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Top 10 Hardest Languages

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on March 7, 2009 38 Comments

A recent post on Lexiblog has a list of the top ten languages hardest to learn, according to “language enthusiasts”:

1. Icelandic
2. Russian or Mandarin
3. Arabic
4. Mandarin
5. Hungarian
6. English
7. Hindi
8. Cantonese
9. Chinese
10. Tamil

What are some of the hardest languages YOU have acquired? What made them hard?

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38 Responses to “Top 10 Hardest Languages”

  1. karolina on: 29 August 2009 at 5:44 am

    what about Polish? I heard that it was higher up the list in some cases even 4th.

    aleksandra Reply:

    hello what about POlish !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. daveski on: 30 August 2009 at 7:49 pm

    I always wonder about lists like this….they seem so relative. Polish seems near impossible to me, though probably the distance is more psychological than real. How do the Fullbright folks, the Department of Defense and others who calculate ‘grades of difficulty’ into their hiring and pay rates, figure all that out?

  3. Ele on: 5 September 2009 at 12:38 pm

    what about lithuanian?? it’s very hard languange..we have 32 letters in our ABC..what about our grammar??

  4. Marie T on: 17 September 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Well, hardest for who?
    Any second language is really hard to learn for people whose primary language:
    1/ uses a different writing system
    2/has a completely different phonological inventory
    3/ has a different syntax
    4/etc…

    I don’t believe that any language is inherently harder than others. After all, children learn them.
    It also depend what goal one has in mind when learning a language: being able to speak it? knowing how to read and write?

    Like Dave, I wonder how they came up with this list, which reminds of the linguistic urban legends I hear when I tell people I study Linguistics in addition to “you must speak a lot of languages then!”

    I think that for example, it is really hard to learn how to speak French if you are using mostly a written medium. It can actually be counterproductive because written French reflects its spoken counterpart only in the mind of French people. The orthography is in fact absurd in that we do not pronounce words as they are spelled. There is no symbol/sound correspondence.

  5. KyomiXcore on: 21 October 2009 at 9:19 am

    I heard that hardest language is Slovak…hmm

  6. besiki on: 17 November 2009 at 9:55 am

    Georgian ქართული ენა არის ძნელი. Can you read this? :)

  7. N on: 6 December 2009 at 12:57 pm

    What’s so hard about English?

  8. greta on: 6 January 2010 at 8:07 am

    hahaa, whats so ahrd about english, i live in england 3 years and i fink english is the most easyest language ever, its just hard to gain the accent.

  9. Karoxi on: 6 January 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Yeah I saw polish on 4th on a LOT of lists

  10. Roeland on: 13 January 2010 at 8:59 am

    This is a weird list:
    russian or madarine
    further down are :
    madarine and chineses
    this list obviously does not make much sence. Madarine and Chinese could be the same. If you mention Cantonese than also think of teochew, hakka, hokkian, fuchow, Manchu, etc. If you mention German, Dutch should be in the list as well. you Mention Hungarian but not the most
    closely related language, finish. I’m at a loss knowing what I know, which is possibly missguided; this list seems incomplete and uninformed. If you want to make an academically accepted list, do actul research and publish it for all to read.
    Good luck.

    caroline.n. Reply:

    mandarin and chinese could be the same thing, but there are many dialects in the Chinese language. Mandarin is the most common but there is still other “types” of chinese which is also hard to learn.

  11. John on: 14 February 2010 at 1:00 am

    I would like to add to the above mentioned list of languages which are tough to learn Polish, Japanese, Korean, German & Swahili

    Angelika A. Roy Reply:

    German is actually easy to learn: grammatical rules are clear with few exceptions, pronunciation is easy as well as you pronounce every letter. I have my students reading in 2 weeks.

  12. Ghiţă on: 15 February 2010 at 2:13 am

    Have you ever tried to learn romanian?

  13. Nicko on: 17 February 2010 at 3:45 am

    I totally agree with Marie T,

    The difficulty of a particular language is completely subjective and there are no hard or easy languages. In language teaching theories, we rather speak about distant and proximate languages.

    If the learner speaks a language that is proximate to the language he tries to learn, it will of course be easier for him to learn that particular language. On the contrary, if the language he tries to learn is distant, there are high probabilities that he will have a harder time.

    And as Dave was underlining, the psychological factors shouldn’t be neglected.

    Another level is also connected with the richness or the poverty of certain aspects in a certain language. For example, Japanese has a more reduced set of phonemes. The consequence of that, is that Japanese speakers tend to have more difficulties to acquire certain phonemes of other languages that don’t exist in Japanese. On the contrary, Russian has a larger set of phonemes, which creates an advantage for the ones who have Russian as their first languages.

    One last thing about the orthography of French that Marie T mentioned. She said “French reflects its spoken counterpart only in the mind of French people”. Well, as a French native speaker, I can assure you that we also have a hard time remembering all those “irregularities” and that it doesn’t make more sense for us. In Fact, there were many attempts to simplify French orthography but it always encountered big oppositions of the “puristes”… But French is not an isolate case, there are plenty of languages where there is big distance between spelling and phonology…

  14. caroline.n. on: 28 February 2010 at 2:19 am

    i would like to add many language enthusiasts also have no idea how to speak northern european languages such as Danish Swedish and Norwegian. I am Danish myself so of course the language isn’t hard for me since i have grown up with it, (and I speak Swedish and Norwegian as well) but these three languages are all have extra letters in the alphabet and the pronunciation of our words are extremely hard if one has not grown up with it. Recently I met a woman who has been studying danish the past 18 years and still is not fully fluent in it. I am only 14, yet I have already mastered English, Mandarin, Spanish. (english and mandarin being in the top 10).

    If anyone who isn’t a northern european person have been successful in being totally fluent in Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian please reply.

  15. aldo on: 28 February 2010 at 12:00 pm

    English??? must be one of the easiest language to learn.

  16. Maloca on: 24 April 2010 at 5:53 pm

    English is on 6th spot xD… I think that English is very very easy to learn … I’ve never had studied English and i know how to speak and write it…I have learned English through TV, Internet, etc.
    But the hardest languages are all Slavic languages (Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Slovene and Serbo-Croatian (Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Montenegrin)). i know cuz i speak few of them

    Angelika A. Roy Reply:

    I agree. English is a language one learns the quickest; however, English takes the longest to learn to speak and write properly.

  17. rephira on: 27 April 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Surprised that Korean is not on the list…

  18. njmarm on: 10 May 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Բարև ձեզ: Ո՛նց եք: Is part of the list based on the amount of people who choose to learn the language? If so it would explain the easoning for never seeing Armenian on any of the lists. I’s call it a tough one, and not onloy because it has 39 letters. And what about Finnish? The number of cases and verb tenses alone would be a detterant.

  19. én on: 15 May 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Szerintem a magyar nyelv elég nehéz lehet külföldiek számára, főleg, ha teljesen más nyelvcsaládba tartozik az anyanyelvük. Alapjában véve a magyar nyelvet nehéznek találják a külföldiek, legalábbis ezt olvastam valahol az interneten.

  20. Sam on: 16 May 2010 at 8:25 am

    @Roeland : “you Mention Hungarian but not the most closely related language, finish.” – Hungarian and Finnish have hardly anything in common. Hungarian is my native language but when I tried to learn Finnish it was pretty difficult for me. In addition, I don’t understand anything finnish.. So finnish and hungarian are definitely not that closely related. They might be related though, but only distantly.
    Plus linguists keep arguing about hungarian belonging to the finno-ugric languages. Some of them say it does belong to them, some say it doesn’t… Who can decide.

  21. Mike C on: 30 May 2010 at 11:48 am

    I would have to say that MarieT hit the nail on the head. The process of learning a language is so subjective to the person attempting to do so. I think every person would need to have their own personal list tailored to them depending on the countless variables primarily on what language/languages they are already comfortable or fluent. I’ve had this conversation with many people who speak multiple languages and the answer is always different. There are however usually similarities based upon the persons primary language.

  22. Budapestr on: 27 September 2010 at 5:03 am

    It all depends what other languages you speak. If you speak Romanian than Italian is not a problem. If you speak German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish and English may look a bit easier. But for a Chinese all the languages may pose a challenge and vica versa.

    Angelika A. Roy Reply:

    You can only gain by learning a foreign language. It actually does not matter which one it is. You own language skills improve, you learn about a new culture, you are building bridges, and a second foreign language is easier to study. I was required to take English and French in high school – at the same time.

  23. JiDan on: 3 November 2010 at 3:49 pm

    It may depend on which other languages you speak as BUdapestr says, but come on. How can english not only make the list but be above chinese? And what about French? Anybody speak French here? Do you guys think that English is harder to learn than French?

  24. diana Arya on: 8 November 2010 at 1:23 am

    I have studied Mandarin Chinese . . . certain aspects of learning this language was easier for me than French–conjugation kills me. Had I not grown up in a native English-speaking country, I probably wouldn’t be able to write this message.

    I started to learn Russian, but couldn’t get beyond the first level of classes. By far it was harder than French. I grew up with Farsi spoken around me in the home, but never went beyond baby talk. However, it seemed a bit easier than Chinese–fewer words to learn. Or perhaps that’s because I only know baby talk . . .

    Yeah, I agree with those who see this ranking as subjective to the individual and his/her experiences.

  25. kelsey on: 23 November 2010 at 1:15 am

    Icelantic is actually a german-based language, as is Swedish and Norwegian. I don’t see ehy chinese is mentioned 3 times. Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language there, so one could assume its also called chinese. I don’t understand why Finnish isn’t on any of the lists I’ve looked at. The closest relations they can find (and its not that close), are Estonian, Hungarian, and small villages in Russia. Swedish is a simple language compared to it. I major in both, while also having taken Japanese and Russian. Finnish is intensely more difficult than both of them alone. And for all of you wondering why English is so hard, there’s so many ways for people to say things in English. Many languages have one, maybe three at the most, different ways to say things. Its just easy for you because you’ve been learning it your whole life.

  26. Ahmad :) on: 18 January 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I Agree that arabic is one of the hardest languages, ive been trying to write it for over 5 years and still confused:S French is actually easy to me, i learned it in just a year and love french! :)

  27. kati on: 15 March 2011 at 10:20 am

    Born hungarian 8 years old I got to Austria so I learned German living there, at school I had French for 8 years,Latin for 5 and English optional for 2 years. I improved English by travelling but as You may notice my English is very poor indeed. Now I’m reading books in Italian German Hungarian and English I can tell You English is much more difficult than French, more ‘incertain’…. so many words with so many different meanings! And the pronunciation never certain. If You got the way how to pronounce French You hardly do mistakes anymore.

  28. kati on: 15 March 2011 at 10:22 am

    About the familiarity between Finnish and Hungarian: Once sitting in a Viennese cafè I heard people talking near us in a way I HAD to understand: the sound of the language was absolutly hungarian!!! Not one word: They were finnish people!!! In Finnland I had the same experience than every one: even the post office was not named post or posta etc but completely differently.

  29. alican on: 18 July 2011 at 6:16 am

    As a person who tried to learn 7 languages, I must say the hardest one among them is definitely Chinese for writing and tones.
    Japanese writing is hard but pronounciation is ok.
    Arabic is definitely not hard, very musical. But it takes a little time to read fast.
    Korean is very organized and nice in writing but you should get used to it.
    French is a pain in the rear-end. Neither speaking nor reading-writing is easy. Lots of rules and exceptions. Bleughghg.
    Turkish is complicated very much in usages. You can use the same words in different orders but mean 5 different things. Also suffixes can take a word to even 20 characters.
    Italian and Spanish are a little similar in essence. They are easy to learn for an english speaker I think. No particularly hard part.

  30. John on: 17 August 2011 at 1:08 am

    I heard that Finnish Hungarian German & Hebrew are hard.

  31. Veera on: 25 August 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Erm, what about Finnish? That should be on the top of the list and I know it’s harder than those, because I study it. And I’ve studied mandarin and that was easy as pie.

  32. Kari on: 19 February 2012 at 9:00 am

    English difficult? REALLY?!
    I learned it on my own by watching TV and reading the subtitles I could speak at an efficient level at age of 10.
    But maybe that is because I am an Icelander :P
    But still it should be near the bottom in my opinion in “difficult”
    If it is so difficult why are so many people in europe that know it even though that is not the native language of said country?

  33. suzuki on: 27 February 2012 at 5:16 pm

    i’d have to agree with the incredulous responses of polish-language voters: polish has definitely been the most difficult language for me to learn, even with polish relatives and many summers with them in/near krakow.

    i’d also agree, however, with what Budapestr commented, about difficulty of language X depending on what languages you learned beforehand. having come primarily from english, japanese, and spanish languages background, it was quite odd for me to have to consider ‘conjugating’ nouns depending on the preposition i used, if i recall correctly.

    having several japanese family members and friends attempting to learn english, i can see from their backgrounds how english (grammar, spelling) can be quite tricky to learn. although japanese might look intimidating visually with the chinese characters, the grammar often seems much more straightforward once you learn the rules.

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