What is the hardest language to learn?

Pearson Languages
A man with a headset sat at a laptop, with mini flags by him.

It's incredible to know that there are thousands of languages spoken across the world, each with its unique set of challenges for learners. A question that often pops up is: "Which language is the hardest to learn?". Today we take a closer look at this question and consider different factors that make learning a language challenging.

What is the hardest language to learn?
Play
Privacy and cookies
By viewing this third-party content from www.youtube.com you agree to their terms and conditions, privacy notice and acknowledge they may use cookies and pixels for information and analytics gathering.

Learning a language is a complex process that involves several components, including phonetics (sounds), morphology (word formation), syntax (sentence structure), semantics (meaning), and pragmatics (communication in context). These factors all contribute to the perceived difficulty of a language.

Language Difficulty

The U.S. Foreign Service Institute ranks languages based on their difficulty for English speakers. Factors include similarity to English and script complexity.

FSI Language Difficulty Rankings

  •   Category I: Easiest languages (e.g., Spanish, French, Italian)
  •   Category II: Moderately difficult languages (e.g., German, Indonesian)
  •   Category III: Difficult languages (e.g., Russian, Hebrew, Arabic)
  •   Category IV: Very difficult languages (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean)

In theory, you should also be able to apply this the other way around to work out how hard It would be for someone to learn English. But it isn't quite as simple as that in practice. 

What about English?

Learning English can be challenging due to its irregular spelling, pronunciation and verb conjugation, despite its global dominance. However, learners have access to a wide range of resources, and the language's prevalence in media and technology makes it more accessible and easier to learn.

The English language poses a significant challenge to second-language English speakers due to its vast range of vowel and consonant sounds, including diphthongs, which might be unfamiliar to them. One of the well-known difficulties is the inconsistency between spelling and pronunciation. The irregularities in English spelling are infamous, making it challenging for learners to comprehend.

Another hurdle can be the extensive vocabulary, compounded by words with multiple meanings. Even more casual language and idioms can confuse and contradict basic language rules.

What can impact difficulty?

Linguists have identified aspects that can make a language more difficult to learn, such as inflectional complexity, gendered nouns, and intricate verb conjugations. There are also other factors that can impact the ease or difficulty:

Native language

The difficulty of acquiring a new language can be influenced by the learner's native language. If a language shares linguistic features with one's mother tongue, it may be easier to learn due to similarities in grammar or vocabulary. For example, someone who knows German or French may have an easier time picking up English than a Japanese speaker due to the languages having some overlap. At the same time, a Japanese speaker may have an easier time learning Chinese.

Sometimes, these similarities can be owed to the history of a language, where a language may have derived from another/the same source or intertwined at some point. English borrows a significant number of French and German words.

Cultural influences

Learning a new language requires understanding of both cultural and practical aspects. Adapting to different social conventions, cultural norms, and language usage in varied contexts can be challenging.

For instance, some languages have a broader range of vocabulary for different occasions and levels of formality than others. In places like Korea, your age can even determine how you're addressed, how you should speak and how you/others around you behave.

If you come from a language that shares similar norms and conventions, you will likely have an easier time picking it up.

So, what's the hardest language to learn?

There’s no straight answer for this question. Learning a language is a highly individualized experience. The difficulty of learning a language can vary significantly from person to person based on their background, motivation, and exposure to the language.

Determining the hardest language to learn can be challenging, as language learning is a personal process influenced by multiple factors. Although evidence, such as the FSI rankings and linguistic analysis, provides a foundation for comprehending language difficulty, it isn’t always the solid answer. To simplify it though, the more different the language is from your own, the harder it’ll be. Don’t let this put you off; learning a language can be a gratifying experience. Need some reasons to help you decide if you should pick up English? Give our post 'Why should I learn English?' a read. 

Fancy brushing up on your language skills or picking up a new language entirely? Check out the Mondly app.

More blogs from Pearson

  • Two coworkers stood in a office looking at a tablet together.

    Evaluating the ROI of Language Learning for DEI Initiatives

    By Pearson Languages

    Reading time: 5 minutes

    Businesses are increasingly prioritizing workforce development and implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies to promote social responsibility and enhance organizational success. Language learning has emerged as a crucial aspect of these initiatives, providing companies with a clear pathway to achieving transformative results.

    For HR professionals and trainers, understanding the return on investment (ROI) of integrating language learning into DEI programs is essential for a forward-thinking business strategy and to ensure language training is always on your organization's mind.

  • A teacher sat with students at a table, the students are using tablets.

    Benefits of using tablets in the primary classroom

    By Jacqueline Martin

    Reading time: 5 minutes

    Interactive whiteboards, PCs and laptops are common in many schools worldwide, but have you ever considered using tablets in your young learners' classes? 

    Tablets can be used for many things. Online research, watching and creating videos, playing games, and digital storytelling are just a few examples. Of course, there's also the added environmental benefit of going paper-free.

    In this post, we're going to explore some of the reasons why using tablets can be beneficial in the young learner's classroom and what to consider before you do so.

    What are the benefits of using tablets in class?

    1. Facilitating engagement

    With good direction from the teacher, tablets can emulate natural social interaction and interactivity. They can also offer problem-solving activities, set achievable goals and provide instant feedback.

    Moreover, when young learners are truly engaged in an activity, it may be perceived as effortless - and they learn and use their second language (L2) without even realizing it. 

    2. Introducing authenticity and autonomy

    In terms of content, tablets allow us to bring the real world into the classroom at the tap of a screen. We can provide learners with authentic materials via level-and-age-appropriate videos and real-life communication. As well as interaction with other teachers and learners through teams or by using a secure app such as Stars private messaging

    Tablets also promote learner autonomy. They are easy to use, allowing us to take a step back and let our students work at their own pace, being on stand-by as a facilitator when students require help or a little push in the right direction.

    3. Promoting creativity, communication and inclusion

    Nearly all tablets have a webcam and voice recorder, which means that learner-generated content can be created easily - even without dedicated software. 

    You can have your students make their own vlogs (video diaries), ebooks, comics, cartoons and movie trailers. All you need to do is to install apps such as Book Creator or this series of apps specifically designed for very young learners from Duck Duck Moose. While these apps have been created for 'fluent-speaker' classrooms, they can easily be adapted to an ELT context.

    Tablets also promote communication. This can help improve students' L2 oral skills at any level, when the teacher is there to support and guide them.

    One of the greatest advantages of a tablet as opposed to a computer is that anyone can use one and they are much more portable. 

    For students with special educational needs, tablets can be an essential learning tool and they can also be used by students with low-level motor skills, such as very young learners. Similarly, tablets can work really well with multi-level classes, as they allow you to offer differentiated materials, activities and support where necessary.

    4. Enabling online assessment 

    Tablets can also facilitate interactive online exams or help measure progress. Tests such as 'English Benchmark - Young Learners' are designed with primary learners in mind, to be taken anytime, anywhere. Its game-like format engages students and takes the fear out of being assessed. It also provides instant feedback to the teacher with informative reports and advice for future study. 

    5. Building relationships with caregivers

    Finally, as with any online content, tablets allow you to connect with our learners outside the classroom. You can quickly send links to classwork and feedback to the children's caregivers, fostering a positive relationship and a greater interest in their child's progress and learning. 

    Tips for using tablets in class

    Before implementing the use of tablets in your classroom, there are some things you should consider. Here are some useful tips that will help you gain the maximum benefit from tablets.

    Usability:

    • Decide what you are going to use the tablets for and when. Are you going to allow students to use the tablets for all parts of the lesson or only for specific activities? This may depend on the number of tablets you have available.
    • Use technology to improve an activity or design new activities that would not be possible without the tech, rather than using it to carry on as normal. Think about when a tablet will help learners do something they wouldn't be able to do without one, e.g., make a video or create and share a piece of writing with the whole class.
    • Think about using tablets for creation rather than consumption. Your students can (and probably do) spend a fair amount of time consuming videos in their free time. Whether they do this in English or not is another story, but in the classroom, students should use the language as much as possible (see the next point).
    • Use the tablets for collaborative tasks that require social interaction and communication. It's unlikely that you will have one tablet per student. Make the most of this limitation by having students work in pairs or small groups. Students can use their own devices individually outside the classroom.
    • Try to incorporate tablets into regular classroom activities and interactions. Avoid making them a "reward" or just for "games". Even if games are part of your planned tablet usage, make it clear that students are playing them in order to learn English. Encourage students to think of the tablet as a tool to help them on their learning journey.

    General tips

    • Try out any apps or widgets before asking students to use them. If necessary, make or find a step-by-step tutorial to help students use an app. There's nothing worse than having a class of twenty-five students all raising their hands at the same time because they don't know where to start.
    • Have clear rules and guidelines for tablet use. Educate students about using the equipment responsibly. Do this before you hand out tablets the first time.
    • Provide students and parents with a list of recommended apps to continue their home learning. Whether you have a class set of tablets or are using BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), many students will have access to a tablet or mobile phone at home, which they can use for further practice. Students will likely be motivated to continue playing games at home and may wish to show their parents and friends any content they've created in class.

    Practicalities

    • Consider the hardware and technical requirements. Do you need a Wi-Fi connection? How many devices will you have? Which apps and programs do you want to use? 
    • Ensure the features and apps you plan to use suit the age group you're teaching. Do some research, and if possible, choose apps designed for educators, avoiding freebie apps that may contain advertising. Block any websites you think unsuitable and install a search engine with child-friendly filters.
    • Set the language of the devices to English. Even if your students are very young, they'll pick up useful language and will be more inclined to use English as they are using the tablet.
    • Decide where you will keep the tablets and how they will be maintained. How often and where will they be charged? 
    • Think about how you can flexibly set up your classroom to incorporate collaborative tablet use. Move tables together to make group work easier. Create workstations or even have cushions or bean bags in a corner of the classroom.

    Using tablets to assess student progress with Benchmark

    With the right software, tablets can allow us to conduct formative assessments through immediate feedback and learning analytics. 

    We have developed our own English-language test for children aged 6 to 13 in an app designed specifically for tablet use. This fun, game-like test is highly motivating and assesses all four skills in a relaxed environment, removing the stress of traditional exams. It also allows you to see where each learner needs more improvement, providing recommendations on what to teach next and suggested activities in selected Pearson courseware.

    Find out more information about the English Benchmark test.

  • a group of young business people chatting toether

    Unconscious bias in the workplace: Overcoming DEI barriers through language learning

    By Pearson Languages

    Reading time: 7.5 minutes

    Unconscious bias: it's a quiet murmur in the corridors of our workplaces that can grow into a loud echo, shaping decisions and team dynamics in ways that may go unnoticed. In our collective quest for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), recognizing and tackling these biases is not just important—it's essential.

    By embarking on this path, we create workplaces where everyone feels valued and heard. If you're an HR professional, a leader, or a diversity consultant, it’s essential to always keep this in mind in every aspect of the workplace. Today, let's explore how language learning can be a valuable ally in breaking down the barriers created by unconscious bias.