Five of the Most Difficult Languages to Learn

By Atlas LS

Every language is beautiful and fascinating, but not all of them are kind to beginners. Some of them are definitely easier to pick up than others. Today, let’s look at five languages that often give English speakers a run for their money!

difficult languages to learn

1. Mandarin

Mandarin might seem manageable at first, due to its status as the most widely spoken language in the world. However, that’s only because it has the most native speakers, not because it’s simple to learn! There are four different ways to pronounce every sound in Mandarin’s phonetic transcription system and the language is full of distinctive homophones and idioms. Set phrases like idioms can often defy translation because they involve a highly specific set of cultural knowledge. Plus, Mandarin consists of eighty thousand unique characters that must essentially be memorized. This is perhaps the biggest roadblock to anyone who grew up using a Latin-based alphabet.

2. Arabic

The Arabic language has been described as very musical and dulcet, which makes it a shame that it’s not easier for non-natives to grasp. If having a twenty-eight-letter alphabet, and letters that change forms depending on their placement weren’t enough, there are also thirty different dialects! Most of these variations are due to differences between regional groups. For example, members of a Sudanese group won’t talk the same way as members from an Egyptian or Maghrebi group. This means that employing an Arabic translator for something like conference translation services might not be enough. They also need to be familiar with the particular type of Arabic being used!

2. Korean

The way that most languages are learned or deciphered is usually through their connection to other languages. However, Korean is a rare exception. It has no meaningful genealogical relationship to any other language! Their use of syntax also deviates from English considerably, with subjects and verbs being positioned in atypical places throughout a sentence.

3. Hungarian

Hungarian is notorious for its complex grammatical rules. Unlike English, which only has three cases (subjective, obsessive, possessive) Hungarian can have up to thirty-five cases! It also has fourteen vowels, two verb forms, and—like Mandarin—a lot of the language is idiomatic. The guttural pronunciation of certain Hungarian words can be figuratively and literally painful for the uninitiated as well.

4. Japanese

Due to the popularity of Japanese media such as anime, there is significant interest, particularly among young people, in learning the language. Of course, many of them underestimate the level of commitment. Japanese has not only a unique set of characters, but three separate alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Also, special honorifics must be used depending on the situation or the person being addressed. Forgetting these honorifics can be interpreted as a sign of rudeness.

Difficult Doesn’t Mean Impossible

Trained professionals around the world are fluent in these, and countless other languages, making conference translation services an immensely viable and rewarding option. No matter who you’re trying to connect with, someone is out there who can break through the language barrier!