Thoughts: The Easiest and Most Difficult Languages

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.

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