Join almost 1 million
monthly
readers!

Contact Me

Coaching and Consultation

Language Hacking League!

Join over 50,000 people to get FREE weekly language hacking tips, cool links, site updates & two free chapters of the Language Hacking Guide!

No Spam. Not ever.

Current Mission:


Coach a monoglot in her first ever successful language learning mission! Learn more!

Previous post:

Next post:

What’s the hardest language to learn in the world?

| 110 comments | Category: positive mentality

If you’ve come here to find a detailed explanation categorising down to precisely one answer, or a small list of the toughest languages, then stop reading the post right now.

I’m not in the business of discouraging people so if you are looking for some more discouragement, you’ve come to the wrong place!

The term “hardest language” exists for no reason other than discouragement and it’s time for me to debunk this ridiculous concept and tell you that it is bullshit. Not dog poo, not hamster droppings; BULL SHIT.

Misleading and pointless criteria

I’ve seen this discussion crop up many times before, and I heard it extensively when I learned one of those in the forbidden list. When a clever linguist comes along he will be very happy to list the reasons that categorise languages as difficult, but your average Joe also has something to say on this. Together their arguments include:

  • Similarity to your native language
  • Grammar complexity
  • Tones
  • Different writing system
  • My friend Dave told me
  • I’m learning it and my task is the hardest, even if I have no basis of comparison
  • I spent six years studying it and can’t speak yet! This proves that it’s super hard
  • It’s my native language, and my ego is weak so I need validation, and speaking the “world’s hardest language” does the trick!

While some of these points do have some merit and the first ones will be used in an argument, the last ones are actually the real reasons for arguing in the first place.

No matter what language you can think of (except perhaps Esperanto) I have heard someone say that it is the hardest one. Many people I have met (especially natives of the languages) have insisted that German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Hungarian, Spanish, Italian, Irish, English and many more are the hardest language in the world and been absolutely convinced of it.

It’s true that if it uses the same writing system as other language(s) I know, my task will be simplified, and if I don’t have to worry about tones it’s an added bonus. But other writing systems are not that bad, and tones can also be learned with just a little bit of work. And of course if it happens to use some of the thousands of similar words to other languages, then my workload is reduced. And yes, a language like Czech/Polish having complex grammar like seven cases does take a bit of getting used to.

But none of these are what actually makes a language hard.

The differences don’t make it difficult

No natural language in the world can ever be the hardest one because children learn them to fluency in just a few years. Icelandic? Japanese? Swahili? Any average five year old from the countries they are spoken in will show you how easily they communicate in those languages.

I really dislike lists of most difficult languages in the world, because they usually have no weight other than biased or very restricted opinion poles or listing particular aspects of languages that earn it bonus oh-noes! points. This completely ignores the most important parts of what makes a language hard.

If I, as an adult, lock myself in a room with two different courses outlining precisely how hard a language is (to be frank, that’s the purpose of most courses), then the one with the most differences will be the winner. If I spend an hour a day studying my Spanish, then an hour studying Japanese, after a few weeks/months I will say Spanish is easier because of the similar words, same writing system etc.

The reason I haven’t attended a full language course for years is because the purpose of a course is to show you what’s different and to break a language into pieces like you might dissect a frog in biology class. When you dissect a frog, it isn’t a frog any more, it’s just a bunch of organs! The frog is dead.

If you’re lucky, your course will give you Frankenstein powers to revive your dead frog, but my learning strategy involves starting with the live version (i.e. speak a language, not study it indefinitely) and nourishing it to help it grow.

What really makes it hard: personal context

I’ve said this before, but the hardest language in the world for me was Spanish. This is usually way up there for many people as the easiest (for English speakers), and yet for me it was harder than Hungarian and I am fully confident that when I make it to Japanese, Chinese etc. they will pale in comparison to the challenge Spanish posed me.

And yet, many people reading this will be absolutely sure that Spanish is easier than other languages. What made it hard was not the conjugations, subjunctive, accents etc.

It was me.

I made Spanish hard – I had the wrong attitude, I studied in such a way as to focus on what made it so “impossible”, when I tried to speak it I would constantly think how stupid I sounded and I kept reminding myself how hard it was.

The fact of the matter is; if you tell yourself the language is the “hardest one in the world” you are right! That mantra will keep you locked in an inescapable feedback loop that will make it the hardest language. You will set your filter to negative and find many reasons that support your claim.

German was also hard for me the first time I tried to learn it. I was bad at in school, I hated hearing the words “accusative, nominative…” and I wasn’t motivated to really try. If you force me to learn a language I don’t want to learn, I will inevitably dislike it and feel that it’s hard. This is as true for me now as it was then.

Passion makes a language easier

The second time I took on German, even though I had an exam, my motivation to learn was to speak with human beings. When I think of German, I don’t think of cases, verbs, genders etc. I think of the cool people I met in Berlin. This is what a language is really about.

Chinese will be easier for someone to learn if they are interested in Chinese culture, moving to the country, discovering their roots etc. Lack of passion will make any language harder – this is independent of your native language and the differences. If a Spanish speaker was passionate about all that Anime they have been watching and dreamt of living in Tokyo some day and was doing everything in their power to make this happen, then Japanese would be easier for them to learn than French would, especially if they weren’t truly motivated to learn French.

Time wasted can also be a demotivator. The reason I can take on a language in “just three months” is not because of exposure to a radioactive spider. If you spend “six years” learning a language you actually just spend an hour or so a week in many cases. At best that adds up to a month in total over several years. It counts as even less if you aren’t giving it your full undivided attention. Saying that it takes two or five or ten years to learn a language is meaningless because most of that time will actually be spent in your native language.

Think of the minutesyou put into your language, not the years.

Focusing on the positive makes a language easier

This second time round with German, as I studied I would focus on why the language was easy and this helped me immensely to speak it and even pass the majority of one of the hardest exams in the world for German. In fact, I’ll be compiling all of those reasons and writing it up in a guide very soon for anyone learning German and who thinks it’s hard. Focusing on these reasons and building on them will make the language easy and help people master it quicker.

I have decided from the very start that Hungarian (which is on some of the many random lists as “hardest language” in the world) is easy. I am looking for evidence that supports this and am finding it. Whether it’s easier than Spanish or Irish etc. is irrelevant because I am in Budapest and I need to speak Hungarian. If I could prove that Hungarian was the hardest language in the world (which is so objective to be nothing more than a linguist’s mental masturbation if you ask me) then how could that possibly help me to speak it? That can only demotivate me.

Linguists are welcome to argue over what the hardest language to learn is, but I don’t learn languages, I speak them. When you learn a language, all you are focused on is the details of what makes it different. Most courses are basically just lists of reasons why it’s different.When you speak it, you have the context and the human beings to help you to make it easier. If you want to speak a language, stop focusing on pointless pissing-contests and just speak it!

Think what you like, but don’t tell others what the hardest one is

Before you answer with “No, but you don’t get it, Japanese/Finnish/etc. is the hardest” just think about the following:

  • Do you speak every single language in the world? All 6,000+ of them? All fluently? Great! Now I care what you have to say. If not, your basis of comparison is nothing more than theory and biased speculation.
  • Are you me, in my situation, with my motivation, my passion and my native friends? No? OK, then stop presuming you know how I should think ;)
  • Are you ready to give me a list of 1,000 reasons why that language is hard? Of course you are – but aren’t you forgetting the 10,000 reasons why it’s easy? Every language is missing many many things that makes other ones harder.
  • Have you been studying the language for decades with the most advanced learning materials? Sounds like fun(!), but tell me how much you can sing in the language, how much you’ve flirted in that language and how many times you’ve ordered lunch in that language?

A language is not an academic subject, it’s a means of communication between human beings. Communication is hard for reasons of shyness, inexperience, no good motivation and lack of confidence. By propagating this myth of hardest language you are doing nothing more than adding to people’s lack of confidence.

Of course, you are free to continue thinking that language is the hardest one in the universe, but stop going around demotivating everyone else. While you are busy telling us how hard it is, some of us are simply busy speaking the languages. Stop interrupting us please ;)

—————–

As always, I expect a wave of “you’re so wrong” comments, so send them my way below, but keep it civil and read the post carefully or I will delete it.

Any other comments welcome, and shares on Facebook appreciated even more!

Even if you don’t comment, please stop and think about how your target language is easy for a change – focus on that for a while and you may just prove yourself right!

***********************

Enter your email in the top right of the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!

If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.

This article was written by

Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them :)
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.

———————————–

  • http://www.victorymanual.com Alex

    I get what you’re trying to say, but there are languages that are more difficult than others relative to your L1. Generally speaking, the more cognates, phonological similarities, and grammatical similarities, the quicker you can learn the language.

    Luckily, I went for Japanese for my L2, so going back to Spanish is a breeze.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I also get what you are “trying” to say, but none of that matters if you aren’t motivated enough to learn it with a passion. You ignored what I said at the end about comparisons, there are many challenges in Spanish that Japanese wouldn’t have. I’d argue that Spanish is a breeze for you simply because you have already gotten the confidence of speaking one language. That is independent of what language you choose.
    Many people have told me that Japanese is a very easy language, especially spoken and when focused less on writing. When I learn it, I’ll be happy to give you a list of reasons why it’s easier than Spanish, but for the moment I’ll hazard a guess and say it doesn’t have root changing conjugations, or even complex 6 versions of conjugations per tense, no subjunctive, complicated tonic accents on words different to English, noun genders, and many other things.
    Similarities help you to pick up a language quicker, but this is just one piece of the puzzle.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MQTQVK3HM4JKKA7MX4T7EK7URE RabbitW

      aghmafalbaldjfadargjggj

  • Matt

    I completely agree with you as far as speaking a language is concerned.

    That said, I think that reading/writing is a bit of a different matter, and that you can say one language is more difficult to read/write than another (particularly coming from another language).

    As an example: I’ve never studied Italian (though I’ve studied French and Spanish) and I’ve never studied Japanese (though I’ve studied Chinese). I can very easily get the gist of a sentence in Italian because it shares a) the same writing system as my native language and b) a lot of similar-sounding words and sentence structures with French and Spanish. Japanese, on the other hand, I have pretty much no hope of understanding without putting in some time – although written Japanese shares a lot with written Chinese, the dissimilar bits are completely incomprehensible to me.

    Obviously, kids in all these countries learn to read and write just fine – so it’s not impossible by any means – but for languages that don’t use the same or similar writing system as the one you’ve grown up using, there’s an extra step to learning to read/write and it’s simply going to take a lot more time to get to an equivalent reading/writing level.

  • Abby

    I think if someone could think of 1,000 reasons why a language is hard to learn, they would have better spent their time learning the language than thinking up all the reasons not to!
    I think that English can be difficult for many of the same reasons so many other languages can be difficult, mostly that there are many dialects and depending on where you learn it, you may have trouble understanding people who speak a different dialect, or there may be confusion over meaning. But these aren’t reasons that the language is hard to learn.
    The reality is that it comes down to laziness and refusal to get out of our small, culture-centric boxes.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Although, at the end of the day if you are using the “hard” mentality to help you learn Spanish quicker, that’s what matters ;) I’m arguing against people using it to demotivate them with their current language.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I don’t focus much on writing myself, so I can’t say much about it. But I still think it’s worth focusing on the positive ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Well said. The most common reasons why people say any language is hard (dialects, synonyms etc.) are the same for all languages and they think their one is special :P

  • http://www.victorymanual.com Alex

    Motivation is important – I agree. In fact, back when my website was written in English, I wrote in a post about the idea of 1% of successful students of Japanese. 99% of the people who try to learn Japanese end up failing. The 1% succeed because they had the motivation to do so.

    What you’re saying is that languages are different – Some areas are easier than others depending on which language you’re talking about. I was just describing my own experience holistically – From the perspective of an English speaker, some of the universal grammar switches take longer to flip the other way. I am not trying to say that Japanese (or Chinese, Arabic, or even Navajo) is impossible to learn, but that it takes more time for the average learner to find their groove in the language.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/dgryski Damian

    I’m curious then on your take

  • http://twindie.net NielDLR

    Interesting post. However you go about this the wrong way. You’re trying to explain positive mentality by claiming that there “is” no hard language. Linguists would actually say the same. No language is “technically” harder linguistically, but due to relativeness, the amount of change your brain has to take in is more. This does not make the language “harder”, but just needs more effort.

    Fortunately with each new language you learn, you deconstruct your fossilized grammar to adapt to a new grammar. The next time you learn a new language, you realize that you can’t just extrapolate your first language grammar. Thus it gets easier the next time around.

    I totally “get” what you mean. Telling yourself that one language harder than other is futile, but to me there is a blatant difference in “time” that needs to put in, due to relativeness of ones internal grammar.

    I’m bilingual Afrikaans and English, and have been studying Chinese for almost three years. At first I struggled with Chinese grammar a lot, and supposedly Chinese has very simple or “no” grammar. That’s why it was difficult, ’cause it was just way too different. However, this does not mean it is linguistically “harder”, my brain just needed more time to adjust.

    Lucky for you, learning a new language is a skill you gain once you go past your first language. This has taught me a lot about different languages (even my native languages) and yes, I totally agree, saying to yourself it’s hard is just shooting yourself in the foot.

  • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com lyzazel

    My dictionary defines hard as “requiring a great deal of endurance or physical or mental effort” thus saying “this does not make the language “harder”, but just needs more effort” serves as a contradiction in itself.

    As for the topic:
    Some languages can be conceived of as harder than other languages. For example, think of Spanish. Then think of Spanish minus one word. The first one is harder. When it comes to comparing real languages, however, it happens that Spanish lacks a word there while German lacks a word there and so on thus we cannot evaluate the exact influence of the lack of each of these words on the difficulty of the language so inter-comparison becomes practically inviable.

    However, saying that “no language is harder” is not the same as saying “we cannot tell what language is harder” because in the second case, in principle, we could do so if only we had appropriate methods to do so.

  • http://twindie.net NielDLR

    Let’s not get into semantics here. I think we should rather use
    difficult. No language is more difficult or more complex. Argh, gets
    way too complex, what I basically mean is that one language is not
    “harder” than another language to learn or to speak; the time one
    needs to invest relative to one’s own native language is the
    difference.

    Also, I do not agree with the fact that one cannot measure
    differences. Vocabulary/Lexicon is not the measure. The difference
    comes in via morphology, phonetics, syntax and even
    semantics/pragmatics. Chinese morphology is way different to English
    morphology and then even way more different to Hungarian for example.
    These differences define the “relative” difficulty compared to your
    internalized native grammar.

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    It’s entertaining to me that the guy who started out by commenting on semantics is now replying with the phrase “let’s not get into semantics”.

  • http://twindie.net NielDLR

    Ok, I admit, I might seem hypocritical, but “defining” something as
    “hard” is not the right way. Like, Benny, said, it just adds way more
    than it implies. I just believe that there are differences in
    languages and those shouldn’t be discounted by mere optimism. They DO
    exist, but it is how you look at it that counts.

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    Pig Latin is the hardest language.

  • Anonymous

    He referred to one of those lists when he said how Hungarian is, to some, No. 2 on their hardest list.

    In short, I don’t think Benny thinks very much of them!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Exactly. I don’t think too much of them. They all analyse a language as nothing more than grammar and vocabulary. Comparisons between languages are pointless and miss important details. It’s like asking if Chess or Skiing is harder….

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Pig is the hardest language. Oink oink

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    Unless it’s a French pig… groin groin.

  • Dave

    I like your attitude. But you must believe some languages take some more time and effort than others, because this mission, you’re not aiming for fluency! I’m looking forward to hearing you speak Hungarian though! I’ve never heard it spoken before.

  • Carlos

    You are right! I’m the guy you were talking about in your post: an Spanish/Portuguese native speaker that failed at learning French but is making fast progress in Japanese. Well, the explanation is very simple: french is ok, but I wasn’t having fun, so I droped it. Now, japanese… man, I love this language! It’s so different from all the languages that I know, and this fact alone makes it an amazing journey! I like new stuff and the japanese language and culture are constantly stimulating my curiosity. Um abraço.

  • http://tomfrompoland.com Tom from Poland

    Hmm, I think that the hardest language in the world is first foreign language that we try to learn because it’s first and it’s foreign :-). For me that be a French, I have similar situation with them like you, Benny before your time in Berlin. My second language is English and it’s easier, but I’m not focus on it definitely :( and I have to work on my attitude and motivation :-). Next I plan refresh French and start Spanish, based on your tips. Maybe you plan to write similar guide of Spanish, French as German?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks for proving my point :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I’m not aiming for fluency because I knew my first month would not be efficient and it hasn’t. I wanted to experiment with some studying first and it slowed me down so I will not do it that way again. The German mission exhausted me so I didn’t want to aim as high as normal, but I’m still aiming for conversational. This is a reflection on my current situation rather than specifically on Hungarian’s difficulty.
    To hear Hungarian spoken, Youtube it ;)

    • Dave

      I understand, and I love youtube, so many good resources. You have the best photos by the way.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Well said – Spanish was my hardest simply because it was the first. Most people who claim a particular language is the hardest have nothing to compare it too.
    I might write similar guides if the German one is popular enough! :)

  • Jasmine

    I agree with you. Although some languages are harder for some people in some situations (like French for me, like you said 6 years studying without really being able to speak) they’re easy for other people (who actually studied outside of the classroom, spoke to French people and watched French tv etc.).

    Spanish was easy for me because it’s grammar fits the way I see language quite nicely and because of my interest in the Spanish media, while my friend who is half-Spanish and spends every summer there barely passed her competency exam.

    I’m learning one of those languages everyone sees as hard now (Arabic) and it’s actually really interesting for me. I don’t see it as that hard because again, it just fits my situation. I live with a native speaker, I spent a while in an Arabic speaking country. I enjoy learning new scripts and reading something that used to look like squiggles.

  • http://findalanguageteacher.com Tom

    Great post Benny!

    I have talked with several people who learned Hungarian. Those who made it to fluency all say that Hungarian is a very logical language, though it has many rules. I cannot really speak to this as Hungarian is my mother tongue, and I spent time learning other languages.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      That’s the way I like to look at it too – it is logical ;) To be honest it doesn’t seem to have more rules than most European languages. This is normal for all languages really!

  • Elvis

    There’s probably not much fun in a comment that agrees with you – but I do, wholeheartedly. I’ve seen this attitude among my fellow Latvian native-speakers (among others), and I remind them that with that reasoning they could just as well point out the aspects that make it simple (the emphasis is always on the first syllable (with the exception of a few words) and so on) and say it’s the easiest language in the world.

    I had my own struggle with this pretty recently when I had to learn Classical Chinese for my university courses. The weird thing for me was that at the same time I studied Mandarin and Cantonese as well, and I didn’t have the same difficulties with them.

    Eventually I learned that the world of difference lay in my attitude towards the languages – it seemed I always had a positive, curious outlook for the latter two, but in Classical Chinese acknowledged only what made it hard for me and seemed like objective setbacks i.e. Classical Chinese is very concise, yet also very ambiguous at the same time, the same word can have numerous meanings depending on the context, in some contexts expressing even the complete opposite meaning the word normally has, there really are no native speakers to practice it with, the list goes on.

    I figured if I have to suffer through it anyway (mandatory course), I might as well enjoy it – so I started looking at the ambiguity as a good way to exercise my imagination, gained admiration for the multiple meanings and relished in the fact that learning the language gave me a better understanding of how some modern Chinese peculiarities formed, and that I can read Chinese Poetry and Ancient texts where others have to rely on translations that don’t always capture the subtleties of the originals.

    I figured the title was a trick question anyway – with the answer being something along the lines of “The hardest language to learn is the one for which you’ve made up a maze of excuses, that makes it seem difficult to you”… or something like that :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Enjoying it makes it that much more accessible :) Have fun!!

  • http://twitter.com/englishattacks Eric J

    “Chinese will be easier for someone to learn if they are interested in Chinese culture, moving to the country, discovering their roots etc.”

    Funny you should mention this, as a couple of days ago I started dabbling in Chinese (Mandarin) to prep for an upcoming trip to Beijing. I approached it like I go after Japanese every day… a little SRS here, some listening practice there, etc.

    And seriously, after 2 days, I hated it.

    After some careful analysis, the blindingly obvious dawned on me… I had started Japanese because I loved games and wanted to move to Japan. I had started Chinese because… why exactly?

    Basically, I had no affinity for Chinese… no exposure, no aspect of the culture that I identified with, nothing. So it was merely an academic exercise, and a painful one at that.

    As a result, I’ve turned to scouring the interwebs for cool Chinese TV shows and movies, music, etc in an effort to find something I identify with in the culture first, and then move on from there.

    So yeah… a vacation somewhere isn’t enough of a reason (for me) to want to learn something. Given my experience in language classes, I wonder if other people don’t feel that same way?

  • Katiekelly

    I get really tired of hearing how “hard” languages are, too. My swim coach really can’t stand the word, and anyone caught saying “This is hard” during the workout gets his short but sweet lecture: “No. This pool deck is hard. Find a better word.”

    “Challenging” is usually what comes next. I can’t argue with that.

    “Difficult” annoys me, too. Who cares if it’s hard or not? It’s not about “thinking positively,” a concept which also drives me batty because it’s so annoying. Learning a language means accepting reality. What makes it difficult is when a person is so rigid in how things work, he or she becomes unflexible and unwilling to accept another way.

    Hungarian seems really fun to me.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    This is one of your best posts yet…

    The way I’d be inclined to go if arguing with someone about this is the following:

    The thing is that although there might be languages that are harder than others, it’s always going to be by such a small amount that the differences are negligible. It’s like saying that it’s so much hard to run 10 miles instead of 9.5, it’s silly, that’s the difference. What, you can get to the same level of fluency with precisely the same techniques in Spanish in 3 months that would take you 3 years in Icelandic? I don’t think so!! Maybe Spanish takes 6 months and Icelandic 8 for the same level of proficiency, MAYBE it would be that much, if that. But like I said, it’s negligible at best.

    This is how to argue with these people: admit that yes, maybe some languages ARE a bit harder than others, but it’s always by a relatively tiny amount. There aren’t any languages that are so much easier or harder than others that you’re going to see an enormous difference in the amount of time and effort required to get to the same proficiency level in them. So why the hell would you worry about it?

    In other words (for the ‘this language is harder than that language’ people), maybe you’re right, but what damned difference does it make? Not much, at best.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    When scientists are trying to prove a case they try to build a mathematical model that allows them to test things objectively. If you want to test which language is the hardest to learn for an English speaker the ideal test case is that you expose the person to the exact same conditions learning each of the languages. You compare like with like. You select a pool of subjects large enough to come up with a statistically valid conclusion.
    It is not comparing like with like to compare learning Hungarian in Budapest with learning French in Ireland. It is not valid comparing somebody’s difficulty in learning a tenth language with somebody learning a second language. You cannot validly compare a fully bilingual person learning a third language with a monolingual person struggling with a second language.
    Given the exact same conditions cognates make a massive difference. A Dutch person already understands 85% of the words in Afrikaans and the grammar is only slightly different. Using the same test conditions Afrikaan will always be easier for a Dutch speaker than Basque. Grammar does make a difference. If a language has multiple cases (like Polish) it makes it extremely difficult for a foreigner ever to speak the language at native level. Ironing out those kind of mistakes takes years of living in the country.
    Spanish was the most difficult for you but howabout looking at it differently. Would Hungarian not have been much more difficult at that time? Let’s face it an English speaker can read a Spanish newspaper and understand a lot after learning the language for a few months. Hungarian is totally unfamiliar. It is more difficult than Spanish under the same conditions.
    Of course Hungarian is ‘easier’ if you live in Hungary, are married to a Hungarian with children going to a school in that language, if your job involves (or mandates) using the language. But that is not comparing things objectively in a statistically valid way.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I’m not sure what you are getting at in the comment. The whole point of the article was that difficulty depends on each person’s situation, so I presume you agree with me?

    Ironing out cases in Slavic languages would NOT take years of living in the country. That’s ridiculous. It would only take years if you wait for it to “naturally” happen. Actively working on cases can help you master them quicker and I had a pretty good command on Czech cases in just two months with no prior experience in a Slavic language. If this was because I had learned other languages before (even though my other languages didn’t have complex cases), so be it, but there is no use in someone crying about Polish being hard and saying I had it easy with Czech etc. Using statistics to back up how hard your language is, is just another excuse not to try harder yourself.

    I’m not interested in statistically valid mathematical proofs of difficulties as this is not in the least bit helpful. I’m more interested in what is “hard” for each person and a slight change in attitude can destroy this negativity. Generalising based on statistics is meaningless to the individual who has their own story and reasons for something being hard.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks Andrew! Glad you liked it :)
    Even giving in and saying that it is a “tiny” amount harder is giving those people their ego boost or their excuse to give up, I’d rather they looked at the whole picture of their situation and passion rather than just the grammar and vocabulary. Spanish can’t ever be concluded as taking six months since that depends on the person’s attitude way more than Spanish’s difficulty ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    A slight change in vocabulary can make a big difference ;) However, I’d say that learning any language in the world can be “challenging”, but I like a good challenge! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Yes your comment reminds me that method definitely is NOT the secret to learning any language! Even the best method in the world that worked excellently once (as it did with your Japanese) can fail miserably if the passion isn’t there.

    I hope you find your interesting Chinese TV shows etc. to spark that passion :)

    People always tell me that I should learn this language and that one next, but I would fail miserably at many of their suggestions since I have no real interest in learning those languages right now. Even with 8 years of language learning behind me I would be way behind someone learning their first foreign language if they were doing it with true passion and I wasn’t!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I get a fair amount of people disagreeing with me, so yes it is fun to hear some agree :P
    “The hardest language to learn is the one for which you’ve made up a maze of excuses, that makes it seem difficult to you” – well said! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I get a fair amount of people disagreeing with me, so yes it is fun to hear some agree :P
    “The hardest language to learn is the one for which you’ve made up a maze of excuses, that makes it seem difficult to you” – well said! :)

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    “The whole point of the article was that difficulty depends on each person’s situation, so I presume you agree with me?”
    Yes, if we are comparing like with like. Some languages are intrinsically easier than others for English speakers (if that is our starting point). If our starting point is a new born baby then all languages are equally easy. As soon as we have a first language then the situation changes and issues like the degree of proximity and exposure to the second language come in to play.

    “Ironing out cases in Slavic languages would NOT take years of living in the country.”
    Well I think that you changed what I said. I said “it makes it extremely difficult for a foreigner ever to speak the language at native level. Ironing out those kind of mistakes takes years of living in the country.”
    I am married to a Pole and I listen to Polish every day (and speak the language well enough too) because my children are trilingual. I also know many foreigners who speak Polish but I have never met any that would pass for a Pole. Even on Polish tv foreigners stick out a mile. I am not crying about Polish being hard. I am just saying that it is much harder for an English speaker to master than more similar languages like Spanish or Dutch or Swedish.

    “I’m not interested in statistically valid mathematical proofs”
    Sure I can see that you mean to encourage people but sometimes it is good to be realistic and mathematical models are often the best way to look at things objectively. Many people have become polyglots without being discouraged by the face that some languages are harder to learn than others (depending on what your mother tongue is).
    You started off saying this “No natural language in the world can ever be the hardest one because children learn them to fluency in just a few years.”
    This is not so relevant in this context because language learners are learning a second (or subsequent) language. That means that we ‘can’ rank the hardest languages for, say a sixteen year old native English speaker to learn. The list will be different to the one for a French speaker but that does not make it invalid. Of course we can change the conditions to make it easier to learn any language at a certain time.

    “Generalising based on statistics is meaningless to the individual who has their own story and reasons for something being hard.”
    Some factors are general factors (e.g. the fact that somebody is a French speaker), some things are individual factors (e.g. the fact that somebody likes Manga). If you ignore the general factors you miss out on some great opportunities to make life easier.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    “Well I think that you changed what I said.”
    It feels like you are arguing for arguments sake. After you say this, you change what *I* said and talk about accents and passing off as a native, which has nothing at all to do with this article.
    You are way off I’m afraid – if you see difficulty as nothing more than language proximity then you are ignoring mountains of other aspects. You talk about realism but ignore crucial aspects that make it much harder than grammar and vocabulary differences. You can’t rank anything for a sixteen year old unless you ignore important differences between sixteen year olds in terms of motivation to learn particular languages. You have missed the point entirely of the article.
    Learning to speak a language is way more than the grammar and vocabulary differences you are focused on. Discouraging “realism” is unrealistic when you ignore this.

  • Steve

    For some people, lists of the hardest languages can motivate them in learning/speaking their ‘hard’ language rather than make them lazy. So in that way it’s not a negative way of thinking but motivational and positive.

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    Okay, I don’t think that I explained my point clearly enough. I certainly wasn’t commenting to argue for the sake of it.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Anything that motivates people is good, but learning a language just because it’s hard isn’t a buzz that would last very long and that alone is a bad reason. Knowing that Hungarian is “harder” than Spanish wouldn’t motivate me personally, and I know most people would be discouraged by such a title, but if it works for others, then great!
    I still won’t promote hard lists though ;)

  • Jen

    Benny…you’re so wrong. I am a native English speaker and can’t flirt in English to save my life. It MUST be that English is the hardest language. :)

    • Kieran Maynard

      All it takes is smiles and lame jokes to flirt! You can do it!

  • loki

    Very true !!!

    For me, it’s hard when I have to invest more than to be able to communicate without problems with natives about everything. Italian was pretty fast because it’s almost like my native language which is french. But japanese caused me some troubles because I didn’t know any language with a strange word order: Like the simple sentence: It’s expensive for the students will be in japanese:
    students for expensive is. So if you just know indo-european language (which was my case except for chinese but chinese word order is pretty much the same as in english) you’re not used to form sentences like that. More over learning to read a new script (without alphabet) requires passion and time !
    When you’ll try a completely new language: nothing in common with the languages you know you’ll see it takes times =)
    Just take for example japanese: different script, different word order, politeness levels, how long would it take? More than 3 months =) but you can get to a fluent level maybe in 1 year if you study everyday 1hour and speak it whenever you can !

    I hope you’ll learn to speak japanese in the futur ! Your vision will be changed =) maybe you’ll say yeah japanese was harder than other languages because it requiered more energy ! because EVERYTHING is different except loan words !

  • Stuart Jay Raj

    I totally agree with you Benny. ‘Languages that are more difficult than others’ … it’s all relative. The key is to understand what your own language filters are and get beyond them. Finding out what pushes your buttons and then somehow linking that into the whole motivation for learning a language for me puts all languages on an even par.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Very true, but you disagree with what I said? Nothing you said covers what actually makes a language hard. Many people have told me Japanese is easy to speak but hard to write for example. It’s all relative. For any reason you give me that Japanese is hard, I can give you five times as much for why Spanish, Italian, German, Irish etc. are hard. But this doesn’t help anyone.
    Japanese will be easy only if I decide it will and am devoted to it. Easy and hard are nothing but words to show how resistant you are to doing the work. Loan words don’t make a language easier, attitude does.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks for the comment Stu Jay! Great to hear you say that – all the expected comments chiming in that Asian languages will floor me with their vast mountains of difficulties are getting annoying :P Some people missed the point entirely of the article that difficulty and easiness comes from within ;)

  • whipback

    I completely agree. Actually when I read a lot of your posts I start thinking “Why does it put up such common sense topics?” Then I read the comments people put and say “Oh, that is why.” =]]

    I have a log on how to learn any language just like you, and I put up a list of languages I wanted to learn. Most of them are what people consider “not useful”, but that is why I want to learn them. But back to my story, someone commented saying I shouldn’t learn such uncommon languages and suggested German and Greek. I explained how I take German in school, but I don’t learn anything from my class except for the fact that German isn’t the language for me. I mentioned how I don’t like the grammar, among other things, and someone posted saying “Well your learning Russian… isn’t Russian grammar so much harder than German grammar?” I attempted to explain how even though most people try to consider Russian grammar more difficult, German grammar is more difficult for ME because I have not motivation or want to learn it. I just wish I could explain this kind of stuff as well as you can though….

  • Anonymous

    My mum’s boss once told me that Russian is “impossible”. I can’t wait to get onto learning the language so I can prove her wrong! I’ve learned some Russian before, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near as hard as they say.

    I am currently about a month into Romanian, and I totally agree with what you say about children being able to learn their language fluently, because that is the mantra I use to motivate myself when the language seems difficult (I recently mentioned this on my blog). I am trying to get away from grammar at the moment, because it is confusing me and making the language seem hard, and thinking it’s difficult is not helpful at all. (“Challenging” is a much better word than “difficult”, because challenges are fun, so using that word motivates me.) I do not think Romanian is really anymore difficult than other languages, it’s just a case of being a beginner in the language, and that would be the same in any language. I would be at the same stage if I were learning Italian, French, German, Japanese, or whatever, so I know it’s not the fault of the language itself. My other motivational reminder: a year ago I could not understand Spanish, but now I can. So there is no reason why I can’t learn to understand Romanian as well.

  • http://twitter.com/fembassist Jenny

    The hardest language to learn is the one you could care less about. I personally don’t find Japanese all that difficult. I do find it time consuming though and I have to put forth the time and effort into it.

    Arabic on the other hand is something I’ll never want to learn. I have no interest in it as a language or the culture behind it. I personally would find it difficult because of the lack of interest.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Yeah, the comments show you why things like this need to be said :P
    Of course German would be harder for you because you are not passionate about it, but your passion for Russian makes it more accessible :) This is one reason why I am not jumping into languages that people keep telling me to learn like Chinese. Right now I have no passion to do that (I need to build that passion if I decide to do it) and that will make the language hard, not the tone components etc.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I’ve met many people who speak fantastic Russian as a second language. It definitely is NOT impossible ;) It’ll be fun for you to rub that in your mom’s boss’s face!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Well said. Arabic itself isn’t difficult, but the fact that you have no interest in it would make it difficult. It’s the same with me – right now I am not interested in learning Arabic – if I decide to take it on I would need to do work to build the passion long before I sit down with a grammar book.

    Best of luck with your Japanese :) I’m sure you’ll be speaking it very well in no time due to the genuine interest you have in it ;)

    • S0825089

      I completely understand your point that a language is a lot easier if you have the motivation and drive to learn it but it is ludicrous to say “Arabic itself isn’t difficult”, because I can assure you that you’re wrong. I study and speak several languages, one of which is Arabic. Arabic is the language that I am by far the most passionate about but it is without a doubt far more difficult and complex than French, Spanish, English or German. Arabic IS difficult and your are belittling the beautiful complexity of the language by saying it isn’t.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Natives learn it fine. NO LANGUAGE is “difficult” as a universal rule, it’s only difficult for certain people in certain situations. I choose not to be in that situation.

        There’s no beauty in demotivating people. If you like to think that it’s “hard” (as if that counts as beauty!) then that’s fine, but I won’t. Every language is complex. Complexity can be beautiful, but comparing Arabic to any other language that I will NOT be studying when I am focused on speaking Arabic will be wasting my time, as it is wasting the time of anyone focused on learning just that.

        Who cares how hard it is compared to French? Just focus on speaking it for heaven’s sake. Relative difficulty is mental masturbation and useless for individual language learners.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Natives learn it fine. NO LANGUAGE is “difficult” as a universal rule, it’s only difficult for certain people in certain situations. I choose not to be in that situation.

        There’s no beauty in demotivating people. If you like to think that it’s “hard” (as if that counts as beauty!) then that’s fine, but I won’t. Every language is complex. Complexity can be beautiful, but comparing Arabic to any other language that I will NOT be studying when I am focused on speaking Arabic will be wasting my time, as it is wasting the time of anyone focused on learning just that.

        Who cares how hard it is compared to French? Just focus on speaking it for heaven’s sake. Relative difficulty is mental masturbation and useless for individual language learners.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Natives learn it fine. NO LANGUAGE is “difficult” as a universal rule, it’s only difficult for certain people in certain situations. I choose not to be in that situation.

        There’s no beauty in demotivating people. If you like to think that it’s “hard” (as if that counts as beauty!) then that’s fine, but I won’t. Every language is complex. Complexity can be beautiful, but comparing Arabic to any other language that I will NOT be studying when I am focused on speaking Arabic will be wasting my time, as it is wasting the time of anyone focused on learning just that.

        Who cares how hard it is compared to French? Just focus on speaking it for heaven’s sake. Relative difficulty is mental masturbation and useless for individual language learners.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Natives learn it fine. NO LANGUAGE is “difficult” as a universal rule, it’s only difficult for certain people in certain situations. I choose not to be in that situation.

        There’s no beauty in demotivating people. If you like to think that it’s “hard” (as if that counts as beauty!) then that’s fine, but I won’t. Every language is complex. Complexity can be beautiful, but comparing Arabic to any other language that I will NOT be studying when I am focused on speaking Arabic will be wasting my time, as it is wasting the time of anyone focused on learning just that.

        Who cares how hard it is compared to French? Just focus on speaking it for heaven’s sake. Relative difficulty is mental masturbation and useless for individual language learners.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Natives learn it fine. NO LANGUAGE is “difficult” as a universal rule, it’s only difficult for certain people in certain situations. I choose not to be in that situation.

        There’s no beauty in demotivating people. If you like to think that it’s “hard” (as if that counts as beauty!) then that’s fine, but I won’t. Every language is complex. Complexity can be beautiful, but comparing Arabic to any other language that I will NOT be studying when I am focused on speaking Arabic will be wasting my time, as it is wasting the time of anyone focused on learning just that.

        Who cares how hard it is compared to French? Just focus on speaking it for heaven’s sake. Relative difficulty is mental masturbation and useless for individual language learners.

    • S0825089

      I completely understand your point that a language is a lot easier if you have the motivation and drive to learn it but it is ludicrous to say “Arabic itself isn’t difficult”, because I can assure you that you’re wrong. I study and speak several languages, one of which is Arabic. Arabic is the language that I am by far the most passionate about but it is without a doubt far more difficult and complex than French, Spanish, English or German. Arabic IS difficult and your are belittling the beautiful complexity of the language by saying it isn’t.

  • Joshua Garner

    Very good post once again! :D However… what are some of the easiest natural languages to learn? Just read Part 1 of a post on this brand new language blog… looks to have good potential.
    http://becomingapolyglot.blogspot.com/

  • Hans G

    What makes it hard: first attempt at learning a foreign language.

    Seriously dude, don’t beat yourself up for having the “wrong attitude” with your first attempt at a foreign language…I’ve never known anyone who who was successful first time round. It takes learning a language to show what it feels like to learn a language…. you cant just decide “I’m motivated” and suddenly expect the brain to suddently do something completely new.

  • Hans G

    Chess is easier if your native language is a board game, skiing is easier if your native language is a physical sport. Skiing’s really easy if you’re a cyclist.
    It’s all about pior experience.

  • Hans G

    You don’t ignore the differences, you just average them out and the result may not be perfect, but it’s a good guide.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Asking what the “easiest” language is, is just a rephrasal of what the hardest one is.
    The easiest language is always the one I am currently working on. This is the easiest one to focus on and the easiest one to be passionate about ;) We should always cast our current language as the easiest, but this argument is moot and unhelpful if you want to convince someone learning another language that they have it harder.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    “you cant just decide “I’m motivated” and suddenly expect the brain to suddently do something completely new.”
    Worked for me in Spanish. I made the conscious decision to devote my life to Spanish and ran an experiment to live without English. Within two weeks I was already used to the idea and had the momentum ;)
    Getting that momentum was hard for my first foreign language, but saying it takes time will make it take time.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Languages are all “board games” or all “physical sports”. The differences between chess and skiing are huge. This attitude that it’s like jumping from chess to skiing is ludicrous. You already have prior experience in speaking a language and the ability to communicate. You’re on the same playing field just with slightly different rules. Starting from absolute scratch is impossible.

  • Laura

    Hello! I just want to say that I completely agree with you :) I am a native Spanish speaker and I have been studying French for the last two years. Finally I have the opportunity to live in a French speaking country and I think I am going to be prefectly fluent very soon:) But do you know why I am making so much progress? Because I am very motivated! Not only because how the language sounds or so but because of an important person in my life that inspired me to learn this beautiful language. This language reminds me that person so much that I will not stop until I will master le francais!

  • Anonymous

    I think that writing with people is as good as speaking if I can’t speak in a foreign language. Convince natives to speak online is hard and I don’t like speaking when I don’t see the face, so I prefer writing ;)

  • Anonymous

    Writing is good as speaking, better than nothing. It’s hard to convince natives to talking online and I don’t like talk when I don’t see the face ;)

  • Panu Höglund

    Having tackled several reputedly difficult languages, I think you are at least definitely on the right track. I couldn’t venture to become fluent in three months, but as a professional language learner I find your advice fundamentally sound.

    However, I’d positively like to see you tackle Georgian – the language of the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia. It is the most difficult language I can think of – at least of those I have made a serious attempt to learn.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    “It is the most difficult language I can think of”. Sounds like another of those self-fulfilling prophecies ;)
    No language is immune to have many many easier aspects to it than the competition!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=900655253 Jinx Montague

    Wonderful, inspiring article! I’m going to share this with some of my language-shy friends. Thank you Benny!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=900655253 Jinx Montague

    NielDLR, what you’re saying would be true if all language learners felt completely neutral about their target languages and approached language-learning in a completely emotionless way. However, the simple fact is that if you have a passion and enthusiasm for something (e.g. a particular language), it *really does* become “easy”! This may sound weird, but I’ve seen it in action again and again with so many people, even myself. Objectively speaking, French is for me a much “easier” language than German… and yet I learned German to a high-intermediate level in only two years, while I’ve been studying French for almost eight years and am still a beginner. Why this discrepancy? Simply because I had a driving force behind my study of German: my passion for the language. My good friend has been studying Japanese for only two years and already knows it extremely well, although many people say it’s an incredibly “hard” language. For her, again, it’s her passion and interest that keeps her motivated and makes Japanese “easy” for her. Now if only we could turn on that passion at will… then I might finally succeed at learning French! ;)

  • Camsham

    Brilliant article. An absolute must-read for anyone trying to “speak” any language. Well done Benny.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks Camsham – glad you liked it! :)

  • Acmayne

    thank you

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Ha, funny quote! Thanks for the comment ;)

  • http://howtolearnrussian.wordpress.com/ JamesAE

    In learning Russian, I’ve tried to avoid thinking that it is hard. When you actually get down to it, certain parts of the language can be generalised with exceptions learned later on. This makes learning it incredibly easy.

    Another thing, I’ve just come back from Iceland, which people say has one of the hardest languages. Yet when I walked into a supermarket, I merely echoed what the person at the till said to me and learnt 3 phrases (which may not seem a lot) in the space of about thirty seconds. Now I can say “Good afternoon”, “Thank you” and “Goodbye”. I think I will always remember those phrases and all I did was copy what someone else said. It was really that simple!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      More hard myths getting broken down… ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Nice metaphor! Glad you enjoy the site :)

  • http://twitter.com/fembassist Jenny

    I get so tired of people telling me Japanese must be difficult for me EVEN the native speakers!!! My thought on Japanese is it’s different, and time consuming. How much time exactly do I need to learn all kanji?

    My only guess is these people are failures in their own lives so they need to justify it by discouraging me. My failures are my own fault, and something I need to use to get better.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Well said!

  • Anonymous

    Currently, the world’s Designer   Handbags or Cheap Designer Handbags brand lot of other people’s   favorite and most stylish brands: Longchamp   bags, coach bags,Marc by Marc Jacobs, Mulberry Handbags
     and   miu miu bags and so on. Because of   their style and   color are just a favorite.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    With that strange argument, you could just as easily say that the Queen’s English or upper class Parisian French, which few people speak precisely without dialect diversions, is too hard.

    I will never be interested in MSA and will never ever learn it if nobody speaks it. Arguing its difficulty is for academic mental masturbation. I will pick a dialect, and learn it fine, as many other humans have before me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zmyr88 Zachary Meyer

    i agree with him but as someone said the hardest langauge is your SECOND language, since you have to learn how to learn a new langauge, after that you have a HUGE leg up. you learned how you can learn a new language!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mar.encalma Mar En Calma

    Thank you so much for the inspiration!!! I am living in Budapest and have tons of native friends, although I’ve mainly communicated with them in English. I speak fluently English, French and Spanish and am sure now Hungarian will soon follow!!!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Aw, thanks!! :) There are many reasons Arabic would be easier to learn than many other languages! I look forward to getting to it myself some day ;)

    All the best!

  • Tylerf1667

    Hey Benny, i just discovered your blog today and i am absolutely enthralled. i have a question for you of which you may have already addressed in previous posts. but do you focus a lot on learning how to write? would you say its more difficult to learn to write than speak? i guess it is harder for children as well…

  • Katariina

    This is a little OT but oh well.

    “My main problem was pronunciation differences that wouldn’t be distinct
    in English- like tapan and tappan, one means “I meet/I’ll meet” and the
    other means “I kill/I’ll kill.” Until I admitted it was an obstacle and
    spent some time drilling on it, I was unable to overcome it.”

    I suppose you were talking about double consonants but in this case the difference is the double vowle. “Tapan” means “I kill/I will kill” and “tapaan” means “I meet/I will meet”. “Tappan” doesn’t mean anything. I wouldn’t want to be a “pilkunviilaja” and most Finns won’t probably care about little mistakes but learning this will save you from many misunderstandings :D

  • Ryan

    I know I’m commenting on a three year old post but I really wanted to weigh in. I think you are very right Benny. I love your frog analogy. I have a good friend who studied a “really hard language” as an army linguist. When he told me about how the course was taught I said, “No wonder it’s hard!” When the approach to all foreign grammar concepts and words is “study harder” ANY language is going to be difficult.

    While it’s true that similarities (cognates, identical syntax, etc.) make learning initially easier in one way, they usually bring their own set of problems. I have met few Brazilians who speak Spanish well because Spanish and Portuguese are so similar that the Brazilians mix them up and confuse the Spanish speakers, who rarely learn Portuguese. The same can occur with Dutch and German or Thai and Laotian.

    I think your suggestion to focus on what you can change (method, attitude, seeking out opportunities to use the language, etc.) is extremely wise. There is always a reason to fail at every endeavor. Sometimes there’s even a good reason. What makes the difference is focusing on what you can change (yourself) instead of what you can’t change (number of declensions, foreign sounds, etc.) Awesome post Benny!

  • Kieran Maynard

    You are so right! I purposely tried NOT to learn French in middle school (and was quite successful). Learning Japanese took a long time not because it is “hard” but because my study methods (i.e. go to 8AM class and listen to a teacher recite “I’m sorry he is away from his desk right now”) were terrible, but it wasn’t “hard” because my enthusiasm never waned (and in fact grows and grows!).

  • Maru Chan

    Excelente análisis!

  • http://twitter.com/SauteedHappyFam Vanessa

    Great article! While living in Paris, I had so many people tell me that it would take me at least 6 years to be decent in French (they were native speakers) and that English was so much easier. I didn’t let those people put me down though! There were others who were blown away by how much I knew already. (Those were my favorites!) I totally agree with what you say, your passion makes so much of the difference. I REALLY wanted to learn French, so I did it! I didn’t really care to learn Spanish, so it came much more slowly and laboriously. I always tell people, if you genuinely want to learn, you will find a way to learn… but if you don’t want to, then you won’t! Pretty much as simple as that!

  • blaisetarou

    Very much liked the article. I don’t want to argue about any of the above (despiting the fact I don’t and probably can’t agree with one thing or another). I just want to say this – thanks for the following, I quote:

    “A language is not an academic subject, it’s a means of communication between human beings. Communication is hard for reasons of shyness, inexperience, no good motivation and lack of confidence”.

    Of course I have to say that languages are, in fact, subjects of academic study. But i really like that you pointed out the psychological and personal criteria. I also think that no matter how hard some language’s grammar or vocab can be, the main problem is always stricly connected with people self discouragement and inability to believe they can speak properly in foreign languages.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Bruno

    Thank you for the point you make about languages. They’re not just rules of spelling and grammar, but means of communication including all of the joy, pain, love, laughs, arts, emotions, spirit, etc… of human beings with a heart and soul. I also agree that a language classification by difficulty makes no real sense, since not everyone will react the same way to the variety a language offers.

    I am a native french speaker. I can laugh, cry, watch movies and have a conversation (and fun!) also in english and italian… I’m hoping to extend this to german and spanish too…

    I’ll be careful to not blame my age or any other excuse I could make up, but that shouldn’t be a problem because I’m a charming young and sexy 22 years young man… Ok… That was a lie! ha ha…

    Thanks for your approach on the matter.

    Weiterhin alles Gute!

  • rumyana dimitrova

    Hey, I have no idea if you still read the comments but I just wanted to share my view. I’m a native Bulgarian speaker, my first foreign language was English and it was really very easy to me to learn. I was 14 and we had English classes every day. I found English grammar very easy (forgive me for my mistakes and please correct them :)) compared to Bulgarian which is a Slavic language. Then I started studying Korean – well, that was a challenge. The grammar and everything was so different, the sentence structure really confused me. It took me so long to become good and it only happened in Korea after immersing in the language. Then there is Russian. I studied it at high school but I didn’t take it seriously so now I can’t speak it. But even without speaking it I can understand a lot especially when it’s written. When I meet Russians who don’t speak English I talk to them in Bulgarian and they understand. So even without studying Russian is understandable to me. And Serbian is sooo similar to Bulgarian I really only need to listen it to a while and I’m sure I will speak it fluently. This couldn’t happen with Korean.

    The funny thing I have many Russian speaking friends here in Korea (from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan) and I communicate with them in English and with those who don’t speak English we usually use Korean (and we put some slavic word when we don’t know the Korean one)! Native Slavic language speakers talking to each other in Korean! Well, that’s ironic.

    Your site has motivated me to learn Russian btw.

  • Karan

    Czech for sure…….

    • MarkS

      not if your are Polish

  • Isabel Baquero Cruz

    Great post!I speak four languages fluently (besides my mother tongue), and I didn’t really enjoyed going to courses where you are just suppossed to learn words from a list. I just listened a lot of music, read, talk with many people and try to hear and express all that I could/can. It hasn’t have to be perfect, you just have to communicate…it will come. I just have a question for you Benny, as I always studied a little bit of grammar before I started to talk (except italian due to its nearness to spanish) I don’t really know if the basis knowledge helped that much…or what, did you achieve to be fluent in any lenguage without any basical grammar knowledge?it’s like children, if so, I’ll have to try it!Thank you!

  • Naytica

    I agree with most of the things that you said. However, i have some arguments myself.

    I think, there are some other aspects that makes a language is hard for some person other than the ones you mentioned up there. Because every language has their own unique trademarks that no other language has. And sometimes these trademarks are what make a language hard to be learned. The trademarks could be anything. Such as the difference in the conditions of changing the conjugation of a verb, the difference in determining which article is used for which kind of noun, the difference in accent, the more memorizing it takes to learn or not, the difference in the logic of the language we speak and the language we are learning (blunt way of speaking or a disguised way of speaking), the number of pronouns used in that language, and i couldn’t even think of all of it right now.

    For what it’s worth, i have an extremely big passion for language and literature, but i still find difficulties for each of the languages that i am currently learning. And each language has a different difficulty. (For the record, I am speaking Indonesian and English fluently and currently learning Japanese and German.)

    For those reasons, i couldn’t agree with you 100 percent. Please kindly think of this as well.

  • Sarah Warren

    You’re so wrong…! Except actually, you’re so right, and I’ve been trying to convince people of this forever :-)

  • andrea winfrey

    Just stumbled across this post and I enjoyed reading it. I definitely passion and focus (and in my case a dash of obsessiveness) helps a TON when learning a foreign language. Learning a language can definitely be challenging however I agree that how you feel about the degree of difficulty can be largely subjective. I will say (subjectively of course) that as a native English speaker, I am in awe of people who learn English as a foreign language because compared with other languages I have studied, English seems pretty hard! There are so many grammatical exceptions but it blows my mind when I come across someone who is new to English but speaks it so well; it motivates me in my own studies because I feel like if they can learn English, I can learn any language! :) Great post!

  • Pingback: What are the hardest languages to learn? | lingholic