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002. The hardest language to learn?

“What’s the hardest language to learn?

Japanese? That’s really hard.

Esperanto is so easy.

Finnish is the most impossible.

What’s easier to learn between xxx and yyy?”

I’m a member of various language-learning communities and groups, both online and in person. I frequently hear statements and am asked questions like the ones above.

If you were to ask a group of native English-speakers about this subject, it’s likely that Esperanto, French, Spanish, and Italian will feature among the so-called easiest languages because of the grammatical similarities and shared vocabulary. Languages like Polish and Greek may be considered a bit more difficult because the grammar is perceived as more difficult. Hungarian, Basque, Chinese, or Japanese will likely be considered among the most difficult languages to learn. This is largely because those languages have less similarities to English compared to Romance or Germanic languages. However, I’m going to tell you something important here: there is no hardest or easiest language to learn.

An example of a chart showing foreign languages from easiest – most difficult. Source: https://www.thecultureist.com/2014/05/27/spanish-korean-easiest-hardest-languages-learn-infographic/

You’re probably thinking, “What? That can’t be right!” Well, let me qualify my statement slightly: There is no objectively difficult language to learn. The perceived difficulty of a language is exactly that: perceived. It’s a subjective opinion and it’s based on a number of things. Let’s look at a few of them now.

Similarity to your native language

It probably seems common sense that it is easier to learn a language that is similar to your own. It’s probably why many native English-speakers find Spanish, Italian, and French among the easier languages to learn. Because all these languages have a great deal of Latin-based vocabulary in common with English, it certainly helps when it comes to learning any one of them.

However, similarity doesn’t always mean ease. Let’s look at Spanish and English. Spanish is considered relatively easy for English-speakers to learn: the spelling and pronunciation are highly regular, it has a lot of vocabulary in common with English, and the verb tenses are used in much the same way in English. That being said, Spanish has a lot of irregular verbs, and a lot more verb forms. Let’s look at the different forms of the verb do between the two languages (hacer in Spanish):

DoHacer
Do, does, did, donehago, haces, hace, hacemos, hacéis, hacen, hecho, haciendo, haré, harás, hará, haremos, haréis, harán, hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteís, hicieron, hacía, hacías, hacíamos, hacíais, hacían, haría, harías, haríamos, haríais, harían, haga, hagas, hagamos, hagáis, hagan, hiciera, hicieras, hiciéramos, hicierais, hicieran, hicieses, hiciese, hiciésemos, hicieseis, hiciesen, haz, haced.

That’s a lot more for learners of Spanish to memorise than for learners of English. Similarly, let’s take a look at a more exotic language: Mandarin. This is often cited as one of the most difficult languages to learn. It has 4 tones and if you say a word with the wrong tone, you can change the meaning of a word and possibly cause offence. There’s also little vocabulary in common with English. Despite that, Mandarin has no conjugations, no verb tenses, no gendered nouns, and no articles. All of this may make it easier for you to learn than Spanish, french, German, or any other European language.

Available resources

Go to your local library or search online and you’ll be inundated with results for the most common European languages: books, apps, Youtube videos, podcasts, and blogs aplenty. Some languages, however, do not have as much variety.

In the case of Basque (a language isolate spoken in the north of Spain and south of France – though very unrelated to Spanish or French), there are very few resources – physical or online – in English. In cases like this, the quality may also not be the best as there is very little competition. Some publishers (e.g. Teach Yourself, Colloquial) publish self-study textbooks in a wide variety of languages. However, you may find it difficult to achieve the level that the book advises without adequate practice from a native speaker.

Time

The DLIFLC (Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center) teaches foreign languages to US military and security personnel. They claim you can become fluent in one of its 17 languages somewhere between 47 and 61 weeks. How? Their trainees must study intensively (with little or no use of English) 7 hours a day for 5 weeks. Now, this would be my idea of heaven as a passionate language learner but in the real world, none of us have that availability (except maybe the very rich if they don’t have to work for their money). Nevertheless, the amount of time you can dedicate to your language practice each day (and each day is recommended) will greatly affect your progress.

Language familiarity

Is English really an easy language to learn? it’s debatable. As with Spanish and Mandarin that were discussed above, there are certain characteristics of the language that can make it both easy and difficult: there are few variations in verb conjugation and tense but spelling and punctuation are incredibly inconsistent.

So what makes English one of the most widely-spoken languages? It may be partly to do with the fact that people all over the world get exposed to it via English movies, music, books, and TV programmes. This isn’t always the case, however, but people in the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries have a reputation for speaking English like native speakers and the TV channels in those countries tend to show English-language programmes or films in the original language as opposed to dubbing them into the local one. By contrast, Spain and Italy tend to dub foreign-language programmes and movies into their own language and their reputation for English-language ability is not as strong as Scandinavian countries.

Perhaps another reason that the whole world seems to learn English with relative ease that people have a passion or a reason for learning it because of the all-pervasive English culture. You automatically have a motivation to learn English if you want to be able to understand the songs by your favourite group, or all the Avengers films, for example. Similarly, people might be motivated to learn Japanese to understand anime or manga. At any rate, the more familiar you are with a language before or during your learning it, the easier it will be.

Conclusion

So, to finish up:

  • There is no objectively hard language; the ease or difficulty of a language is subjective.
  • Even languages that are perceived as easy have characteristics that can present difficulties to people learning them. Similarly, languages that are perceived as difficult have features that make them easy.
  • Whether you find a language easy or difficult depends on many factors such as similarity to your mother tongue, the availability and quality of learning resources, the amount of time you can dedicate to practicing, and how familiar you are with the language.

Feel free to leave any comments and share your own experiences of languages you have found easy or difficult to learn. What was it about the language you found easy or difficult?

Michael

*All photos taken by or for Perfektua Language Services unless otherwise stated.

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001. Introduction

Welcome!

Welcome to our very first blog post. This post serves as an introduction and explains more about who we are, the purpose and content of the blog, and how the blog relates to the upcoming podcast.

Who we are

Perfektua Language Services is based in Scotland and was started in October 2017 by me, Michael Robertson. I have been a keen language learner for as long as I can remember. My mum was my first foreign-language teacher; when I was around 3, she used to teach me Italian phrases from a phrasebook she had. I also used to like learning French from my sister (who is 4 years older than me) and was learning it at school. I have also been very lucky because I have always had very gifted, passionate language teachers.

Languages have always been one of my strengths (unlike maths or science – I’m hopeless at them). I have learned (to various degrees of fluency) French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek. Besides English (which is my native language), Spanish is my strongest language. At the moment, I am working on my ability to communicate in the other languages. I also hope to learn Dutch, Portuguese, and Basque. The Basque Country (located in the north of Spain near the French border) has a special place in my heart as I spent eight months living there, teaching English, and learning Spanish.

Perfektua Language Services offers language tuition (English as a foreign language, Spanish, and French), proofreading and essay-checking services, and academic writing support. You can find out more about each of these services by clicking on the appropriate tab in the Services section of the main menu.

Perfektua Language Services strives to offer flexible, accessible language tuition as well as high-quality, affordable proofreading services. You can find out more about our mission, aims, and values here.

We are also planning how to grow our business. This will include considerations such as offering online language lessons, increasing our online presence via blogs, podcasts, videos, and social media. More details about this will be added to the About Us section of the website in due course.

Purpose and content of the blog

The purpose of the blog is to discuss issues relating to the learning and teaching of foreign languages (with a specific focus on EFL, French, and Spanish) and English writing. While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the topics that will be featured on our blog include the following:

  • Advice and tips for learning a language
  • Advice and tips for writing well in English (especially academic writing)
  • A review of different language-learning resources
  • A monthly summary of the daily vocabulary posts featured on our social media pages
  • Discussions about topics in language learning and teaching
  • Answers to questions asked by you.

The aim is to publish two blogs per week and two podcasts per month.

Podcast

|In addition to the blog, we will also be developing a podcast. As stated above, we aim to produce two podcasts per month as well as the 2 blogs per week.

The subjects featured on the podcast will be similar to those featured on the blog (listed above) but with various different combinations of the topic.

Suggestions

We are open to hearing your suggestions for podcast or blog post ideas. We also welcome any positive or constructive feedback you may have. If you wish to ask a question, provide an idea, or give feedback, you can email us at perfektua.languageservices@gmail.com or by using the Contact Us form.