The Hardest Language to Learn Survey

To participate in the Hardest Language to Learn Survey, just fill out the short form at the bottom of this page after the results section. The poll is a simple way to gather information in order to help other language learners.

Be sure to include your name and email address if you would like a chance for a free giveaway. I will be choosing a participant at random to receive a free language learning product.

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In the initial Hardest Language to Learn Survey I included a multiple choice section with five languages seen as difficult to learn by native English speakers. These are languages spoken by a reasonable number of people. Chinese, Korean, Russian, Arabic and Finnish.

Soon after, I added Japanese, German and Latin in the multiple choice section and a write-in section. There are nearly 7000 languages in the world today and I'm sure some of them (most of which we've never heard of) are extremely difficult languages to learn. I've had some limited exposure to some of those more common languages, but I wanted to make sure that someone learning a more obscure language could chime in with some input.

Of course, these versions of the poll are biased towards those first choices, even with the write-in section. So, after more than 1500 responses, I am updating to a third version of the poll with no choices. It just asks for your opinion. We'll see how that changes the results.

Results

Not surprisingly, Chinese was chosen as the most difficult language to learn of the choices presented. The reasons were many. The writing system is different (every word is a different symbol and it's not phonetic so it gives you no clues as to how it is pronounced), the tone system is difficult etc. One visitor put it simply - "Everything is different." Another commented that they chose to learn the language because the writing system was different and difficult. Two others didn't have enough room to write in the many reasons Chinese was so difficult. I've added more room to rant.

Since the last update, the numbers have evened out a little for the other languages. Arabic, Finnish and Japanese (with Russian not too far behind) are all neck and neck for second place. But Chinese is still being chosen two-to-one over any of these as a more difficult language. Korean, Latin and German lag far behind.

The strong showing of Finnish is interesting considering the very small number of native speakers compared to the other languages. That should mean that there are far fewer people learning the language, as well. But Finnish remains a very popular choice for hardest language to learn. Testament perhaps to the vaunted Finnish grammar.

As for the other languages, the answers were largely expected as to why they were a hard language to learn : different alphabets or writing systems (Russian, Arabic, Korean), different or difficult grammar etc. In the case of Finnish, for example, one visitor wrote "3 words : endless noun cases."

The write-ins were interesting. Sign Language, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Thai, Mongolian, Hungarian, Navajo, Polish, Tagalog, Estonian, Czech, Icelandic and Basque all made appearances. One interesting reason given for why a language was hard was because it was uncommon. For Icelandic (and it was also a recurring theme with Finnish) you have a small population of people who also speak other languages (English, Norwegian, Swedish etc) so it is not a very common language to learn, and consequently there are few methods to study from and few people to talk to. With Basque, not only is it uncommon, but one visitor noted that it was a 'language isolate' or completely unrelated to any other language.

I noticed also that some of the write-ins, Hungarian (with a number of votes) and Estonian, are also distantly related to Finnish. Something about this language family seems to make them very difficult languages.

I will continue to collect data and update the results on this page periodically. If you haven't filled out the form already, please do so, or fill out one of the other surveys. By gathering information like this I hope to make it easier for people to identify what about language learning is difficult and how to go about making that process easier and more enjoyable.


I recently wrote an article on why one language may be harder or easier than another. Factors such as the writing system, relation to languages you already know, and what your native language is all have some bearing on whether or not a new language is difficult or easy to learn. Read What Makes One Language Harder or Easier to Learn Than Another?






What is the hardest language to learn?

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