What Makes One Language Different From the Next?

By Atlas LS

Some languages were formed in geographically isolated areas and are spoken by only a few thousand people. Several universally known languages are derived from one common language like Latin. The foreign language that you learn best depends on how similar it is to your own language. The following characteristics make one language easier or more difficult to learn for non-native speakers.

Learning a New Language - What Makes One Language Different From the Next


Tone is the rising and falling of pitch when certain words are spoken in a language. This is done to emphasize meaning or inflect important words. All languages make use of tone, but some languages, such as Chinese and East Asian languages, use the feature more than in Western languages. This tonal feature is difficult to detect in non-tonal speakers, which is one reason why Asian languages are difficult to learn for nonnative speakers.


Grammar includes the methods of constructing sentences in the past, present and future tenses. A language is easier to learn when the grammar style is similar between different languages. For example, seven Romance languages are derived from the common language of Latin and share similar grammar characteristics. This is why many people who know one Romance language often learn two or more others.


Cognates are borrowed words from other languages that are related by spelling, pronunciation or meaning. There are tens of thousands of cognates in the English language that are borrowed from Spanish, French, Arabic, Italian and Russian languages. The Romance languages have most of their words derived from Latin.


The same words are spoken differently in different languages. Most humans use the same sounds in their languages, but certain sounds are present in certain languages and absent in others. Some Spanish sounds are more difficult or impossible to articulate for English speakers than native speakers. Some vowel sounds exist in French but not in English.


In every language, words are written using different types of letters and symbols. The similarity of the script to one’s native language determines how difficult or impossible it is to learn. This is why Asian languages are notoriously difficult to learn. Every word has a different symbol that must be memorized to read and understand. A learner has to memorize tens of thousands of symbols that also must be pronounced correctly.

Your ability to learn a language is not based solely on your will to succeed. Some languages are naturally harder to understand than others and require more time to study. To make the workload easier on you, consult with a company of experienced language translators. Regardless of your location, look for video or in-person conference translation services that include Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI) and equipment rentals.