Every language requires a different learning approach. Depending on how easy or hard a language is to learn, you can have varying practice times, materials, and degrees of discipline. In this article, you’ll learn about 10 popular languages and their difficulty levels from our language learning friend, Julie Petersen…
Language difficulty is a hard thing to calculate. It really depends on a variety of factors, such as personal motivation and interest, desire or need, surrounding culture, and even psychological barriers. Everyone is unique, so it’s not going to be the same experience for every individual; it all depends on your perspective and personal intelligence level.
The best approach is to keep an open mind and to have realistic expectations. In other words, do not expect to be fluent in a new language within one week (but don’t limit yourself either).
Check out our list below of the 10 easiest and hardest languages for English speakers to learn and get started on your language learning today!
*The languages in both of these lists are in no particular order
This Scandinavian language is grammatically easy and has only nine verb forms, including the passive, which is familiar to English speakers. It has a lot of Germanic-based vocabulary and unique speaking patterns, which are quick and soft. Most motivated native English speakers should be able to achieve a basic level of fluency within 6 months (depending on how often you study).
This romance language is difficult for many English speakers to pronounce. There are more verb forms (17 as compared to English’s 12) and it uses gendered nouns as well. However, French’s Latin origins make much of the vocabulary easy to learn. It has more in common with English than any other romance language. With regular classes and determination, you may have basic French fluency within as little as 3 months.
Italian is a romance language that is written as it sounds, making it easy to learn. Once the initial phonemes (units of sound) are understood, the reading becomes natural. The words tend to end in vowels, which give it fun style. Grammatically, the language follows romance language structure. Italian also has fewer verbs than French or Spanish. For native English speakers, this is a similar learning time-frame as French, or the other romance languages.
There are fewer prepositions in Portuguese than in English, but their uses are not always the same as in English. This means they can be easy to remember, but also hard to implement. The interrogatives (like ‘how’ or ‘what’) are really easy in Portuguese as well. Pronunciation is usually not too difficult for English speakers. With regular practice, basic fluency can be achieved within 3-6 months.
Spanish pronunciation is fairly easy for English speakers and it only has ten vowel sounds (compared to English’s 20). It has a few new letters to learn, but they’re simple (just like Italian). Words are written as they sound and Spanish follows its own rules with fewer irregularities than other romance languages. Spanish is one of the most common second languages for English speakers to learn. A basic level of fluency can be accomplished within 3-6 months.
Most Arabic letters have four different versions. Choosing the correct form depends on where the letter is placed in a word – and the vowels are not included when writing either. This makes learning the language (and translating it) much more difficult for English speakers. “Nobody serious about the language imagines that approaching fluency can be achieved in anything less than a year, even while living in an Arabic-speaking country,” writes a user from LonelyPlanet.com.
Mandarin is a Chinese language that is often referred to as the most difficult to learn. Experts estimate that it’ll take 2,200 class hours to achieve proficiency. This is due to its tonal sound and abundance of characters, words, and rules. The language has a long history and every sound in Mandarin’s phonetic writing system has four different pronunciations.
Japanese also has a character-based system, but this includes thousands of characters that must be learned before you can write at any decent Japanese level. The language has three writing systems as well, and each has it’s own alphabet; you’d have to learn one new language, but three new alphabets. To be able to hold conversations with other Japanese speakers, it’ll take 2-3 years of practice.
Korean is an extremely unique language. It’s so unlike any other that it’s very difficult to absorb naturally (but it’s not as hard as you think). When building a sentence in Korean, the subject goes first, the object second, and the action last. It’s all backwards for English speakers, and when directly translating, sentences sound funny. On average, you’ll need to study at least 2,200 hours before you’re truly fluent in Korean.
Icelandic is probably easier for most English speakers, than say, Mandarin. However, it’s still very complex. Less than 400,000 people in the world speak the language and they come from one island. Practicing may be difficult since the language has not changed much since the ninth century. Rather than adopting foreign words, the natives simple recycle old ones. For English speakers, it’ll take an average of 1,100 hours of practice to become fluent.
No matter what language you need or choose to learn, stay positive. It’s never impossible to learn a new language, and chances are good that it will enhance your overall life experiences.
New languages can expand your education and global communication, as well as your career and travel opportunities. So use this list, find a private language instructor, and immerse yourself in a new language today!