Thoughts: The Easiest and Most Difficult Languages

6
Posted July 11, 2013 by Elica Sue in Languages
examples of writing various languages

Flickr photo by adrigu.

There have been infographics made that rank some of the world’s easiest languages to the world’s hardest languages to learn. There has been constant speculation and argument about which language is more difficult than the other. I have heard my Chinese teacher tell me “Chinese is so much easier than Spanish,” yet why is Spanish labeled to be ‘easy’ and Chinese labeled ‘hard’? I have met a handful of people who cannot grasp the French language yet can understand how the Japanese language works, so why is French labeled ‘easy’ and Japanse labeled ‘hard’?

From an enthusiastic language learner’s perspective: after learning multiple writing systems and grammatical structures, I can tell you there is no such thing as easy or difficult–there is only what your mind perceives to be easy or difficult. I can see many reasons why some people may think Chinese is easier than Spanish, or why some people would prefer learning Spanish over Chinese.

Many factors play into how difficult we think a language is, from our native languages, our previous experience with other languages, and simply how our brains work. How we each view the world varies from person to person and our strengths vary from subject to subject–so why would languages be any different? We view categorizing languages as being objective because Chinese and Japanese have different writing systems and Spanish and French don’t. But what about grammar? What about pronunciation, conjugation, tones? For anyone who hasn’t thoroughly done their research on the skeletal structure of a language, you might judge a language and whether you should learn it or not based on what it looks or sounds like, or worse, based on other people’s experiences on it.

Take a comparison of Mandarin and Spanish for example. What most people think makes Mandarin hard is it’s writing system and use of tones. But its word order is subject-verb-object, like English, and there are no conjugations. What might make Spanish difficult is exactly what Chinese lacks: conjugations.

Many people have the desire to learn a foreign language, but if that foreign language is rumored to be one of the more difficult languages like Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, they might be more susceptible to giving up that dream because they think it’s too hard.

A language is just a language; it is not easy nor difficult. However, it is what our mind formulates around that language, therefore that language embodies, and eventually becomes our thoughts about that language. Spanish may be ‘easy’ for me, but Spanish may be ‘difficult’ for the next person. Just because you can’t grasp French doesn’t mean you can’t grasp Chinese.

But, in my mind, motivation and passion overcome any difficultly.

What are your thoughts about language difficulty? If you’ve studied foreign languages, what have you found easy or difficult?

About the Author

Elica Sue

Elica Sue is WildJunket's web editor and writer specializing in languages and student travel. Based in California, she grew up with an exposure to a menagerie of culture, language, and art, and is a student pursuing what she is most passionate about: writing, traveling, and learning languages. She blogs at Travelengua.

6 Comments


  1.  

    Of course it depend on individual. But i think it can be generalizes. For English speakers Chinese is generally harder than Spanish.

    let’s say that living in coutry is far worse than last year. Then you say. It’s not true, my cousin got the rise and he is living like a richman now.

    easy and hard languages are just general statistics




    •  

      I wasn’t assuming everyone had English as their native language while writing this; I was saying it’s impossible (in my opinion) to have a universal “most difficult” and “easiest” language because everyone learns a different language first.

      Previous knowledge of other languages also applies, there are too many factors to take into account when each individual is exposed to different environments, though I do have to agree that there is a very very very generalized cluster of easiest to difficult languages for English speakers, just that not everyone falls into these categories.

      Thanks for your thoughts!




  2.  
    Simon

    They say Swedish is one of the most difficult languages out there. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy either.

    Our system of conjugation is easier than, let’s say, Spanish, and spelling and pronounciation is more predictive than English. Our system of declension is not as straight-forward as in English, but way easier than German. Like German, the word order can be a bit liberal. As far as numbers go, we follow the English system (except with larger numbers. The English-speaking say million, billion, trillion, etc.; we say miljon, miljard, biljon, biljard, etc.).




  3.  

    I speak Spanish (I was raised bilingual) and I am currently learning Japanese. I find it difficult and to add to it, many of the words translate to different things in Spanish. For instance, the Japanese word for pork sounds like a very crass word in Spanish. I will learn Japanese, I am confident of that, but to chalk it up to, “It’s just a language,” is an oversimplification of the matter at hand. We all learn in different ways, and what is hard for some may not be for others, but it’s hard all the same. It’s not a matter of lack of intelligence; it’s a matter of learning what you find challenging and overcoming.




  4.  
    Philip

    I think that learning another language requires a number of skill sets: Hearing Understanding, Grammar and Spelling, Vocabulary Building, Elocution, Diction and Pronunciation – Oral Skills, Reading Understanding and being able to only just think in that language and not do a bilingual flip-flop between languages. Then also the written language and the spoken language frequently are quite different.
    As my Linguistics Professor years ago drew these Venn Diagrams on the Blackboard to explain these interrelationships. For Humans learning a language is a fundamental Life Skill, just as much a learning to walk, swim, balance your self on a bicycle while riding it and similar such activities. Once your brain learns those skills they are never forgotten, even if you do not use them for a long time. Because these activities go into long term memory.
    Given the right circumstances then anyone has the ability to learn another language. It just takes a lot of time and effort.




  5.  

    Agree with your perspective on languages. I found I had an easier time learning Mandarin than my time now in Serbo-Croatian. I think understanding your learning style and putting in the time and effort goes a long way in learning the language. Thanks for the thoughts!





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