What is the hardest language to learn?

What is the hardest language to learn?


Years ago, before the rise of the Internet, you could take a Chinese course on television. The first episodes scored surprisingly well and a lot of people bought the accompanying course book. But after about four weeks, almost everyone had dropped out. The reason? It was far too difficult.

But why exactly? Well, mainly because Chinese is part of a different language family than Dutch. A language family is a group of languages that are related to each other and despite - sometimes major - differences between them have several common features, such as similar grammar and vocabulary. For a Dutchman it is easier to learn German, Italian or Polish because almost all languages spoken in Europe belong to the Indo-European language family. German, in turn, is less challenging for us than Polish because Dutch and German are both Germanic languages, a subfamily of Indo-European languages. Italian and Polish, by the way, also belong to a subfamily: Italian to the Romance languages, Polish to the Slavic languages.

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There is not one most difficult language

So the answer to the question "What is the most difficult language in the world to learn?" depends entirely on what your mother tongue is (and partly on what languages are spoken in the surrounding countries). As a Dutchman, you will only master the 5 languages listed below after many hours of studying and years of practice - unless you are a language prodigy, of course. For us, the hardest language to learn is Chinese, Navajo, Finnish, !Xóõ or Arabic.

1. Chinese (Mandarin)

If you've read the blog article What is the most commonly spoken? World languages top 10, you know that Chinese is actually a collective name for several related languages, of which Mandarin is the most important. What makes Mandarin so difficult for us is that it is a tonal language: words can be pronounced at 5 different pitches and then have totally different meanings. Dutch has nothing comparable. The second major stumbling block, of course, is the writing. Even for children in China it is a hell of a job to learn it. Windfall: the grammar of Chinese is extremely simple.

2. Navajo

Navajo is the most widely spoken (and nowadays very much alive) indigenous language in the United States. Get ready: a tonal system, numerous prefixes and suffixes expressing grammatical functions, several consonants unknown to most other languages, a complex verb system, and so on. During World War II, Navajo speakers were deployed by the US Navy to exchange secret messages. All kinds of military terms were replaced one-on-one by everyday Navajo words; no further encryption was necessary. This code has never been cracked.

3. Finnish

Not a language to learn on a rainy afternoon either. But Finland is in Europe, right? Sure, but Finnish is one of the few European languages that belong to another language family, the Finno-Ugric languages. It is related to Hungarian and Estonian. Do you like grammatical name cases? Finnish has 16 of them! Are you keen to learn a language that has vastly different dialects spoken interchangeably everywhere? Check! As a bonus, we also throw in a whole range of irregular verbs. Too bad that the spelling is quite simple and neatly reflects the pronunciation. But you can't have everything.

4. !Xóõ

No, that exclamation mark is not a typo and those accents are correct too. !Xóõ, also known as Taa, is a language spoken by some five thousand people in Namibia and Botswana. If you want to learn !Xóõ, you must have an absurdly flexible tongue. This is because the richness of sounds in this language is unprecedented: 5 vowels, 56 "normal" consonants and no less than 80 click consonants. These are sounds in which a clicking sound is produced in many different ways. As a final touch, there is also a kissing sound. Many sounds are only slightly different from each other, which makes it all even more difficult. But you were looking for the most difficult language to learn, right?

5. Arabic

At least in terms of grammar, Arabic is not the most difficult language. For example, three name cases is quite modest. But writing in particular is quite a hurdle to overcome when you start an Arabic course or study. For example, Arabic is written from right to left – not such a problem on the PC, but try it by hand – and it has its own alphabet. In addition, there are 4 shapes for each letter depending on its position in the word. Oh, and vowels exist in Arabic, of course, but are generally omitted in the written language (except in the Koran, textbooks and law texts). A language for puzzlers, then.

Also difficult to translate?

We'll be honest: a translation from !Xóõ to Navajo cannot be arranged by Scriptware Translations. But we are happy to assist you with a Dutch-Chinese or Arabic-English translation. Also for many other languages we can rely on experienced and specialized translators. Curious about our working methods and rates? Then simply contact us.

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