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What are the easiest and the most difficult languages in the world?
Thread poster: Paul Dixon

Franco Cappelletti (X)
Local time: 00:48
English to German
+ ...
Depends on your language-learning history Jul 3, 2009

Of the 10+ languages I've tackled, to me, Indonesian is the easiest to learn.
A Latin alphabet, a regular pronounciation, and no cases/conjugation.

I definitely found Russian to be the hardest.


 

chica nueva
Local time: 10:48
Chinese to English
Indian languages, etc Jul 4, 2009

Niraja Nanjundan wrote:

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.


Hello Niraja

More about Indian languages here: http://blog.leximo.org/2009/03/worlds-hardest-languages-to-learn.html

Lesley


 

Michele Johnson  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:48
German to English
+ ...
Remote Amazonian Pirahã Jul 5, 2009

Great read here about Pirahã, the language of a remote Amazonian tribe, and the debate about whether humans are "hard-wired" for grammar:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/04/16/070416fa_fact_colapinto

"The Pirahã... have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition. Everett’s most explosive claim, however, was that Pirahã displays no evidence of recursion, a linguistic operation that consists of inserting one phrase inside another of the same type, as when a speaker combines discrete thoughts (“the man is walking down the street,” “the man is wearing a top hat”) into a single sentence (“The man who is wearing a top hat is walking down the street”). Noam Chomsky, the influential linguistic theorist, has recently revised his theory of universal grammar, arguing that recursion is the cornerstone of all languages, and is possible because of a uniquely human cognitive ability."


 

kmtext
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
English
+ ...
Tamil Jul 5, 2009

My only real experience is with Western European languages, apart from dabbling a little in Greek and Japanese years ago.

I was told that Tamil was the hardest language to learn due to its complicated grammar and script, but I haven't got any personal experience of it.

English is both one of the hardest and one of the easiest to learn. It's such a hodge-podge of every language it has ever come into contact with that it's full of exceptions to grammatical rules and inconsistencies in pronunciation and spelling. However, it's also a very forgiving language and is spoken by so many people that it's a lot easier to practise and access materials in it, which makes it easier to learn.

Gàidhlig is pretty straightforward. There aren't many irregular verbs and it has strict rules on grammar, spelling and pronunciation to which there are very few exceptions.


 

Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 00:48
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
"tonal (like Chinese) or glottal (like the click languages of Africa)" Jul 5, 2009

++
as regards anything closer to me, I suspect Basque to be the toughest, and the language of love the simplest - it's universal, even if not completely contextfree, knows just singular, everything in nominative and present tense....

Regards

Vito


 

Clayton Causey  Identity Verified
Member (2008)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
More gender confusion Jul 14, 2009

Aniello Scognamiglio wrote:

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


Spanish = el pecho; el seno = breast (masculine gender)

Spanish = la barba = beard (feminine gender)

Not to stray, but I found this subtheme kind of fun.


 

chica nueva
Local time: 10:48
Chinese to English
Afrikaans and Xhosa Jul 24, 2009

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
(measured by speaking proficiency/hrs of tuition)


Afrikaans is relatively easy for English native speakers to learn apparently. (I have learned one very basic sentence: 'Ek sol loup langs die pad.' ... ) And the 'click languages' are one of the most difficult, it seems. (My teacher also knew Xhosa, so I had a go at learning the word for 'mealie-meal' porridge ... how to spell it, though?)

Here is Miriam Makeba singing the famous 'Click Song' ...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mwh9z58iAU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tSJ7L_IRBs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aNZ8qwKDrE&feature=related
Miriam Makeba - The Click Song
MIRIAM MAKEBA-Click Song [A.K.A. Qongqothwane]
The Click Song - Miriam Makeba

[ Explanation of lyrics here (Xhosa Click Song by Bongani):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cbVV9yI_sg&feature=related
Harmony here (JQ99 in Africa... Zulu Click Song):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCfrtIcZH7U&feature=related ]

[ Can I post this here? :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2TCHd_cm_c
Nkosi skelel iAfrica
http://www.anc.org.za/misc/nkosi.html
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika: South Africa's National Anthem ]

[Edited at 2009-07-24 01:26 GMT]


 

Andrea Shah  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:48
Member (May 2019)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Hindi Jul 24, 2009

I've struggled far more with Hindi than I ever did with any of the Romance languages I've learned. Some of it is the alphabet (%&$#! conjuncts), and some of it is the difficulty I have getting some of the words to stick in my head. Now that I'm unemployed, I'm going to to try to devote some more time to it - with the bonus that I'll be living somewhere with unlimited access to Hindi soaps and news!

 

Ellis Jongsma  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 00:48
Member (2006)
English to Dutch
dislexia Jul 24, 2009

I once read that the language with most people suffering from dyslexia were in the UK and the US. A reason for this would be the different ways to write words that sound the same (plains, planes, tees, teas, etc.). The language with the least number of people having dyslexia was Spain, as almost all words are written the same way as they are spoken.

So maybe the most difficult language is English and the easiest Spain. At least in Europe...?


 

Michael Mestre
France
Local time: 00:48
English to French
+ ...
Overall difficulty is subjective but every language has its own sources of headaches Jul 24, 2009

From what I gather by reading the posts above, the consensus seems to be that how hard a language is to learn depends mostly on your mother tongue or the languages you already know.
Despite this, most people pick asian languages, german, and slavic languages as the hardest.

My humble contribution to this debate is that some languages create (artificially ?) difficulties that other languages may not have. So, the arguments might revolve around what is easy to say in which languages, regardless of your mother tongue.
For instance :

-Russian has a very systematic and compact script (err, I mean, compared to the density of sounds when speaking). Polish, although quite similar to Russian and almost mutually intelligible, has a VERY cluttered script.
The fact that Polish uses the latin alphabet does not make the life of beginners easier, it prevents them from being able to read for a while.

-French is close enough to Spanish to be almost considered as a dialect of the latter (I know, it is not strictly speaking). But learning French is much more frustrating than Spanish due to the unguessable gender of every noun. Having a similar difficulty in your mother tongue doesn't help much because all the genders you know are probably different.

-Russians insist on declining every number and adjective in a word group, unlike Turkish which 'declines' (adds a declension-like suffix to) only the last word of the group. So, saying "I have been in 5306 Moscovite night clubs in the past year" is a breeze in Turkish while it will give intense and lasting headaches to a Russian learner.
(Question to native Russian speakers : does it also give headaches to you ?)

-Chinese may be hard to pronounce for westerners because of its tones, but simple sentences are gramatically much more palatable than in.. French for example.
There are not a lot of languages in which you can learn how to say "I want to go to China" during the first lesson.
Also, the range of sounds is actually not so large, so after some training you can recognize all of them when watching television, even if you understand 10% of the words.

-In French, saying simple things can be really hard. A very standard "what is it" turns into a redundant spaghetti of two and three-letter words ("qu'est-ce que c'est").
In Turkish, though, you will probably manage the "bu ne" quite quickly, regardless of what languages you are familiar with.


missdutch
 

Quamrul Islam  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:48
Member (2009)
English to Bengali
+ ...
May be Dutch is the most difficult ! Jul 25, 2009

Yes, may be the most difficult languages are the Germanic ones, especially Dutch. On the other extreme, I have found Malay among the easiest ones. Malay and Indonesian are almost the same language with some differences in vocabulary. These languages have very little grammatical inflections. As for Esperanto, it is not so easy to learn, though it is an artificial language, due partly to its vocabulary taken from a number of European languages. I hope this answers the question to some extent.

 
chinese is the most difficult Jul 28, 2009

Manyof my western friends think chinese is the most difficult.To them, it is a completely different system.

 

Mathilde Verbaas  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 00:48
Member (2009)
English to Dutch
+ ...
For me it is Czech Aug 4, 2009

Quamrul Islam wrote:

Yes, may be the most difficult languages are the Germanic ones, especially Dutch.


Dutch might be diffucult, not beacuase of the grammar rules, but because of the high amount of exceptions n these rules. I never appreciated this, until I started to learn Czech a year ago and started to compare both languages. For me Dutch is not that difficult, as I am a native speaker.

Czech on the other hand is really diffucult. 7 cases and 4 genders (male animated, male inanimated, female and neutral) plus the tendancy to have multiple words for everything and multiple meanings for every word and a big difference between written and spoken language make this a really diffucult langague to learn. It is interesting to see that Czech is easier for native Dutch and German speakers than for English speakers. There actually are similarities between Czech, German and Dutch. Although you don't notice that at first. I can translate the Czech word "příležitost" literally into the Dutch word "gelegenheid" without using a dictionary.

I found English, German, Spanish and French much easier to learn. (although I forgot almost all my French and Spanish)


 

Ata Arif  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
Kurdish to English
+ ...
far and close Oct 4, 2009

Somewhere is far as long as you have not been arrived there, a language is difficult as long as you are not familiar with it.

 
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