43 percent of the global population is bilingual but only 13 percent of the world is multilingual. Research shows that speaking more than two languages comes with many benefits including career opportunities and preventing dementia.
It doesn’t matter which language you choose, all equally give you benefits. But not all languages are equally difficult to learn.
Maybe you are a polyglot looking for a new challenge (way to go!). Or perhaps you are simply curious which languages deserve an extra dose of respect.
Either way, we’ve got you covered. Read on to discover the five most difficult languages to learn if you are a native English speaker.
Hindi is one of the official languages in India. There are about 422 million Hindi speakers in the world.
One of the main reasons why Hindi is one of the hardest languages to learn is due to its script. The script used to write Hindi is called Devanagari. Each character represents a consonant and vowel combination, unlike English where each character refers to one letter.
Native English speakers tend to struggle with this change. Also, the written version of Hindi doesn’t have phonetic markings to guide readers on how to pronounce words.
Also, Hindi is a subtle language. A small change in sound or context may alter the meaning of a word altogether!
You can see why Hindi is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
2. Mandarin Chinese
Mandarin Chinese is spoken in various parts of the world including Mainland China, Singapore, and Taiwan.
Mandarin is a tonal language. Basically, this means that the pitch of your voice impacts the meaning of the word. In English, you can say fast in any pitch and it still means the same thing. Not so in Mandarin!
Mandarin has four tones plus a neutral tone that learners have to grasp. But that’s not all.
Mandarin is commonly ranked as the hardest language to learn due to the thousands of characters and Chinese numbers to memorize. These are also many words that sound the same but mean different things (like there and their). Plus, there are also so many idioms that have no direct translation to try to get a grip on.
Of course, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Mandarin is one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet! Becoming even a little versed in the language gives you access to millions of people in Asia and elsewhere.
You may be surprised to see a European language on this list of most difficult languages. Though there are a few difficult Nordic languages, Finnish is the most difficult one of them all.
Though it does have similar vocabulary and grammar to Swedish and Norwegian, experts say it will take up to 1100 hours of learning to communicate in Finnish. Compare that to 575 hours for the other two Nordic languages we mentioned.
Did you know that Arabic is an official or recognized minority language in a whopping 31 countries in the Middle East and Africa? If you are looking for a language to learn that will help you communicate widely across the globe, this is it.
So, what makes it so hard? It’s not tonal. But it does have its own script (not the A-Z alphabet that English speakers are used to).
The good news is that in Arabic, the characters are somewhat akin to our Latin alphabet. But, Arabic script is read from right to left. This can make learning it tricky for English speakers.
Also, Arabic has a variety of unique sounds that are well outside the realms of sounds we use in English words. Not to mention that there is also a wide variety of dialects that change according to the region you travel to.
Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that Arabic words don’t usually include the vowels. Arabic speakers are expected to know which vowels are missing from written words. So that adds a whole layer of complexity to learning Arabic.
If you have any background in Hindi or Hebrew, you’ve got a bit of an advantage. Arabic and the written Hebrew language share some similarities. Hindi and Arabic even share some vocabulary.
Russian uses a Cyrillic alphabet which makes this one of the most difficult languages to learn.
English speakers will recognize some letters but not all! Russian students will quickly learn that although some letters look familiar, in Russian they make a totally different sound. For example, the letter “B” in Russian makes a “V” sound.
Grammatically, Russian is a tough language to learn. It has six cases. Each has its own purpose and answers a specific set of questions.
In Russian, sentences can be put together in multiple ways. So the cases are useful in order to understand who or what is the subject and object of the sentence.
As a native English speaker, one of the hardest things about Russian is the large cluster of constants strung together without any vowels. This makes learning how to pronounce and spell words tricky.
yet, for those who persist, Russian is a fruitful investment that can open up various career and leisure options.