The Hardest Languages to Learn

Learning a new language always takes time and effort, but are some languages easier to learn than others? There are two answers, one of which is fairly obvious; the other has to do with music and different sides of your brain.

The biggest question is: what language (or languages) do you currently speak? That is the most influential variable in how difficult it is to learn a new language. If you speak Spanish, learning Portuguese will be relatively easy. If you speak Czech, learning Russian will be simple. Of course, if you speak Spanish and try to learn Russian, it will be more challenging.

The Foreign Service Institute at the United States Department of State rated 63 languages based on how difficult they are for English speakers to learn. They concluded that Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean were the most difficult, with Japanese typically being the hardest of the five to learn.

All five of those languages have non-Latin alphabets, but there may be something trickier at work. In 2003, neurologists at the Wellcome Trust in Britain studied which parts of the brain are engaged while speaking and reading different languages. The left hemisphere is typically associated with language because it understands the components of language – like vocabulary and syntax, while the right hemisphere helps us with inferences. The right hemisphere also helps us comprehend music.

The scientists discovered that some languages, like English, can be read with only the left hemisphere, while others rely on both hemispheres. A tonal language, like Chinese, utilizes both hemispheres because the left hemisphere focuses on the characters, while the right hemisphere sounds them out. Learning a language that requires both hemispheres may be harder for people whose native language relies on the left hemisphere only.

Do you ever think about learning a second, third, or fourth language? Which language do you think would be hardest? To help you decide, take a look at some of the hardest words to translate.