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Hardest Language to Learn?

lostbackpack

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Tags: language, Mandarin, foreign language
  • Added on: January 25th, 2012
We're heading to China in April and decided to learn a few words in Mandarin. Between us we can read/speak French, Italian, German, Spanish and a bit of Portuguese. But, Mandarin has us stumped!

From your experience, what's the hardest language that you've tried to learn?
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Fluffy_bunny

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  • Added on: January 26th, 2012
Linguistically and grammatically speaking, Finnish is often considered the most difficult major language. Chinese, at least grammatically, is super easy. The problems are 1. it's atonal language and 2. there are few (if any) lexical similarities to western languages.
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  • Added on: January 26th, 2012
Mandarin is super hard to learn later in life because it's tonal, so unless you start as a kid it's very difficult to pick up later.

Finnish, Hungarian, and Estonian are notoriously difficult to learn because they are in the Finno-Ugric language branch so their grammatical ties are like nothing else you'll ever come across, particularly in Europe. Luckily I happen to speak Hungarian fluently thanks to my parents 8-) but the amount it's useful for me to understand Finnish and Estonian is quite minimal as there are only a handful of words that are the same (an Estonian friend and I tried to find similarities and only a few very basic ones were the same, like hand, fish, water, etc). I guess if I ever had a reason to I could pick up one or the other fairly quickly though.

lostbackpack

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  • Added on: January 26th, 2012
Interesting. I've heard that Scandinavian languages are extremely hard to master.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller

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Maestra LE

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  • Added on: January 26th, 2012
Of the languages I've learned or attempted to learn (French, German, and Russian), Russian was the hardest. I found French vocabulary easy to learn and remember because it's Latin-based, but Russian vocab by and large is so dissimilar to English, I found it a chore to learn new words. Everything seems to have twice as many syllables in Russian, as well!

Beachcombers

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  • Added on: January 26th, 2012
lostbackpack wrote:Interesting. I've heard that Scandinavian languages are extremely hard to master.


Finnish is a Nordic language, not a Scandinavian one. Scandinavian languages such as Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic are (relativity) similar.

My wife who is Finnish, but grew up in Sweden, can understand people from Norway or Denmark. Swedish was pretty easy for me to pickup.

Finnish on the otherhand is just noise and has nothing in common with the neighbouring languages.
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  • Added on: January 27th, 2012
I had a difficult time with Thai. I was only there for 2 months and my vocabulary got pretty decent, but I could never have an exchange without the local giving me that "you're butchering our language but I'm humouring you anyways" smile. I usually do okay with accents, but the tonality was really difficult for me to figure out.

lostbackpack

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  • Added on: January 27th, 2012
A friend said that she had an extremely hard time in Poland. And, they (understandably) refused to speak German although most people could.
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Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: January 31st, 2012
The question of hardest language to learn depends on what your mother tongue is. Russian is quite difficult for English-speakers, but easy for Poles. Dutch and Scandinavian languages are easiest for English-speakers, but would be difficult for a Korean.

The most difficult for English speakers, according to the US State Department (they train their diplomats in various languages) are Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, and a few others. I found Russian extremely difficult.

Beachcombers wrote:
lostbackpack wrote:Interesting. I've heard that Scandinavian languages are extremely hard to master.


Finnish is a Nordic language, not a Scandinavian one. Scandinavian languages such as Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic are (relativity) similar.


There is no linguistic grouping called Nordic. If you mean North Germanic, it bears no relation to those languages (e.g., Swedish, Nynorsk, Bokmal, Danish). Finnish is a Finno-Ugric language, from the larger Ural-Altaic family. Its closest relation is Estonian, and is very distantly related to Turkish.
Last edited by Felix the Hat on February 1st, 2012, edited 1 time in total.

lostbackpack

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  • Added on: January 31st, 2012
I should have been clear. The hardest language for native English-speakers to learn.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller

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braslvr

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  • Added on: February 4th, 2012
Felix the Hat wrote:The most difficult for English speakers, according to the US State Department (they train their diplomats in various languages) are Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, and a few others.


Very surprised to see Japanese on that list. I don't speak it, but it's very easy (for me at least) to pronounce words and learn phrases.

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: February 5th, 2012
braslvr wrote:
Felix the Hat wrote:The most difficult for English speakers, according to the US State Department (they train their diplomats in various languages) are Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, and a few others.


Very surprised to see Japanese on that list. I don't speak it, but it's very easy (for me at least) to pronounce words and learn phrases.


To "learn" a language, you need to be able to write and speak the language in a grammatically-correct fashion. I didn't have trouble with basic Japanese phrases either. Steps 1 and 2 in Japanese are easy - it's Steps 3-100 that are mind-bogglingly difficult.

braslvr

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  • Added on: February 5th, 2012
Felix the Hat wrote:
braslvr wrote:
Felix the Hat wrote:The most difficult for English speakers, according to the US State Department (they train their diplomats in various languages) are Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, and a few others.


Very surprised to see Japanese on that list. I don't speak it, but it's very easy (for me at least) to pronounce words and learn phrases.


To "learn" a language, you need to be able to write and speak the language in a grammatically-correct fashion. I didn't have trouble with basic Japanese phrases either. Steps 1 and 2 in Japanese are easy - it's Steps 3-100 that are mind-bogglingly difficult.


Gotcha. But for me, there are many languages that I simply can not 'say' the words correctly no matter how I try. All the tonal languages, and others such as Dutch. I cant even do step 1. :D

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  • Added on: February 7th, 2012
lostbackpack wrote:A friend said that she had an extremely hard time in Poland. And, they (understandably) refused to speak German although most people could.


Funny, we had the opposite experience. When we lived there twenty years ago, we got by at first by speaking German. Noone spoke English.
We found Polish easy to pick up - could then understand Russian too, and got by in Bulgaria with Polish. Studied German and Swedish at university and had no trouble there either. Scared of tonal languages, but found I loved learning Lao, and was surprised how un-difficult it was. But that was only "level 1".

Definitely depends what your first language is as to what you will find tricky.
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lostbackpack

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  • Added on: February 7th, 2012
The varied experiences are interesting. I envy those that can speak other languages. Mostly, I can read them but never speak them. I don't hear the slight tonal differences at all. I'm like Joey on "Friends" learning French. :D
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller

Travel junkies, Lane and Juliet, hit the road and take you along for the ride. http://thelostbackpack.com/blog


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