Are you challenging yourself to learn one of the hardest languages? Or are you just curious?

We’ve done our research (okay, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in the US did their research) and have found the four most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn.

Without further ado, they are:

  1. Arabic
  2. Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin)
  3. Japanese
  4. Korean

If you learned any of those languages as a native English speaker, we’d love to hear your experiences. Jump down to the comments and let us know what parts were most difficult, what parts were easier than you expected and any language learning tips you picked up.


How long will it take to learn these languages?

But how hard is hard? Well, the FSI breaks languages into four categories of difficulty. To achieve S-3/R-3 (professional working proficiency) with the first category of languages, you’re looking at between 600 and 750 class hours. These languages are closely related to English — Danish, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and so on — and are the easiest for native English speakers to learn.

However, when you get up to the fourth category, the languages are exceptionally different to English, featuring different sounds and linguistic concepts. These languages, dubbed ‘super-hard languages’ by the FSI, take substantially longer.

To demonstrate just how tricky these languages are, we pulled together some facts and figures to make this lovely infographic. Have a look.

hardest languages 2018 infographic

We appreciate that rating the difficulty of language is a tricky one. After all, what one person finds difficult will often be radically different to other language learners.

The best way of looking at language difficulty (and the technique the FSI uses) is to compare the new language to your native language. In general, a similar language will take less time to learn than a dissimilar language.

According to the FSI, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers to learn because they are so radically different.

The FSI claims that native English speakers should only take 2,200 hours of learning to reach a stage of professional working proficiency. So if you plan to practice two hours every weekday, it will take you just over four years to get to the level of professional working proficiency. Yikes!

Contrast that to, say, French or Danish which take just 600 hours to achieve the same level of competence. You could knock them out in just over a year!

The trick to learning any language is to be passionate about learning and to stick at it, even if it does take you four years! Check out our handy guide to making a study plan: How To Make A Language Study Plan And Stick To It.


Which languages are you working on learning this year? Let us know in the comments!

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