10 Hardest Languages To Learn For English Speakers (2023)

There is no such thing as a ‘hardest language for English speakers’.

That needs to be said up front. Language difficult is completely relative to the individual learner. Some people may find a language challenging whereas other people find it quite easy.

There are many factors involved.

However, there’s a general consensus among learners and the Foreign Service Institute that some languages typically take a lot more time to adjust to than others for a native English speaker.

I’ve outlined 10 of the so-called “hardest languages” for English speakers below (in no particular order).

Many English speakers find themselves hearing other languages and wondering how they’re structured. They also wonder which languages are the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. A close look at the languages of the world reveals a great deal of diversity.

In general, the most difficult languages for English speakers to master share certain things in common. They have different alphabets, lack cognates and have grammatical concepts unfamiliar to English speakers.

If you’re really looking for a challenge, consider the hardest languages to learn first.

The hardest languages for English speakers to learn (supposedly)

1. Arabic

According to the Foreign Service Institute, Arabic’s at the top of the list for languages that are the hardest to learn. There are definitely good reasons why this Semitic language presents obstacles to fluency for English speakers.

Arabic uses an entirely different script for one. Letter forms change depending on which position the letter takes in the word. Dialects also vary significantly from place to place. Arabic is a series of dialects. That means the Arabic you master in Morocco may have an entirely different pronunciation than the Arabic spoken in Bahrain.

Yet Arabic is also widely used, sacred to one of the largest religious groups on earth and offers a chance to study a language with a huge geographic spread.

Donovan has written at length about why he personally believes Arabic is an easy language.

Foreign Service Institute got it wrong with Arabic - it’s actually an incredibly straightforward language to learn to fluency.

(Video) 10 Hardest Languages To Learn For English Speakers

2. Basque

Another language often seen as one of the hardest languages to learn is Basque.

For many language learners, the answer to what is the hardest language to learn is this language isolate (some believe it may be related to Georgian which is also an isolate).

Many noun cases and an unfamiliar ergative-absolutive grammar system make this one often confusing.

Despite this, mastering Basque is fun and a chance to see the world through different eyes.

3. Finnish

Finnish is often considered one of the most difficult languages for many reasons. Finnish grammar is said to be notoriously complicated.

For English speakers, there is confusing word order. Many Finns don’t always follow these rules, making it even more difficult to communicate with people in person.

However, once you get past the grammar, you’ll find a language with fewer letters than English and one that is written as it is pronounced.

4. Hungarian

Hungarian and Finnish are related.

Like Finnish, Hungarian is said to be one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.

Over a dozen cases, a form you won’t find in English, means the language has rules that can feel baffling. Hungarian also has lots of idioms you need to know that aren’t apparent when you’re studying it.

On the other hand, Hungarian is an increasingly popular language to learn.

Learn it and you’re opening a path to one of Europe’s most interesting cultures.

5. Japanese

Japanese is not content with a single alphabet.

(Video) Top 6 hardest languages to learn for English speakers #language #chinese

Choose this one and you will need to get acquainted with three different writing systems. That’s the first major hurdle that Japanese learners face.

However, speaking Japanese can be surprisingly easy. Unlike many other Asian languages, Japanese does not have tones. The sounds of Japanese are familiar to English speakers.

If you are thinking about taking up Japanese consider tackling the spoken language first.

6. Korean

Korean is quite similar to Japanese in many ways but also regarded as one of the hardest languages for English speakers.

The writing system is Hangul, which is syllabic. Hangul appears to be difficult for English speakers, even though it’s very straightforward. It isn’t quite an alphabet or the pictograph system but rather syllabic.

The word order is often difficult for English speakers to understand, as well as the honorifics and levels of respect (see Donovan’s post about why it’s easy).

Overall, Korean is easy to learn compared to many European languages due to its simple grammar and pronunciation.

7. Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese is actually the world’s most spoken language.

Millions of expats speak, read and write Chinese, though it has a reputation for being hard to learn for English speakers. Chinese has earned that reputation for being difficult primarily due to its tones and writing system.

Mandarin Chinese has four tones. Use the wrong one and you’re likely to be greeted with a stare when you try to communicate to a native speaker. The written form is equally harsh.

You’ll need to master about two thousand characters just to read a newspaper.

Yet the rewards can be vast. Chinese is one the world’s fastest growing economies. Learn the language and you’re on speaking terms with millions of consumers.

Read this list of Chinese resources.

(Video) Hardest Languages To Learn

8. Navajo

Navajo is so obscure it was used as a code to convey info during World War II.

As a Native American language with a proud tradition, it’s still very much alive today (though endangered).

If you want to make this one your own keep in mind it has a very different way of looking at the world. English speakers are hard pressed to get familiar with even the basics. There are many sounds that have no equal in English. Word length is not the same and verbs provide descriptions.

Adjectives are hard to translate, confusing translation even further.

If this language is part of your heritage or you live in the region, learning even a few words can connect you with your roots and the region’s original inhabitants.

9. Russian

Russian is actually quite easy but many believe it’s one of the hardest languages for English speakers.

Russian is written using the Cyrillic script. Stress changes frequently and grammar taxes even native speakers. Some sounds are so hard you’ll probably just approximate them at best as a new learner. Each rule has many exceptions.

This is a language of consonant clusters (like all Slavic languages) unfamiliar to many Americans and it has a large case system.

At the same time, it’s also the world’s seventh most widely spoken language. Russian is also part of a larger language family.

If you master it, you’ll find it easier to learn other Slavic languages such as Bulgarian and Czech.

10. Vietnamese

Vietnamese is the language of one of the world’s fastest growing Asian nations.

It has much in common in terms of difficulty with many neighbors. As a tonal language, you’ll need to master each tone and how it is used. Vietnamese also has a series of formal relationships with people.

You need to know which form to use in order to speak with everyone from a close family member to an older person you’ve just met. Using the wrong form can make you seem quite rude.

(Video) Comparison: Hardest Languages To Learn

While it has a familiar alphabet, many letters have diacritical marks indicating pronunciation. You’ll need to get them correct when you write it down.

Mastering Vietnamese can seem difficult for an English speaker.

However, the joys of ordering the wonderful food and exploring this lovely, elegant country can make it truly worthwhile.

There is actually no hardest language for English speakers

There are many more languages I could have listed here that are ranked as difficult for English speakers.

Even though there are steeper learning curves with some languages (especially ones with different writing systems or structures), there is in fact no such thing as a “hardest language”.

It’s all relative.

Some people may find Vietnamese excruciatingly difficult, whereas others may enjoy it and find it easy.

It’s going to depend on many factors, such as your motivation, previous languages you’ve learned and how quickly you can grasp new linguistic concepts.

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(Video) TOP-10 HARDEST LANGUAGE TO LEARN IN THE WORLD 😱😱🔥 #short #language


What is the hardest language for English speakers to learn? ›

The Hardest Languages To Learn For English Speakers
  1. Mandarin Chinese. Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. ...
  2. Arabic. ...
  3. Polish. ...
  4. Russian. ...
  5. Turkish. ...
  6. Danish.
Feb 25, 2021

What is the 10 most difficult languages to learn? ›

Let's explore the 10 hardest languages for English speakers to learn, and the challenges they deliver:
  1. Mandarin. Mandarin is spoken by 70% of the Chinese population, and is the most spoken language in the world. ...
  2. Arabic. ...
  3. Japanese. ...
  4. Hungarian. ...
  5. Korean. ...
  6. Finnish. ...
  7. Basque. ...
  8. Navajo.
Sep 16, 2022

What is the hardest language to learn for English speakers top 10? ›

One of Top 10 Hardest Languages To Learn – Arabic

The most challenging language from the top 10 hardest languages to learn for an English speaker is Arabic. It has an entirely foreign alphabet. Moreover, the individuals find it challenging to get along with the script and direction of reading.

What is the top 15 hardest language to learn? ›

Learning a new language can improve your ability to make well-informed and rational decisions.
  1. Mandarin Chinese. There are over 900 million speakers of Mandarin, making it one of the most widely spoken native languages around the world. ...
  2. Arabic. ...
  3. Korean. ...
  4. Navajo. ...
  5. Icelandic. ...
  6. Turkish. ...
  7. 7. Japanese. ...
  8. Persian.
Feb 12, 2021

What is the world's easiest language? ›

The following ten languages are most closely related to English, and are therefore the easiest for a native English speaker to learn:
  1. Afrikaans. Like English, Afrikaans is in the West Germanic language family, once thought of as a Dutch dialect. ...
  2. French. ...
  3. Spanish. ...
  4. Dutch. ...
  5. Norwegian. ...
  6. Portuguese. ...
  7. Swedish. ...
  8. Italian.
Nov 3, 2022

What is the 2nd hardest language to learn? ›

Arabic is the queen of poetic languages, the 6th official language of the UN and second on our list of toughest languages to learn.

What is the #1 hardest language? ›

Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.

What is the 5 hardest language? ›

5 of the most hardest languages to learn in the world
  • Mandarin.
  • Japanese.
  • Arabic.
  • Xhosa.
  • Russian.

What are the 2 most similar languages? ›

The most mutually intelligible pair is Spanish and Portuguese. In some cases, TV stations don't even translate between the two languages, instead assuming that Spanish-speaking audiences would understand Portuguese and Portuguese-speaking audiences would understand Spanish.

What is the top 20 hardest language? ›

25 Hardest Languages to Learn, Ranked
  1. Mandarin. No. of speakers: 1.3 billion.
  2. Arabic. No. of speakers: 274 million. ...
  3. Japanese. No. of speakers: 126 million. ...
  4. Korean. No. of speakers: 80 million. ...
  5. Thai. No. of speakers: 60 million. ...
  6. Vietnamese. No. of speakers: 77 million. ...
  7. Hindi. No. of speakers: 615 million. ...
  8. Icelandic. No. ...
Apr 27, 2023

What is the 11th hardest language to learn? ›

#11 Korean

Yes, it has an odd-looking script that resembles a game of Tetris. But it's actually one of the most perfect writing systems ever devised. You can learn it in only a few hours, making reading and writing Korean very easy.

What is the hardest language skill? ›

Writing: It is the most difficult of the four language skills. It requires a command over vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure. When children graduate to writing short paragraphs, it also involves establishing links among different sentences. All these help in creating meaning.

What is the 7th hardest language to learn? ›

Which is the most difficult language for English Speakers?
  • 1 – Chinese (Mandarin)
  • 2 – Arabic.
  • 3 – Japanese.
  • 4 – Korean.
  • 5 – Hungarian.
  • 6 – Finnish.
  • 7 – Xhosa.
Feb 7, 2020

What is the hardest language of all time? ›

Spoken by over a billion people, Mandarin Chinese is unanimously considered to be the most difficult language in the world to master, especially for those whose native languages use the Latin writing system, like English, Spanish, French, German, and all other European languages.

What language is easiest for English speakers to learn? ›

We've used data from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to rank them from the easier to the somewhat more challenging.
  • Frisian. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
Oct 24, 2021

What is the rarest language to learn? ›

Kawishana is the rarest language in the world.

What is the closest language to English? ›

The closest language to English is one called Frisian, which is a Germanic language spoken by a small population of about 480,000 people. There are three separate dialects of the language, and it's only spoken at the southern fringes of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany.

What is the most useful language to learn after English? ›

The 7 Best Languages To Learn
  1. Spanish. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language after Mandarin, and not a surprise at the top of languages to learn. ...
  2. German. ...
  3. Arabic. ...
  4. Mandarin. ...
  5. Portuguese. ...
  6. Russian. ...
  7. French.
Oct 19, 2022

What's the 3rd hardest language? ›

Official stats
  • Category 1: Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese.
  • Category 2: German, Indonesian.
  • Category 3: Hebrew, Hindi, Persian Farsi, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Turkish, and more...
  • Category 4: Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Modern Standard Arabic, and more...

What is the sweetest language in the world? ›

According to a UNESCO survey, Bengali has been classified as the sweetest language in the world. As a language, Bengali is widely spoken all over India, including Assam and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The sweetest language in the world is also recognized in the Constitution of India.

What is the 8th hardest language to learn? ›

Discover the 8 most difficult languages to learn
  1. Hindi. Script: Devanagari. ...
  2. Hungarian. Script: Latin alphabet with added accents. ...
  3. Navajo. Script: Latin alphabet, plus added letters and accents to represent unique sounds. ...
  4. Vietnamese. Script: Latin alphabet with a twist. ...
  5. Korean. ...
  6. Arabic. ...
  7. 7. Japanese. ...
  8. Mandarin Chinese.
Feb 20, 2022

What is the most complete language? ›

Lojban (pronounced [ˈloʒban] ( listen)) is a logical, constructed, human language created by the Logical Language Group which aims to be syntactically unambiguous. It succeeds the Loglan project.

What is the most spoken language in the world? ›

1. English (1,452 million speakers) According to Ethnologue, English is the most-spoken language in the world including native and non-native speakers.

What is the 2nd oldest language in the world? ›

2. Sanskrit – 1500 BC (circa. 3500 years old) With its oldest texts dating back to around 1500 BCE, Sanskrit is probably the second oldest language in the world still being used today.

What language does English sound most like? ›

English gets the bulk of its vocabulary from French and other Romance languages, it is true. But the most common words are all Germanic, and English phonology is Germanic. English is closely related to Dutch, and even more closely to Frisian. If you want to get a feel for how English sounds, listen to Dutch or Frisian.

What is the US most common second language? ›

Spanish is by far the most popular second language in the United States, with more than 41 million people — 12 times more than the other most common second languages — speaking Spanish at home. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States.

What language has more words? ›

Korean includes many words of Chinese origin, and borrows words from English and other languages as well. Still, it's a stretch to say that Korean has the most words of any language in the world because one of its dictionaries has over a million headwords.

What is the hardest language for a child to learn? ›

Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin): Mandarin is the official language for China. Both Cantonese and Mandarin share similar writing systems, and it is insanely different from the English one. Every word has to be memorized separately because you cannot spell out words in these languages.

Why is English hard to learn? ›

The language features grammatical rules that are often broken, an alphabet that can confuse people who are used to a character-based system, and spelling and pronunciation irregularities that perplex even native speakers.

Why is Russian hard to learn? ›

The grammar rules in Russian are very complex and have numerous exceptions. In addition, many learners struggle with the pronunciation – the stress in words is largely unpredictable and not marked in writing, while there are multiple homonyms.

What is the least hardest language? ›

Spanish may be the #1 easiest language to learn. Not only does Spanish share the same alphabet – with the sole addition of ñ – but it's also phonetic. That makes figuring out new vocabulary easy, since the spelling tells you how to pronounce it.

Is Russian or Korean harder? ›

The Russian language is easier when you look at their writing style. On the basis of Sounds: There are more sounds in the Korean language as compared to the Russian language.

Is English one of the hardest languages? ›

The English language is widely regarded as one of the most difficult to master. Because of its unpredictable spelling and challenging to learn grammar, it is challenging for both learners and native speakers.

Is Japanese hard for English speakers? ›

The Japanese language is considered one of the most difficult to learn by many English speakers. With three separate writing systems, an opposite sentence structure to English, and a complicated hierarchy of politeness, it's decidedly complex.

Why is Mandarin so hard? ›

The Chinese language has a unique structure and pronunciation system that is vastly different from English. Chinese is made up of tens of thousands of characters, each with its own meaning, and often multiple pronunciations. This makes the language extremely difficult to learn, especially for non-native speakers.

What language is romance? ›

What are the Romance languages? The Romance languages are a group of related languages all derived from Vulgar Latin within historical times and forming a subgroup of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family. The major languages of the family include French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

How long it takes to learn a language? ›

Group IV Languages:
Length of TrainingMinimal AptitudeAverage Aptitude
16 weeks (480 hours)Novice HighIntermediate Low
24 weeks (720 hours)Intermediate Low/MidIntermediate Mid/High
44 weeks(1320 hours)Intermediate HighAdvanced Low
80-92 weeks (2400-2760 hours)Advanced HighSuperior

What is the easiest language for English speakers to learn? ›

We've used data from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to rank them from the easier to the somewhat more challenging.
  • Frisian. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
Oct 24, 2021

Which is world most difficult language? ›

Mandarin is unanimously considered the most difficult language to master and is spoken by over a billion people in the world.

Is Russian difficult for English speakers? ›

Of all the European languages a native English speaker can learn, Russian is among the most difficult. The Germanic and Romance languages have a lot of the same core because they both have roots in Latin. Russian is from a completely different language branch called the Slavonic branch, which includes Czech and Polish.

What is the closest foreign language to English? ›

Closest Major Language: Dutch

Like Frisian and English, Dutch is another West Germanic language that developed from Proto-Germanic. Because of this, Dutch possesses many words and phrases similar to English and has a similar grammatical structure.

What is the richest language? ›

Greek is ranked as the richest language in the world ...

What language is most like English? ›

Except for Frisian, Dutch is linguistically the closest language to English, with both languages being part of the West Germanic linguistic family. This means many Dutch words are cognates with English (meaning they share the same linguistic roots), giving them similar spelling and pronunciation.

What is the hardest language in order? ›

The Hardest Languages to Learn for Native English Speakers
  • Hindi (17/30) Number of native speakers: 260 million. ...
  • Polish (17/30) Number of native speakers: 45 million. ...
  • Czech (17/30) Number of native speakers: 10.7 million. ...
  • Persian (18/30) ...
  • Gaelic (18/30) ...
  • Arabic (19/30) ...
  • Korean (20/30) ...
  • Mandarin Chinese (21/30)

What are Category 4 languages? ›

Category IV includes the most challenging European languages for English speakers to pick up. Here you'll find Slavic and Baltic languages such as Polish, Croatian, and Latvian, as well as Greek, Turkish, and Icelandic. This category also includes Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian.

What English sounds do Russians struggle with? ›

Many Russian speakers have difficulty pronouncing the English consonant sounds /w/, /v/, /r/ & 'th'. Russian has a quarter of the vowels that English does so many English vowels are challenging. Word stress is often flatter and more even than an English native speaker.

Is Russian or Ukrainian easier to learn for English speakers? ›

The Ukrainian language is easier to learn than Russian, as Russian has more complex grammar. Learning Ukrainian also makes it easier to learn other Eastern European languages, as it is closer to Czech, Slovak, and Polish. Whereas, if you learn Russian, you can understand fewer languages naturally.

Which country speaks more English? ›

The United States and India have the most total English speakers, with 306 million and 265 million, respectively. These are followed by Pakistan (104 million), the United Kingdom (68 million), and Nigeria (60 million). As of 2022, there were about 373 million native speakers of English.

What country speaks English besides the US? ›

The Inner Circle — The smallest circle, this section includes countries in which English is the native language of the majority of the population: mainly the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and much of Canada.

What foreign country speaks the most English? ›

It is believed that there are around 230 million native speakers in the United States, making it the largest English-speaking country, while the United Kingdom has approximately 60 million native speakers.


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