Learning a second language can be extremely fun and rewarding.
But that doesn’t mean it will always be easy.
In fact, for English speakers, there are a few languages that consistently rank as the most difficult or challenging to learn.
This could be due to a number of factors, from different grammar structures to new writing systems to unfamiliar sounds.
In the end, though, the more challenging the language, the more rewarding every accomplishment will be.
What are the Most Challenging Languages?
Every learner is going to find different things more challenging. While one person might be able to adapt to a grammar structure that is the complete opposite of English, another might be able to memorize thousands of new characters in a writing system without much effort.
Then again, those might be the elements of a language that other students find the most difficult.
In general, though, there is some consensus on the most challenging languages for English speakers to learn. These include:
- Chinese – Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more than 900 million people, yet English speakers really do find it the most challenging. This is usually due to the tonal nature of the language and the thousands of characters used in its written form.
- Arabic – Yes, Arabic is normally counted among the most challenging languages because it is very different than what English speakers are accustomed to. (More on this later.)
- Japanese – Like Chinese, Japanese uses thousands of characters in their written system. On top of that, there are two other phonetic alphabets that the learner must memorize. On top of that, the grammar structure is the opposite of English.
- Korean – There are some tricky pronunciation issues in Korean that give English speakers a hard time. It also has a unique writing system that requires a lot of memorization.
- Hungarian – Like many Eastern European or Slavic languages, Hungarian can be tough. It’s based on a case system, which means there are a lot of rules to determine how words are inflected or combined. It also has a lot of vowel sounds that English speakers find difficult to use.
What Makes a Language Harder to Learn?
As we mentioned above, different people find different things more challenging. However, there are some common things about all those languages mentioned above that can make them difficult for English speakers to learn.
The most basic element is unfamiliar sounds. These languages have vowels and consonants and combinations of vowels and consonants that don’t exist in English. We’re simply not accustomed to hearing or making those sounds.
Similarities to your native language generally make it easier to pick up a second language, so, when there is so little in common – from the written language to the spoken sounds – it can be quite challenging to master that language.
Another element that increases the difficulty level is the opportunity for exposure to the language.
In the United States, there is a much greater opportunity to speak and hear something like Spanish than there is Arabic. You can hear it at the local grocery store, you can watch the Spanish language channels on TV, and it is taught in most high schools.
Languages like Arabic or Japanese do not usually have such opportunities in most English-speaking countries.
Why Is Arabic So Challenging?
Let’s take a closer look at what, exactly, makes Arabic so challenging for English speakers. Hopefully, if we understand these hurdles to language mastery, it may be easier to overcome each of them.
- The Arabic alphabet is very different from the Latin alphabet. Even though it’s not as difficult as something like Chinese (which has thousands of characters) the 28 script letters that students must learn can feel very challenging.
- Written Arabic often omits vowels, which can make reading a little extra difficult.
- Arabic is written from right to left, which takes a while to get used to.
- There are very few words in common with English, so learners have to memorize a lot of new vocabulary.
- There is a lot of variation by region, but learning Egyptian is a safe way to get started.
- Arabic uses many sounds that English speakers are not familiar with, including many that require using the back of the throat.
- Verbs tend to come before subjects in a sentence, which is the opposite of what English speakers are accustomed to.
Does it sound like there are a lot of challenges here?
Well, there are. But…
We’ve got you covered.
The Best Way to Accomplish Your Goals
Don’t let this talk of difficulty sway you from achieving your goals.
Yes, Arabic can be a challenge for many English speakers, but that just means it will be even more rewarding when you begin to master it and start exploring a new world and culture through your new language.
On top of that, it’s never been easier to immerse yourself in a new language and gain exposure to modern standard Arabic. Our classes are based on working closely with native speakers. You will have the opportunity to work with instructors who know exactly where most English speakers have the most problems and how to help you overcome those hurdles and really start to feel comfortable speaking a new language.
And if you really want to dive into the language and conquer this challenge, you can totally surround yourself in the language and culture with our immersion program. You can experience and use the language for yourself in our Egyptian cultural immersion experience.
So, while there are a number of things about Arabic that can seem complex or complicated to a native English speaker, with the right instructors and the right programs you can build the skills necessary to accomplish your language goals.