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The 7 Most Difficult Languages To Learn

Japanese has 3 alphabets, Arabic includes 3 forms of every letter, and Vietnamese has 6 tones. It’s a crazy world, isn’t it?

cartoon man scratching his head with a title that says "Hardest Languages To Learn"

In this article, we are going to go over the hardest languages so that you’ll know what to avoid if you hate headaches, or which to choose if you want a challenge. Are you ready to take a look at the 7 hardest languages on the face of the earth? Let’s go - starting in the land of ramen and anime.

1 - Japanese: The Language of The Samurais

picture of japanese flag and temples with the title "#1 - Japanese"

If you didn’t know, the Japanese didn’t have a writing system until Kanji was introduced by China in the 4th century. Japanese, with its three writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji), poses a unique challenge to language learners.

Kanji, characters borrowed from Chinese, can have multiple readings and meanings, making memorization a difficult task. Additionally, the Subject Object Verb sentence structure and the use of different politeness levels further complicate language acquisition.

Heck, there are even four ways of saying “I.”

Apart from learning some incredibly difficult grammar, one who is learning Japanese will need to learn around 4,000-5,000 words to be able to reach the B2 level (basic fluency).

This might prove to be an incredibly difficult task due to the lack of cognates, and the need to remember which Kanji are used to represent words.

Hardest Aspects of The Japanese Language:

  1. Particles (Show Relationship Between Words In A Phrase)

  2. Kanji (Chinese Characters)

  3. Politeness levels (Different Forms Of Words To Show Varying Levels Of Politeness)

Where Japanese Is Spoken Most:

  • Japan - 126,000,000

  • United States of America - 667,000

  • Brazil - 431,000

2 - Arabic: The Language of Islam

picture of sudan flag and mosque with the title "#2 - Arabic"

Arabic, a language known for its rich history and cultural significance, presents a daunting challenge to learners. Unfortunately, it’s even more difficult than it appears.

There are 25 countries where Arabic is spoken as an official language, and most of them can not communicate with each other. Each country has an extremely unique dialect. A Moroccan can’t speak to a Sudanese person, and a Sudanese person can’t with a Saudi.

The Arabic script is written from right to left and features intricate calligraphy. Additionally, Arabic has a root-based system, where words share common roots and patterns.

The incorporation of sounds not present in many Western languages contributes to the complexity, such as the letter ʿayn (ع) which is kind of like an A but is made deep in the throat (and no matter how much I practice I can’t get right).

Another complexity is found in the pronunciation of long consonants and vowels. And hey, speaking of vowels, native speakers rarely include short vowels when they write. The writing system might be one of the hardest aspects of Arabic.

While it might seem straightforward at first glance, each of the 28 letters has 3 forms - making for an alphabet with 84 different-looking letters.

Hardest Aspects of The Arabic Language:

  1. The Script (3 Forms Of Each Letter + Natives Emit Short Vowels In Writing)

  2. Sounds such as ع (ayn)

  3. Dialectal Changes (Just About Every Dialect Is A Different Language)

Where Arabic Is Spoken Most:

  • Egypt - 82,449,200

  • Algeria - 40,100,000

  • Sudan - 28,164,500

  • Iraq - 22,908,120

  • Morocco - 25,003,930

  • Saudi Arabia - 27,178,770

  • Yemen - 14,671,000

  • ((And Many More))

3 - Russian: The Language of The Soviet Union

russian flag with russian cartoon and building with title that says "#3 = Russian"

Russian proves challenging for learners due to distinctive features such as the Cyrillic alphabet, a departure from the familiar Latin script. The intricacy of Russian grammar, characterized by a system of six grammatical cases determining word endings, demands precision and attention to detail.

Pronunciation adds complexity with unique sounds, stress patterns, and distinctions between soft and hard vowels.

The Cyrillic script, introduced by Tsar Peter the Great in the early 18th century, replaced the older script and reflects a deliberate effort to separate Russia linguistically from Western Europe.

Additionally, Russian's complex stress patterns can alter word meanings, underscoring the importance of accurate pronunciation. Consonant clusters, uncommon in many languages, further challenge learners.

Social dynamics play a role, as Russian incorporates both formal and informal speech depending on social contexts. Negotiating this linguistic nuance is crucial for effective communication.

In summary, the amalgamation of the Cyrillic script, intricate grammar, distinctive pronunciation, and nuanced social language intricacies contribute to the reputation of Russian as a language demanding commitment and tenacity from learners.

Hardest Aspects of The Russian Language:

  1. Case System (Like Conjugations For Nouns)

  2. Gendered Nouns

  3. Word Stress & Vowel Reduction (How A Word Is Said Can Affect Its Meaning)

Where Russian Is Spoken Most:

  • Russia - 117,716,000

  • Ukraine - 12,502,000

  • Belarus - 6,465,000

  • Uzbekistan - 5,062,000

  • Kazakhstan - 3,728,000

  • Germany - 3,027,000

  • ((And Many More))

4 - Polish: The Language of The Resilient

Polish flag with polish cartoon character and building with a title that says "#4 - Polish"

Polish poses a significant challenge for language learners, primarily due to its complex grammar and unique linguistic features. One notable aspect is its extensive system of grammatical cases, with seven cases altering word forms based on their grammatical function.

Navigating these cases requires meticulous attention to detail.

Polish verb conjugation further complicates the language, with intricate patterns based on factors such as gender, person, and formality. The incorporation of aspect in verbs, distinguishing between completed and ongoing actions, adds an additional layer of complexity.

Polish pronunciation presents challenges, including a variety of consonant clusters and sounds not present in English. The nasal vowels and unique consonant distinctions contribute to the difficulty for non-native speakers.

Furthermore, the absence of a straightforward correlation between spelling and pronunciation requires learners to rely on memorization. The linguistic richness of Polish, while fascinating, makes it an incredibly difficult language that demands dedication and persistence from those embarking on the learning journey.

Hardest Aspects of The Polish Language:

  1. Grammar Complexities (Seven Cases, Noun Genders & More)

  2. Consonant Clusters (Making For Difficult Pronunciation)

  3. Word Stress (You Need To Memorize Where Stress Falls On A Word)

Where Polish Is Spoken Most:

  • Poland - 36,660,000

  • United States of America - 1,000,000

  • Canada - 273,000

  • Germany - 252,000

5 - Mandarin Chinese: Aka The Great Wall Language

chinese flag with chinese cartoon characters and a title that says "#5 - Chinese"

Chinese is widely acknowledged as one of the most challenging languages for learners due to several distinctive features. Firstly, the writing system employs logographic characters, such as Chinese characters (Hanzi), each representing a word or morpheme, demanding memorization of thousands of characters for proficiency.

Secondly, the tonal nature of Chinese adds complexity, where variations in pitch can alter the meaning of a word. Mandarin Chinese, the most spoken dialect, has four tones and a neutral tone, requiring precise pronunciation.

Moreover, the lack of grammatical markers for tense, number, and gender in Chinese contrasts with many Indo-European languages, necessitating contextual understanding. Additionally, the absence of an alphabet makes reading challenging for beginners.

The cultural and historical context embedded in Chinese characters adds depth but also complexity. Mastering Chinese requires a multifaceted approach, making it an incredible language to learn for those seeking linguistic proficiency and cultural insight.

Hardest Aspects of The Chinese Language:

  1. Tones (The Syllable Ma, For Example, Can Mean 5 Things)

  2. Measure Words (You Don’t Count Dogs The Same Way You Count Cars)

  3. Writing System

Where Chinese Is Spoken Most:

  • China - 1,297,361,000

  • Taiwan - 20,903,000

  • Thailand - 8,819,000

  • Hong Kong - 6,964,000

  • United States of America - 3,000,000

  • Singapore - 2,864,000

6 - Georgian: The Language of Artists

georgian flag with a georgian dancer and a khinkhali with title that says "#6 = Georgian"

Georgian stands out as one of the most challenging languages to learn, captivating linguists and learners alike with its unique linguistic features. Firstly, the Georgian alphabet, with its 33 characters, is distinct and unrelated to any other script, posing an initial hurdle for learners accustomed to more widely used alphabets.

Grammar in Georgian is notably complex, featuring agglutination, extensive verb conjugations, and a system of noun classes. The absence of prepositions and articles adds an additional layer of difficulty to sentence structure.

Additionally, Georgian employs an intricate system of verbal aspects, requiring learners to grasp nuanced temporal distinctions in actions.

The phonology of Georgian introduces sounds uncommon in many languages, including ejective consonants and a rich system of consonant clusters. Such as in the phrase დილა მშვიდობისა (good morning), in which the second word starts out with 4 consonants "Mshvidobisa."

Mastery of these sounds is crucial for accurate communication.

The absence of a closely related language for comparison further isolates Georgian, making it a linguistic challenge that demands dedication and persistence from those undertaking the learning journey.

However, the efforts to learn Georgian will not be in vain. These incredible people will love you for trying, and surely they’ll show you great hospitality for your appreciation of their language.

Hardest Aspects of The Georgian Language:

  1. Pronunciation (Consonant clusters & unique noises)

  2. Grammar (Verbal Conjugations & Case System)

  3. Script (Unique Script Which Isn’t Used In Other Languages)

Where Georgian Is Spoken Most:

  • Georgia - 3,700,000

7 - Vietnamese: The Language of Monks

vietnamese flag with vietnamese chartoon character and lotus flower + Title that says "#7 Vietnamese"

Vietnamese stands out as a formidable language to learn, presenting distinct challenges for learners. The tonal nature of Vietnamese is a key hurdle, with six different tones altering the meaning of words. Mastering these tonal nuances is crucial for accurate communication, making spoken Vietnamese particularly intricate.

Additionally, Vietnamese utilize a Latin-based script (thanks to the French invasion and occupation), but its diacritic marks significantly impact pronunciation and meaning. The absence of spaces between words further complicates reading for beginners.

Complex vowel structures and diphthongs contribute to the phonological challenges, requiring learners to develop a keen ear.

Vietnamese grammar, with its flexible word order and reliance on context, contrasts with more rigid structures in Western languages. Pronoun usage and politeness levels further add layers of complexity to social interactions.

Navigating these linguistic intricacies demands dedication and patience, making Vietnamese a rewarding yet challenging language for those eager to delve into its rich cultural and historical context.

Hardest Aspects of The Vietnamese Language:

  1. Tones (Includes 6 Tones: Meaning The Syllable Ma Means 6 Different Things)

  2. Classifiers/Particles Are Used (Like In Japanese)

  3. Lack Of Study Materials (Not A Lot Of Quality Study Materials For Vietnamese)

Where Vietnamese Is Spoken Most:

  • Vietnam - 85,226,000

  • Cambodia - 922,000

  • United States of America - 667,000

  • Australia - 286,000

Conclusion: The 7 Most Difficult Languages On Earth

In our linguistic exploration of Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Polish, Mandarin Chinese, and Georgian, we uncover diverse challenges that shape the unique makeup of each language.

From the script complexities of Japanese to Arabic's multitude of dialects and the Cyrillic intricacies of Russian, each language offers a distinct learning journey.

Polish's intricate grammar, Mandarin Chinese's logographic characters, and Georgian's isolated uniqueness further contribute to the linguistic richness. Vietnamese, with its tonal intricacies, completes the tapestry.

Despite the challenges, these languages invite learners to a cultural odyssey. We should always remember that language learning isn’t supposed to be a quick and easy process, it’s the difficulties that make the progress more gratifying!

Enjoy the uniqueness of these languages, and enjoy diversity. I hope you have a wonderful day, evening, or night, friend.

If you’re interested in learning about The 7 Easiest Languages For English Speakers, click here.


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