably the easiest; and would make a better universal language than esperanto.


 

Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:08
Flemish to English
+ ...
English and others Jun 23, 2009

English with its +2 million words...
Written French.
Chinese with its 4 tones per character and about 5000 characters before you know it well (5000 x 4 tones).
Japanese: Hiragana and Katakana are not that difficult to learn, Kanjis with their 2 readings are.
Russian: I can read Cyrillic, but as I understand it there are 7 declensions (3 more than in German).
Hungarian, Basque, Finnish, Estonian, Polish.


 

AWa (X)
Local time: 01:08
English to German
+ ...
Easy Jun 23, 2009

Easy languages are those I already have learned,
difficult are those I still have to learn


Someone here mentioned a survey in which the "easy" languages all used the Latin alphabet, while "difficult" languages used other ways of writing.
The study was conducted in the US (if I remember correctly). I wonder what the result would be if the same survey was conducted in a country that does not use the Latin alphabet.


 

Tomas Mosler, DipTrans IoLET MCIL MITI  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 01:08
Member (2008)
English to Czech
hm Jun 23, 2009

Williamson wrote:

Hungarian, Basque, Finnish, Estonian, Polish.


Hm, is Polish more difficult than Czech, you say?

Russian: I can read Cyrillic, but as I understand it there are 7 declensions (3 more than in German).

We have that, too!

Actually I find it a bit funny to see someone "voting" for Geman as most difficult. I think it has more obvious/simple structure than Czech, for example. And has anyone given a try to exclusively Czech "ř" (aka "raised alveolar non-sonorant trill" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alveolar_trill#Raised_alveolar_non-sonorant_trill )?

(I don't choose a specific language as most difficult as I have no knowledge of them all - so can't say if Japanese is more difficult than Finnish for example.)


 

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:08
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Sex and gender Jun 23, 2009

Someone mentioned the neuter das Mädchen in German. Note also than the Russian word for man, мужчина, is feminine in form, and the Spanish word for woman, mujer, is masculine in form.

 

Aniello Scognamiglio  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:08
English to German
+ ...
la mujer :-) Jun 23, 2009

Jack Doughty wrote:
and the Spanish word for woman, mujer, is masculine in form.


 

Julia Ober  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:08
German to Russian
+ ...
There are 6 :) Jun 23, 2009

Williamson wrote:

Russian: I can read Cyrillic, but as I understand it there are 7 declensions

There are 6


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:08
German to Serbian
+ ...
Genders Jun 23, 2009

Jack Doughty wrote:

Someone mentioned the neuter das Mädchen in German. Note also than the Russian word for man, мужчина, is feminine in form, and the Spanish word for woman, mujer, is masculine in form.


Oh, I had problems with genders in French in the beginning, as many nouns are in a different gender than their equivalents in my native language. For example, I (may brain) could hardly accept to say " elle" for a stone, car, window, etc. I acquired it after a while, but it had been confusing in the beginning.


 

Ioanna Orfanoudaki  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 01:08
French to Greek
+ ...
Interesting Jun 23, 2009

It is very interesting to notice that English is generally considered as easy (or -er) than other languages! I personally believe that each language has its own difficulties and English is not easy, if you want to speak and write it correctly from a technical point of view and not just to "make yourself understood".
The question is definitely very subjective and the answer depends, among others, on how exposed you are to the language you're trying to learn... If it wasn't for all the films, music and TV programmes in English, I'm sure that English would be included in the difficult ones...


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:08
German to Serbian
+ ...
English Jun 23, 2009

Ioanna Orfanoudaki wrote:

It is very interesting to notice that English is generally considered as easy (or -er) than other languages! I personally believe that each language has its own difficulties and English is not easy, if you want to speak and write it correctly from a technical point of view and not just to "make yourself understood".
The question is definitely very subjective and the answer depends, among others, on how exposed you are to the language you're trying to learn... If it wasn't for all the films, music and TV programmes in English, I'm sure that English would be included in the difficult ones...



English is extremely easy in some aspects, such as gender, case and number.

English is very difficult when it comes to prepositions, idioms, phraseology and synonymity.


missdutch
 

Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 01:08
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Tibetan anyone? Jun 23, 2009

I agree with Ricardo, all languages from the linguistic point of view are "equal" in the sense that there is nothing intrinsically demeaning, limiting or handicapping about any of them. Next door to this question is that silliness of "what is the best language" in the world. However, this question could be rephrased to "what in your experience has been the most difficult language to learn?". In this way we could avoid the all the political repercussions.

Most of us have studied the major European languages almost all our adult life, so we probably won't find any of them, or even their permutations in the form of variants (italiano/siciliano, lietuvių/Žemaičių, Deutsch - Wymysorys, Sathmarisch and Siebenbürgisch, etc.), all that insurmountably difficult.

The oft-repeated answer of Chinese is probably true for most non-Chinese speakers although, from what I've seen and heard, the Sino-Tibetan (esp. dzongkha) and Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages would be really tough for anyone approaching them from a west European language. Malayalam or Marathi anyone? Tones, yes, are hard, but what about the nominal compounds in Sanskrit-based languages where words containing +10 nouns are possible? Finnish and German have them but not to such an extent. To my ears, for example, Tamil sentences sound like one continuous utterance!

Crossing seas and oceans to the Americas, just have a go at the Iroquoian languages and Uto-Aztecan languages. If you thought Chinese was difficult, try digesting the vowel system in Mohawk, or the 'creaky voice' and tones in Yucatec Mayan! When I was watching Apocalypto, for example, I remember having the impression that the ejective and glottalized consonants were so mesmerizing to hear but the actors took a long time to say anything and the corresponding translation in English was, say, 3-4 words.

Right at Europe's doorstep are some obvious examples: kartuli or any of the Kartvelian languages, in my experience, aren't walks in the park like Spanish! After Russian and German I thought I had inflection down pat! Ha! Try your hand at the Georgian ergative and you'll be humbled. Mastering grammar basically boils down to remembering rules and exceptions to rules. The principal difficulty I think lies more in phonology. Three or four contiguous consonants, for example, aren't very rare in Georgian. There are even extreme examples of 6 or 8 contiguous consonants (mts'k'rivi, gvprtskvni). Try that, English speaker!

As translators, we should all thank our stars that English, German, Spanish and French are sooooooo easy to learn!



 

Niraja Nanjundan (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:38
German to English
Indian languages are tough Jun 23, 2009

Marcus Malabad wrote:
Malayalam or Marathi anyone? Tones, yes, are hard, but what about the nominal compounds in Sanskrit-based languages where words containing +10 nouns are possible? Finnish and German have them but not to such an extent. To my ears, for example, Tamil sentences sound like one continuous utterance!


Now I know why people in Western countries seem to prefer learning Chinese and Japanese to Indian languages, even though India is economically and strategically one of the very important Asian countries! I suppose we also spoil things by speaking so much English!

My best language is English and it's also the language I was educated in, but my actual mother tongue is Tamil. I can speak and understand Tamil fairly well, but because I grew up and was educated in Europe, I never learned to read or write. I'm trying to learn that now and it's really tough, especially since the written language is so different from the spoken language. I believe this difference exists in languages such as Arabic and Persian as well.


 
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