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What is the hardest language to learn?

Have you ever wondered what the most challenging language to learn is? It's a question that fascinates linguists and language learners alike. The answer isn't straightforward and depends on a variety of aspects. From the complexity of its grammar to the unfamiliarity of its sounds, each language presents its unique challenges, especially when your native language is vastly different. In this article, we'll explore what makes a language difficult to learn and which ones are considered the toughest for English speakers.

Factors for determining language difficulty

When asking what the hardest language to learn is, the complexity varies greatly, influenced by factors like alphabet, phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary. These elements can make certain languages particularly challenging for learners, especially when they differ significantly from one's native language.

Alphabet and script:

A language's alphabet and writing system can play a significant role in its difficulty. For English speakers, a language that uses the Latin script might be easier to pick up compared to one that uses the Cyrillic alphabet or logographic systems like Chinese characters. For instance, learning to read and write in a language like Russian, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, requires memorizing a whole new set of symbols.

Phonetics and pronunciation:

Phonetics, or the sounds of a language, can greatly affect its difficulty. Tonal languages, where the meaning of a word changes based on its tone, pose a particular challenge. Mandarin Chinese, for example, has four tones, making pronunciation a crucial aspect of learning. Similarly, languages with sounds that don't exist in English, like the guttural ‘r’ in Arabic or the rolled ‘r’ in Spanish, can be tricky for native English speakers.

Grammar and syntax:

The grammatical rules and sentence structures of a language can make it particularly tough to learn. Some languages have complex gender agreements, numerous verb tenses, or extensive case systems that dictate how words change based on their role in a sentence. Languages like Finnish, with its complex case system, can be daunting due to the numerous ways a single word can be modified.

Vocabulary and idioms:

Languages that share a lot of vocabulary with English, like French and Spanish, might be easier for English speakers. However, languages with little or no lexical similarity to English, like Japanese, require learning a whole new set of vocabulary. Additionally, idiomatic expressions, which often don’t translate directly, add another layer of complexity.

Hardest languages to learn for English speakers

While the challenge varies from person to person, certain languages consistently rank as the most difficult to master due to their unique linguistic features and structural differences from English. Let's take a look at why languages like Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, and Finnish are often considered formidable challenges for those used to the nuances of the English language.


For English speakers, Mandarin Chinese often tops the list of the most complicated languages to learn. Its tonal nature, combined with a complex writing system of thousands of characters, and a grammar structure vastly different from English, makes it a formidable challenge.


Arabic's script, which is written right to left, its system of sounds not found in English, and complex verb forms make it one of the most difficult languages for English speakers. Additionally, Arabic has many dialects, which can vary significantly from the Modern Standard Arabic used in formal settings.


Japanese is challenging due to its three distinct writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Kanji, borrowed from Chinese characters, can be particularly tough as there are thousands to learn. Japanese grammar and syntax are also quite different from English, with a heavy emphasis on politeness and hierarchy.


Finnish, a member of the Uralic language family, is notorious for its complex grammar. With 15 noun cases and no grammatical gender or future tense, the Finnish structure is alien to English speakers. Its vocabulary is very unique, sharing little similarity with English or other European languages.

Other hardest languages to learn in the world


Hindi, spoken primarily in India, presents challenges with its Devanagari script and complex grammar. The script, vastly different from the Latin alphabet, requires new learners to familiarize themselves with entirely new characters. Additionally, Hindi's gender-specific nouns and extensive use of postpositions add layers of complexity.


Bulgarian, a Slavic language, uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which can be a hurdle for learners used to the Latin script. Its unique features include a definite article that is suffixed to the end of nouns and complex verb conjugations.


Russian, also using the Cyrillic alphabet, is notorious for its intricate case system. This affects nouns, pronouns, and adjectives, creating a challenging learning curve. Russian also has a rich vocabulary and a complex aspectual system of verbs.


This tonal language from Southeast Asia can be particularly challenging due to its use of six different tones, changing the meaning of words based on pitch. The Vietnamese grammar and vocabulary also present significant differences from English.


Polish is challenging due to its complex phonology, particularly its consonant clusters and seven grammatical cases. Its complex gender system adds another layer of difficulty for language learners.


Hungarian, a Uralic language, is known for its intricate grammar, including 18 cases and a plethora of irregular verbs. Its vocabulary and grammatical structure share little similarity with most other European languages.


Thai's script and tonal nature, along with a complex system of politeness levels, classifiers, and a significantly different syntax, make it a challenging language for English speakers.


Turkish features vowel harmony and extensive agglutination, making its grammar quite intricate. Words often have numerous suffixes for different grammatical functions, presenting a unique challenge to learners.


Farsi, or Persian, uses the Arabic script but has its own set of complexities. Its grammar is relatively straightforward, but learning a new script and vocabulary can be a formidable task for new learners.


Danish is challenging primarily due to its pronunciation and unique vowel sounds. The ‘soft d’ and other phonetic peculiarities can be difficult for non-native speakers to master.

Tips to make learning a new language easier

✅ Immerse yourself in the language:

Immersion is key to learning a new language. Surround yourself with the language through music, films, books, and conversation with native speakers.

✅ Practice regularly:

Consistency is crucial. Regular practice helps in retaining and understanding the language better. Even short daily sessions can be more beneficial than long, irregular study periods.

✅ Set realistic goals:

Setting achievable goals can help keep you motivated and track your progress. Whether it’s learning a set number of words per day or being able to hold a basic conversation, concrete goals can guide your learning journey.

Common language learning FAQs

What is the most spoken language in the world?

Mandarin Chinese tops the list as the most spoken language globally, considering native speakers. It's estimated that over a billion people speak Mandarin as their first language, primarily in China, Taiwan, and Singapore. This vast number reflects China's significant population and the spread of its culture and diaspora worldwide.

What is the easiest language to learn for English speakers?

Languages such as Spanish, Dutch, and Norwegian are often deemed easier for English speakers to learn. The ease comes from the similarity in grammar structures, vocabulary, and sentence construction. Spanish, for example, shares many cognates with English, words that have the same linguistic derivation. Dutch and Norwegian also have simpler grammar rules compared to English, making them less intimidating for beginners.

Does the difficulty of learning a new language depend on the learner's native language?

Yes, the learner's native language plays a crucial role in determining the difficulty level of learning a new language. Languages that share roots, such as those within the Romance or Germanic families, will typically have similar structures, making them easier to learn for speakers within those families. For instance, a native Spanish speaker might find Italian or Portuguese relatively easier to pick up than Mandarin or Russian.

How long does it typically take to become fluent in a new language?

The time it takes to achieve fluency in a new language can vary widely depending on several factors, including the learner's native language, the language being learned, the intensity of study, and the learner's exposure to the language. For example, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) suggests that a native English speaker might need approximately 600-750 hours of study to reach a professional working proficiency in languages like Spanish or French, while languages like Mandarin or Arabic may require upwards of 2200 hours.

Are some languages becoming extinct?

Yes, unfortunately, language extinction is a real phenomenon. It's estimated that a language dies out approximately every two weeks. Many indigenous and minority languages are at risk as their speakers dwindle and shift to more dominant languages. This loss not only affects linguistic diversity but also erases rich cultural and historical knowledge embedded in these languages.

Can learning a new language improve cognitive functions?

Learning a new language has been shown to have several cognitive benefits. It can enhance memory, improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and even delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Bilingualism requires the brain to constantly switch between languages, which can strengthen cognitive muscles and increase mental flexibility.

Is it harder to learn a language as an adult?

While children have a natural advantage in language acquisition due to their developing brains, adults can also successfully learn new languages. Adults often have better metalinguistic awareness, meaning they can understand the mechanics of language learning more effectively. With the right approach, motivation, and tools like iTranslate, adults can achieve proficiency in a new language.

Wrapping Up

Did we help answer your question: what is the hardest language to learn? Learning a new language can be just as challenging as it is rewarding. While some languages might seem daunting due to their complex scripts, tonal sounds, or grammar rules, mastering them becomes a feasible goal with the right tools and strategies.

Tools like iTranslate can be a game-changer in this process, helping you navigate through new vocabulary and pronunciations effortlessly. Remember, every language holds its unique beauty, and learning one opens up new worlds of understanding and connection. Give it a try with iTranslate!

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