Hardest Languages to Learn: Mind-Boggling Languages made easy

Posted: May 14 2021

hardest languages to learn Memrise

You clicked on this blog post. So you must like a challenge!

Listen closely. You don’t have to be fluent in a language to interact with other people and immerse yourself in interesting cultures. Anyone, at any age, can learn a language. Any language. And use it to create awesome experiences in their life.

 

Learning a language is not some dreamy, esoteric goal. YOU reading this. YOU must know that learning a language is actually at your fingertips.

 

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Why are we so confident?

Because you’ve learnt a language before! Wait, WHAT!? Yep. You picked up your first language as a kid by hearing your parents speak it. This tells us our brains are wired to learn a language. While learning is a different sort of challenge for an adult (we have to fit it into our busy lives now!). Remember it’s not naturally ‘hard’ for us; never think you’re ‘bad at languages’. It’s nonsense!

 

Rather, many people make learning a second language difficult. Wading through thick textbooks of grammar only to realise: this isn’t helping me understand and communicate with people in real life! That’s why you want to learn a language in the first place, right? We ask… because many people forget this.

 

That's why our app's videos and audio clips of real native speakers teach you when and how words & phrases are used, and how to say them yourself (and be understood saying them!)

 

This way… learning the world’s ‘hardest’ languages becomes possible. It depends on your motivations for learning, the consistent practice you put in, and above all: just how smartly you learn. (*Cough* our app can help).

 

Why some languages are harder to learn than others

Like we mentioned in our easiest languages to learn blog, your native language can influence the difficulty of learning a certain language. Some other factors include:

 

Different grammar and grammatical concepts

Ahhh… grammar. The word that puts people off. Grammar tells us how words combine to form sentences and produce meaning. So learning a language with very different grammar than your own is something to get used to. For example: in contrast to the English alphabet, Japanese has three different sets of written characters: (hiragana, katakana and Japanese Kanji). Thousands of symbols or pictures that hold different meanings and sounds. This can take some time to learn for an English native speaker used to their ABC’s!

 

Likewise, a change in word order presents an interesting challenge. Those used to a subject-verb-object structure (e.g. I ate ice cream) will need to adjust to Korean’s subject-object-verb order, for example: (I ice cream ate).

 

Relax. We know grammar can be scary. That’s why our language courses show you how the grammar is spoken in real life, rather giving you a huge list of verbs to line. Real-world language competence doesn’t require you to be a grammatical perfectionist.

 

Language family

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Like us, languages are grouped into families which show where they come from. Over time, Latin spoken in the Roman Empire spread and was adapted into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and Italian – making the Romance language family. Similarly, ‘Proto-Germanic’ (spoken in Scandinavia) was split into German, English, and Dutch, plus Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian – making the Germanic language family. Interesting, right? In fact: there are an estimated 135 language families in existence.

 

The point is: learning a language within your own language family may be easier than learning one from another family. Or learning a language isolate (meaning their origin is unclear) like Korean, Basque or Japanese.

 

Pronunciation, sounds and tones

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To state the obvious: you need to speak the language intelligibly to be able to use it. This means picking up new pronunciation, sounds and tones. And why learning to speak in different sounds to your native language is such a fun challenge! The bigger the difference between your native language’s set of sounds with the language you want to learn… the greater the challenge. And the adjustment period. You need to get loose and embrace mistakes for this. Which is why our online courses create a safe space for you to do that!

 

For example: Mandarin Chinese emphases tone strongly – meaning the way you say a word decides its meaning! This can be difficult for Romance language speakers. In contrast, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish follow a similar tone – meaning that a Norwegian person trying to understand Danish or Swedish may have some success!

 

Cultural differences

K-Pop band BTS

Language is the beating heart of any culture. So understanding culture’s language nuances helps you understand and speak the language appropriately. For example: the word or phrase you use can depend on the context – e.g. who you’re talking to. Politeness is a big part of the Asian language culture so consider this when learning Japanese. There are also other differences. For example, in Korean culture, people don’t usually make jokes or use sarcasm with verbal language. They get physical instead! So be careful if you’re usually a comedian in your native language…

 

Luckily, our videos collections of native speakers talking real language in real situations make this part easy for you. Sign up to one of our language courses to discover more!

 

What are the hardest languages to learn?

Woaahhh stop right there! Because asking ‘what is the hardest language to learn?’ is an impossible question. Above all. Your motivations for learning a language and just how you approach learning it will have the biggest impact.

Up for the challenge?  

 

What is the hardest language to learn if you are an English speaker?

The languages below fall outside the Germanic language family (which English is in!) and the Romance language family (which English holds similarities to).

 

  • Learning Chinese

US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps said at the Beijing Olympics: ‘Learning Mandarin is harder than winning 8 gold medals’. Ok Michael… maybe for you.

Anyway. Chinese (including its main dialects Mandarin and Cantonese) is the world’s most spoken language with around 1.3 Billion speakers. No surprises it’s a hugely useful language. Especially in business. But it’s not easy! You need to recognise lots of written characters and their meaning and pronunciation. New speakers must also think about what tone to speak certain words and phrases in because it alters the meaning. For example, ‘ma’ can mean ‘mother’ (mā) ‘rough’ (má) ‘scold’ (mà) or ‘horse’ (mǎ) — depending on how you say it. Top tip: don’t call your mother a horse!

With repeated practice learning Chinese is possible. Get started by clicking here.

 

  • Learning Arabic

Arabic is a very guttural sounding language with a unique set of sounds. It’s singular, dual and plural forms of pronouns, nouns, verbs, and adjectives take some time to get used to. As well as it’s written script. Arabic also excludes vowels from words.

We’re not really selling this, are we? So listen. Around 422 million people speak Arabic – making it a great language for business communication. It also lets you speak with people in over 25 countries!

Our Arabic Course simplifies things for you: learn how to introduce yourself, get around, and use colloquial expressions to communicate!

 

  • Learning Korean

K-pop bands like BTS are inspiring people to learn Korean. The language places the verb at the end of a sentence, which takes some getting used to for English speakers. It’s the unfamiliar pronunciation and vocabulary that can be difficult for English speakers. But the absence of different tones (unlike with Chinese) make it an accessible language to learn. The 24-letter Korean alphabet (called hangul) is entirely phonetic, so if you can read a word you can pronounce it correctly!

Our videos of Korean locals using common words & phrases make learning Korean possible. Find out more here.

 

There are thousands of reasons to learn Japanese other than being able to order sushi and watch anime without subtitles. Japanese culture is fascinating. So to immerse yourself in it properly: you need to spend some time hearing native speakers in context, practising yourself, and also memorising a few Japanese Kanji. These present a fun challenge. Check out our Japanese courses to make it easier for you!

 

Japanese 0: Introduction to Japanese scripts – the symbols and characters that make up the written language – and how to read them.

Japanese 1: Learn the Japanese basics: how to introduce yourself, how to ask for recommendations about what to see, plus where to eat the best ramen and how to order it.

 

What's the hardest language to learn in the world?

We recommend you take on a language head on to find out. 😉 Remember, approach it without fear and embrace those mistakes!

 

Top 10 hardest languages to learn

Here’s a funny video of English speakers struggling to understand languages in film.

 

Be Street Smart. Learn what you’ll need to speak in real life situations. This way even the ‘hardest’ languages become manageable, accessible and FUN!

Got one in mind? Ask yourself why you want to learn a language and take the leap. Anyone can learn a language, at any time. How? Practice little and often and make purposeful use of your time. The video and link below will nudge you in the right direction. 👀

 

Learning another language isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s why our language learning software takes a ruthless approach. Learn what you need, immerse yourself in language, and communicate with others. Simple!

 

What are you waiting for?

 

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