Infographic time: the hardest languages to learn


Voxy do make some interesting infographics – I previously posted about their detailing the use of Beatles songs in ESL classes. This time they’ve created a diagram that gives lots of great information about the difficulties of learning various languages as a native English speaker. Languages are ranked in three levels: rather simplistically labelled “easy”, “medium” and “hard”. Each language is broken down into the number of native speakers, with harder languages given reasons for their difficulty. Click to make it bigger:

It seems that the primary criterion by which they have rated the difficulty of a language is just how similar it is to English – three of the four hardest languages are Asian (Chinese, Japanese and Korean). While this may be a good rule of thumb, I don’t agree that it is a completely accurate way to judge it. With the right motivation and the ability to train your mind to think in the target language (and living in a country where it is the native language helps), it is not such a great disability for your native language to be far removed from the one you are learning.

Japanese, in particular, may be difficult to read and write due to having to learn thousands of kanji, the characters borrowed from Chinese – yet one could argue that this is more in the realms of ‘tedious’ than innately ‘difficult’. However, learning to speak and understand to a competent level is not notably harder than many other languages, given that Japanese pronunciation, syntax and grammar is not significantly more difficult than languages without such a fearsome reputation.

However, despite my small grievances (German is mysteriously missing from the graph), I think this infographic gives an excellent overview of the difficulty of various languages, as well as how long it will take in class to gain some level of proficiency.