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Last Updated on September 25, 2019

7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers

7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers

What are the hardest languages to learn? It depends on what languages you already speak.

When you peel the onion back to the beginnings of language formation, such as by studying the “Old World Language Families” tree below, you will be able to see where different languages branched off. Now, you may be able to notice why Spanish has similarities with languages like German, Italian, French, etc.

That’s why the hardest languages to learn for native Korean speakers will be different from those that are hardest for native English speakers like us. Today, we’re going to focus solely on the hardest languages to learn for English speakers (hint: they’re located in different branches on the language tree from English!)

    If you’re looking for official statistics, the Defense Language Institute (where they teach members of the CIA foreign languages!) has organized languages into four categories, the 1st Category being the easiest, and the 4th Category being the hardest languages to learn for English speakers.

    • Category 1: Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese
    • Category 2: German, Indonesian
    • Category 3: Hebrew, Hindi, Persian Farsi, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Turkish, and more…
    • Category 4: Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Modern Standard Arabic, and more…

    I’m going to give you the full, extensive list below. Enjoy, and let us know below if you’re going to take on the challenge of learning one of these difficult languages.

    1. Mandarin

    Number of native speakers: 1.2 billion

    Country with the greatest number of speakers: China

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    Why it’s so hard:

    It may be the most spoken language in the world, but it comes with its own difficulties for English speakers. Since Mandarin is a tonal language, you can have a completely different meaning of a word just by changing your tone. Add to that thousands of characters, complex systems, and the language’s richness in homophones,[1] and you’ve got one of the hardest languages to learn in the world.

    2. Icelandic

    Number of native speakers: 330,000

    Country with the greatest number of speakers: Iceland

    Why it’s hard:

    While the Icelandic language has not changed much since the island was settled in the ninth and tenth centuries,[2] it continues to add new meaning to old words. It also doesn’t help that there are fewer than 400,000 native speakers who you can learn and practice with.

    3. Japanese

    Number of native speakers: 122 million

    Country with the greatest number of speakers: Japan

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    Why it’s hard:

    Japanese has three independent writing systems:[3] hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Before they can start writing, Japanese learners need to learn thousands of different characters in these writing systems. It is, however, easier to learn than Mandarin!

    4. Hungarian

    Number of native speakers: 13 million

    Country with the greatest number of speakers: Hungary

    Why it’s hard:

    Most languages spoken in Europe come from the Indo-European language family shown in the tree above. But not Hungarian. It is instead a Finno-Ugric language[4] in which words are formed in an isolated manner. In other words, it’s nothing like how English speakers normally structure words or sentences. For example, “with my [female] friend” is combined into just “barátnőmmel.” Confused yet? So are we.

    5. Korean

    Number of native speakers: 66.3 million

    Country with the greatest number of speakers: South Korea

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    Why it’s hard:

    Korean is a language isolate, which means it isn’t linked to any other language family root. But wait, there’s more. Korean has seven different speech levels which native speakers flip back and forth on, depending on the formality.

    6. Arabic

    Number of native speakers: 221 million

    Country with the greatest number of speakers: Egypt

    Why it’s hard:

    Despite having 221 million native speakers who you can potentially learn from, Arabic is still one of the hardest languages to learn. First, vowels are not included when writing. And, to complicate things further, most Arabic letters are written in four different forms depending on the placement of the word.

    7. Finnish

    Number of native speakers: 5.4 million

    Country with the greatest number of speakers: Finland

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    Why it’s hard:

    Ever watched the Lord of The Rings? The Finnish language is what the author J.R.R. Tolkien[5] based the Elvish language on. Finnish, like Hungarian, is a Finno-Ugric language in which grammar complications are taken to the extreme.

    And, just when you’ve got the hang of translating Finnish to English, you’ll quickly find out that modern Finnish speakers have their own way of expressing emotions that’s different from the traditional translation!

    Bottom Line

    The hardest languages for English speakers to learn depends on a number of different factors, not just one. The number of speakers, the language’s origins, its similarity to English, and other factors contribute to determining how much difficulty you’ll have learning it.

    But what’s important is not which is the “hardest language to learn.” As with learning any language, it comes down to how passionate you are about learning, how you’ll deal with psychological fears, and who you to go to for help.

    Every language will come with its own challenges, but it’ll also come with its own rewards, experiences, and fulfillment. Remember, whichever language you decide to learn, your time will be well worth the investment.

    More About Language Learning

    Featured photo credit: ORIENTO via unsplash.com

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    Sean Kim

    Sean is the founder and CEO of Rype, a language learning app. He's an entrepreneur and blogger.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

    How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

    If I was a super hero I’d want my super power to be the ability to motivate everyone around me. Think of how many problems you could solve just by being able to motivate people towards their goals. You wouldn’t be frustrated by lazy co-workers. You wouldn’t be mad at your partner for wasting the weekend in front of the TV. Also, the more people around you are motivated toward their dreams, the more you can capitalize off their successes.

    Being able to motivate people is key to your success at work, at home, and in the future because no one can achieve anything alone. We all need the help of others.

    So, how to motivate people? Here are 7 ways to motivate others even you can do.

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    1. Listen

    Most people start out trying to motivate someone by giving them a lengthy speech, but this rarely works because motivation has to start inside others. The best way to motivate others is to start by listening to what they want to do. Find out what the person’s goals and dreams are. If it’s something you want to encourage, then continue through these steps.

    2. Ask Open-Ended Questions

    Open-ended questions are the best way to figure out what someone’s dreams are. If you can’t think of anything to ask, start with, “What have you always wanted to do?”

    “Why do you want to do that?”

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    “What makes you so excited about it?”

    “How long has that been your dream?”

    You need this information the help you with the following steps.

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    3. Encourage

    This is the most important step, because starting a dream is scary. People are so scared they will fail or look stupid, many never try to reach their goals, so this is where you come in. You must encourage them. Say things like, “I think you will be great at that.” Better yet, say, “I think your skills in X will help you succeed.” For example if you have a friend who wants to own a pet store, say, “You are so great with animals, I think you will be excellent at running a pet store.”

    4. Ask About What the First Step Will Be

    After you’ve encouraged them, find how they will start. If they don’t know, you can make suggestions, but it’s better to let the person figure out the first step themselves so they can be committed to the process.

    5. Dream

    This is the most fun step, because you can dream about success. Say things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if your business took off, and you didn’t have to work at that job you hate?” By allowing others to dream, you solidify the motivation in place and connect their dreams to a future reality.

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    6. Ask How You Can Help

    Most of the time, others won’t need anything from you, but it’s always good to offer. Just letting the person know you’re there will help motivate them to start. And, who knows, maybe your skills can help.

    7. Follow Up

    Periodically, over the course of the next year, ask them how their goal is going. This way you can find out what progress has been made. You may need to do the seven steps again, or they may need motivation in another area of their life.

    Final Thoughts

    By following these seven steps, you’ll be able to encourage the people around you to achieve their dreams and goals. In return, you’ll be more passionate about getting to your goals, you’ll be surrounded by successful people, and others will want to help you reach your dreams …

    Oh, and you’ll become a motivational super hero. Time to get a cape!

    More on Motivation

    Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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