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English is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. It is also one of the most studied languages in the world.
There are even online tutoring options like Justlearn for people who like to learn from the comfort of their homes.
Unfortunately, studying English is quite challenging if the learner is not from countries that use English.
In extension, Non-English learners are also expected to have a hard time learning languages with similar English sentence structure and phonology.
There are a lot of factors that affect language learning, and one of the most significant factors is your location.
Languages evolve differently from one another.
That’s why a language from the eastern hemisphere sounds very different from the languages spoken in the western hemisphere.
In this article, we will feature the ten hardest languages to learn for non-English speakers. But before that, let’s address this question:
“Is English the hardest language to learn for non-English speakers?”
The short answer is: it depends on the learner’s native tongue. The native language is often taught and polished at a young age. In this phase, children learn how to translate and decode their own ideas to sounds used to communicate.
After learning the native tongue, a person would use it as a general reference for learning the following languages in the future.
Here’s an example:
You’re an English speaker learning Japanese for the first time. If you want to absorb the meaning of the Japanese word “takushi,” you will likely find its English equivalent and use at as a reference (which in this case is “table.”)
From this moment, when you hear or use the word “takushi,” your brain will automatically incorporate it with what “table” means. Mastering a new language is difficult if it has few similarities with your native tongue.
Another factor that affects your learning experience is its placement in the language family. All world languages are categorized by the degree of relationship to the common ancestral language.
Those within a group have strong similarities in words, sentence structure, tone, and more.
English is a part of the Indo-European family, in the branch of Western Germanic groups. It is currently the largest language family, with almost 3 billion speakers.
If you speak English, you will find it easier to study other languages within the Indo-European language family.
However, if your main language is from other language families (e.g., Sino-Tibetan), English will be quite hard to learn.
But wait, what is the connection of language families to the topic?
But knowing these factors, you would be able to get a gist of what languages would be hard to learn.
What are the hardest languages to learn for non-English speakers?
The answer would be languages within the Indo-European language family, especially languages categorized as a part of the Western Germanic branch.
Although languages like Scots and Frisian are nearest to English, Dutch has a bigger speaking population.
There are over 24 million people from the Netherlands and Belgium who consider Dutch as their first language. Unlike English (who is in the Anglo-Frisian branch), Dutch is a part of the low Franconian group, along with Afrikaans and Flemish.
A good portion of English words is included in the Dutch vocabulary. For this reason, learners who hate English pronunciation will have a similar experience in Dutch (and other Frisian languages).
It also shares the same rules for participles with English. But instead of adding “ing,” Dutch adds “e” to the infinitive.
Dutch speakers usually describe the language as a combination of English and German. But when it comes to word order, the language leans more towards the German influence. It uses the subject-object-verb (SOV) instead of the subject-verb-object (SVO).
If Dutch is English’s first cousin, German would be the second. German is the primary language in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. As of 2014, there are more than 95 million people who speak German as their native tongue.
Meanwhile, there are 10-15 million people who use German as a second language. Just like Dutch, it also uses the SOV typology.
English speakers are expected to spend 750 hours or 30 weeks learning German at a proficient level. Naturally, non-English speakers will have to spend more time than 750 hours in able to get acquainted with the rules of this language.
German is a must-learn language for people who are in the business industry. It is currently the fourth most used language globally and is considered one of the leading business languages.
This language is beneficial to learn, as long as you don’t mind the grind (it is equally difficult for both English and non-English speakers).
Although French is not a part of the West Germanic branch, it is closer to English than its German neighbor. It is a part of the Romance language and has over 274 million speakers worldwide. Like other Indo-European languages, French share a lot of words with English vocabulary.
Native speakers of Sino-Tibetan languages (e.g., Chinese, Burmese, and Tibetan) might have an easier time learning French.
This is because the French /u/ sound does exist in Chinese, unlike its English counterpart. Still, expect to get frustrated by nasal vowels that the French language is known.
Like other Romantic languages, French borrows a lot of English words in its vocabulary. Hence, if you hate pronouncing English words, be ready to get frustrated in pronouncing French words too. Fortunately, tons of materials such as French TV shows and streamable content are available to help in this category.
Italian is also a member of the Romantic language family, under the Italo-Dalmatian branch. As of 2020, there are more than 67 million native speakers from Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican, Slovene, and Istria. There is also an additional 13.4 million people who use Italian as a second language.
Unlike its French and German cousins, Italian is not a very popular language for foreign learners. In Business, other languages such as Japanese, German, and French are commonly used.
What makes the wording stand out is it’s pure aesthetic appeal. Italian is one of the most famous Romantic languages because it sounds good.
A challenging aspect of learning Italian is making the “R” sound. Almost all popular languages pronounce “R” differently. In Italian, the “R” is characterized by a hard rolling “rrrr.”
If you’re a non-English speaker, there’s a big chance that it is pronounced differently (or doesn’t exist at all).
Portuguese is a Romance language under Ibero-Romance. It is the native language of over 250 million people and 24 million L2 speakers.
As of 2020, Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Brazil, Angola, Sao tome, Principe, and Mozambique.
As another Romance language on the list, word-sharing with English and other Indo-European languages are very common.
However, language learners should be aware that not all borrowed words have the same meaning.
Another characteristic of this language is its “interrogative form.”
You don’t have to add question words like “why” or “what” to ask a question. If you want to ask something, just change your intonation at the end of the sentence.
Like Portuguese, Spanish is a Romance language that originated from Ibero-Romance. There are over 500 million native speakers and 75 million L2 speakers worldwide.
According to Ethnologue, as of 2020, Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world. Because of its widespread use, Spanish is currently one of the most practical second languages to learn.
Like its Italian cousin, Spanish is characterized by its rolling Rs and syllable-timed speech. It is also known for the double L or “ll” and enye “ñ.”
These sounds don’t have any equivalent in most languages outside the Romance language group.
Spanish is very similar to English, making it one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers.
Even so, Spanish would be a pain in the neck if you don’t pay attention to the three moods of verbal tenses. Verb tense is the most dreaded area of Spanish learning.
Swedish belongs to the North Germanic group of the Indo-European family. In 2018, more than 13 million people proficient in this language.
The best thing about the North Germanic group (aka the Scandinavian languages) is the interchangeability among the languages. Once you know one language (Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian), you can understand the other two to some degree.
The more practical choice is Swedish because of its larger number of native speakers.
There are a few challenges in tackling the Swedish language. A typically dreaded area is the use of long compound words (such as “arbetsmarknadsdepartement.”).
Learners who aren’t used to long words that look like a jumbled word puzzle might be overwhelmed if they encountered their first Swedish compound word.
Learners will also need to learn three additional vowels (ä, ö, and å) if they want to be proficient in the language.
Romanian is a member of the Balkan Romance language. This language is positioned in a further location from English and other West Germanic members of the language tree.
Romanian is probably closer to Russian than English, but it still shares the Western Germanic languages’ common characteristics. As of 2016, Romanian is used by 30 million speakers worldwide.
Picking Romanian as a second language is not an easy thing to do. You will likely not have the same learning and speaking opportunities as the other languages on the list.
But if you’re really motivated, there are online language tutoring services like JustLearn that you can use to meet new people and practice your speech.
You might be wondering why Japanese is on the list. It has little to nothing when it comes to similarities in English, right?
Japanese is included because it is an overall challenging language to learn. It is the only member of the Japonic language family. In Japan, over 126 million people can speak this language proficiently.
The Japanese language is universally considered one of the hardest languages to learn.
With three different alphabets and hard pronunciations, the Japanese language deserves its own language group. Nevertheless, it is still one of the best languages to learn right now.
English is probably the most influential language in the world right now.
The race for proficiently has been skyrocketing in the past few years due to its prevalence in daily life. But if you’re not proficient in this language, you will likely face challenges in learning similar lingo.
In a way, learning English makes learning other languages more manageable and more accessible.
Join Justlearn today to learn English and other languages.
Enjoy your language journey, and don’t forget to continue learning.
Dutch, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Romanian, Japanese.
It's hard for non-native speakers to learn English because of its complexity. English has a complicated spelling system that might be tricky for non-speakers.
The hardest languages in the world are Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Arabic.
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