Not all languages are created equal. Some are just easy or difficult languages to learn than others. What makes one harder or easier? Let’s explore the answers!
Let’s be honest, learning a language is a difficult task. While there are ways to make it easier. The three D’s — Determination, Dedication, and Discipline are essential components for the successful foreign language learning journey.
I’ve already written extensively about the best foreign languages for career, and most useful languages to learn, but what are the easiest and difficult languages to learn for Indians or English speakers?
It’s a question many people ask me, especially by people just starting out as language learners. So, what’s the answer?
Before we get there, let’s probe more!
We are all familiar with the countless benefits of learning a new language. When it comes to acquiring a foreign language, everyone has a different goal. There is no one-size-fits-all language. Broadly speaking, It can be classified into two groups.
The first group is essentially consist of learners with a particular language in mind. For example, if you are considering higher studies in Germany, or exploring job opportunities in a French company, or dealing with clients in Latin America, or maybe the aspects of Korean culture intrigues you. To sum up, you have already decided which language you should learn.
Then there is a second group of people with no specific purpose. The “career involving languages” and “jobs that require languages” are quite broad and vague and not clearly defined objectives. If you just wish to study a language and broaden your communication skills and career horizons, you might be considering what the easiest languages to learn in the shortest amount of time?
According to the research of the FSI at the U.S. State Department, the “easiest” and “difficult” languages for English speakers, are the ones usually requiring 600 hours and 2200 hours respectively of classwork for minimal proficiency. Furthermore, they suggest an approximate 1:1 ratio between time spent in the classroom, and self-study. Thus, 1200 and 4400 hours to achieve the conversational proficiency level.
Obviously, the word “easiest” and “difficult” is quite a relative term since a majority of language learner find all languages difficult to master. This is often debated amongst linguist and language enthusiasts. It’s a very important question. But it’s also a very tricky one to answer.
Why Are Some Languages Harder or Easy to Learn than Others?
There are five criteria that we will discuss below. These are some of the factors to be considered. Here they’re:
1. Related Languages
Most languages in the world belong to a particular language family. All languages within the same family are descended from a common parent language. The ease/difficulty of studying a new language depends on the language’s family.
Languages that are part of the same family share lots of similarities like roots, usages, vocabulary, pronunciations, grammatical and syntactic structures. In Ethnologue, you can find a list of 136 language families.
For example, the English language is part of the Germanic family, so it has similarities with German, Dutch, and the Scandinavian languages like Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian – all of which have a common ancestry or parental language. Therefore, it’s relatively and much easier for a native English speaker to learn German or Dutch than non-Germanic languages like Arabic, Persian or Turkish.
2. Native Language
Another factor to consider is your native tongue. Languages that have very little in common with your native language will be much harder. So, the ease of a language depends on what you learned first or what is your mother tongue.
If you wish to learn a new language that shares with your mother tongue in terms of grammatical structures, cognates, syntax or vocabulary, you naturally have a head start when you start learning your target language.
For instance, what might be fairly easy for a native English speaker might be far more challenging to someone who speaks Mandarin as a native language. A native Korean speaker probably has nearly as hard a time to learn Italian as the native Italian speaker has when learning the Korean language.
3. The Language Complexity
The third point is the language’s general complexity.
Some languages use a complex and different writing system or script and this can have a significant impact on whether a language is difficult to learn or not. For example, Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean have a complicated and unusual writing system and many levels of formality. That is why for an Indian or English speaker, mastering one of these East Asian languages is a tall order. On top of that, all the 3 scripts used for these 3 different languages are quite different.
Additionally, there are many languages with several dialects and variations such as Arabic and Chinese. It means that the Arabic and Chinese that is spoken in Egypt or HongKong are different from that spoken in Saudi Arabia and North China.
Then languages such as Finnish, Polish, Hungarian, Russian are difficult because of complicated grammatical structures and too many case system. Few languages like Vietnamese, Mongolian, Cantonese are hard to acquire because of the complexity of the sound system i.e. tricky pronunciation and unusual tones.
On the other hand, several languages are well-structured in a way that makes them easier to understand — simple grammar rules, fewer language irregularities and phonetic sounds that aren’t frequently broken. Italian, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, and Romanian are some of the popular languages that are easy to learn. That is the reason these are classified in a variety of easy category of language learning.
4. Passion and Reasons for learning a new language
While your reasons to learn a new language may differ from mine, both of us still need an essential hallmark to succeed in our language learning quest — passion.
The easiest language for you is the one that appeals to you in so many ways. If you enjoy studying a particular language, it could look easy, or at least fun to learn. If you pick a language of your interest, regardless of benefits associated with it, you are most likely to excel your language goals easier, quicker and allows for quick improvement.
The truth is language learning takes time. And the reason why most people struggle to learn a language is that they have low-key passion for the corresponding language. That is the reason a significant majority don’t go further than an elementary’s level.
What most people don’t realize that If you don’t have enough motivation and try to learn a language which you are not interested in, will make it look difficult even if it’s not. If you’re highly passionate about any language, you’re going to persevere and scale through whatever hurdles it contains.
To sum up, you are most likely to achieve the objective irrespective of language difficulty if you develop a passion to learn a language.
5. Resources Available to learn a new language
With the right language learning methods and effective study material, you can make quick progress and therefore quick results.
You can find zillions of websites, apps, study material and resources for popular languages like French, German or Spanish. You will never be concerned about not able to find resources but which one to use.
However, if you are keen to learn one of the not so popular languages, you have limited options when it comes to audio lessons, books, practice with the natives, teachers and so on and so forth. It can rapidly become a high level of frustration when you feel like your progress is stagnating for a shortage of enough resources.
In the past few years, I have received several queries about learning Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, and other uncommon languages. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is no learning centre in India offering any course in these languages. On top of that, there is a scarcity of study material or websites that can help. These languages, even though easy to acquire, is too tough to learn.
The Final Words
Don’t learn a new language just because it is easy or difficult. Think about your subjective and objective goal and interest. To make your enthralling journey to multilingualism, these are 5 criteria you need to consider that might make easy and difficult languages for you.
This article is just a glimpse of the next two articles — Easiest and Most Difficult language to Learn. Well, okay I haven’t written that yet. But I’ll write soon. If you’ve any question, Feel free to share your views in the comments.