Life's Little Mysteries

What's the Hardest Language to Learn?

The language that is most difficult for a person to learn depends on their native tongue and on how closely their native language is related to the one they are trying to learn.

For instance, while the Japanese language has been touted as one of the most difficult languages for Americans to master, it is not so for Chinese speakers.

The reason Japanese is so hard for native English speakers, according to Richard Brecht, director at the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland, has to do with the complex writing systems of Japanese, which are completely different from the A-to-Z alphabet. Japanese has three different alphabets kanji, which is made up of about 15,000 characters, kata-kana that's used for emphasis, and hira-gana for spelling suffixes and grammar. [10 Weird Things People Do Every Day (and Why )]

Japanese is ranked by the U.S. Foreign Services Institute as the most difficult language for native English speakers to learn. The institute uses the time it takes to learn a language to determine its difficulty 23-24 weeks for the easiest and 88 weeks for the hardest.

Languages included in the institute's easiest category are Danish, French, Italian, Spanish and Swedish.

And languages in the hardest category are Arabic, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin Chinese.

Native Japanese speakers, on the other hand, have considerable difficulty learning the English language. Several linguists have pointed out that Japanese speakers have trouble distinguishing between the l and r sounds in English, because the Japanese language doesn't differentiate these two sounds.

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Michelle Bryner
Michelle writes about technology and chemistry for Live Science. She has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the Salisbury University, a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware and a degree in Science Journalism from New York University. She is an active Muay Thai kickboxer at Five Points Academy and loves exploring NYC with friends.