What Are The Hardest And Easiest Languages To Learn?
For many people, learning another language is high on the wish list of achievements. Whether it’s for fun, for travel or for increasing employment opportunities, there are many reasons why we should be adding to our linguistic repertoire. At school, it’s compulsory but once we enter adulthood, those skills seem to disappear.
Yet over half of the people in the UK can’t speak a second language. With the world becoming increasingly multicultural and technology making it so simple, there’s never been a better time to learn. Of course, how difficult a person finds a second language also depends on their native tongue, and how closely it’s related to the one they’re trying to learn. But with so many to pick from, how do you choose? These five popular languages range from the simple to the notoriously challenging, each with unique traits and varying levels of commonality.
English is often hailed as one of the more difficult languages but in actual fact, there are many factors that make this language simpler to pick up than some others. For example, unlike other languages, there are no cases or genders to learn, and it has a simple grammar structure that makes it easier to pick up compared to others. English is also the most studied foreign language in the world, so the resources for learning English are abundant. From online course sites like www.perfectlyspoken.com to TV shows and films, music, podcasts, blogs and books, there are numerous opportunities for non-native speakers to enhance their knowledge of how native speakers really communicate.
Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, with more than 400 million native speakers around the world. Along with other European languages like French and Portuguese, the origins of Spanish establish it as a romance language. As English speakers, learning Spanish is actually very simple. The pronunciations of these words are easy to pick up, and overall this language has a shallow orthographic depth which means that most of the words are pronounced as they’re written, making it much easier for non-native speakers. There are only ten vowel and diphthong sounds to learn (for context, English has 20), as well as no unfamiliar phonemes to contend with.
Another of the romance languages, Italian is considered to be one of the most beautifully spoken languages in the world. Italian has its roots in Latin and much of the vocabulary translates into similar sounding words as in English, so it’s slightly easier for English speakers to learn and recognise. As with Spanish, many of the words are spoken as they are written, and the structure of Italian sentences is quite rhythmic and musical-sounding, so memorising it can be easier. Italian is one of the more cognate languages with English, so it’s considered easier to pick up – it’s estimated that non-native speakers can learn it in around 24 weeks or 600 class hours.
The idiom ‘it’s Greek to me’ has come to symbolise a lack of understanding, but why is Greek so difficult to learn? This is one of the oldest languages in Europe and it’s complex because of its alternative alphabet of 24 letters and problematic grammar rules. Knowing where to place stress and intonation within different words can trip up new speakers as well, as changing where the stress is placed can also change the meaning of the word entirely! The Greek language is interesting in that its main components have remained virtually unchanged for over a thousand years. Greek has a mixed syllable structure, which can create complex sound combinations. It’s believed that it takes around 44 weeks or 1,100 class hours to learn how to speak and write Greek.
Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world. However, despite being spoken by a fifth of the world population, it is notoriously difficult to pick up. Chinese is a tonal language, so the meanings of words can change depending on the tone you use. There are also thousands of characters to memorise and a complex writing system that makes learning Mandarin Chinese incredibly hard. Because there is no alphabet, only symbols or logograms, as well as Chinese words not being phonetic, it’s no wonder this language is tricky to learn. There are several Chinese dialects spoken in different provinces, but Mandarin is the most widespread and is the official language of China.