Unfortunately, there’s no easy and definite answer to the question “Which is the most difficult language to learn” due to the huge amount of variables that the question raises, however for traditional, native English speakers, we do have a suggestion. First, we will discuss some of the considerations that have led to this conclusion.
Country of origin
It is important to note that in some countries, learning a language is a fairly natural process. For those minority countries that don’t have either a power language or a widely spoken language as their native tongue it’s an essential process they need to go through in order to succeed and be able to travel internationally, something English speakers tend to take for granted when they go abroad.
Therefore there are children for whom it is natural to be bilingual or even trilingual due to that being common in their society or country. To give an example those living in Sweden, Norway or other European countries learn their native tongue just as we do, but for them, in addition to speaking Swedish or Norwegian fluently, they will also be fluent English speakers as this is a traditional part of growing up and part of the norm. In fact, this also occurs in Korea, India, and even China – we are quite unique in the United Kingdom where this is not the case.
When you are younger you have far more of an affinity to learn a second or third language – when you are an adult it becomes much harder. Therefore Europeans that are used to learning languages are likely to find it far easier to pick them up than an English person would.
Let’s do not forget natural talent. Some people – myself not included – naturally pick up and remember new verbs, nouns, and sentence construction patterns. All of these points will impact how easy one finds it to become bilingual.
Arguably the most important factor is enthusiasm. You can have a terrific ability to pick up languages, speak, interpret and translate them however if you don’t enjoy learning your chosen language, chances are you won’t go the whole distance. For home study especially, a lot of self-motivation is required – if you don’t enjoy what you’re learning, chances are you’re not going to learn it!
This concept is fascinating and it brings together how closely one language is linked to another. To give an example, Dutch as a language is fairly close to English in terms of its words, patterns and expressions whilst Vietnamese and Somalian have a huge distance from English. The tools used to formulate these results are called cognates, measurements that look at language similarities to determine how close one language is to another and how easy it will be to learn.
So, language distance is a big factor as is personal ability, intrinsic motivation and enthusiasm, upbringing, culture, country of origin and even age. However, if you do speak English, if you are an adult and if you haven’t learned a second language apart from those obligatory lessons at school the hardest language for you to learn is…Japanese. There is an interesting infographic online here about learning Japanese and with its four scripts and totally different alphabet it’s easy to see why this gets the title – however, it’s extremely common for Japanese people to speak English, so it can be done!
About the Author:
Emma Petrosyan is fairly good at Spanish and can just about get by on her annual trip to Mallorca! For the more complex language services she requires,
she recommends using the professional translators at LanguageNow.