The Hardest Languages to Learn for English Speakers (in 2022)

Updated: 19. Oct, 2022

We constantly get exposed to a wide range of diverse cultures and languages. Many of us find it annoying and frustrating when we cannot communicate with others because we do not speak the same language.

Modern technology has made it possible for anybody to learn another language quickly and easily. Nonetheless, getting to know which language is best to learn can be challenging. Some languages are very easy to learn while others can be quite difficult. Learning a more challenging language may be incredibly rewarding for individuals willing to put in the time and effort required.

In this post, we will analyze the most difficult language to learn. 

What Makes a Language Difficult to Learn?

Several factors make a language harder to learn. Some of these factors include:

1. Relationship with your Native Language

The majority of the world’s languages are members of a single language family. All languages in the same family have a common ancestry. There are a lot of similarities between languages that belong to the same family in terms of origins, usages, lexicon, pronunciations, grammatical structures, and so on.

As a result, it will be simpler for you to learn languages with some of your native English attributes and characteristics. Languages that have little in common with your native language will be far more difficult for you to learn. It’s safe to say that most languages are in the center.

Germanic languages such as English have many similarities with other Scandinavian languages such as Danish and Norwegian.

2. The Language Complexity

The writing system or script a language uses determines the difficulty level of learning a language. For instance, Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean writing systems are complex and have a variety of formality levels.

3. Tone

When saying words, different languages use tones. For someone who has never worked with tones before, this might be a challenge to grasp. For native English speakers, this is one of the key reasons learning Chinese might be difficult.

Swedish use tones, although they are much less complicated to learn than Chinese tones. Listening to native speakers is the best way to know the appropriate tones to use.

Hardest Languages to Learn

Not every language has a simple route to fluency. For some languages, you’ll need to start from the very beginning to gain a handle on their writing systems and sounds, and syntax. Compared to other languages, these languages need thousands of hours of study to achieve fluency. Below are ten of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn. 

1. Mandarin

As the most widely spoken language on Earth, knowing Mandarin is beneficial. Aside from the fact that you’ll always have someone to chat to while traveling, this may be quite handy in professional circumstances.

This language belongs to the Chinese language family. Mandarin is typically regarded as the most challenging language to master for English speakers.

Learning this language can be difficult for various reasons. To begin with, English speakers will have a tough time navigating the writing system. Its writing method, hànz, employs logograms rather than letters to communicate. Logograms are characters that represent full words. To read in everyday scenarios, you’ll need to recall roughly 200 logograms.

In addition to the regular difficulties of learning a new language from the start, Mandarin students must also master thousands of characters.

In addition, there are four distinct tones to contend with. The intonation of words in Chinese changes their connotations, making it a tonal language. There are four primary tones in Mandarin, namely Png, shàng, qù, and rù.

2. Arabic

Arabic is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. It is often regarded as one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Also, it is one of the oldest languages.

There are two main forms of Arabic: Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic. The Quran and classical literature use Classical Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is what Arabs speak.

Based on the location or nation of the speakers, the language can further be broken down into various dialects. For example, the Arabic you hear Moroccans speak is different from what the Egyptians and Bahrainis speak.

The absence of most vowels in Arabic words makes it difficult for newcomers to read and write the language. Verbs tend to precede the subject, and you’ll need to study the dual and plural forms of words and the single and plural forms of the same terms.

3. Cantonese

As the second most widely spoken language in China, Cantonese has a particularly strong hold in the south and southeast of the country. If you’re planning a trip to China, it’s a good idea to learn some Cantonese. Many classic Chinese works of art and poetry also use characters in the Cantonese dialect, so if you’re looking for a deeper connection to the arts, Cantonese is appropriate.

You cannot dictate Cantonese straight from spoken to written form. Written and spoken language are radically different and need equal education to transform the spoken word into written form. Using pitch to alter the delivery and connotation of distinct words, Cantonese follows the same tonal principles as Mandarin but with a greater focus on the pitch. Nobody knows how many distinct tones there are in Cantonese, in contrast to Mandarin’s four distinct tones. Depending on who you ask, the answer is six to nine. 

4. Japanese

Japanese is the “gateway” language for many other Asian languages. You will find it simpler to study other languages such as Chinese and Korean after mastering Japanese in both written and spoken forms.

There are three distinct writing systems in Japanese. There are 46 characters in the first two systems, hiragana, and katakana.

The third writing system, the kanji, is based on the Chinese script. Kanji uses the logographic letters are used to express words. There are around 2,000 characters in kanji that must be memorized to achieve fluency.

In Japanese, precise pronunciation and word use are essential since context heavily influences the language. Moreover, pitch accents are a feature of the Japanese language. Pitch changes alter the meaning of a word depending on how high or low you rise or fall between syllables.

Honorific discourse in the Japanese language, termed Keigo, further complicates words for social relationships. Based on your relationship with the individual with whom you’re conversing, Keigo alters the words and syntax you employ. There are three distinct forms of Keigo. They are respectful language (sonkeigo), polite language (teineigo), and humble language (kenjōgo). 

5. Russian

There are an estimated 260 million people who are fluent in Russian. The Russian language is also part of a broader family of languages. It will be simpler for you to learn other Slavic languages like Bulgarian and Czech if you master Russian.

The Cyrillic script is used to write Russian. Pronunciation is one of the most challenging aspects of learning Russian. Certain Cyrillic letters seem familiar, but the sounds they produce are different. For example, in the Cyrillic alphabet, the letter “B” produces a “V” sound.

Grammar is a constant source of stress for even fluent speakers. As a beginner, you’ll probably only be able to imitate some of the more difficult sounds. Consonant clusters (like other Slavic languages) and a wide case system make this language strange to many English speakers.

6. Vietnamese

Vietnam, a country with one of Asia’s greatest population growth rates, speaks Vietnamese. Recent years have seen a 25% growth in the number of tourists visiting Vietnam to experience the country’s culture. Vietnamese people are kind and welcoming, and learning their language can help you get a better sense of the culture.

Vietnamese is on a par with Mandarin and Chinese in terms of difficulty. Additionally, non-native speakers have difficulties with tone changes and written character discrepancies. When it comes to tonal symbols, basic letters like ‘o’ may have more than ten different tones in Vietnamese.

Additionally, northern Vietnamese is quite distinct from southern Vietnamese, making it more difficult to communicate. To do so effectively, you need to know how to communicate with everyone, from a close family member to an elderly stranger you’ve just met. Using the incorrect tense might give the impression that you’re disrespectful.

7. Portuguese

Many British and American citizens speak Portuguese; it’s quite useful for business and many work communication processes. As an added benefit, learning Portuguese before visiting will ensure a more enjoyable stay and a deeper understanding of the culture of countries like Brazil.

Portuguese has nine vowel sounds, more silent letters, and more accents than English, making it a challenging language for English speakers to master.

8. Polish

Having Polish as a second language places you in a highly sought-after group, especially with Poland’s rising economic prominence in Europe.

Polish can be particularly challenging for native English speakers regarding spelling and grammar. The Polish language is rife with consonant clusters. And it’s a little difficult to pronounce them. Individual letters might be difficult to pronounce, too. Moreover, there are sounds that native English speakers will find very difficult.

Polish words fall into three gender groups. It is customary in Poland to distinguish between male, female, and neuter genders. Feminine Nouns end in “-a”, whereas neutral nouns end in “-o”. Every other word in Polish is male. This means that you don’t have to bother about gender-specific articles in Polish.

Nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive are the only four grammatical cases in most languages. For nouns, pronominal and adverbial cases, Polish grammar provides seven distinct ones to choose from. This implies that you can conjugate a Polish word in seven distinct ways. Polish has instrumental, locational, and vocative cases, aside from the previously mentioned cases.

9. Finnish

The Finnish language belongs to the Uralic language family. It is the official language of Finland. As one of the most challenging languages to learn, it has less than six million speakers worldwide. Many people believe that Finnish grammar is infamously difficult.

For English speakers, the word order in Finnish is unclear. Many Finns don’t always follow similar principles, making it even more difficult to speak with individuals face-to-face. Its vowel harmony method is another challenge for beginners.

Once you get can understand Finnish, you will discover that it is a language that has fewer letters than English. Also, there are slight differences between written Finnish and spoken Finnish. 

10. Icelandic

The Icelandic language has remained mostly unchanged for hundreds of years. Vikings and historical Scandinavians spoke it because it is a wonderful language.

You can trace the creation of Iceland to the 9th and 10th centuries. Since then, the language has remained virtually intact in language and culture, making it a unique language.

In addition, Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to master because of its old and unusual vocabulary and large and sophisticated grammatical standards. Non-native speakers may find it difficult to pronounce their words because of their length and plenty of syllables.

Conclusion

There are many languages that Native English speakers find difficult to learn. All these languages mentioned have little or no connection with the English language. 

However, do not allow the difficulty of a language to keep you from learning it. The advantages of learning these languages exceed their drawbacks in terms of time and effort. If you have the time, consider studying one of these languages.

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