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What Are the Hardest Languages to Learn?

May 20, 2014

What are the hardest languages to learn?

Learning a new language is always a challenge. However, learning some languages can be a more demanding and time-consuming task than others.

In this blog post we’ve put together our own “Top 5” of the languages which are often claimed to be the most difficult to learn for foreigners.

Read more and find out what they are and why they are still worth your time and effort.

#5 French

Depending on your language skills and background, you might find it very easy or almost impossible to learn French. If you already speak some other Romance language (such as Spanish, Italian or Portuguese), learning French is no big deal at all. Otherwise you might struggle with its grammar and pronunciation. The spelling rules are complex too, as in most cases they are based on etymology rather than phonology (i.e. the history of a word rather than its pronunciation).

#4 German

Learning German may be a difficult exercise for a number of reasons. First, it has several varieties of standard German as well as numerous dialects used in various areas in Europe and abroad. These dialects are so different that they are even considered by some linguists to be separate languages altogether! You may have a really hard time trying to understand these dialects if you only know standard German.

Another reason why you may find German difficult is that nouns in German have grammatical gender (feminine, masculine and neuter).  Pure common sense does not always work here. Thus, a girl is ‘das Mädchen’ (neuter) and a nose is ‘die Nase’ (feminine). The nouns are also declined depending on the  grammatical case, meaning that you’ll have to remember to add various endings.

#3 Russian

Russian is a Slavic language, the 7th most spoken language in the world by the total number of speakers, which, unfortunately, does not make the task of learning Russian much easier…

Russian is widely believed to be one of the most difficult languages to learn. This is mostly true, if you have no knowledge of other Slavic languages (e.g. Bulgarian or Czech). The grammar rules in Russian are very complex and have numerous exceptions. In addition, many learners struggle with the pronunciation – the stress in words is largely unpredictable and not marked in writing, while there are multiple homonyms. In the Russian language you also need to distinguish between the so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sounds (consonant phonemes with and without palatal secondary articulation).

The need to learn the Russian alphabet serves as yet another obstacle for many people who would like to learn the language. They might be surprised to know that the Russian alphabet actually takes only about 10 hours to learn.

#2 Japanese

Japanese is an East Asian language. The major difficulty in learning this language is that Japanese has nothing in common with European or Slavic languages. Learners of Japanese are often put off by its writing system, which uses three scripts: hiragana, katakana and kanji. This means regular use of thousands of characters. In addition to that, the Japanese language has multiple forms of expressing politeness and formalities.

#1 And the winner is… Finnish!

The Finnish language can “boast” an extremely complicated grammar structure with numerous derivative suffixes, which makes it especially difficult to learn. Students of Finnish have to learn to use multiple modifiers to nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, as well as numerals, depending on their roles in the sentence. The spelling is far from easy too, as words often contain double consonants and vowels. Some of the letters of the Latin alphabet (b, c, f, q, w, x, z and å) are not used in Finnish words and are reserved solely for words of non-Finnish origin.

All these aspects may make language learning seem a formidable task. However, having said all that, we also have to say that learning a language is a very rewarding and useful activity. It is easy to make yourself a study schedule too. Overall, depending on your background and native language skills, you might need from 575 to 2,200 hours to achieve proficiency in the language of your choice (according to the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State).

The good side of learning a new language is that it has a very positive effect on your career prospects, gives you a deeper understanding of other countries and cultures and breaks ice in communication with the locals. Even a few hours of language learning can make a huge difference in this sense.

If you are still not sure whether or not you can and want to learn any of the languages above, we have great news. With WordDive it is easier than ever to try learning a new language and see if this is the right one for you. You can sign up for our free sample course in just a few clicks on the WordDive website or through the WordDive app for iPhone.

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22 Comments

  • Reply Wisam May 21, 2014 at 11:46

    Finnish language is the hardest one,,, but I like it a lot,,, it is so rich language with words, phrases and grammars,,, I have found out almost everything in Finnish language is beautiful,,, despite of I am mathematician and do not like languages! I am living with abstract idea mostly.

  • Reply Anna August 15, 2016 at 10:56

    Did anyone try to learn Polish ? For me it is obvious that it is more difficult to learn than Russian or Finnish: it has more complicated grammar, pronunciation and spelling than both of them.

    • Reply WordDive August 15, 2016 at 11:57

      Hi Anna! Thanks for your comment. In general, it always depends on your individual background. For example, for people who speak a Slavic language as their mother tongue, it is rather easy to learn Polish. In some ways, Polish grammar can be easier than Finnish grammar. For example, it has much fewer noun cases. Polish grammar is also considerably easier than Russian for people whose first language is written with Latin alphabet, because for Russian you have to learn Cyrillic.
      However, Polish is usually up there with the 10 hardest languages to learn (for English speakers). As said in the beginning, it all depends on your individual background. Good luck with your Polish studies! 🙂

      • Reply Gustavo Joseph Brito February 28, 2021 at 05:34

        I speak Arabic, French,German ,Spanish,Italian and English.
        I am an Opera singer with the Met. and I will be singing in a Russian Opera but am struggling to learn the correct pronunciation. Any suggestions?

        • Reply Liz September 12, 2021 at 08:35

          This is coming rather late, but see if you can pronounce some of the consonants closer to the front of the mouth rather than toward the back like in English. (Compare, for instance, the “l” or “n” sounds in English vs. Russian – in English you would produce these more towards the middle-back of your mouth, whereas in Russian it would be closer to your teeth.) That should help set you up to make the transitions to other sounds easier and more natural. For “soft” consonants, try widening your lips horizontally but leaving only a small gap between them; flattening your tongue against the roof of your mouth can also help get that softer sound. But I guess it’s also a question of which part of the pronunciation you’d like suggestions for.

  • Reply Peter Baradie November 12, 2019 at 16:20

    soooooo not true where is the Arabic language on this list?? it is definitely the hardest and there are no letters used in any language that are like the Arabic language. Plus it is written from the right side to the left side

    • Reply Senja Ukkonen November 13, 2019 at 12:41

      Hi Peter

      We didn’t list all the languages here that would be hard to learn but it would have been impossible for us to mention them all 🙂

    • Reply Jewel November 29, 2020 at 01:16

      I agree arabic is the second hardest language to learn according to sources

  • Reply Tomedes Translations June 30, 2020 at 16:00

    I certainly agree with this article but if I may add, The difficulty of learning a language is relative to the learner’s native tongue (or tongues), as well as to any other languages that they may already have learned. Defining one language as the most difficult to learn in the world is a tricky concept.You can take a look at what could, arguably, be the hardest language to learn that we’ve listed and detailed: https://www.tomedes.com/translator-hub/hardest-languages-to-learn

  • Reply Милад September 2, 2020 at 13:04

    I live in iran. Here in schools they teach an obsolete, archaic form of Arabic that was used only in Qur’an. It’s grammar is so complex and difficult and full of rules and exceptions that it’s almost an impractical. You have to literally formulate a simple sentence that you want to say. It was a nightmare for everyone. We would burn our Arabic text books after the final exams :)))

  • Reply Dan November 3, 2020 at 16:37

    Japanese has some things in common with Latin, which could be regarded as European language, most notably how verbs work and the sentence structure.

  • Reply Kelsey November 22, 2020 at 00:12

    You forgot Arabic and Malayalam these are one of the hardest to learn in my opinion

  • Reply Alaster January 17, 2021 at 17:28

    I’ve been learning Japanese for a long time and I will say, it’s very difficult. I could barely consider myself a beginner even after practicing and reviewing every day for months. However, it’s not quite as hard as one would think. Once you know the main alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana) and some basic grammar rules, you can pretty much figure out how the language works on its own. Yet kanji and the politeness forms are some of the hardest aspects of the language to get used to.

    • Reply Brett February 7, 2021 at 15:10

      The extended vowels of some Asian languages are tough to learn, pronounce and read. eg the Vietnamese Nă Nâ Nê Nô Nư Nơ then add some tones – Nắ Nằ Nẳ Nẵ Nặ and it totals to dozens of vowels beford the combinations start. Whoa! Finnish level difficulty!

  • Reply Joel Fernandez February 3, 2021 at 12:11

    German and French shouldn’t be in this list because they not that difficult. Sure they both contain some complexities but they’re nothing compared to other languages.

  • Reply Theus February 24, 2021 at 15:16

    where is Icelandic ?

  • Reply Marek Musnicki March 11, 2021 at 03:16

    You mean pronounciation in Russian? Or rather the intonation – that’s the harder part in Russian, because one has to learn it separately for each vocabulary – so sorry, there is no advice one can make for you in this case, but simply try and learn it!

  • Reply caitlin March 12, 2021 at 12:53

    I wonder how difficult it is for non english people to learn english compared with other languages…

  • Reply Luke May 2, 2021 at 11:31

    I understand why people feel Russian is difficult – first of all, if most things for You are written in the Latin alphabet, then you first of all have to master the Cyrillic script to learn (I learned Russian, and the best students took almost a year to master it, and we were all philologists). It’s true that Finnish has a lot more cases than Polish, and I cannot say anything more because I didn’t learn it. I speak German fluently, too, and I must say – it IS hard due to the various ways all the cases and verbs interact, the pronouns… and the Artikel – the way you bind der, die or das with the capitalised nouns (actually, the fact that nouns are all capitalised makes it a bit easier).
    I also speak some Czech, some French and some Serbo-Croatian.

    But even if I am natively Polish, there are still languages that I feel are difficult to learn. All the languages that use other scripts – Arabic for instance.
    Good luck learning languages everyone!

  • Reply Jessica July 2, 2021 at 01:55

    I am an American that started to learn Russian at age 13 and right now at 28, I can speak Russian without an accent and in Russia, people have stopped noting an accent only 5 years ago. I do still have issues with grammar like confusing if to end a name with е or и and spelling some things, but even native Russians make a lot of spelling errors. That might be because Russian has a huge mix of foreign words spelt in Cyrillic.

    Now my Russian friends who moved to the USA and learned English did much better. They started speaking and writing fluently in 3-5 years. I was also surprised that there are many young people in Russia with great English. So judging by my personal observations, English is easier than Russian.

    Russian language uses a lot of context. It’s really not enough to know the meaning of words. The wrong intonation and pausing alone can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Example: Казнить! Нельзя помиловать! = Execute! Cannot be pardoned. While: Казнить нельзя! Помиловать.! = Do not execute. Must be pardoned.
    All that I changed in the Russian text was that I moved the punctuation and the sentence got the completely opposite meaning.

    • Reply J Willard September 18, 2021 at 13:49

      Congrats on your accentless Russian. If true, this is a real feat indeed. I have never met a non-native speaker who spoke without an accent. No English speaker I know who studied Russian extensively and formally is capable of pronouncing “ы.”

  • Reply Mark October 31, 2021 at 07:18

    What Are the Hardest Languages to Learn?
    For non-native speakers, the following languages are far more difficult to learn because of the diversity of written script as well as grammar constructs.

    Arabic
    Mandarin
    Thai
    Punjabi
    Russian
    Icelandic
    English

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