What Are The Hardest Languages To Learn For Non-English Speakers?
Ever fancied learning a language but don’t know which one to pick?
It can be exciting learning a new language and putting it into practice. But it takes serious dedication, so you have to make sure you pick the right one.
Whether you are learning as a hobby, your career, part of your studies or you are relocating, learning a new language, particularly as a non-English speaker, can be difficult.
So, we’ve rounded up the hardest languages to learn as a non-English speaker to make your decision that bit easier.
What Makes A Language Hard To Learn?
So you know why these languages made our list, here’s what we believe makes learning a language difficult:
- The language may be completely different from your mother tongue, particularly with pronunciation.
- The complexity of the language i.e. they may use a completely different alphabet such as Greek, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic which are comprised of symbols.
- Geography. Where you are in the world can impact your ability to learn a language. Many languages belong to groups and are derived from one another making learning languages from the same “family” easier.
- Complexities and differences in grammar are one of the biggest challenges faced when learning a new language. Some languages will still make sense with grammar errors, but languages like German and Vietnamese rely on correct grammar to make sense.
To kick things off we’re starting with English and how difficult it is to learn for non-English speakers. There are a variety of reasons why English can be so hard to learn, even though it’s one of the most universally understood/spoken languages.
English is part of the Indo-European group of languages and if you speak one of these languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese etc.) learning English will come easier to you compared to someone native to the group of Slavic or Sino-Tibetan languages.
However the main reason English is so difficult to learn is spelling, pronunciation and grammar. To put it simply the language is chaotic and full of contradictions, for example:
- Contradictions: There is no “ham” in a hamburger or “pine” in pineapple,and “overlook” and “oversee” mean different things whereas “look” and “see” mean the same.
- Contranyms: Words that are the same but have completely different meanings and applications e.g. to clip paper (to cut it) or to clip paper (to attach pages together).
- Heteronyms: Words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently to give them different meanings e.g. object (a material possession) and object (to oppose something).
- Homophones: Words that sound the same but are spelled and pronounced differently e.g. their, there and they’re.
- Idioms: Like many languages English is flavoured with it’s own sayings that have evolved over time, but they don’t mean what they literally say e.g. “it’s raining cats and dogs” (it’s raining heavily), “I’m over the moon” (I’m happy) or “it’s a piece of cake” (it’s easy).
- Silent Letters: There are many words with letters that are not pronounced such as “know” (relating to knowledge) but excluding the “k” changes the word to “now” (at present time).
The list goes on for the grammatical rules that make English a difficult language to learn, speak, read and write. However, with consistent practice and use of language learning tools you can learn English in as little as a year!
Dutch can be a difficult language to learn for non-English speakers as it follows a lot of the same grammar rules as English, particularly with a lot of the Dutch language including English words or phrases.
There are around 24 million Dutch speakers and many of them feel that the language is like a blend of German and English.
So, if you are a non-English speaker, adopting Dutch can be tricky to do, especially with the pronunciation. There are a lot of harsh and strange sounds in the pronunciation of Dutch e.g. verschrikkelijk (terrible!), and the word order of sentences can be very confusing compared to other languages – even the Dutch get confused!
Much like Dutch, learning German as a non-English speaker can be tricky. It is spoken by 95 million people and is the primary language in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and on top of this there is an additional 15 million speakers who use German as their second language.
German is known as one of the harsher languages due to its difficult pronunciation and harder-sounding words, which is only one reason why it is so tough to learn. One of the key reasons German is hard to pick up is that its spoken language is completely different to the written one, which is especially difficult when you typically learn a new language by reading, speaking and repeating.
It has been suggested that an English speaker would spend around 750 hours learning German to a proficient level, meaning that non-English speakers are likely to spend 1000+ hours getting to grips with the language.
Unlike English, German and Dutch, French is part of the group of romance languages. Although both are derived from Latin, a lot of the French vocabulary is similar, derived or inspired by words in the English language making it easier for English speakers to pick up.
If you have difficulty learning English, you may struggle with French because of the vocabulary similarities. French is a nasal sounding language, which can be frustrating to pick up, even for English speakers. But, hope is not lost if you are a native speaker of Sino-Tibetan languages, there are similar pronunciations and vowel sounds between your languages and French.
Besides difficulties and differences in pronunciation, French is a hard language to learn in the same way that English is, it is full of complex grammatical rules that often conflict with one another. Two of the main rules that make learning French challenging are gendered (masculine/feminine) words that have no pattern, and the many accent marks that influence pronunciation.
It takes the average English speaking learner 600 hours to pick up French, meaning that it would likely be around 800 hours for a non-English speaker.
When it comes to non-English speakers learning a new language, Swedish is one of the trickier languages to get to grips with.
They often use extremely long, complex compound words such as “arbetsmarknadsdepartement” (department of employment) and have an additional three vowels (ӓ, ӧ and å) to learn.
Additionally, native English speakers are given a somewhat unfair advantage as again, the Swedish language bears some resemblance to English e.g. ambulans (ambulance), kaffe (coffee) and potatis (potato) are all easily translated even if you are not fluent.
The good thing with Swedish though is that once you push past the learning curves, it is then so much easier to pick up other Scandinavian languages like Norwegian or Danish.
Swedish can be learned in around 750 hours (15 hours per week to learn in a year) if you are an English speaker, meaning non-English speakers will take around 1000 hours.
Japanese falls into the list of difficult languages to learn, regardless of being an English speaker or not. The language of Japanese is appreciated as being very tricky and time consuming to learn due to its three separate writing systems, politeness hierarchy and opposite sentence structure to English.
It is universally appreciated as being one of the hardest languages to learn, and has been said to take years to perfect. We explore the difficulty of learning Japanese in more depth in our exploration of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.
How to Learn a New Language?
However, we think the key to learning a new language is motivation. It can take years to learn a new language which of course takes serious dedication, but without the motivation behind you to learn you are likely to be less dedicated.
To find out more about our language services contact us now.