More On The Hardest Languages To Learn – Indo-European Languages

Caution: This post is very long! It runs to 184 pages on the Web. Updated August 21, 2014.

We did a post on this earlier, but it looks like we only scratched the surface. There are many of webpages on this topic, and one could read about the subject for a long time, but after a while, things start getting repetitive.

This post is very good. There are more in various places on the Web.

For starters, before we do our own analysis, let’s look at what some other people came up with. This post is very good. They did a survey, and the post describes the results of the survey.

According to the survey, the nine hardest languages to learn overall were Mandarin, Hungarian, Finnish, Polish, Arabic, Hindi, Icelandic, German and Swedish.

The eight hardest languages to speak (or to pronounce correctly, specifically) were French, Mandarin, Polish, Korean, Hungarian, Arabic, Basque and Hindi.

The nine hardest languages to write were Arabic, Mandarin, Polish, French, Serbo-Croatian, Japanese, Russian, Basque and English.

How does that survey line up with the facts? Surveys are just opinions of L2 learners, and carry variant validity. For starters, let’s throw Swedish off the list altogether, as it actually seems to be a pretty easy language to learn. It’s interesting that some people find it hard, but the weight of the evidence suggests that more folks find it easy than difficult.

Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese and Russian of course use different alphabets and this is why they were rated as hard to write.

Method. 42 IE languages were examined. A literature survey, combined with interviews of various L2 language learners was conducted. In addition, 100 years of surveys on the question by language instructors was reviewed. The US military’s School of Languages in Monterey’s ratings system for difficulty of learning various languages was analyzed.

Results were collated in an impressionistic manner along a majority rules line in order to form final opinions. For example, a minority said that Portuguese or Spanish were very hard to learn, but the consensus view was that they were quite easy. In this case, the minority opinion was rejected, and the consensus view was adopted. The work received a tremendous amount of criticism, often hostile to very hostile, after publication, and many changes were made to the text.

Clearly, such a project will necessarily be more impressionistic than scientific. Scientific tests of the relative difficulty of learning different languages will have to await the development of algorithms specifically designed to measure such things. And even then, surely there will be legions of “We can’t prove anything” naysayers, as this is the heyday of the “We can’t prove anything” School of Physics Envy in Linguistics.

One common criticism was that, “In Linguistics, the standard view is that there is no such thing as an easy or difficult language to learn. All languages are equally difficult or easy to learn.” Unless we are talking about children learning an L1 (and even then that’s a dubious assertion) this statement was rejected as simply untrue and exemplar of the sort of soft science (“We can’t prove anything about anything”) mushiness that has overtaken Linguistics in recent years.

Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics have long been nearly ruined by soft science mushiness, and in recent years, soft science “We can’t prove anything” muddleheadedness has overtaken Historical Linguistics in a horrible way. Bizarrely enough, this epidemic of Physics Envy has been clouded, as one might suspect, in claims of rigorous application of the scientific method.

But hard sciences prove things all the time. Whenever a field claims that almost nothing in the field is provable, you’re heading in the realms of Politically Correct soft science Humanities brain mush.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings. Languages were rated 1-5 based on difficulty for an English speaker, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = most difficult of all.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer.

Conclusion. The soft science, Politically Correct mush-speak from the swamps of Sociolinguistics currently in vogue, “All languages are equally difficult or easy for any adult to learn,” was rejected. The results of this study indicate that languages to indeed differ dramatically in how difficult they are for L2 English language learners.

Indo-European

Indo-Iranian

Indo-Aryan

Ind0-Ayran languages like Kashmiri, Hindi and especially Sanskrit are quite hard, and Sanskrit is legendary for its extreme complexity.

Central Zone
Western Hindi
Hindustani
Khariboli

The Hindi script is quite opaque to Westerners, some of whom say that Chinese script is easier. You speak one way if you are talking to a man or a woman, and you also need to take into account whether you as speaker are male or female. Gender is also as prominent as in Spanish; you have to remember whether any given noun is masculine or feminine.Hindi is definitely an IE language by its rich system of gender, case and number inflection.

The most difficult aspects of Hindi are the pronunciation and the case system. In addition, Hindi is split ergative, and not only that, but it actually has a tripartite ergative system, and the ergativity is split by tense like in Persian.

The distinction between aspirated/unaspirated and alveolar/retroflex consonants is hard for many to make. There is a four-way distinction ion the t and d sounds with aspirated/unaspirated dental and aspirated/unaspirated retroflex t‘s and d‘s. The are three different r sounds – one that sounds like the English r and two retroflex r‘s that are quite hard to make or even distinguish, especially at the end of a word. Hindi also has nasalized vowels.

If you come from a language that has case, Hindi’s case system will not be overly difficult.

In addition, there is a completely separate word for each number from 1-100, which seems unnecessarily complicated.

However, Hindi has a number of cognates with English. I am not sure if they are Indic loans into English or they share a common root going back to Proto-Indo-European (PIE).

loot - plunder/destroy, English loot.
mausaum
season/weather, English equivalent is monsoon
toofan
storm, English equiv. typhoon
kammarban
d – something tied around the waist, English equiv. cummerbund
badnaam
– literally bad name, means bad reputation. These are both cognates to the English words bad and name.
bangalaahouse, English equiv. bungalow
jangal
jungle
pandit
priest, English equiv. pundit

Nevertheless, Hindi typically gets a high score in ratings of difficult languages to learn. Based on this high score across multiple surveys, we will give it a relatively high rating.

Hindi is rated 4, very hard to learn.

Punjabi is probably harder than any other Indic language in terms of phonology because it uses tones. It’s like Hindi with tones. It has either two or three tones: high or high-falling, low or low-rising and possibly a neutral or mid tone. It is very odd for an IE language to have tones.

Punjabi is rated 4.5, very difficult.

Eastern Zone
Assamese–Bengali

Bengali is similar to Hindi, but it lacks grammatical gender, and that fact alone is said to make it much easier to learn. Bengali speak tend to make stereotypical gender errors when speaking in Hindi. Nevertheless, it uses the Sanskrit alphabet, and that alone makes it hard to read and write.

Bengali is rated 3.5, harder than average to learn.

Northern Zone
Eastern Pahari

Nepali is a very difficult language to learn as it has a complex grammar. It has case not for nouns themselves but for clause constituents. It has tense, aspect, and voice. Nepali has an unbelievable 11 noun classes or genders, and affixes on the verb mark the gender, number and person of the subject. It even has split ergativity, strange for an IE language.

Nepali has the odd feature, like Japanese, of having verbs have completely different positive and negative forms.

~ hoina (I am ~ I am not)
chas ~ chainas (you (intimate) are ~ you are not)
bolchu ~ boldina (I speak ~ I don’t speak)

Note the extreme differences on the conjugation of the present tense of the verb to be between 1 singular and 2 familiar singular. They look nothing like each other at all.

Adjectives decline in peculiar way. There is an inflection on adjectives that means “qualified.” So can say this by either inflecting the adjective:

dublo ~ dublai (tall ~ quite tall)
hoco ~ hocai (short ~ rather short)
rāmro ~ rāmrai (nice ~ nice enough)

or by putting the invariant qualifying adverb in front of the adjective:

ali dubloquite tall
ali hocorather short
ali rāmronice enough

Nepali gets a 4.5 rating, very difficult.

Northwestern Zone

Sinhalese-Maldivian

Sinhala is also difficult.

Sinhala is rated 4, very difficult.

Sanskrit

Sanskrit is legendary for its difficulty. It has script that goes on for long sequences in which many small individual words may be buried. You have to take apart the sequences to find the small words. However, the words are further masked by tone sandhi running everything together. Once you tease the sandhi apart, you have to deal with hundreds of compound characters in the script. Once you do those two things, you are left with eight cases, nine declensions, dual number and other fun things.

Even native speakers tend to make grammatical mistakes are admit that parts of the grammar are fiendishly difficult. There are many grammatical features that are rarely or never found in any other language. Noun declension is based on the letter than the noun ends in, for instance, nouns that end in a, e or u all decline differently. There are three genders for nouns, and those all decline differently also. Each noun has eight cases and three numbers (singular, dual and plural) so there are 24 different forms for each noun. Counting the different combinations of endings and genders (all subsumed into a sort of noun class system) there are 20 different “noun classes.”

Combining the “noun classes” with the three genders, you end up with 1,440 different regular forms that nouns can take. To make matters worse, some of the cases have different forms themselves. And there are some exceptions to these rules. The I and you pronouns decline differently, but pronouns are simple compared to nouns.

For the verbs, each verb had exist in 10 different forms of tense or mood (one from Vedic Sanskrit is no longer used). There are six tenses and four moods. The six tenses are: one present tense, two future tenses and three past tenses. The moods are: imperative, dubitive (expresses uncertainty), optative (expresses hope or offers a benediction) and a form that expresses the concept if only, then… There are two different conjugations based on who is the beneficiary of the action, you or others. There are ten different classes of verbs, each of which conjugates differently. Additionally, each verb has a different form in the singular, dual and plural and in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons.

Once you get past all of that, you are ready to take on the really difficult parts of the language, participles, noun derivatives and agglutination, each of which is far more complicated than the above. To add insult to injury, Sanskrit has pitch accent.

Nevertheless, the language is so mathematically precise and regular that some have said it is a perfect language for computer programming. There may not be a single irregularity in the whole language.

Sanskrit is rated 5, extremely difficult.

Indo-Iranian
Iranian
Western Iranian
Southwestern Iranian

Iranian

Persian is easier to learn than its reputation, as some say this is a difficult language to learn. In truth, it’s difficulty is only average, and it is one of the easier IE languages to learn. On the plus side, Persian has a very simple grammar and it is quite regular. It has no grammatical gender, no case, no articles, and adjectives never change form. Its noun system is as easy as that of English. The verbal system is a bit harder than English’s, but it is still much easier than that of even the Romance languages. The phonology is very simple.

On the down side, you will have to learn Arabic script. There are many lexical borrowings from Arabic which have no semantic equivalents in Persian.

English: two (native English word) ~ double (Latin borrowing)
Note the semantic transparency in the Latin borrowing.

Persian: do (native Persian word) ~ tasneyat (Arabic borrowing)
Note the utter lack of semantic correlation in the Arabic borrowing.

Some morphology was borrowed as well:

ketābbook
kotobxānah
library (has an Arabic broken plural)

It is a quite easy language to learn at the entry level, but it is much harder to learn at the advanced level, say Sufi poetry, due to difficulty in untangling subtleties of meaning.

Persian gets a 3 rating as average difficulty.

Northwestern Iranian
Kurdish

Kurdish is about as hard to learn as Persian, but it has the added difficulty of pharyngeals, which are very hard for English speakers to make. Like Persian, it is no gender or case, and it also has a tense split ergative system.

Kurdish gets a 4 rating, very hard to learn.

Eastern Iranian
Northeastern

Ossetian is a strange Iranian language that has somehow developed ejectives due to proximity of Caucasian languages which had them. An IE language with ejectives? How odd.

Ossetian gets a 4 rating, very hard to learn.

Indo-European
Romance
Italo-Western
Italo-Dalmatian

Italian is said to be easy to learn, especially if you speak a Romance language or English, but learning to order a pizza and really mastering it are two different things. Foreigners usually do not learn Italian at anywhere near a native level.

For instance, Italian has three types of tenses – simple, compound, and indefinite.

There are also various moods that combine to take tense forms – four subjunctive moods, two conditional moods, two gerund moods, two infinite moods, two participle moods and one imperative mood.

There are eight tenses in the indicative mood – recent past, remote pluperfect, recent pluperfect, preterite (remote past), imperfect, present, future, future perfect. There are four tenses in the subjunctive mood – present, imperfect, preterite and pluperfect. There are two tenses in the conditional mood – present and preterite. There is only one tense in the imperative mood – present. Gerund, participle and infinite moods all take only present and perfect tenses.

Altogether, using these mood-tense combinations, any Italian verb can decline in up to 21 different ways. However, the truth is that most Italians have little understanding of many of these tenses and moods. They do not know how to use them correctly. Hence they are often only used by the most educated people. So an Italian learner does not really need to learn all of these tenses and moods.

Italian has many irregular verbs. There are 600 irregular verbs with all sorts of different irregularities. Nevertheless, it is a Romance language, and Romance has gotten rid of most of its irregularity. The Slavic languages are much more irregular than Romance.

Counterintuitively, some Italian words are masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural. There are many different ways to say the:

Masculine:

il
i
lo
gli
l’

Feminine:

la
le
l’

Few Italians even write Italian 100% correctly. A problem with Italian is that meaning is inferred via intonation. If you mess up the intonation of your utterance, you’re screwed and will not be understood. However, there is no case in Italian, as in all of Romance with the exception of Romanian.

Italian is still easier to learn than French – for evidence see the research that shows Italian children learning to write Italian properly by age six, 6-7 years ahead of French children. This is because Italian orthography is quite sensible and coherent, with good sound-symbol correspondence. Nevertheless, the orthography is not as transparent as Spanish’s.

Italian has phrasal verbs as in English, but the English ones are a lot more difficult. The Italian ones are usually a lot more clear given the verb and preposition involved, whereas with English if you have the verb and the preposition, the phrasal verb does not logically follow from their separate meanings. For instance:

andare fuorito go + out  = get out
andare giù
- to go + down = get down

However, in a similar sense, Italian changes the meaning of verbs via addition of a verbal prefix:

scrivere
ascrivere
descrivere
prescrivere

mettere
smettere
permettere
sottomettere

porre
proporre

portare
supportare

In these cases, you create completely new verbs via the addition of the verbal prefix to the base. Without the prefix, it is a completely different verb.

Like German and French, Italian forms the auxiliary tense with two different words: avere and essere. This dual auxiliary system is more difficult than French’s and much more difficult than German’s.

Italian is somewhat harder to learn than Spanish or Portuguese but not dramatically so. Italian has more irregularities than those two and has different ways of forming plurals, including two different ways of forming plurals that can mean different things depending on the context. This is a leftover from the peculiarities of the Latin neutral gender. The rules about when plurals end in -io or -e are opaque.

In addition, Italian pronouns and verbs are more difficult than in Spanish. Grammar rules in Spanish are simpler and seem more sensible than Italian’s. Italian has the pronominal adverbs ne and se. Their use is not at all intuitive, however, they can be learned with a bit of practice.

Italian pronunciation is a straightforward, but the ce and ci sounds can be problematic. The only sounds that will give you trouble are r, gl and gn.

Italian gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Often thought to be an Italian dialect, Neapolitan is actually a full language all of its own. Neapolitan is said to be easier than Standard Italian. Unlike Italian, Neapolitan conjugation and the vocative are both quite simple and any irregularities that exist seem to follow definite patters.

Neapolitan gets a 2.5 rating, fairly easy.

Western Romance
Gallo-Romance
Oïl
French

French is pretty easy to learn at a simple level, but it’s not easy to get to an advanced level. For instance, the language is full of idioms, many more than your average language, and it’s often hard to figure them out.

One problem is pronunciation. There are many nasal vowels, similar to Portuguese. The eu, u and all of the nasal vowels can be Hell for the learner. There is also a strange uvular r. The dictionary does not necessarily help you, as the pronunciation stated in the dictionary is often at odds with what you will find on the street.

There are phenomena called élision, liaison and enchainement, which is similar to sandhi in which vowels elide between words in fast speech. There are actually rules for this sort of thing, but the rules are complicated, and at any rate, for liaisons at least, they are either obligatory, permitted or forbidden depending on the nature of the words being run together, and it is hard to remember which category various word combinations fall under.

The orthography is also difficult since there are many sounds that are written but no longer pronounced, as in English. Also similar to English, orthography does not line up with pronunciation. For instance, there are 13 different ways to spell the o sound: o, ot, ots, os, ocs, au, aux, aud, auds, eau, eaux, ho and ö.

In addition, spoken French and written French can be quite different. Spoken French uses words and phrases such as c’est foututhe job will not be done, and on which you might never see in written French.

The English language, having no Language Committee, at least has an excuse for the frequently irrational nature of its spelling.

The French have no excuse, since they have a committee that is set up in part to keep the language as orthographically irrational as possible. One of their passions is refusing to change the spelling of words even as pronunciation changes, which is the opposite of what occurs in any sane spelling reform. So French is, like English, frozen in time, and each one has probably gone as long as the other with no spelling reform.

Furthermore, to make matters worse, the French are almost as prickly about writing properly as they are about speaking properly, and you know how they are about foreigners mangling their language.

Despite the many problems of French orthography, there are actually some rules running under the whole mess, and it is quite a bit more sensible than English orthography, which is much more chaotic.

French has a language committee that is always inventing new native French words to keep out the flood of English loans. They have a website up with an official French dictionary showing the proper native coinages to use. Another one for computer technology only is here.

On the plus side, French has a grammar that is neither simple nor difficult; that, combined with a syntax is pretty straightforward and a Latin alphabet make it relatively easy to learn for most Westerners. In addition, the English speaker will probably find more instantly recognizable cognates in French than in any other language.

A good case can be made that French is harder to learn than English. Verbs change much more, and it has grammatical gender. There are 15 tenses in the verb, 18 if you include the pluperfect and the Conditional Perfect 2 (now used only in Literary French) and the past imperative (now rarely used). That is quite a few tenses to learn, but Spanish and Portuguese have similar situations.

A good case can be made that French is harder to learn than Italian in that French children do not learn to write French properly until age 12-13, six years after Italian children.

Its grammar is much more complicated than Spanish’s. Although the subjunctive is more difficult in Spanish than in French, French is much more irregular. Like German, there are two different ways to form the auxiliary tense to have. In addition, French uses particles like y and en that complicate the grammar quite a bit.

French is one of the toughest languages to learn in the Romance family.  In many Internet threads about the hardest language to learn, many language learners list French as their most problematic language.

This is due to the illogical nature of French spelling discussed above such that the spelling of many French words must be memorized as opposed to applying a general sound-symbol correspondence rule. In addition, French uses both acute and grave accents – `´.

French gets a 3 rating for average difficulty.

Ibero-Romance
West-Iberian
Castilian

Spanish is often said to be one of the easiest languages to learn, though this is somewhat controversial. Personally, I’ve been learning it off and on since age six, and I still have problems, though Spanish speakers say my Spanish is good, but Hispanophones, unlike the French, are generous about these things.

It’s quite logical, though the verbs do decline a lot with tense and number, and there are many irregular verbs, similar to French.

Compare English declensions to Spanish declensions of the verb to read.

English

I read
He reads

Spanish

Yo leo
Tu lees
El lee
Nosotros leemos
Vosotros leéis
Ellos leen
leí
leeré
leería
leyese
leyésemos
leyéseis
¿leísteis?
leyéremos
leeréis
pudísteis haber leído
hubiéremos ó hubiésemos leído

Nevertheless, Romance grammar is much more regular than, say, Polish, as Romance has junked most of the irregularity. Spanish has the good grace to lack case, spelling is a piece of cake, and words are spoken just as they are written. However, there is a sort of case left over in the sense that one uses different pronouns when referring to the direct object (accusative) or indirect object (dative).

Spanish is probably the most regular of the Romance languages, surely more regular than French or Portuguese, and probably more regular than Italian or Romanian. Pluralization is very regular compared to say Italian. There are generally only two plurals, -s and -es, and the rules about when to use one or the other are straightforward. There is only one irregular plural:

hipérbaton -> hipérbatos

This is in reference to a literary figure and you would never use this form in day to day speech.

The trilled r in Spanish often hard for language learners to make.

There is a distinction in the verb to be with two different forms, ser and estar. Non-native speakers almost never learn the use these forms as well as a native speaker. The subjunctive is also difficult in Spanish, and L2 learners often struggle with it after decades of learning.

Spanish pronunciation is fairly straightforward, but there are some sounds that cause problems for learners: j, ll, ñ, g, and r.

One good thing about Spanish is Spanish speakers are generally grateful if you can speak any of their language at all, and are very tolerant of mistakes in L2 Spanish speakers.

Spanish is considered to be easier to learn for English speakers than many other languages, including German. This is because Spanish sentences follow English sentence structure more than German sentences do. Compared to other Romance languages, Spanish one of the easiest to learn. It is quite a bit easier than French, moderately easier than Literary Portuguese, and somewhat easier than Italian.

Nevertheless, Hispanophones say that few foreigners end up speaking like natives. Part of the reason for this is that Spanish is very idiomatic and the various forms of the subjunctive make for a wide range of nuance in expression. Even native speakers make many mistakes when using the subjunctive in conditional sentences. The dialects do differ quite a bit more than most people say they do. The dialects in Latin America and Spain are quite different, and in Latin America, the Argentine and Dominican dialects are very divergent.

Spanish gets rated 2.5, fairly easy.

Galician-Portuguese

Portuguese, like Spanish, is also very easy to learn, though Portuguese pronunciation is harder due to the unusual vowels such as nasal diphthongs and the strange palatal lateral ʎ, which many English speakers will mistake for an l.

Of the nasal diphthongs, ão is the hardest to make. In addition, Brazilian (Br) Portuguese has an r that sounds like an h, and l that sounds like a w and a d that sounds like a j, but only some of the time! Fortunately, in European (Eu) Portuguese, all of these sounds sound as you would expect them to.

Portuguese has two r sounds, a tapped r (ɾ) that is often misconceived as a trilled r (present in some British and Irish English dialects) and an uvular r (ʁ) which is truly difficult to make. However, this is the typical r sound found in French, German, Danish and Hebrew, so if you have a background in one of those languages, this should be an easy sound.  L2 learners not only have a hard time making them but also mix them up sometimes.

You can run many vowels together in Portuguese and still make a coherent sentence. See here:

É o a ou o b? [Euaoube]
Is it (is your answer) a or b?

That utterance turns an entire sentence into a single verb via run-on vowels, five of them in a row.

Most Portuguese speakers say that Portuguese is harder to learn than Spanish, especially the variety spoken in Portugal. Eu Portuguese elides many vowels and has more sounds per symbol than Br Portuguese does. Portuguese has both nasal and oral vowels, while Spanish has only oral values. In addition, Portuguese has 12 vowel phonemes to Spanish’s five.

Portuguese has also retained the archaic subjunctive future which has been lost in many Romance languages.

Try this sentence: When I am President, I will change the law.

In Spanish, one uses the future tense as in English:

Cuando yo soy presidente, voy a cambiar la ley.

In Portuguese, you use the subjunctive future, lost in all modern Romance languages and lacking in English:

Quando eu for presidente, vou mudar a lei. – literally, When I may be President, I will possibly change the law.

The future subjunctive causes a lot of problems for Portuguese learners and is one of the main ways that it is harder than Spanish.

There is a form called the personal infinitive in Eu Portuguese in which the infinitive is actually inflected that also causes a lot of problems for Portuguese learners.

Personal infinitive:

para eu cantar      for me to sing
para tu cantares    for you to sing
para el cantar      for him to sing
para nos cantarmos  for us to sing
para eles cantarem  for them to sing

Some sentences with the personal infinitive:

Ficamos em casa do Joao ao irmos ao Porto.
We are staying at John’s when we go to Porto.

Comprei-te um livro para o leres.
I bought you a book for you to read.

In addition, when making the present perfect in Spanish, it is fairly easy with the use have + participle as in English.

Compare I have worked.

In Spanish:

Yo he trabajado.

In Portuguese, there is no perfect to have nor is there any participle, instead, present perfect is formed via a conjugation that varies among verbs:

Eu trabalhei – because Eu hei trabalhado makes no sense in Portuguese.

Portuguese still uses the pluperfect tense quite a bit, a tense that gone out or is heading out of most IE languages. The pluperfect is used a lot less now in Br Portuguese, but it is still very widely used in Eu Portuguese. The pluperfect is used to discuss a past action that took place before another past action. An English translation might be:

He had already gone by the time she showed up.

The italicized part would be the equivalent to the pluperfect in English.

O pássaro voara quando o gato pulou sobre ele para tentar comê-lo.
The bird had (already) flown away when the cat jumped over it trying to eat it.

Even Br Portuguese has its difficulties centering around diglossia. It is written in 1700’s Eu Portuguese, but in speech, the Brazilian vernacular is used. Hence:

I love you

Amo-te or Amo-o [standard, written]
Eu te amo or Eu amo você  [spoken]

We saw them

Vimo-los [standard, written]
A gente viu eles  [spoken]

Even Eu Portuguese native speakers often make mistakes in Portuguese grammar when speaking. Young people writing today in Portuguese are said to be notorious for not writing or speaking it properly. The pronunciation is so complicated and difficult that even foreigners residing in Portugal for a decade never seem to get it quite right. In addition, Portuguese grammar is unimaginably complicated. There are probably more exceptions than there are rules, and even native speakers have issues with Portuguese grammar.

Portuguese gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Eastern Romance

Surprisingly enough, Romanian is said to be one of the harder Romance languages to speak or write properly. Even Romanians often get it wrong. One strange thing about Romanian is that the articles are attached to the noun as suffixes. In all the rest of Romance, articles are free words that precede the noun.

English  telephone the telephone
Romanian telefon   telefonul

Romanian is the only Romance language with case. There are five cases – nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, vocative – but vocative is not often use, and the other four cases combine as two cases: nominative/accusative and dative/genitive merge as single cases.

Nominative-Accusative aeroportul
Genitive-Dative       aeroportului

The genitive is hard for foreigners to learn as is the formation of plurals. The ending changes for no apparent reason when you pluralize a noun and there are also sound changes:

brad (singular)
brazi (plural)

Many native speakers have problems with plurals and some of the declensions. Unlike the rest of Romance which has only two genders, masculine and feminine, Romanian has three genders – masculine, feminine and neuter (the neuter is retained from Latin). However, neuter gender is realized on the surface as masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, unlike languages such as Russian where neuter gender is an entirely different gender.

The pronunciation is not terribly difficult, but it is hard to learn at first. For some odd reason, the Latinization is considered to be terrible.

Romanian is harder to learn than Spanish or Italian and possibly harder than French. However, you can have odd sentences with nothing but vowels as in Maori.

Aia-i oaia ei, o iau eu?
That’s her sheep, should I take it?

It may have the most difficult grammar in Romance. Romanian has considerable Slavic influence.

Romanian gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Germanic
West Germanic
Anglo–Frisian
Anglic

People often say that English is easy to learn, but that is deceptive. For one thing, English has anywhere from 500,000-1 million words (said to be twice as much as any other language – but there are claims that Dutch and Arabic each have 4 million words), and the number increases by the day. Furthermore, most people don’t understand more than 50,000, and a majority might only understand 30,000 words. Yet your average person only uses 5,000 at most.

Actually, the average American or Brit uses a mere 2,500 words. As we might expect, our cultivated Continentals in Europe, such as Spaniards and French, probably have twice the regular vocabulary of English speakers and far more colloquial expressions.

In addition, verbal phrases or phrasal verbs are a nightmare. Phrasal verbs are probably left over from “separable verbs” in German. In most of the rest of IE, these become affixes as in Latin Latin cum-, ad-, pro-, in-, ex-, etc.. In many cases, phrasal verbs can have more than 10 different antagonistic meanings.

Here is a list of 123 phrasal verbs using the preposition up after a verb:

Back up – to go in reverse, often in a vehicle, or to go back over something previously dealt with that was poorly understood in order to understand it better.
Be up – to be in a waking state after having slept. I’ve been up for three hours. Also to be ready to do something challenging. Are you up for it?
Beat up
– to defeat someone thoroughly in a violent physical fight.
Bid up – to raise the price of something, usually at an auction, by calling out higher and higher bids.
Blow up – to explode an explosive or for a social situation to become violent and volatile.
Bone up – to study hard.
Book up – all of the booking seats have been filled for some entertainment or excursion.
Bottle up – to contain feelings until they are at the point of exploding.
Break up – to break into various pieces, or to end a relationship, either personal or between entitles, also to split a large entity, like a large company or a state.
Bruise up – to receive multiple bruises, often serious ones.
Brush up – to go over a previously learned skill.
Build up – to build intensively in an area, such as a town or city, from a previously less well-developed state.
Burn up – burn completely or to be made very angry.
Bust up – to burst out in laughter.
Buy up – to buy all or most all of something.
Call up – to telephone someone. Or to be ordered to appear in the military. The army called up all males aged 18-21 and ordered them to show up at the nearest recruiting office.
Catch up
– to reach a person or group that one had lagged behind earlier, or to take care of things, often hobbies, that had been put off by lack of time.
Chat up – to talk casually with a goal in mind, usually seduction or at least flirtation.
Cheer up – to change from a downcast mood to a more positive one.
Chop up – to cut into many, often small, pieces.
Clam up – to become very quiet suddenly and not say a thing.
Clean up – to make an area thoroughly tidy or to win completely and thoroughly.
Clear up – for a storm to dissipate, for a rash to go away, for a confusing matter to become understandable.
Close up – to close, also to end business hours for a public business.
Come up – to approach closely, to occur suddenly or to overflow.
Cook up – to prepare a meal or to configure a plan, often of a sly, ingenious or devious nature. They cooked up a scheme to swindle the boss.
Crack up
– to laugh, often heartily.
Crank up - elevate the volume.
Crawl up – to crawl inside something.
Curl up – to rest in a curled body position, either alone or with another being.
Cut up – to shred or to make jokes, often of a slapstick variety.
Do up – apply makeup to someone, often elaborately.
Dream up – to imagine a creative notion, often an elaborate one.
Dress up – to dress oneself in formal attire.
Drive up – to drive towards something, and then stop, or to raise the price of something by buying it intensively.
Drum up – to charge someone with wrongdoing, usually criminal, usually by a state actor, usually for false reasons.
Dry up – to dessicate.
Eat up – implies eating something ravenously or finishing the entire meal without leaving anything left.
End up – to arrive at some destination after a long winding, often convoluted journey either in space or in time.
Face up – to quit avoiding your problems and meet them head on.
Feel up – to grope someone sexually.
Get up – to awaken or rise from a prone position.
Give up – to surrender, in war or a contest, or to stop doing something trying or unpleasant that is yielding poor results, or to die, as in give up the ghost.
Grow up – to attain an age or maturity or to act like a mature person, often imperative.
Hang up – to place on a hanger or a wall, to end a phone call.
Hike up – to pull your clothes up when they are drifting down on your body.
Hit up - to visit someone casually or to ask for a favor or gift, usually small amounts of money.
Hold up – to delay, to ask someone ahead of you to wait, often imperative. Also a robbery, usually with a gun and a masked robber.
Hook up – to have a casual sexual encounter or to meet casually for a social encounter, often in a public place; also to connect together a mechanical devise or plug something in.
Hurry up - imperative, usually an order to quit delaying and join the general group or another person in some activity, often when they are leaving to go to another place.
Keep up – to maintain on a par with the competition without falling behind.
Kiss up – to mend a relationship after a fight.
Knock up – to impregnate.
Lay up – to be sidelined due to illness or injury for a time.
Let up – to ease off of someone or something, for a storm to dissipate, to stop attacking someone or s.t.
Lick up – to consume all of a liquid.
Light up – to set s.t. on fire or to smile suddenly and broadly.
Lighten up – to reduce the downcast or hostile seriousness of the mood of a person or setting.
Listen up – imperative – to order someone to pay attention, often with threats of aggression if they don’t comply.
Live up – to enjoy life.
Lock up – to lock securely, often locking various locks, or to imprison, or for an object or computer program to be frozen or jammed and unable to function.
Look up – to search for an item of information in some sort of a database, such as a phone book or dictionary. Also to admire someone.
Make up – to make amends, to apply cosmetics to one’s face or to invent a story.
Man up – to elevate oneself to manly behaviors when one is slacking and behaving in an unmanly fashion.
Mark up – to raise the price of s.t.
Measure up – in a competition, for an entity to match the competition.
Meet up – to meet someone or a group for a get meeting or date of some sort.
Mess up – to fail or to confuse and disarrange s.t. so much that it is bad need or reparation.
Mix up – to confuse, or to disarrange contents in a scattered fashion so that it does not resemble the original.
Mop up – mop a floor or finish off the remains of an enemy army or finalize a military operation.
Move up – to elevate the status of a person or entity in competition with other entities- to move up in the world.
Open up – when a person has been silent about something for a long time, as if holding a secret, finally reveals the secret and begins talking.
Own up – to confess to one’s sins under pressure and reluctantly.
Pass up - to miss an opportunity, often a good one.
Patch up – to put together a broken thing or relationship.
Pay up – to pay, usually a debt, often imperative to demand payment of a debt, to pay all of what one owes so you don’t owe anymore.
Pick up – to grasp an object and lift it higher, to seduce someone sexually or to acquire a new skill, usually rapidly.
Play up – to dramatize.
Pop up – for s.t. to appear suddenly, often out of nowhere.
Put up – to hang, to tolerate, often grudgingly, or to put forward a new image.
Read up – to read intensively as in studying.
Rev up – to turn the RPM’s higher on a stationary engine.
Ring up – to telephone someone or to charge someone on a cash register.
Rise up – for an oppressed group to arouse and fight back against their oppressors.
Roll up – to roll s.t. into a ball, to drive up to someone in a vehicle or to arrest all the members of an illegal group. The police rolled up that Mafia cell quickly.
Run up
– to tally a big bill, often foolishly or approach s.t. quickly.
Shake up – to upset a paradigm, to upset emotionally.
Shape up – usually imperative command ordering someone who is disorganized or slovenly to live life in a more orderly and proper fashion.
Shoot up – to inject, usually illegal drugs, or to fire many projectiles into a place with a gun.
Show up – to appear somewhere, often unexpectedly.
Shut up – to silence, often imperative, fighting words.
Sit up – to sit upright.
Slip up – to fail.
Speak up – to begin speaking after listening for a while, often imperative, a request for a silent person to say what they wish to say.
Spit up – to vomit, usually describing a child vomiting up its food.
Stand up – to go from a sitting position to a standing one quickly.
Start up – to initialize an engine or a program, to open a new business to go back to something that had been terminated previously, often a fight; a recrudescence.
Stay up – to not go to bed.
Stick up – to rob someone, usually a street robbery with a weapon, generally a gun.
Stir up – stir rapidly, upset a calm surrounding or scene or upset a paradigm.
Stop up – to block the flow of liquids with some object(s).
Straighten up – to go from living a dissolute or criminal life to a clean, law abiding one.
Suck up – to ingratiate oneself, often in an obsequious fashion.
Suit up – to get dressed in a uniform, often for athletics.
Sweep up – to arrest all the members of an illegal group, often a criminal gang.
Take up – to cohabit with someone – She has taken up with him. Or to develop a new skill, to bring something to a higher elevation, to cook something at a high heat to where it is assimilated.
Talk up – to try to convince someone of something by discussing it dramatically and intensively.
Tear up – to shred.
Think up – to conjure up a plan, often an elaborate or creative one.
Throw up - to vomit.
Touch up – to apply the final aspects of a work nearly finished.
Trip up – to stumble mentally over s.t. confusing.
Turn up – to increase volume or to appear suddenly somewhere.
Vacuum up – to vacuum.
Use up – to finish s.t. completely so there is no more left.
Wait up – to ask other parties to wait for someone who is coming in a hurry.
Wake up – to awaken.
Walk up – to approach someone or something.
Wash up – to wash.
Whip up – to cook a meal quickly or for winds to blow wildly.
Work up – to exercise heavily, until you sweat to work up a sweat. Or to generate s.t. a report or s.t. of that nature done rather hurriedly in a seat of the pants and unplanned fashion. We quickly worked up a formula for dealing with the matter.
Wrap up
– To finish something up, often something that is taking too long. Come on, let us wrap this up and getting it over with. Also, to bring to a conclusion that ties the ends together. The story wraps up with a scene where they all get together and sing a song.
Write up
– often to write a report of reprimand or a violation. The officer wrote him for having no tail lights.

Here are  phrasal verbs using the preposition down:

Be down  – to be ready to ready to do something daring, often s.t. bad, illegal or dangerous, such as a fight or a crime. Are you down?
Burn down
– reduce s.t. to ashes, like a structure.
Get down – to have fun and party, or to lie prone and remain there. Get down on the floor.
Drink down
to consume all of s.t.
Kick down – Drug slang meaning to contribute your drugs to a group drug stash so others can consume them with you, to share your drugs with others. Often used in a challenging sense.
Party down – to have fun and party
Pat down – to frisk.
Take down – to tackle.
Cook down – to reduce the liquid content in a cooked item.
Run down - to run over something, to review a list or to attack someone verbally for a long time.
Play down – to de-emphasize.
Write down – to write on a sheet of paper

There are figures of speech and idioms everywhere (some estimate that up to 20% of casual English speech is idiomatic), and it seems impossible to learn them all. In fact, few second language learners get all the idioms down pat.

The spelling is insane and hardly follows any rules at all. The English spelling system in some ways is frozen at about the year 1500 or so. The pronunciation has changed but the spelling has not. Careful studies have shown that English-speaking children take longer to read than children speaking other languages (Finnish, Greek and various Romance and other Germanic languages) due to the difficulty of the spelling system. Romance languages were easier to read than Germanic ones.

This may be why English speakers are more likely to be diagnosed dyslexic than speakers of other languages. The dyslexia still exists if you speak a language with good sound-symbol correspondence, but it’s covered up so much by the ease of the orthography that it seems invisible, and the person can often function well. But for a dyslexic, trying to read English is like walking into a minefield.

Letters can make many different sounds, a consequence of the insane spelling system. A single sound can be spelled in many different ways: e can be spelled e, ea, ee, ei, eo, ey, ae, i, ie, and y. The k sound can spelled as c, cc, ch, ck, k, x, and q.

The rules governing the use of the indefinite, definite and zero article are opaque and possibly don’t even exist. There are synonyms for almost every word in a sentence, and the various shades of meaning can be difficult to discern. In addition, quite a few words have many different meanings. There are strange situations like read and read, which are pronounced differently and mean two different things.

English word derivation is difficult to get your mind around because of the dual origins of the English language in both Latin/French and German.

See and hear and perceptible and audible mean the same thing, but the first pair is derived from German, and the second pair is derived from Latin.

English word derivation is irregular due for the same reason:

assumeassumption (Latin)
childchildish (German)
buildbuilding (German)

In English we have at least 12 roots with the idea of two in them:

two
twenty
twelve
second
double
dual
twin
pair
half
both
dupl-
semi-
hemi
bi-
di-

However, English regular verbs generally have only a few forms in their normal paradigm. In this arrangement, there are only five forms of the verb in general use for the overwhelming majority of verbs:

present except 3rd singular  steal
3rd person singular          steals
progressive                  stealing
past                         stole
perfect                      stolen

Even a language like Spanish has many more basic forms than that. However, coming from an inflected language, the marking of only the 3rd singular and not marking anything else may seem odd.

The complicated part of English verbs is not their inflection – minimal as it is – but instead lies in the large number of irregular verbs.

There is also the oddity of the 2nd person being the same in both the singular and the plural – you. Some dialects such as US Southern English do mark the plural – you all or y’all.

English prepositions are notoriously hard, and few second language learners get them down right because they seem to obey no discernible rules.

One problem that English learners complain of is differential uses of have.

  1. Perfect tense. I have done it.
  2. Deontic (must). I have to do it.
  3. Causative. I had it done.

While English seems simple at first – past tense is easy, there is little or no case, no grammatical gender, little mood, etc., that can be quite deceptive. In European countries like Croatia, it’s hard to find a person who speaks English with even close to native speaker competence.

There are quite a few English dialects – over 100 have been recorded in London alone.

The problem with English is that it’s a mess! There are languages with very easy grammatical rules like Indonesian and languages with very hard grammatical rules like Arabic. English is one of those languages that is simply chaotic. There are rules, but there are exceptions everywhere and exceptions to the exceptions. Grammatically, it’s disaster area. It’s hard to know where to start.

However, it is often said that English has no grammatical rules. Even native speakers make this comment because that is how English seems due to its highly irregular nature. Most English native speakers, even highly educated ones, can’t name one English grammatical rule. Just to show you that English does have rules though, I will list some of them.

*Indicates an ungrammatical form.

Adjectives appear before the noun in noun phrases:

Small dogs barked.
*Dogs small barked.

Adjectives are numerically invariant:

the small dog
the small dogs
The dog is small.
The dogs are small.

Intensifiers appear before both attributive and predicative adjectives:

The very small dog barked.
*The small very dog barked.

The dog was very small.
*The dog was small very.

Attributive adjectives can have complements:

The dog was scared.
The dog was scared of cats.

But predicative adjectives cannot:

The scared dog barked.
*The scared of cats dog barked.

Articles, quantifiers, etc. appear before the adjective (and any intensifier) in a noun phrase:

The very small dog barked.
*Very the small dog barked.
*Very small the dog barked.

Every very small dog barked.
*Very every small dog barked.
*Very small every dog barked.

Relative clauses appear after the noun in a noun phrase:

The dog that barked.
*The that barked dog.

The progressive verb form is the bare form with the suffix -ing, even for the most irregular verbs in the language:

being
having
doing

*wasing
*aring
*aming

The infinitive verb form is to followed by the bare form, even for the most irregular verbs in the language:

to be
to have
to do

*to was
*to are
*to am.

The imperative verb form is the bare form, even for the most irregular verb in the language:

Be!
Have!
Do!

*Was!
*Are!
*Am!

All 1st person present, 2nd person present, and plural present verb forms are equivalent to the bare form, except for to be.

All past tense verb forms of a given verb are the same regardless of person and number, except for to be.

Question inversion is optional:

You are leaving?
Are you leaving?

But when inversion does occur in a wh-question, a wh-phrase is required to be fronted:

You’re seeing what?
What are you seeing?

*Are you seeing what?

Wh-fronting is required to affect an entire noun phrase, not just the wh-word:

You are going to which Italian restaurant?
Which Italian restaurant are you going to?

*Which are you going to Italian restaurant?
*Which Italian are you going to restaurant?
*Which restaurant are you going to Italian?

Wh-fronting only happens once, never more:

What are you buying from which store
Which store are you buying what from?

*What which store are you buying from?
*Which store what are you buying from?

The choice of auxiliary verb in compound past sentences does not depend on the choice of main verb:

I have eaten.
I have arrived.

*I am eaten.
*I am arrived.

cf. French

J’ai mangé.
Je suis arrivé.

English can be seen as an inverted pyramid in terms of ease of learning. The basics are easy, but it gets a lot more difficult as you progress in your learning.

While it is relatively easy to speak it well enough to be more or less understandable most of the time, speaking it correctly is often not possible for a foreigner even after 20 years of regular use.

English only gets a 2.5 rating , somewhat difficult.

High German

German’s status is controversial. It’s long been considered hard to learn, but many learn it fairly easily.

Pronunciation is straightforward, but there are some problems with the müde, the Ach, and the two ch sounds in Geschichte. Although the first one is really an sch instead of a ch, English speakers lack an sch, so they will just see that as a ch. Further, there are specific rules about when to use the ss (or sz as Germans say) or hard s. The r in German is a quite strange ʁ, and of common languages, only French has a similar r. The çχ and ‘ü sounds can be hard to make. Consonant clusters like Herkunftswörterbuch or Herbstpflanze can be be difficult. German permits the hard to pronounce shp and shtr consonant clusters. Of the vowels, ö and ü seem to cause the most problems.

German grammar is quite complex. It recently scored as one of the weirdest languages in Europe on a study, and it also makes it onto worst grammars lists. The main problem is that everything is irregular. Nouns, plurals, determiners, adjectives, superlatives, verbs, participles – they are all irregular. It seems that everything in the language is irregular.

There are six different forms of the depending on the noun case:

der
die
das
den
dem
des

but 16 different slots to put the six forms in, and the gender system is irrational. In a more basic sense and similar to Danish, there are three basic forms of the:

der
die
das

Each one goes with a particular noun, and it’s not very clear what the rules are.

One problem with German syntax is that the verb, verbs or parts of verbs doesn’t occur until the end of the sentence. This sentence structure is known as V2 syntax, and it is quite alien for English speakers. There are verbal prefixes, and they can be modified in all sorts of ways that change meanings in subtle ways. There are dozens of different declension types for verbs, similar to Russian and Irish. There are also quite a few irregular verbs that do not fit into any of the paradigms.

German also has Schachtelsätze, box clauses, which are like clauses piled into other clauses. In addition, subclauses use SOV word order. Whereas in Romance languages you can often throw words together into a sentence and still be understood if not grammatical, in German, you must learn the sentence structure – it is mandatory and there is no way around it. The syntax is very rigid but at least very regular.

German case is also quite regular. The case exceptions can be almost counted on one hand. However, look at the verb:

helfenhelp

in which the direct object is in dative rather than the expected absolutive.

An example of German case (and case in general) is here:

The leader of the group gives the boy a dog.

In German, the sentence is case marked with the four different German cases:

Der Führer (nominative)
der Gruppe
(genitive)
gibt dem Jungen (dative)
einen Hund (accusative).

There are three genders, masculine, feminine and neutral. Yet it is difficult to tell which gender any particular noun is based on looking at it, for instance,  petticoat is masculine! Any given noun inflects via the four cases and the three genders. Furthermore, the genders change between masculine and feminine in the same noun for no logical reason. Gender seems to be one of the main problems that German learners have with the language. Figuring out which word gets which gender must simply be memorized as there are no good clues.

Phonology also changes strangely as the number of the noun changes:

Haushouse (singular)
Haeuserhouses (plural with umlaut)

But to change the noun to a diminutive, you add -chen:

Haueschen – little house (singular, yet has the umlaut of the plural)

This is part of a general pattern in Germanic languages of roots changing the vowel as verbs, adjectives and nouns with common roots change from one into the other. For instance, in English we have the following vowel changes in these transformed roots:

foul filth
tell tale
long length
full fill
hot  heat
do   does

Much of this has gone out of English, but it is still very common in German. Dutch is in between English and German.

German:

For sick, we have:

krank      sick
kränker    sicker
kränklich  sickly
krankhaft  pathological
kranken an to suffer from
kränken    to hurt
kränkeln   to be ailing
erkranken  to fall ill

For good, we have:

gut     good
Güte    goodness
Gut     a good
Güter   goods
gütig   kind
gütlich amicable

German also has a complicated preposition system.

German also has a vast vocabulary, the fourth largest in the world. This is either positive or negative depending on your viewpoint. Language learners often complain about learning languages with huge vocabularies, but as a native English speaker, I’m happy to speak a language with a million words. There’s a word for just about everything you want to say about anything, and then some!

On the plus side, word formation is quite regular.

Pollution is Umweltverschmutzung. It consists, logically, of two words, Umwelt and Verschmutzung, which mean environment and dirtying.

In English, you have three words, environment, dirtying and pollution, the third one, the combination of the first two, has no relation to its semantic roots in the first two words.

Nevertheless, this has its problems, since it’s not simple to figure out how the words are stuck together into bigger words, and meanings of morphemes can take years to figure out.

German has phrasal verbs as in English, but the meaning is often somewhat clear if you take the morphemes apart and look at their literal meanings. For instance:

vorschlagento suggest parses out to er schlägt vorto hit forth

whereas in English you have phrasal verbs like to get over with which even when separated out, don’t make sense literally.

German, like French and Italian, has two auxiliary tenses - habe and bin. However, their use is quite predictable and the tenses are not inflected so the dual auxiliary is easier in German than in French or especially Italian.

Reading German is actually much easier than speaking it, since to speak it correctly, you need to memorize not only genders but also adjectives and articles.

German is not very inflected, and the inflection that it does take is more regular than many other languages. Furthermore, German orthography is phonetic, and there are no silent letters.

German, like Dutch, is being flooded with English loans. While this helpful to the English speaker, others worry that the language is at risk of turning into English.

Learning German can be seen as a pyramid. It is very difficult to grasp the basics, but once you do that, it gets increasingly easy as the language follows relatively simple rules and many words are created from other words via compound words, prefixes and suffixes.

Rating German is hard to do. It doesn’t seem to deserve to a very high rating, but it makes a lot of people’s “hardest language you ever tried to learn” list for various reasons.

German gets a 3.5 rating, moderately difficult.

Low Franconian
Dutch

While Dutch syntax is no more difficult than English syntax, Dutch is still harder to learn than English due to the large number of rules used in both speaking and writing. The Dutch say that few foreigners learn to speak Dutch well. Part of the problem is that some words have no meaning at all in isolation (meaning is only derived via a phrase or sentence). Word order is somewhat difficult because it is quite rigid. In particular, there are complex and very strange rules about the order of verbs in verbal clusters. It helps if you know German as the rule order is similar, but Dutch word order is harder than German word order. Foreigners often seem to get the relatively lax Dutch rules about word order wrong in long sentences.

Verbs can be difficult. For instance, there are no verbs get and move. Instead, get and move each have about a dozen different verbs in Dutch. A regular Dutch verb has six different forms.

Dutch spelling is difficult, and most Dutch people cannot even spell Dutch correctly. There are only two genders – common and neuter – as opposed to three in German – feminine, neuter and masculine. In Dutch, the masculine and feminine merged in the common gender. But most Dutch speakers cannot tell you the gender of any individual word, in part because there are few if any clues to the gender of any given noun.

There are remnants of the three gender system in that the Dutch still use masculine/feminine for some nouns. In the Netherlands now, most Dutch speakers are simply using masculine (common) for most nouns other than things that are obviously feminine like the words mother and sister.

However, in Belgium, where people speak Flemish, not Dutch, most people still know the genders of words. Not only that but the 3-gender system with masculine, feminine and neuter remains in place in Flemish. In addition, in Flemish, the definite article still makes an obvious distinction between masculine and feminine, so it is easy to figure out the gender of a noun:

ne man, nen boom, nen ezel, nen banaan (masculine)
een vrouw, een koe, een wolk, een peer (feminine)

In addition, most Dutch speakers cannot tell you what pronoun to use in the 3rd person singular when conjugating a verb.

This is because there are two different systems in use for conjugating the 3sing.

The basic paradigm is:


hij      he
zij (ze) she
het      it

System 1
male persons    hij
female persons  zij
neuter words    het
animals         hij, unless noun = neuter
objects         hij, "       "
abstractions    zij, "       "
substances      hij, "       "

System 2
male persons      hij
female persons    zij
all animals       hij
all objects       hij
all abstractions  zij
all substances    het

For instance, melk is a common noun. Under system 1, it would be hij. But under system 2, it would be het because it is a substance.

The er word is tricky in Dutch. Sometimes it is translated as English there, but more often then not it is simply not translated in English translations because there is no good translation for it. There are two definite articles, de and het, and they are easily confused.

Dutch has something called modal particles, the meanings of which are quite obscure.

Some say Dutch is irregular, but the truth is that more than Dutch has a multitude of very complex rules, rules that are so complicated that is hard to even figure them out, much less understand them. Nevertheless, Dutch has 200 irregular verbs.

In some respects, Dutch is a more difficult language than English. For instance, in English, one can simply say:

The tree is in the garden.

But in Dutch (and also in German) you can’t say that. You have to be more specific. What is the tree doing in the garden? Is it standing there? Is it lying on the grass? You have to say not only that the tree is in the garden, but what it is doing there.

In Dutch, you need to say:

Daar ligt een boom in de tuin.
The tree is standing in the garden.

Daar ligt een boom in de tuin.
The tree is lying in the garden.

Dutch pronunciation is pretty easy, but the ui, euij, au, ou, eeuw and uu sounds can be hard to make. Dutch speakers say only Germans learn to pronounce the ui correctly.

Dutch was listed as one of the top weirdest languages in Europe in a recent study.

Dutch is almost being buried in a flood of English loans. While this helps the English speaker, others worry that the Dutch nature of the language is at risk.

Dutch seems to be easier to learn than German. Dutch has fewer cases, thus fewer articles and and adjective endings. There are two main ways of pluralizing in Dutch: adding -‘s and adding -en. Unfortunately, in German, things are much more complex than that. Dutch has only two genders (and maybe just a trace of a third) but German definitely has three genders. Verb conjugation is quite similar in both languages, but it is a bit easier in Dutch. Word order is the same: complex in both languages. Both languages are equally complex in terms of pronunciation. Both have the difficult ø and y vowels.

Dutch gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Afrikaans is just Dutch simplified.

Where Dutch has 200 irregular verbs, Afrikaans has only six. A Dutch verb has six different forms, but Afrikaans has only two. Afrikaans has two fewer tense than Dutch. Dutch has two genders, and Afrikaans has only one. Surely Afrikaans ought to be easier to learn than Dutch.

Afrikaans gets a 2 rating, very easy to learn.

North Germanic
West Scandinavian

Icelandic is very hard to learn, much harder than Norwegian, German or Swedish. Part of the problem is pronunciation. The grammar is harder than German grammar, and there are almost no Latin-based words in it. The vocabulary is quite archaic. Modern loans are typically translated into Icelandic equivalents rather than borrowed fully into Icelandic.

There are four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive – as in German – and there are many exceptions to the case rules, or “quirky case,” as it is called. In quirky case, case can be marked on verbs, prepositions and and adjectives. The noun morphology system is highly irregular. Articles can be postfixed and inflected and added to the noun. In fact, Icelandic in general is highly irregular, not just the nouns.

Verbs are modified for tense, mood, person and number, as in many other IE languages (this is almost gone from English). There are up to ten tenses, but most of these are formed with auxiliaries as in English. Icelandic also modifies verbs for voice – active, passive and medial. Furthermore, there are four different kinds of verbs – strong, weak, reduplicating and irregular, with several conjugation categories in each division.  Many verbs just have to be memorized.

Adjectives decline in an astounding 130 different ways, but many of these forms are the same.

The language is generally SVO, but since there is so much case-marknig, in poetry all possibilities – SVO, SOV, VSO, VOS, OSV and OVS – are allowed. There is also something odd called “long distance reflexives,” which I do not understand.

In addition, Icelandic has the typical Scandinavian problem of a nutty orthography.

Icelandic verbs are very regular but the sounds change so much, especially the vowels, that the whole situation gets confusing pretty fast. In addition, there are three different verbal paradigms depending on the ending of the verb:

-er
-ir
-re

Icelandic verbs are commonly cited as some of the hardest verb systems around, at least in Europe. Even Icelandic people say their own verbs are difficult.

Icelandic has a voiceless lateral l. This can be a hard sound to make for many learners, especially in the middle of a word. In addition, there are two alveolar trills (the rolled r sound in Spanish), and one of them is voiced while the other is voiceless. Learners say they have problems with both of these sounds. In addition to voiceless l‘s and r‘s, Icelandic also has four voiceless nasals – , , ɲ̊, and ŋ̊ – the n, m, ny (as in Spanish nina), and ng sounds.

There are also contrasts between aspirated and nonaspirated stops including the odd palatal stops and c. In addition, there is a strange voiceless palatal fricative ç (similar to the h in English huge). In addition, Icelandic has a hard to pronounce four consonant cluster strj- that occurs at the beginning of a word.

Icelandic does have the advantage of being one of the few major languages with no significant dialects, so this is a plus. Icelandic has been separated from the rest of Scandinavian for 1,100 years. Icelandic is spoken over a significant region, much of which has inhabited places separated by large expanses of uninhabitable land such as impassable glaciers, volcanoes, lava flows,  geysers and almost no food. How Icelandic managed to not develop dialects in this situation is mysterious.

Icelandic has traditionally been considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.

Icelandic gets a 5 rating, extremely difficult to learn.

Faroese is said to be even harder to learn than Icelandic, with some very strange vowels not found in other North Germanic languages.

Faroese has strong, weak and irregular verbs. It also has a strange supine tense.

The Faroese orthography is as irrational as Icelandic’s. There are so many rules to learn to be able to write Faroese properly. Faroese, like Icelandic, prefers to coin new words rather than borrow words wholesale into its language. Therefore the English speaker will not see a lot of obvious borrowings to help them out. Some argue against this nativization process, but maybe it is better than being buried in English loans like German and Dutch are at the moment.

computertelda (derived from at telja – to count. Icelandic has a similar term.
helicoptertyrla (derived from tyril – a spinning tool for making wool or loom.
musictónleikur
pocket calculator
telduhvølpur (Lit. computer puppy), roknimaskina (Lit. calculating machine)

Faroese has the advantage of having no verbal aspect, and verbal declension does not differ much according to person. However, Faroese has a case system like Icelandic.

Faroese gets a 5 rating,extremely difficult.

Norwegian is fairly easy to learn, and Norwegian is sometimes touted as the easiest language on Earth to learn for an English speaker.

This is confusing because Danish is described below as a more difficult language to learn, and critics say that Danish and Norwegian are the same, so they should have equal difficulty. But only one Norwegian writing system is almost the same as Danish the Danish writing system. Danish pronunciation is quite a bit different from Norwegian, and this is where the problems come in.

Nevertheless, Norwegian dialects can be a problem. Foreigners get off the plane having learned a bit of Norwegian and are immediately struck by the strangeness of the multiplicity of dialects, which for the most part are easy for Norwegians to understand, but can be hard for foreigners.

There is also the problematic en and et alternation, as discussed with Danish. Norwegian has an irrational orthographic system, like Swedish, with silent letters and many insensible sounds, both consonants and vowels. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform. It has the additional orthographic issues of two different writing systems and a multitude of dialects. Norwegian, like Danish and Swedish, has a huge vowel inventory, one of the larger ones on Earth. It can be confusing and difficult to make all of those odd vowel sounds: 18 contrasting simple vowels, nine long and nine short , , ɛː, ɑː, , , ʉ̟ː, , øː, ɪ, ɛ, a, ɔ, ʊ, ɵ, ʏ and œ.

Norwegian has very little inflection in its words, but the syntax is very difficult. Norwegian also has “tonemes” which distinguish between homophones.

tankenthe tank
tanken
the thought

have two different meanings, even though the stress and pronunciation are the same. The words are distinguished by a toneme.

For some reason, Norwegian scored very high on a study of weirdest languages on Earth, but Swedish and Danish also got high scores.

However, Norwegian is a very regular language.

Norwegian gets a 2 rating, moderately easy to learn.

East Scandinavian

Danish is a harder language to learn than one might think. It’s not that hard to read or even write, but it’s quite hard to speak. However, like English, Danish has a non-phonetic orthography, so this can be problematic. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform, so there are many silent letters and sounds, both vowels and consonants, that make no sense. Danish makes it on lists of most irrational orthographies of all.

In addition, there are d words where the d is silent and other d words where it is pronounced, and though the rules are straightforward, it’s often hard for foreigners to get the hang of this. The d in hund is silent, for instance. In addition, the b, d,  and g sounds are somehow voiceless in many environments, which must be a hard sound to make. There are also the strange labiodental glide and alveopalatal fricative sounds. In certain environments, d, g, v, and r turn into vowels.

There are three strange vowels that are not in English, represented by the letters æ, ø and å. They are all present in other Scandinavian languages – æ is present in Icelandic and Norwegian, ø is part of Norwegian, and å is part of Norwegian and Swedish, but English speakers will have problems with them. In addition, Danish has creaky-voiced vowels, which is very strange for an IE language. Danish language learners often report having a hard time pronouncing Danish vowels or even telling one apart from the other. Danish makes it onto lists of the wildest phonologies on Earth,and it made it high on a list of weirdest languages on Earth.

One advantage of all of the Scandinavian languages is that their basic vocabulary (the vocabulary needed to converse at a basic level and be understood) is fairly limited. In other words, without learning a huge number of words, it is possible to have a basic conversation in these languages. This is in contrast to Chinese, where you have to learn a lot of vocabulary just to converse at a basic level.

As with Maltese and Gaelic, there is little correlation between how a Danish word is written and how it is pronounced.

Pronunciation of Danish is difficult. Speech is very fast and comes out in a continuous stream that elides entire words. Vowels in the middle and at the end of words are seldom expressed. There are nine vowel characters, and each one can be pronounced in five or six different ways. There is nearly a full diphthong set, and somehow pharyngealization as accent is used as an accent. Danish has a huge set of vowels, one of the largest sets on Earth. The sheer number of vowels is one reason that Danish is so hard to pronounce. Danish has 32 vowels, 15 short, 13 long and four unstressed: ɑ, ɑː, a, æ, æː, ɛ, ɛː, e, e̝ː, i, , o, , ɔ, ɔː, u, , ø, øː, œ, œː, ɶ, ɶː, y, , ʌ, ɒ, ɒː, ə, ɐ, ɪ, and ʊ.

There is also a strange phonetic element called a stød, which is a very short pause slightly before the vowel(s) in a word. This element is very hard for foreigners to get right.

Just about any word has at least four meanings, and can serve as noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Danish has two genders (feminine and masculine have merged into common gender), and whether a noun is common or neuter is almost impossible to predict and simply must be memorized.

Suggesting that Danish may be harder to learn than Swedish or Norwegian, it’s said that Danish children speak later than Swedish or Norwegian children. One study comparing Danish children to Croatian tots found that the Croat children had learned over twice as many words by 15 months as the Danes. According to the study:

The University of Southern Denmark study shows that at 15 months, the average Danish toddler has mastered just 80 words, whereas a Croatian tot of the same age has a vocabulary of up to 200 terms.

[...] According to the study, the primary reason Danish children lag behind in language comprehension is because single words are difficult to extract from Danish’s slurring together of words in sentences. Danish is also one of the languages with the most vowel sounds, which leads to a ‘mushier’ pronunciation of words in everyday conversation.

Danish gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Swedish has the disadvantage of having hundreds of irregular verbs. Swedish also has some difficult phonemes, especially vowels, since Swedish has nine vowels, not including diphthongs. Pronunciation of the ö and å (and sometimes ä, which has a different sound) can be difficult. Swedish also has pitch accent. Pronunciation is probably the hardest part of Swedish.

Words can take either an -en or an -ett ending, and there don’t seem to be any rules about which one to use. The same word can have a number of different meanings.

Swedish, like German, has gender, but Swedish gender is quite predictable by looking at the word, unlike German, where deciding which of the three genders to use seems like a spin of the Roulette wheel.

Word order is comparatively free in that one can write a single sentence multiple ways while changing the meaning somewhat. So I didn’t know that. can be written the following ways:

Det visste jag inte.
Det visste inte jag.
Jag visste inte det.
Jag visste det inte.
Inte visste jag det.

For some reason, Swedish got a very high score on a study of the weirdest languages on Earth.

The different ways of writing that sentence depend on context. In particular, the meaning varies in terms of topic and focus.

There is a 3-way contrast in deixis:

den
den här
den där

Swedish also has the same problematic phrasal verbs that English does:

att slå -  beat/hit

slå av     turn off
slå fast   settle/establish
slå igen   close/shut
slå igenom become known/be a success
slå in     wrap in, come true
slå ner    beat down
slå på     turn on
slå runt   overturn
slå till   hit/strike/slap, strike a deal
slå upp    open (a book), look s.t. up

Swedish orthography is difficult in learning how to write it, since the spelling seems illogical, like in English. The sj sound in particular can be spelled many different ways. However, Swedish spelling is probably easier than English since Swedish lacks a phonemic schwa, and schwa is the source of many of the problems in English. Where allophonic schwa does appear, it seems to be predictable.

One nice thing about Swedish grammar is that it is similar to English grammar in many ways.

Swedish can be compared to a tube in terms of ease of learning. The basics are harder to learn than in English, but instead of getting more difficult as one progresses as in English, the difficulty of Swedish stays more or less the same from basics to the most complicated. But learning to speak Swedish is easy enough compared to other languages.

Swedish gets a 2.5 rating, easy to average difficulty.

Celtic

Any Gaelic language is tough. Celtic languages are harder to learn than German or Russian.

Insular Celtic
Goidelic

Old Irish was the version of Irish written from 650 to 900 AD. It was used only by the educated and aristocratic elites. The rest of the population spoke a simplified version that was already on its way to becoming Middle Irish.

The verbal system in Old Irish is one of most complicated of all of the classical languages.

The persons are 1st, 2nd, 3rd and plural. The tenses are present, preterite, imperfect, perfect, future and an odd tense called secondary future. There are imperative and subjunctive moods. There is no infinitive – instead it is formed rather erratically as a verbal noun derived from the verb. This gerund undergoes 10 different declensions and often looks little like the verb it is derived from.

cingidto step -> céimstepping

There are both strong and weak verbs, and each has both simple and compound forms.

Bizarrely, every verb has not one but two different paradigms – the conjunct and the absolute. You use the conjunct when the verb is preceded by a conjunct particle such as (not) or in (the question particle). You use the absolute when there is no conjunct particle in front of the verb.

Hence, the present indicative of glenaid (sticks fast), is:

Absolute   Conjunct

glenaim    :glenaim
glenai     :glenai
glenaid    :glen
glenmai    :glenam
glenthae   :glenaid
glenait    :glenat

The colon before the conjunct verbs indicates that a conjunct particle precedes the verb.

The phonological changes are some of the most complicated you could imagine. An attempt was made to orthographically portray all of these convoluted changes, but the orthography ended up a total mess.

Each consonant has four different values depending on where it is in the word and whether or not it is palatal. Hence, even though the 1st person absolute and conjunct look identical above (both are spelled glenaim), they are pronounced differently. The absolute is pronounced glyenum, and the conjunct is pronounced glyenuv.

The grammar is unbelievably complex, probably harder than Ancient Greek. There is even a reported non-IE substratum running underneath the language.

Old Irish gets a 5 rating, extremely difficult.

Irish students take Irish for 13 years, and some take French for five years. These students typically know French better than Irish. There are inflections for the inflections of the inflections, a convoluted aspiration system, and no words for yes or no. The system of initial consonant mutation is quite baffling. Noun declension is mystifying. Irish has irregular nouns, but there are not many of them:

the womanan bhean
the women
na mná

and there are only about 10 irregular verbs. There are dozens of different declension types for verbs. The various phonological gradations, lenitions and eclipses are not particularly regular. There are “slender” and “broad” variants of many of the consonants, and it is hard to tell the difference between them when you hear them. Many learners find the slender/broad consonants the hardest part of Irish. The orthography makes many lists of worst orthographies on Earth.

Irish gets a 4.5 ratings, very difficult.

Both Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are written with non-phonetic spelling that is even more convoluted and irrational than English. This archaic spelling is in drastic need of revision, and it makes learners not want to learn the language. For instance, in Scots Gaelic, the word for taxi is tacsaidh, although the word is pronounced the same as the English word. There are simply too many unnecessary letters for too few sounds. Of the two, Scots Gaelic is harder due to many silent consonants.

Irish actually has rules for its convoluted spelling, and once you figure out the rules, it is fairly straightforward as it is quite regular and it is actually rational in its own way. In addition, Irish recently underwent a spelling reform. The Irish spelling system does make sense in an odd way, as it marks things such as palatalization and velarization.

Scottish Gaelic and Manx have gone a long time with no spelling reforms.

Scottish Gaelic gets a 4.5 ratings, very difficult.

Manx is probably the worst Gaelic language of all in terms of its spelling since it has Gaelic spelling yet uses an orthography based on English which results in a crazy mix that makes many lists of worst scripts.

Manx gets a 4.5 rating, very difficult.

Common Byrthonic

Welsh is also very hard to learn, although Welsh has no case compared to Irish’s two cases. And Welsh has a mere five irregular verbs. The Byrthonic languages like Welsh and Breton are easier to learn than Gaelic languages like Irish and Scots Gaelic. One reason is because Welsh is written with a logical, phonetic alphabet. Welsh is also simpler grammar-wise, but things like initial consonant mutations can still seem pretty confusing and are difficult for the non-Celtic speaker to master and understand. Verbal declension is irregular.

caraf   I love
carwn   we love

cerais  I loved
carasom we loved

The problem above is that one cannot find any morpheme that means 1st person, 3rd person, or past tense in the examples. Even car- itself can change, and in connected speech often surfaces as gar-/ger-. And carwn can mean I was loving (imperfect) in addition to we love. There are no rules here, and you simply have to memorize the different forms.

Welsh gets a 4 rating, very hard to learn.

Breton is about in the same ballpark as Welsh. It has a flexible grammar, a logical orthography and only four irregular verbs.

On the other hand, there are very few language learning materials, and most of those available are only written in French.

Breton gets a 4 rating, very hard to learn.

Hellenic

Greek is a difficult language to learn, and it’s rated the second hardest language to learn by language professors. It’s easy to learn to speak simply, but it’s quite hard to get it down like a native. It’s the rare second language learner who attains native competence. Like English, the spelling doesn’t seem to make sense, and you have to memorize many words. Further, there is the unusual alphabet. However, the orthography is quite rational, about as good as that of Spanish. Whether or not Greek is an irregular language is controversial. It has that reputation, but some say it is not as irregular as it seems.

Greek has four cases: nominative, accusative, genitive and vocative (used when addressing someone). There are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Nouns have several different declension patterns determined by the ending on the noun. Verb conjugations are about as complicated as in Romance. Greek does retain the odd aorist tense. In addition, it has the odd middle voice and optative mood. Greek syntax is quite complicated.

Greek gets a 5 rating, extremely difficult to learn.

Classic or Ancient Greek is worse, with a distinction between aspirated and unaspirated consonants, a pitch accent system and a truly convoluted, insanely irregular system of noun and verb inflection. It has a dual number in addition singular and plural and it has a very difficult optative case. Irregular verbs have one of six different stem types. The grammar is one of the most complex of all languages and the phonology and morphology are truly convoluted.

Ancient Greek is said to have had four different genitive cases, but it actually had four different uses of the genitive:

  1. Objective Genitive – “for obedience to faith”
  2. Subjective Genitive – “faith’s obedience” or faithful obedience
  3. Attributive Genitive – “obedience of faith”
  4. Genitive of Apposition – obedience, i.e. faith

How confusing!

Classic Greek gets a 5.5 rating, nearly hardest of all to learn.

Armenian

An  obscure branch of Indo-European, Armenian, is very hard to learn. Armenian is a difficult language in terms of grammar and phonetics, not to mention the very odd alphabet. The orthography is very regular, however there are some irregularities. For instance:

գրել , written grel but spoken gərel (schwa removed in orthography)
խոսել, written xosel but spoken xosal  (a changed to e in orthography)

However, the alphabet itself presents many problems. Print and cursive can be very different, and upper case and lower case can also be quite different. Here are some pairs of letters in upper and lower case:

Ա ա
Յ յ
Փ փ

All in all, this means you have to memorize as many as four different shapes for each letter. However, the grammar is very regular.

In addition, many letters very closely resemble other letters, which makes it very easy to get them mixed up:

գ and զ
ե
and է
դ
and ղ
ո
and ռ

There are voiced consonants and an alternation between aspirated and unaspirated unvoiced consonants, so some mix up the forms for b, p and , for instance. Nevertheless, there are many things about the grammar that seem odd compared to other IE languages. For instance, Armenian has agglutination, and that is a very strange feature for an IE language.

Part of the problem is that due to its location in the Caucasus, Armenian has absorbed influences from some of the wild nearly Caucasian languages. For instance, an extinct NE Caucasian Nakh language called Tsov is thought to have contributed to the Hurro-Ururtian substratum in Armenian. So in a sense when you learn Armenian, you are also learning a bit of Chechen at the same time. For some reason, Armenian scored very high on a weirdest languages survey.

People who have learned both Arabic and Armenian felt that Armenian was much easier, so Armenian seems to be much easier than Arabic.

Armenian is rated 4, very hard to learn.

Albanian

Albanian is another obscure branch of Indo-European. Albanian nouns have two genders (masculine and feminine), five cases including the ablative, lost in all other IE. Both definite and indefinite articles are widely used, a plus for English speakers. Most inflections were lost, and whatever is left doesn’t even look very IE. The verbal system is complex, having eight tenses including two aorists and two futures, and several moods, including indicative, imperative, subjunctive, conjunctive, optative and admirative. The last three are odd cases for IE. The optative only exists in IE in Ancient Greek, Sanskrit and Manx. Oddly enough, there is no infinitive. Active and passive voices are used.

Similarly to Gaelic, Albanian is even harder to learn than either German or Russian. Albanian may be even harder to learn than Polish.

Albanian is rated 5,extremely difficult.

Slavic

All Slavic languages have certain difficulties. For instance, the problematic perfect/imperfect tenses discussed below in Czech and Slovak are present in all of Slavic. The animate/inanimate noun class distinction is present in all of Slavic also. Slavic languages also add verb prefixes to verbs, completely changing the meaning of the verb and creating a new verb (see Italian above).

East Slavic

People are divided on the difficulty of Russian, but language teachers say it’s one of the hardest to learn. Even after a couple of years of study, some learners find it hard to speak even a simple sentence correctly.

It has six basic cases – nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental and prepositional – and analyses have suggested up to 10 other cases. The most common of the extra cases are locative, partitive and several forms of vocative. All of these extra cases either do not apply to all nouns (“incomplete” cases) or seem to be identical to an existing case. At any rate, the vocative is only used in archaic prose. And there is also a locative case, which is what the exceptions to the prepositional case are referred to. Russian has two genitive cases, the so-called Genitive 1 and Genitive 2. The first one is standard genitive and the second is the genitive-partitive (see above), which is now only used in archaic prose.

The grammar is fairly easy for a Slavic language. The problem comes with the variability in pronunciation. The adjectives and endings can be difficult. In addition, Russian has gender and lots of declinations. Like Lithuanian, almost everything in the language seems to decline. The adjectives change form if the nouns they describe have different endings. Adjectives also take case somehow.

Verbs have different forms depending on the pronouns that precede them. Russian has the same issues with perfective and imperfective forms as Polish does (see the Polish section below). There are dozens of different declension types for verbs and many verbs that are irregular and don’t fit into any of the declension types. In addition, there are many irregular nouns, syncretisms, and an aspectual system that is morphologically unpredictable.

Word order is pretty free. For instance, you can say:

I love you by saying

I love you.
You love I.
Love you I.
I you love.
Love I you.
You I love
.

Pronunciation is strange, with one vowel that is between an ü and i. Many consonants are odd, and every consonant has a palatalized counterpart, which will be difficult to speakers whose languages lack phonemic palatalized consonants. These are the soft and hard consonants that people talk about in Russian. The bl sound is probably the hardest to make, but the trilled r is also problematic.

Russian has several words that, bizarrely, are made up of only a single consonant:

s - with, off of
k
to, towards
v
in, into
b
– subjunctive/conditional mood particle (would)
Z – emphatic particle

In addition, Russian has some very strange words that begin with a doubled consonant sound:

вводить
ввести
ссылка

The orthography system is irregular, so there are quite a few silent letters and words that are pronounced differently than they are spelled.

Word Silent Letters Example
здн  [знпраздник
рдц  [рцсердце
лнц  [нцсолнце
стн  [снлестница
вств [ств]          чувство
жч   [щ]            мужчина
зч   [щ]            извозчик
сч   [щ]            счастье
чт   [штчто
чн   [шнконечно
тц   [ц]            вкратце
дц   [ц]            двадцать
тч   [ч]            лётчик
дч   [ч]            докладчик
тся  [цца]          учится
ться [цца]          учиться

Stress is quite difficult in Russian since it seems arbitrary and does not appear to follow obvious rules:

дóмаat home
домá
buildings

One problem is that phonemic stress, not written out, changes the way the vowel is pronounced. For instance:

узнаюI’m finding out
узнаю
I will find out

The two are written identically, so how you tell them apart in written Russian, I have no idea. However in speech you can tell one from the other because the two forms have different stress.

Russian also has vowel reduction that is not represented in the orthography. The combination of stress and vowel reduction means that even looking at a Russian word, you are not quite sure how to pronounce it.

Like German, Russian builds morphemes into larger words. Again like German, this is worse than it sounds since the rules are not so obvious. In addition, there is the strange Cyrillic alphabet, which is nevertheless easier than the Arabic or Chinese ones. Russian also uses prepositions to combine with verbs to form the nightmare of phrasal verbs, but whereas English puts the preposition after the verb, Russian puts it in front of the verb.

All of Slavic has a distinction between animate and inanimate nouns as a sort of a noun class. Russian takes it further and even has a distinction between animate and inanimate pronouns in the male gender:

dvoje muzhchin     two men
troje muzhchin     three men
chetvero muzhchin  four men
pyatero muzhchin   five men
shestero muzhchin  six men
semero muzhchin    seven men

Compare to:

dva duba      two oaks 
tri duba      three oaks 
chetyre duba  four oaks

However, Russian only has the animate/inanimate distinction in pronouns and not in nouns in general.

Like Polish below, you use different verbs depending if you are going somewhere on foot or other than on foot. Second there is a distinction between going somewhere with a goal in mind and going somewhere with no particular goal in mind. For instance, to go:

idti (by foot, specific endpoint)
xodit’ (by foot, no specific endpoint)
exat’ (by conveyance, specific endpoint)
ezdit’ (by conveyance, no specific endpoint)

The verb to carry also has four different forms with the same distinctions as above.

In addition, there are various prefixes you can put on a verb:

into                  v-
out of                vy-
towards               po-
away from             u-
up to the edge of     pod-
away from the edge of ot-
through               pro-
around                ob-

These prefixes look something like “verbal case.” You an add any of those prefixes to any of the going or carrying verbs above. Therefore, you can have:

poiti  -walk up to something
obezdit’
drive around with no goal
uxodit’
–  walk away from something with no goal in mind

The combination of paths and goals results in some very specific motion verbs.

Russian is harder to learn than English. We know this because Russian children take longer to learn their language than English speaking children do. The reason given was that Russian words tended to be longer, but there may be other reasons.

Russian has the advantage of having quite a bit of Romance and Greek loans for a Slavic language, but unfortunately, you will not typically hear these words in casual conversion. Russian also has no articles. English speakers will find this odd, but others regard it as a plus.

Russian is less difficult than Czech, Polish or Serbo-Croatian.

Russian gets a 4 rating, very hard to learn.

West Slavic
Czech and Slovak

Czech and Slovak are notoriously hard to learn; in fact, all Slavic languages are. Language professors rate the Slavic languages the third hardest to learn on Earth. Czech is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the hardest language to learn. Even the vast majority of Czechs never learn to speak their language correctly. They spend nine years in school studying Czech grammar, but some rules are learned only at university. Immigrants never seem to learn Czech well, however, there are a few foreigners who have learned Czech very well – say, three or fewer errors in a 30 minute monologue, so it is possible to learn Czech well even if it is not very common.

Writing Czech properly is even more difficult than speaking it correctly, so few Czechs write without errors. In fact, an astounding 1/3 of the population makes at least on grammatical or spelling mistake in every sentence they write! The younger generation is now even worse as far as this goes, as Czech language teaching for natives has become more lax in recent years and drills have become fewer. Nevertheless, the Czech and Slovak orthographies are very rational. There is nearly a 1-1 sound/symbol correspondence.

Even natives often mess up the conditional (would). The 3rd conditional (past conditional) has nearly gone out of modern Czech and has merged with the present conditional:

3rd conditional – If I “would have known” it, I would not have asked has merged with
2nd conditional – If I “would know” it, I would not ask.

This means conditional events in the present are no longer distinguished between those in the past, and the language is impoverished.

Native speakers also mix up a specific use of the gerund:

English:

She looked at me smiling.
He walked along whistling.
He was in his bed reading a book.

This is easy to say in English, and the use of these forms is rather common. However, it is very hard to make those sentences in Czech, and possibly only 3% of the population can formulate those sentences properly. Instead, they break them up into two sentences:

Czech:

She looked at me, and she smiled.
He was in his bed, and he was reading.

Czech is full of exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions. It is said that there are more exceptions than there are rules. Czech has seven cases in singular and seven more cases in plural for nouns, for a total of 59 different “modes” of declension. There are also words that swing back and forth between “modes.” Adjectives and pronouns also have seven cases in the singular and plural. Czech is one of the few languages that actually has two genitive cases – one more or less possessive and the other more or less partitive. There are six genders, three in the singular and three in the plural.

When you put all that together, each noun can decline in 59 different ways. Further, these 59 different types of nouns each have 14 different forms depending on case. Verbs also decline. The verbs have both perfective and imperfective and have 45 different conjugation patterns. Czech learners often confuse the perfect and imperfect verbs. Verbs of motion can also be quite tricky.

One of the problems with Czech is that not only nouns but also verbs take gender, but they only do so in the past tense. In addition, Czech has a complicated aspect system that is often quite irregular and simply must be memorized to be learned.

This conjugation is fairly regular:

viděl continuous past – he saw
uviděl
punctual – once he suddenly saw
vídával
repetitive – he used to see (somebody/something) repeatedly

Others are less regular:

jedl continuous – he ate
snědl dojedl
he ate it all up
ujedl
he ate a bit of it
pojedl
he finished eating
jídával
repetitive – he used to eat repeatedly

Czech also has an evidential system. The particle prý is used to refer to hearsay evidence that you did not personally witness.

Prý je tam zima.
Someone said/People say it’s cold outside.

Truth is that almost every word in the language is subject to declension. The suffixes on nouns and verbs change all the time in strange ways.

There are some difficult consonants such as š, č, ť, ž, ľ, ď, dz, , ĺ and ŕ. It’s full of words that don’t seem to have vowels.

Entire Czech sentences can have extreme consonant clusters that appear to lack vowels:

Strč prst skrz krk.
Stick a finger through your neck.

Smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh.
A morel full of spots welted from fogs…

Mlž pln skvrn zvh.

However, the letters r and l are considered “half-vowels” in Czech, so the sentences above are easier to pronounce than you might think.

The letters ř and r (Czech has contrasting alveolar trills) are hard to pronounce, and ř is often said to exist in no longer language, including other Slavic languages. It is only found in one other language on Earth –  the Papuan language Kobon, which pronounces it a bit differently. Even Czechs have a hard time making these sounds properly (especially the ř), and many L2 speakers never get them right. There is also a hard and soft i which is hard to figure out.

As with other Slavic languages like Russian, it has the added problem of fairly loose word order. In addition, there are significant differences between casual and formal speech where you use different forms for someone you are familiar with (are on a first name basis with) as opposed to someone you do not know well. In addition, females use different endings for the past tense than men do.

On the plus side, Czech stress, like that of Polish, is regular as the accent is always on the first syllable. But if you come from a language such as Spanish where the accent is typically on the second syllable, this might present an obstacle.

Czech gets a 5.5 rating, nearly hardest of all.

Slovak is closely related to Czech, and it is controversial which one is harder to learn. Slovak is definitely more archaic than Czech. Some say that Slovak is easier because it has a more regular grammar. Slovak has the additional problem is marking acute accents: á, é, í, ĺ, ó, ŕ, ú and ý. Slovak fortunately lacks the impossible Czech ř sound. Instead it has something called a “long r,” (ŕ) which is not very easy to make either. This is something like the er sound in English her.

Slovak, like Czech, has retained the vocative, but it almost extinct as it is restricted to only a few nouns. Like Polish and Sorbian, Slovak also has an animate/inanimate distinction in gender for plural nouns. So Slovak has five genders: masculine, feminine and neuter in the singular and animate and inanimate in the plural.

Some say that Slovak is even harder than Polish, and there may be a good case that Czech and Slovak are harder than Polish.

Slovak gets a 5.5 rating, nearly hardest of all.

Lechitic

Polish is similar to Czech and Slovak in having words that seem to have no vowels, but in Polish at least there are invisible vowels. That’s not so obviously the case with Czech. Nevertheless, try these sentences:

  1. Wszczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.
  2. Wyindywidualizowaliśmy się z rozentuzjazmowanego tłumu.
  3. W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie.

I and y, s and z, je and ě alternate at the ends of some words, but the rules governing when to do this, if they exist, don’t seem sensible. The letter ť is very hard to pronounce. There are nasal vowels as in Portuguese. The ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, sz, cz, dz, , sounds are hard for foreigners to make. There are sounds that it is even hard for native speakers to make as they require a lot tongue movements. A word such as szczescie is hard to Polish L2 speakers to pronounce. Polish written to spoken pronunciation makes little sense, as in English – h and ch are one sound – h, ó and u are the same sound, and u may form diphthongs where it sounds like ł, so u and ł can be the same sound in some cases.

Kura (hen) and kóra are pronounced exactly the same way, and this is confusing to Polish children. However, the distinction between h/ch has gone of most spoken Polish. Furthermore, there is a language committee, but like the French one, it is more concerned with preserving the history or the etymology of the word and less with spelling the word phonemically. Language committees don’t always do their jobs!

Polish orthography, while being regular, is very complex. Polish uses a Latin alphabet unlike most other Slavic languages which use a Cyrillic alphabet. The letters are: AĄ B CĆ D EĘ FGHIJK LŁ M NŃ OÓ QPRSTUVW XY ZŹŻ.

Further, native speakers speak so fast it’s hard for non-natives to understand them. Due to the consonant-ridden nature of Polish, it is harder to pronounce than most Asian languages. Listening comprehension is made difficult by all of the sh and ch like sounds. Furthermore, since few foreigners learn Polish, Poles are not used to hearing their language mangled by second-language learners. Therefore, foreigners’ Polish will seldom be understood.

Polish grammar is said to be more difficult than Russian grammar. Polish has the following:

There are five different tenses: zaprzeszły, przeszły, teraźniejszy, przyszły prosty, and przyszły złozony. There are seven different genders: male, feminine, neuter, animate and inanimate in the singular and animate and inanimate in the plural. Male nouns have five patterns of declension, and feminine and neuter nouns have six different patterns of declension. Adjectives have two different declension patterns. Numbers have five different declension patterns: główne, porządkowe, zbiorowe, nieokreślone, and ułamkowe. There is a special pattern for nouns that are only plural.

There are seven different cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, vocative, and the genitive case is irregular. Verbs have nine different persons in their declensions: ja, ty, on, ona, ono, my, wy, oni, one. There are different conjugation patterns for men and women. There are 18 different conjugation patterns in the verb (11 main ones). There are five different polite forms: for a man, a woman, men, women and men and women combined.

There are four different participle forms, three of which inflect. Some of these are active and others are passive, but the whole system is incredibly complex. All of the participles decline like nouns, each gender adds its bit to each pattern which in turn change more according to tense.

Polish has seven cases, including the vocative which has gone out of most Slavic. Although the vocative is becoming less common in Polish, it is still used in formal situations, and it’s not really true that it is a dying form.

In an informal situation, a Pole might be more like to use nominative rather than vocative:

Cześć Marek! (Nom.), rather than
Cześć Marku! (Voc.)

However, in a more formal situation, the vocative is still likely to be used:

Dzień dobry panie profesorze/doktorze! (Voc.), rather than
Dzień dobry pan profesor/doktor! (Nom.)

Case declension is very irregular, unlike German. Polish consonant gradation is called oboczność (variation).

It also has seven genders, five in the singular and two in the plural. The genders of nouns cause the adjectives modifying them to inflect differently.

Noun
matka   mother (female gender)
ojciec  father (male gender)
dziecko child (neuter gender)

Modifying Adjective
brzydkiugly ugly

Singular
brzydka matka    ugly mother
brzydki ojciec   ugly father
brzydkie dziecko ugly child

Plural
brzydkie matki   ugly mothers
brzydcy ojcowie  ugly fathers
brzydkie dzieci  ugly children

Gender even effects verbs.

I ate (female speaker) Ja zjadłam
I ate (male speaker)   Ja zjadłem

There are two different forms of the verb kill depending on whether the 1st person singular and plural and 2nd person plural killers are males or females.

I killed     zabiłem/zabiłam
We killed    zabiliśmy/zabiłyśmy
They killed  zabili/zabiły

The perfective and imperfective tenses create a dense jungle of forms:

kupować - to buy

Singular  Simple Past         Imperfect
I (f.)    kupiłam             kupowałam
I (m.)    kupiłem             kupowałem
you (f.)  kupiłaś             kupowałaś
you (m.)  kupiłeś             kupowałeś
he        kupił               kupował
she       kupiła              kupowała
it        kupiło              kupowało

Plural
we (f.)   kupiłyśmy           kupowałyśmy
we (m.)   kupiliśmy           kupowaliśmy
you (f.)  kupiłyście          kupowałyście 
you (m.)  kupiliście          kupowaliście
they (f.) kupiły              kupowały
they (m.) kupili              kupowali

The verb above forms an incredible 28 different forms in the perfect and imperfect past tense alone.

The existence of the perfective and imperfective verbs themselves is the least of the problem. The problem is that each verb – perfective or imperfective – is in effect a separate verb altogether, instead of just being conjugated differently.

The verb to see has two completely different verbs in Polish:

widziec
zobaczyc

WidziałemI saw (repeatedly in the past, like I saw the sun come up every morning).
ZobaczyłemI saw (only once; I saw the sun come up yesterday).

Some of these verbs are obviously related to each other:

robić/zrobić
czytać
/przeczytać
zachowywać
/zachować
jeść
/zjeść

But others are very different:

mówić/powiedzieć
widzieć
/zobaczyć
kłaść
/położyć

This is not a tense difference – the very verbs themselves are different! So for every verb in the language, you effectively have to learn two different verbs. The irregular forms may date from archaic Polish.

In addition, the future perfect and future imperfect often conjugate completely differently, though the past forms usually conjugate in the same way – note the -em endings above. There is no present perfect as in English, since in Polish the action must be completed, and you can’t be doing something at this precise moment and at the same time have just finished doing it. 95% of verbs have these maddening dual forms, but for 5% of verbs that lack a perfective version, you only have one form.

It’s often said that one of the advantages of Polish is that there are only three tenses, but this is not really case, as there are at least eight tenses:

Indicative         grac       to play
Present            gram       I play 
Past               gralem     I played
Conditional        gralbym    I would play
Future             będę grać  I will play
Continuous future  będę grał  I will be playing
Perfective future  bogram     I will have played*
Perf. conditional  pogralbym  I would have played

*Implies you will finish the action

There is also an aspectual distinction made when referring to the past. Different forms are used based on whether or not the action has been completed.

Whereas in English we use one word for go no matter what mode of transportation we are using to get from one place to another, in Polish, you use different verbs if you are going by foot, by car, by plane, by boat or by other means of transportation.

In addition, there is an animate-inanimate distinction in gender. Look at the following nouns:

hat      kapelusz
computer komputer
dog      pies
student  uczen

All are masculine gender, but computer and hat are inanimate, and student and dog are animate, so they inflect differently.

I see a new hatWidze nowy kapelusz
I see a new student
Widze nowego ucznia

Notice how the now- form changed.

In addition to completely irregular verbs, there are also irregular nouns in Polish:

człowiek->ludzie

Let us look at pronouns. English has one word for the genitive case of the 1st person singular – my. In Polish, depending on the context, you can have the following 11 forms, and actually there are even more than 11:

mój
moje
moja
moją
mojego
mojemu
mojej
moim
moi
moich
moimi

Numerals can be complex. English has one word for the number 2 – two. Polish has 21 words for two (however, only 5-6 of them are in common use):

dwa (nominative non-masculine personal male and neuter and non-masculine personal accusative)
dwaj (masculine personal nominative)
dwie (nominative and accusative female)
dwóch (genitive, locative and masculine personal accusative)
dwom (dative)
dwóm (dative)
dwu (alternative version sometimes used for instrumental, genitive, locative and dative)
dwoma (masculine instrumental)
dwiema (female instrumental)
dwoje (collective, nominative + accusative)
dwojga (collective, genitive)
dwojgu (collective, dative + locative)
dwójka (noun, nominative)
dwójkę (noun, accusative)
dwójki (noun, genitive)
dwójce (noun, dative and locative)
dwójką (noun, instrumental)
dwójko (vocative)
dwojgiem (collective, instrumental)
dwójkach
dwójek
dwója
dwójkami

Polish also has the paucal form like Serbo-Croatian. It is the remains of the old dual. The paucal applies to impersonal masculine, feminine and neuter nouns but not to personal masculine nouns.

Personal Masculine

one boy    jeden chłopiec
two boys   dwóch chłopców
three boys trzech chłopców
four boys  czterech chłopców
five boys  pięciu chłopców
six boys   sześciu chłopców
seven boys siedmiu chłopców
eight boys ośmiu chłopców

Impersonal Masculine

one dog    jeden pies
two dogs   dwa psy
three dogs trzy psy
four dogs  cztery psy
five dogs  pięć psów
six dogs   sześć psów
seven dogs siedem psów
eight dogs osiem psów

In the above, two, three and four dogs is in the paucal (psy), while two, three or four men is not and is instead in the plural (chłopców)

A single noun can change in many ways and take many different forms. Compare przyjacielfriend

                           Singular       Plural
who is my friend           przyjaciel    przyjaciele
who is not my friend       przyjaciela    przyjaciół
friend who I give s.t. to  przyjacielowi  przyjaciołom
friend who I see           przyjaciela    przyjaciół
friend who I go with       z przyajcielem z przyjaciółmi
friend who I dream of      o przyjacielu  o przyjaciołach
Oh my friend!              Przyajcielu!   Przyjaciele!

There are 12 different forms of the noun friend above.

Plurals change based on number. In English, the plural of telephone is telephones, whether you have two or 1,000 of them. In Polish, you use different words depending on how many telephones you have:

two, three or four telefony, but
five telefonów.

Sometimes, this radically changes the word, as in hands:

four ręce, but
five rąk.

There are also irregular diminutives such as

psiaczek -> słoneczko

Polish seems like Lithuanian in the sense that almost every grammatical form seems to inflect in some way or other. Even conjunctions inflect in Polish.

In addition, like Serbo-Croatian, Polish can use multiple negation in a sentence. You can use up to five negatives in a perfectly grammatical sentence:

Nikt nikomu nigdy nic nie powiedział.
Nobody ever said anything to anyone
.

Like Russian, there are multiple different ways to say the same thing in Polish. However, the meaning changes subtly with these different word combinations, so you are not exactly saying the same thing with each change or word order. Nevertheless, this mess does not seem to be something that would be transparent to the Polish learner.

In English, you can say Ann has a cat, but you can’t mix the words up and mean the same thing. In Polish you can say Ann has a cat five different ways:

Ania ma kota.
Kota ma Ania.
Ma Ania kota.
Kota Ania ma.
Ma kota Ania.

The first one is the most common, but the other four can certainly be used. The truth that while the general meaning is the same in each sentence, the deep meaning changes with each sentence having a slightly different nuanced interpretation.

In addition, Polish has a wide variety of dialects, and a huge vocabulary. Similar to Hungarian, there may be many different words for the same thing. There are 43 different words for ladybird. The following are 30 separate lexical items (not case-inflected terms) for ladybird, for which the main word is biedronka:

maryszepka, sarynka, katrynka, petronelka, skobrunek, skrzipeczka, panienka, makówka, letewka, kruszka, kropelniczka, guedzinka, motilewka, matoweczka, dzegotka, podlecuszka, maleneczka, pągwiczka, popruszka, markowiczka, parzedliszka, prochowniczka, krówka jałowiczka, karkukuczka, rączepiórka, borowa matinka, motuszka kruszka, marianna, mróweczka, and boża krówka.

Although Polish grammar is said to be irregular, this is probably not true. It only gives the appearance of being irregular as there are so many different rules, but there is a method to the madness underneath it all. The rules themselves are so complex and numerous that it is hard to figure them all out.

Polish appears to be more difficult than Russian. For example, in Russian as in English, the 1st through 3rd person past tense forms are equivalent, whereas in Polish, they are each different:

          English   Russian     Polish

1st past  I went    ya pashou   ja poszedłem 
2nd past  you went  ty pashou   ty poszedłeś
3rd past  he went   on pashou   on poszedł

It is said English-speaking children reach full adult competency in the language (reading, writing, speaking, spelling) at age 12. Polish children do not reach this milestone until age 16. Even adult Poles make a lot of mistakes in speaking and writing Polish properly. However, most Poles are quite proud of their difficult language (though a few hate it), and even take pride in its difficult nature.

On the positive side, in Polish, the stress is fixed, there are no short or long vowels nor is there any vowel harmony, there are no tones and it uses a Latin alphabet.

Polish is one of the most difficult of the Slavic languages. It is harder than Russian but not as hard as Czech, though this is controversial.

Polish gets a 5 rating, extremely difficult.

South Slavic
Eastern

It’s controversial whether Bulgarian is an easy or hard language to learn. The truth is that it may be the easiest Slavic language to learn, but all Slavic language  are hard. Though it is close to Russian, there are Russians who have been living there for 20 years and still can’t understand it well.

It has few cases compared to the rest of Slavic. There are three cases, but they are present only in pronouns. The only case in nouns is vocative. This is odd because most Slavic languages have either lost or are in the process of losing the vocative, and in Bulgarian it is the only case that has been retained. Compared to English, Bulgarian is well structured and straightforward with little irregularity. In addition, Bulgarian has more Romance (mostly French) and Greek borrowings than any other Slavic languages. Romance came in via the Vlahs who lived there before the Slavs moved in and Greek from the Byzantine period. In recent years, many English borrowings have also gone in.

Bulgarian has a suffixed general article that is not found in the rest of Slavic but is apparently an areal feature borrowed from Albanian. The stress rules are nightmarish, and it seems as if there are no rules.

Bulgarian has grammatical gender, with three genders – masculine, feminine and neuter. In addition, adjectives must agree with the gender of the noun they are modifying. In English, adjectives are invariable no matter what the noun is:

pretty man
pretty woman
pretty horse
pretty table

However, the Bulgarian alphabet is comparatively simple compared to other Slavic alphabets. Since 1945, it has only had 30 letters. Compare this to the 70 letters in Polish. There are only six vowels, and it has the easiest consonant clusters in Slavic. The orthography is very regular, with no odd spellings. The Cyrillic alphabet is different for those coming from a Latin alphabet and can present problems. For one thing, letters that look like English letters are pronounced in different ways:

В is pronounced v in Bulgarian
E is pronounced eh in Bulgarian
P is pronounced r in Bulgarian

There are a number of Bulgarian letters that look like nothing you have ever seen before: Ж, Я, Ь, Ю, Й, Щ, Ш, and Ч. Bulgarian handwriting varies to a great degree and the various styles are often difficult to map back onto the typewritten letters that they represent.

While Bulgarian has the advantage of lacking much case, Bulgarian verbs are quite complex even compared to other Slavic languages. Each Bulgarian verb can have up to 3,000 forms as it changes across person, number, voice, aspect, mood, tense and gender. Bulgarian has two aspects (perfect and imperfect), voice, nine tenses, five moods and six non infinitival verbal forms.

For instance, each verb has at two aspects – simple and continuous – for each of the tenses, which are formed in different ways. Onto this they add a variety of derivatives such as prefixes, suffixes, etc. that change the meaning in subtle ways:

Aorist or Perfect:

да прочетаto read in whole a single text/book/etc (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)
да изчетаto read every book there is on the subject (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)
да дочетаto finish reading something (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)
да изпоизчетаto read every book/article/etc there is on the subject (humorous) – (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)

Continuous or Imperfect:

да четаto be reading (viewed as an action in progress)
да прочитамto read in whole a single text/book/etc (viewed as an action in progress)
да изчитамto read every book there is on the subject (viewed as an action in progress)

Mood is very complicated. There are different ways to say the same idea depending on how you know of the event. If you know about it historically, you mark the sentence with a particular mood. If you doubt the event, you mark with another mood.

If you know it historically but doubt it, you use yet another mood. And there are more than that. These forms were apparently borrowed from Turkish. These forms are rare in world languages. One is Yamana, a Patagonian language that has only one speaker left.

In Bulgarian, you always know if something is a noun, a verb or an adjective due to its marking. You will never have the same word as an adjective, noun and verb. In English, you can have words that act as verbs, adjectives and nouns.

Let’s dance!
Let’s go to the dance.
Let’s go to dance lessons.

Bulgarian is probably the easiest Slavic language to learn.

Bulgarian gets a 3.5 rating, above average difficulty.

Macedonian is very close to Bulgarian, and some say it is a dialect of Bulgarian. However, I believe that is a separate language closely related to Bulgarian. Macedonian is said the be the easiest Slavic language to learn, easier than Bulgarian. This is because it is easier to pronounce than Bulgarian. Like Bulgarian, Macedonian has lost most all of its case. But there are very few language learning materials for Macedonian.

Macedonian gets a 3.5 rating, above average difficulty.

Western

Serbo-Croatian, similar to Czech, has seven cases in the singular and seven in the plural, plus there are several different declensions. The vocative is still going strong in Serbo-Croatian (S-C), as in Polish, Ukrainian and Bulgarian. There 15 different types of declensions: seven tenses, three genders, three moods, and two aspects. Whereas English has one word for the number 2 – two, Serbo-Croatian has 17 words.

Case abbreviations below:
N = NAV – nominative, accusative, vocative
G = Genitive
D = Dative
L =Locative
I = Instrumental

Masculine inanimate gender
N dva
G dvaju
D L I dvama

Feminine gender
N dve
G dveju
D L I dvema

Mixed gender
N dvoje
G dvoga
D L I dvoma

Masculine animate gender
N dvojica
G dvojice
D L dvojici
I dvojicom

“Twosome”
N dvojka
G dvojke
D L dvojci
I dvojkom

The grammar is incredibly complex. There are imperfective and perfective verbs, but when you try to figure out how to build one from the other, it seems irregular. This is the hardest part of Serbo-Croatian grammar, and foreigners not familiar with other Slavic tongues usually never get it right.

Serbian has a strange form called the “paucal.” It is the remains of the old dual, and it also exists in Polish and Russian.  The paucal is a verbal number like singular, plural and dual. It is used with the numbers dva (2), tri (3), četiri (4) and oba/obadva (both) and also with any number that contains 2, 3 or 4 (22, 102, 1032).

gledalac            viewer
pažljiv(i)          careful
gledalac pažljiv(i) careful viewer

1 careful viewer  jedan pažljivi gledalac 
2 careful viewers dva pažljiva gledaoca   
3 careful viewers tri pažljiva gledaoca   
5 careful viewers pet pažljivih gledalaca

Above, pažljivi gledalac is singular, pažljivih gledalaca is plural and pažljiva gledaoca is paucal.

As in English, there are many different ways to say the same thing. Pronouns are so rarely used that some learners are surprised that they exist, since pronimalization is marked on the verb as person and number. Word order is almost free or at least seems arbitrary, similar to Russian.

Serbo-Croatian, like Lithuanian, has pitch accent – low-rising, low-falling, short-rising and short-falling. It’s not the same as tone, but it’s similar. In addition to the pitch accent differentiating words, you also have an accented syllable somewhere in the word, which as in English, is unmarked. And when the word conjugates or declines, the pitch accent can jump around in the word to another syllable and even changes its type in ways that do not seem transparent. It’s almost impossible for foreigners to get this pitch-accent right.

The “hard” ch sound is written č, while the “soft” ch sound is written ć. It has syllabic r and l. Long consonant clusters are permitted. See this sentence:

Na vrh brda vrba mrda.

However, in many of these consonant clusters, a schwa is present between consonants in speech, though it is not written out.

S-C, like Russian, has words that consist of only a single consonant:

swith

Serbo-Croatian does benefit from a phonetic orthography.

It is said that few if any foreigners ever master Serbo-Croatian well. Similar to Czech and Polish, it is said that many native speakers make mistakes in S-C even after decades of speaking it, especially in pitch accent.

Serbo-Croatian is often considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn. It is harder than Russian but not as hard as Polish.

Serbo-Croatian gets a 4.5 rating, very difficult.

Slovenian or Slovene is also a very hard language to learn, probably on a par with Serbo-Croatian. It has three number distinctions, singular, dual and plural. It’s the only major IE European language that has retained the dual. Sorbian has also retained the dual, but it is a minor tongue. However, the dual may be going out in Slovenia. In Primorska it is not used at all, and in the rest of Slovenia, the feminine dual is not used in casual speech (plural is used instead), but the masculine dual is still used for masculine nouns and mixed pairs of masculine and feminine nouns.

In addition, there are six cases, as Slovene has lost the vocative. There are 18 different declensions of the word son, but five of them are identical, so there are really only 13 different forms.

   Singular Dual       Plural 
1. Sin      Sina       Sini
2. Sina     Sinov      Sinov
3. Sinu     Sinovoma   Sinovom
4. Sina     Sinova     Sinove
5. O sinu   O sinovoma O sinovih
6. S sinom  Z sinovoma Z sini

There are seven different ways that nouns decline depending on gender, but there are exceptions to all of the gender rules. The use of particles such as pa is largely idiomatic. In addition, there is a lack of language learning materials for Slovene.

Some sounds are problematic. Learners have a hard time with the č and ž sounds. There are also “open” and “closed” vowels as in Portuguese.

Here is an example of a word that can be difficult to pronounce:

križiščecrossroads

However, Slovene has the past perfect that is the same as the English tense, lost in the rest of Slavic. In addition, via contact with German and Italian, many Germanic and Romance loans have gone in. If you know some German and have some knowledge of another Slavic langauge, Slovene is not overwhelmingly difficult.

Some people worry that Slovene might go extinct in the near future, as it is spoken by only 2 million people. However, even this small language has 356, 881 headwords in an online dictionary. So it is clear that Slovene has plenty enough vocabulary to deal with the modern world.

Slovene is easier than Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Czech or Slovak.

Slovenian gets a 4 rating, very hard.

Baltic

Eastern Baltic

Lithuanian, an archaic Indo-European Baltic tongue, is extremely difficult to learn. There are many dialects, which is interesting for such a small country, and the grammar is very difficult, with many rules. There is grammatical gender for nouns, and in addition, even numerals have gender in all cases. The language is heavily inflectional such that you can almost speak without using prepositions.

A single verb has 16 participial forms, and that is just using masculine gender for the participles. You can also add feminine forms to that verb. There are two main genders or giminės, masculine and feminine, but there is also neutral gender (bevardė giminė), which has three different forms. Verbs further decline via number (singular, dual and plural) and six different cases. There are five classes of verbs and six modes of declension for nouns (linksniai). However, Lithuanian verb tense is quite regular. You only need to remember infinitive, 3rd person present and 3rd person past, and after that, all of the conjugations are regular.

Here is an example of the Lithuanian verb:

Eitito go. Ei is the verb root, and ti is in infinitival suffix.

Verbs decline according to:

Person and number
1st singular einu   I go  
3rd dual     einava we two go
1st plural   einame we go

The four tenses

2nd pl. past       Ėjote    you (guys) went
2 sing. imperfect  eidavote you used to go
2 sing. indicative einate   you go
2 sing. future     eisite   you will go

They also change according to something called “participants.” The participant paradigm has three tenses and all three genders. Participants are further divided into direct and indirect.

Regular direct participant (3 tenses, 3 genders)

Male
Ėjęs   while he himself went
einąs  while he himself is going
eisiąs while he himself will be going

Female
Ėjusi  while she herself went

Neuter
buvo einama while it itself went
einama      while it itself was going
bus einama  while it itself will be going

Regular indirect participant (3 tenses, 3 genders)

Male
past    eidytas     one that was forced to go
present eidomas     one that is being forced to go
future  bus eidomas one that will be forced to go

Semi participant (no tenses, 2 genders)

Male
eidamas while going himself

Female
eidama  while going herself

Active participant (2 tenses, no genders)

past    Ėjus   while going (in the past)
present einant while going now

2nd infinitive or budinys (no tenses)

eite in a way of going

Plusquamperfect (be + regular participants)

Paradigm
indicative būti   to have been gone
present    yra    has been gone
past       buvo   had been gone 
imperfect  būdavo used to have been gone 
future     bus    will have been gone

past 3pl   buvo ėję they had been gone 

Additional moods 

Imperative (all persons) 

Eik!             Go! 
Eikime!          Let's go! 
Teeina/Lai eina! Let him/her go! 

Subjunctive (all persons) 
eičiau I would go 
eitum  thou would go

In addition, while most verb marking is done via suffixes, Lithuanian can make aspect via both suffixes and prefixes, bizarrely enough (Arkadiev 2011).

Determining whether a noun is masculine or feminine is easier than in German where you often have to memorize which noun takes which gender. Lithuanian is similar to Spanish in that the ending will often give you a hint about which gender the noun takes.

Here is an example of the sort of convolutions you have to go through to attach the adjective good to a noun.

geras - good

             Masculine          Feminine

             Singular  Plural   Singular  Plural
Nominative   geras     geri     gera      geros
Genitive     gero      gerų     geros     gerų
Dative       geram     geriems  gerai     geroms
Accusative   gerą      gerus    gerą      geras
Instrumental geru      gerais   gera      geromis
Locative     gerame    geruose  geroje    gerose

The noun system in general of Lithuanian is probably more complicated even than the complex Russian noun system. Lithuanian is possibly more irregular and may have more declensions than even Polish. Learners often feel that the grammar is illogical.

Furthermore, while it does not have lexical tone per se, it does have pitch accent – there are three different pitches or degrees (laipsniai), which sound like tones but are not tones. Stress is hardly predictable and nearly needs to be learned word by word. It’s almost impossible for foreigners to get the accent right, and the accents tend to move around a lot across words during declension/conjugation such that the rules are opaque if they exist at all. It was formerly thought to be nearly random, but it has now been found that Lithuanian stress actually falls into four paradigms, so there is a system there after all.

You cannot really forget about lexical tone when learning Lithuanian, as stress is as fundamental to Lithuanian as tone is to Mandarin.

Often you need a dictionary to figure out where the accent should be on a word. Lithuanian pronunciation is also difficult. For example, look at rimti (to get calm) and rimti (serious – plural, masculine, nominative). There is a short i sound that is the same in both words, but the only difference is where the stress or pitch accent goes. Consonants undergo some complicated changes due to palatalization. Lithuanian has soft and hard (palatalized and nonpalatalized) consonants as in Russian.

Try these words and phrases:

šalna
šąla šiandien
ačiū už skanią vakarienę
pasikiškiakopūsteliaudamasis
ūkis
malūnas
čežėti šiauduose

Or this paragraph:

Labas, kaip šiandien sekasi? Aš esu iš Lietuvos, kur gyvenu visą savo gyvenimą. Lietuvių kalba yra sunkiausia iš visų pasaulyje. Ačiū už dėmesį.

Lithuanian is an archaic IE language that has preserved a lot of forms that the others have lost.

In spite of all of that, picking up the basics of Lithuanian may be easier than it seems, and while foreigners usually never get the pitch-accent down, the actual rules are fairly sensible. Nevertheless, many learners never figure out these rules and to them, there seem to be no rules for pitch accent.

Learning Lithuanian is similar to learning Latin. If you’ve been able to learn Latin, Lithuanian should not be too hard. Also, Lithuanian is very phonetic; words are pronounced how they are spelled.

Some languages that are similar to English, like Norwegian and Dutch, can be learned to a certain extent simply by learning words and ignoring grammar. I know Spanish and have been able to learn a fair amount of Portuguese, French and Italian without learning a bit of grammar in any of them.

Lithuanian won’t work that way because due to case, base words change form all the time, so it will seem like you are always running into new words, when it fact it’s the same base word declining in various case forms. There’s no shortcut with Latin and Lithuanian. You need to learn the case grammar first, or little of it will make sense.

Some say that Lithuanian is even harder to learn than the hardest Slavic languages like Polish and Czech. It may be true.

Lithuanian gets a 5 rating, extremely hard to learn.

Latvian is another Baltic language that is somewhat similar to Lithuanian. It’s also hard to learn. Try this:

Sveiki, esmu no Latvijas, un mūsu valoda ir skanīga, skaista un ar ļoti sarežģītu gramatisko sistēmu.

Latvian and Lithuanian are definitely harder to learn than Russian. They both have aspects like in Russian but have more cases than Russian, plus a lot more irregular verbs. Latvian, like Lithuanian, has a tremendous amount of inflection. The long vowels can be hard to pronounce.

Latvian is easier to learn than Lithuanian. The grammar is easier to figure out and the phonological system is much easier. Also, Latvian has lost many archaic IE features that Lithuanian has retained. Latvian has regular stress, always on the first syllable, as opposed to Lithuanian’s truly insane stress system. Latvian has fewer noun declensions, and fewer difficult consonant clusters.

Latvian gets a 4.5 rating, very hard.

References

Arkadiev, Peter. 2011. On the Aspectual Uses of the Prefix Be- in Lithuanian. Baltic Linguistics 2:37-78.Seymour, Philip H. K.; Aro, Mikko; Erskine, Jane M. and the COST Action A8 Network. 2003. Foundation Literacy Acquisition in European Orthographies. British Journal of Psychology 94:143–174.

This research takes a lot of time, and I do not get paid anything for it. If you think this website is valuable to you, please consider a a contribution to support more of this valuable research.

175 Comments

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175 responses to “More On The Hardest Languages To Learn – Indo-European Languages

  1. tulio

    Interesting post. Linguistics are extremely fascinating.

    • Thx man. The weird thing is, the post is just getting started! I had to cut it off partway because I already spent enough time on it. And I spent a LOT of time on that post!

      I didn’t put it in there, but it was generally agreed that most of the Romance languages were fairly easy, especially Spanish and Portuguese.

  2. James Schipper

    Dear Robert
    Just one brief comment for now. German does NOT have 12 words for the. It has only 6: der, die, das, den, dem and des. Some actually mean to the and of the. To be able to use them, however, you have to know in which one of the 16 slots it falls. Here is the scheme.

    Nom Accu Dat Gen
    Masc der den dem des
    Neut das das dem des
    Fem die die der der
    Plu die die den der

    As you can see, there is considerable overlap, which makes it makes it important to know the gender in German. That is not true for the Latin languages. Take the following sentence:
    Der Fortschritt der Menschheit verdankt der Kunst sehr wenig. = Der Kunst verdankt der Fortschritt der Menschheit sehr wenig. = The progress of mankind owes very little to art.

    That sentences means what it means because Fortschritt is masculine and Kunst is feminine. If it were the other way around, then the sentence would mean: Art owes very little to the progress of mankind.

    Have a good day. James

  3. Shawn

    What language is the most efficient? If I say something like, I want to drive my car to the grocery store to get groceries, which language could convey the accurate meaning in writing with the shortest amount of words? Same goes with speaking–what language would require the shortest amount of syllables?

    It seems to me that picture languages (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc., are the least efficient. Words are literally almost paintings!).

    Esperanto a recent language , somewhat like Spanish I hear, but from maybe not much better–I don’t know.

    • It takes about the same amount of time to write a sentence in Chinese as it does in English or some Romanized language.

      Esperanto and the constructed languages are absolutely brilliant, and they can be learned in general much faster than most real languages. You can also get very fluent in these languages very fast. They were designed from the ground up to be completely rational in every way. You can learn more Esperanto in a year than you can English in five years.

      • Igor Alexander

        So how much of a market is there if I publish my book in Esperanto? ;)

        It’s their idiosyncrasies and irrationalities that give organic languages their character and soul. You can learn an enormous amount about the history of a culture by studying its language.

        Didn’t the story of the Tower of Babel warn us about “universal languages”? I bet the guy who created Esperanto was a One Worlder.

    • some jive ass bitch

      I’m sorry, sir, but you are ignorant as to how Japanese and Korean work.

      In Japanese, you have two alphabets, Katakana and Hiragana, that share the same syllable sounds. Japanese borrows Chinese characters for verbs, nouns, and various other facets.

      Korean, on the other hand, has one alphabet: Hangul. Hangul is composed of roughly half consonants and half vowels which are combined to make characters that make up certain sounds. Since the fall of “Old Korean” in the 14th century, Hangul has been free of Chinese script in common use, and knowledge of Chinese is not requierd for ANY use of Korean.

      Please do not comment so haphazardly on languages and their nature.

      • meMe

        You are right, and this is why I consider the Japanese language as the most artificial one, and one I would never consider to learn. It is said that he Japanese language has developed isolated from the influence of other languages. Right, look today, 3/4 of its vocabulary comes from English and Chinese.

      • Garrett

        What about Hanja?

      • che boludo

        hey buddy, don’t call the ignorant kettle black. Chinese constitutes like 65% of Korean words, and anybody who want to become a badass in Korean society has to learn a shitload of ‘han-ja’ ( 한자: 漢字), which is equivalent to Japanese’s kanji (漢字). Booya!

    • The

      When you say Chinese is the least efficient in conveying a message, you are confusing difficulty with efficiency. In fact, I would say Chinese is the most efficient. In classical Chinese, an idiom of 4 characters can convey a whole paragraph if written in English.

      For example, the Three Character Classic – each verse is written in 3 characters, but it would take a mouth for each verse to be translated into modern Chinese, or English.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Character_Classic

  4. Shawn

    When I was in high school I took Spanish because I thought it was easy. I really wish I took Russian or German though instead.

    I am also wondering, which language sounds the harshest? In my estimation it is Klingon, but in reality, German sounds harsh, and it is not just because Hollywood made it so, after WW2; there is a heavy use of consonants.

    I cannot stand some sounds in the Hebrew (or is it Georgian?) language where it sounds like someone is clearing their throat; whoever decided that would be part of a word made a mistake.

    • Hebrew and Georgian both have a lot of glottalized consonants. Hebrew also has laryngeals and uvulars. I think it’s the laryngeals that sound like you are clearing your throat.

      I really do not know which language is the most efficient. That’s a good question. German is a harsh sounding language for sure.

      • Igor Alexander

        Depends on who’s doing the speaking. As a kid in Switzerland, I found the German spoken there harsh-sounding. Since then, I’ve heard others speak it smooth as Ex Lax. It’s probably a regional thing.

      • Igor Alexander

        Take “ich” for example. Some Germans pronounce it “ick,” which is kinda harsh, while others pronounce it as a nice smooth “ish.”

    • Michael Porter

      German, a “harsh” language? In the mouths of some German speakers yes. But when it is sung, for some reason it produces some of the loveliest sounds known to Man. I’m thinking in particular of the lieder of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler and Strauss.
      When you listen to a lied like Schubert’s “Auf dem Wasser zu singen” (sung by a soprano) the sheer beauty of the vowel sounds almost takes your breath away.
      Even the language’s harsher aspects can be utilised to almost hypnotic effect by an orator like Joseph Goebbels or a composer like Richard Wagner.
      No, German is great.

  5. Ken Hoop

    Sorbian is very endangered, isn’t it? Have the experts ever established how close the Sorbs are to the Serbs?

    • Sorbian is not that endangered, but it might go extinct in 100 years or so. It’s actually 2 separate languages, North and South.

      I’m not sure how close the Sorbs are to the Serbs, but some Ashkenazi Jews are mostly Sorbian. Sorbs are probably closer to say Belorussians I would think.

  6. FrankBD

    Things like 12 versions of “the” and the various cases of nouns and tenses of verbs are the LAST things a person learns in one’s own language. The teaching of foreign languages gets bogged down by moving them up to first. I remember in eighth grade, we were learning about a certain verb tense in English (my native language) class for the first time in my life, and learning about it also in first-year French class. In an academic environment, it’s more important to say things grammatically correctly than to say them at all.

    If you don’t mind saying the German equivalent of “He be speak not nothing I understand”, how hard is THAT for an English speaker to learn?

  7. alpha unit

    What I found is that if you really want to understand what people are saying in another language you MUST learn all that tedious grammar.

    You have to force yourself to study it. Go over it and over it, and you will be amazed at how much of it you will actually absorb. You will recognize it when it is used by native speakers.

    This has worked for me in studying some Romance languages. But if there are shortcuts, I would love to know about them.

  8. James Schipper

    Dear Robert
    It isn’t necessary to speak like a native in order to be perfectly understood by a native. As long as an accent does not become outright mispronunciation, it will not hinder effective communication. I doubt that there is a single English consonant that I pronounce exactly like you do, but the Canadians don’t seem to misunderstand me, except sometimes with words that have an th, a sound that is very hard for me.
    I know a Polish doctor who has a tremendous English vocabulary and is very articulate, but she still often gets her articles wrong, either using them when they are not required or not using them when they are. It doesn’t really make a difference. A lot of grammar is semantically vacuous. They are like table manners, not like utensils, arbitrary and useless.
    To speak intelligibly is not the same as to speak correctly. Take the folowing sentences:
    I shooted two deers.
    I catched ten fishes.
    I selled my sheeps.
    My sister have four childs.

    The above sentences are perfectly intelligible, even though they aren’t correct. Foreigners should at first try to speak intelligibly. Maybe the correctness will come later.
    There is also a difference between speaking correctly and speaking idiomatically. If somone outside an elevator asks, “Is the elevator ascending or descending?”, then we can be sure that he is not a native English-speaker, even though his question is grammatically and semantically correct.

    You didn’t mention that one of the difficulties of Germanic languages is that words often undergo vowel changes. We have for instance: foul and filth, tell and tale, long – length, full – fill, hot – heat, do – does.
    In English they aren’t that frequent, but in German they are all over the place. Dutch occupies an intermediate position.
    In German we have for instance: krank = sick, kränker = sicker, kränklich = sickly, krankhaft = pathological, kranken an = to suffer from, kränken = to hurt, kränkeln = to be ailing, erkranken = to fall ill.
    We have: gut = good, Güte = goodness, Gut = a good, Güter = goods, gütig = kind, gütlich = amicable.

    Regards. James

  9. randy

    hey alpha, you might like this link…just saw your comment seeking shortcuts to learning a language.

    there’s some self-help/productivity guy Tim Fenriss…I read his blog for a little while, this one post I thought was really cool. “how to learn (but not master) a language in 1 hour” link is here: http://bit.ly/83QSwv

    i’ve never MASTERED a foreign language, i almost had German in the bag but did not make it overseas to get that full immersion required to master a language.

    i studied Sanskrit for a year as well. a very small class with a professor who was probably not qualified to teach it. but it was real interesting. a singular, plural, and DUAL case for all nouns. an alphabet so regular and methodical that there are a couple of “theoretical” letters used in only one (or a handful) of words. the neutral vowel ‘a’ (uh) is omitted in written Sanskrit. i think this language used to be more popular and is known as a language for linguists.

    robert…i thought this post was a bit long…maybe break it up into parts. i love the topic but i get overloaded.

  10. Pingback: More On The Hardest Languages To Learn – Non-Indo-European Languages « Robert Lindsay

  11. James Schipper

    Dear Robert
    Your claim that nearly all Dutch words have several meanings is nonsense. In Dutch, there are no verbs like get or move, which have to be translated by about a dozen verbs in Dutch.
    What makes Dutch hard for English-speakers is the word order. Long sentences in Dutch often allow many word orders, but the one that English-speakers are inclined to use is usually the wrong one.
    As to Italian grammar, it is about as hard as Spanish. Italian plural is fairly straitforward: o > i, e > i, a > e. Those vowel modifications cover more than 99% of Italian words that end in an unstressed vowel. Words that end in a stressed vowel or a consonant have no plural form in Italian.
    What makes Italian harder than Spanish is that the fit between spelling and pronunciation is not as close as in Spanish. Apart from that, I would put them at about the same level of difficulty.
    Have a good day. James

  12. Ken Hoop

    I can’t find where you’ve covered the Macedonian Slav language controversy in which Bulgarian, Serbian, Greek and a host of other interests and experts seem to disagree. Some ultra-nationalists go so far as to claim certain Macedonian villages have direct ties to ancient Macedonians with limited admixture with even Slav invaders, but I’m not sure even they deny the similarity of “Macedonian” with Bulgarian when it comes to language. Greeks are wont to claim the average Macedonian Slav Christian is really a Serbian whom Tito indoctrinated into a seperate ethnic identity for his own purposes.

  13. Ken Hoop

    Sorbs are also called “Wends.” I’m not ready to accept -or deny- the Khazar-Ashkenazi-Slav-Sorb theory. It is historical fact when empowered, the Nazis suppressed Sorbian culture, but I don’t believe German scientists ever linked them to Jews, although of course Nazis are not the last word on such matters.

  14. John Moxford

    It is good to see that bulgarian has scored 3. Try learning bulgarian from the experts.

  15. I don’t think that gaelic should be considered a very hard language to learn, the aspirations really don’t matter when you talking beacause there is so many different ways to say things that you have a good chance of getting it right. There is also almost no declensions in Gaelic, so it seems easy to me. I started learning russian and im having trouble cause im not used to all these declensions

  16. I’m going to stick up for Lithuanian here a bit as I’ve tried it out myself and have found it to be much easier than a lot of other languages, especially Slavic ones. A course here written by a Lithuanian I know makes learning the basics quite simple:

    http://labs.ikindalikelanguages.com/courses.php?id=16

    He also wrote a few comments in another post here on the difficulty of the language:

    http://www.pagef30.com/2009/09/how-difficult-is-it-for-speakers-of.html

    Also, the stress apparently isn’t as irregular as it may seem; according to this site each word is stressed according to one of four paradigms, not necessarily completely randomly as is often thought.

    http://www.debeselis.net/lesson101.php

    • Thanks! I love your website BTW! Feel free to write this post up if you want, but it’s getting torn to bits by packs of hyenas.

      The notion that Lithuanian was hard came from Lithuanian speakers. They were competing with speakers of other Euro languages, mostly Polish, Czech, Slovak and Serbo-Croatian, for who hard the hardest language to learn.

      Would you say it deserves a 4 instead of a 5 rating?

  17. Thanks, I love this website too. It’s almost like it was written by me if I had grown up somewhere else and ended up learning other languages first instead.

    Yeah, I’d say 4 might be better. It also only has two genders which is another plus, and you can identify the gender most of the time by the ending (-as is always male for example, -ė always female). Only a few types can’t be recognized straight away by the ending.

    I should also mention that Lithuanian Out Loud is an absolutely excellent podcast for learning Lithuanian. Often smaller languages are tough to learn simply due to the lack of good content online but thanks to them that problem doesn’t exist for Lithuanian anymore.

    • Alain Morizur

      Hello,
      there is no word “fouture” in french but you might have thought of “foutre”. “c’est foutu” means , for instance, the job will not be done.
      Originaly, this slang adjective would not be written but today it is used every day and does not mean anymore what it meant in 1700.
      foutre meant “to fuck”…and “le foutre” was the sperm !

    • Kamile

      Hey Mithridates,
      Although I might agree that the difficulty of a language may look bigger, because it’s unknow, I have to say that the stresses in Lithuanian aren’t that easy. As a native speaker I can deffinitelly say that even though accentuation rules do exist, they often are ignored by native speakers who see accentuation as the biggest nightmare in the 10-year long schooling of grammar. The paradigms become hard to follow when you need to remmember which accent you need to use with every suffix or prefix added to a word, depending on whether the word was derived from a verb, noun or an adjective. It’s like learning the entire grammar for the second time.

  18. stach

    There is no such forms in Polish as:
    dwojkiem
    dwójgę
    dwójkiem
    dwójgo
    dwójna (could be ‘podwójna’ == double)
    dwójkom

  19. Connie

    Do you have any thoughts on the relationships between the difficulty of a language and present/past national character? For instance, seems like in American English we like to make grammar simpler and speaking quicker — are we lazy/efficient/quick speakers & writers? Does this correspond with other aspects of being American?

    (I found this blog post after entering the search term “kupiła vs kupowała polish,” as I work through Rosetta Stone Polish. It’s always nice to find cribs on Polish )

  20. paolo

    I found this article interesting, but the casual xenophobia put me off. Calling the Greek alphabet “weird” (sure, it’s odd to English eyes, but it’s not “weird”, especially if you consider that the Latin alphabet is derived from it) or claiming that one of the aims of the Acadamie Française is to “keep the language as stupid as possible” borders on being insulting.

  21. the grammar of Polish seems very similar to Urdo in some ways except some of the suffixes are used individually.

  22. I agree with stach’s corrections of the Polish versions of the number 2.

    Also, all these words mean “second” (2nd), not “two” (2):
    drugi
    druga
    drugie
    drugiemu
    drugiej
    drugiego
    drugim
    drugą

    Regardless, there are about 5-7 forms that are in common use; the other dozen are so are exceedingly rarely used, usually only correctly used in literature. It’s like future perfect (“I will have completed it by Friday”) in English; most will avoid using the correct form and instead default to a simpler form (“I’ll complete it by Friday”).

  23. BASTA!

    “English only gets a 2 rating as moderately easy to average, mostly because it is relatively easy to speak it well enough to be more or less understandable most of the time.”

    I disagree very strongly. I didn’t count but I suspect there are more vowel phonemes in English (including diphtongs, triphtongs, and r-colored) than all phonemes in the dreaded Polish (my 1L). You know, it’s not just those clusters of voiceless stops and fricatives that can possibly be difficult to pronounce. I’ve been a 2L English speaker for over 20 years and I still can’t render “rarely” (really? rally?) or “rural” (rule? roll?) accurately enough to be understood by natives. I believe English deserves a 3.

    Also while I am not objecting to the rating of 5 for Polish :), I must point out that the long word example is somewhat unfair. This is just a number-and-measure adjective like German “zweijahrig”, only with a large number. These words can be arbitrarily long but it doesn’t say anything about the frequency of long words in Polish in general.

    The changes in plurals depending on the number are not a separate inflection but simply case declension. Numbers ending with 2,3,4 (except teen-ending numbers) go with plural nominative, all other numbers go with plural genitive. Numerals for 5+ and teen-ending numbers are noun-ish, a bit like English “pair” in “a pair of telephones” – hence the genitive.

    • Hmm. I will wait for more feedback before I up the English to 3. We have tons of L2 English speakers in this town I live in, mostly Hispanics but also Punjabis, Chinese and Arabs. Truth is that most of them are quite understandable to me and I to them most of the time. Sure, sometimes I don’t understand a given word they might be trying to say, but that’s not the same thing as being unintelligible.

      • “Hmm. I will wait for more feedback before I up the English to 3. We have tons of L2 English speakers in this town I live in, mostly Hispanics but also Punjabis, Chinese and Arabs. Truth is that most of them are quite understandable to me and I to them most of the time. Sure, sometimes I don’t understand a given word they might be trying to say, but that’s not the same thing as being unintelligible.”

        I think the ease people have of learning English has more to do with its ubiquitousness than any inherent quality. Most countries in the world receive lots of Anglophone media, whereas the same cannot be said for the Anglophone world in relation to other cultures. That being said, people who immerse themselves in a given non-English language *do* manage to learn it. For example, in India there are 100s of millions of L2 speakers of Hindi due to the popularity of Bollywood, even though you say it’s a hard language! And there are millions of speakers of Dravidian languages that have learned Hindi, so it’s not just a case of similarity (although that does help). Immigrants are forced into a new language environment, so where they don’t form their own enclaves or fall back on a lingua franca for communication of course they’re going to use the local language.

        Also, I’m a learner of Serbo-Croat and Hindi-Urdu, and I think you’re wrong about how hard they are. The difference between perfective and imperfective verbs in Serbo-Croatian may not be readily predictable, but there certainly patterns. Furthermore, English expresses the same meanings in the same unpredictable way:

        English: to drink, to eat, to drink up, to eat up
        Serbian: piti, jesti, popiti, pojesti

        Why is an imperfective prefix inherently more difficult than the phrasal verbs used in English? In fact, I think it’s easier to learn “popiti” given that it’s meaning can almost be inferred if you already know the meaning of “piti” than if it was an entirely different lexical item. In cases where Serbian imperfective verbs are not equivalent to English phrasal verbs, they’re identified by tense at the very least.

        The fact that Serbo-Croatian doesn’t usually show pronouns in a sentence is that it’s usually marked in the conjugation. For example, you could say “ja pijem” but that would emphasize the fact that you’re the one drinking, and not someone else. Ja pijem means “*I’M drinking”, whereas “pijem” means “I’m drinking”. “Pijem” only applies to “ja/I”, as the other pronouns have distinct forms. Spanish does the same thing, and yet you’ve given Spanish a difficulty level of 1! Something tells me your approach isn’t very consistent.

        Regarding cases, that’s not a major issue. I can tell you from experience that mucking up cases usually does not cause problems in understanding. It’s like using the wrong preposition in English; you can understand sentences like “I live at Brisbane” or “I eat lots food”. Anyway, once you get enough exposure to the language understandings of case just become natural. You can’t just make claims about languages like this when you haven’t tried learning them.Here’s a case-by-case deconstruction of how simple Serbian grammar actually is:

        -Cases are almost always easily predictable by the preposition they follow, “s” is instrumental and “na/u” is locative (and only instrumental when talking about more abstract concepts, like language; “na srpskom – in Serbian”).

        -The genitive case is usually just the equivalent of English “of” (To je pas – that is a dog, bojim se pas*a* – I’m afraid *of* dogs). In a sense, the genitive is practically like learning another set of possesive pronouns, and pronouns are one of the easiest parts of a language. It’s also used with “from”, and I assure you as a foreign learner of Serbian you’ll find it easy to memorize (you’d probably say “Ja sam iz Australije/Amerike/whatever-e/a[depends on gender]” a hell of a lot of times).

        -Vocative is hardly even a case, it’s just an ending that you use to call people. It’s almost like nicknames, except you’re grammatically oblidged to use it in appropriate situations. I assure you you will *never* be misunderstood when you don’t use this case and you’re supposed to, even if you will definitely sound weird.

        -The distinction between Dative and Accusative is essentially the same as the English distinction between indirect and direct objects. In other words, Marko gave Maria (dative) the book (accusative). Since English makes this very same distinction, just using word order to convey it instead, why on Earth does this make Serbian a hard language?

        All in all, there are some case distinctions that you’ll need to learn to become proficient in Serbo-Croatian. But this will happen naturally while learning Serbo-Croatian (if you focus on reading/watching/listening to media in the language and then reinforce your knowledge with conversation practice, rather than focusing on grammar from the very start), and they don’t differ much from the amount of effort you need to put in to learn word order or the use of prepositions in a new language.

        Regarding Hindi, there’s no way you can consider the difficulty of Hindi and Mandarin in terms of the script. Devanagari is a phonetic script like Latin, while written Chinese is logographic. That said, even Chinese script can be (and has been) learned by Westerners with enough effort, just relatively more. The grammar is also very similar to European languages, so anyone with familiarity with 2 or more of them will not find many really alien features. Even if you’re a monoglot, if you have the right attitude and learning strategy you can easily learn it given enough time.

        “you also need to take into account whether you as speaker are male or female”. So what? Do you have trouble remembering your gender on a daily basis? Why is that harder than say Spanish, which makes you mark your gender when you apply adjectives to yourself? And even if you somehow get it wrong, there’s no way you’ll be misunderstood. This may cause some difficulty in the first few hours or days of learning for the seriously uninitiated in terms of languages (people who honestly have never encountered gender in another language they’ve studied), but even then that’s pretty minimal effort.

        You also claim that Hindi has “lot’s of long words”. Do you have any evidence that “long words” are more common in Hindi than in your “easy” languages? In my admittedly limited study of Hindi-Urdu (I didn’t give it up due to difficulty mind you, it was because I wanted to focus on another language for a while; I’m gonna get back into it in November) I haven’t encountered words that are much longer than the other languages I’m familiar with (namely English, Serbian and Spanish).

        Sure, Hindi is harder for an English speaker than a Romance or possibly a Germanic language, but only due to a relative lack of cognates (although there certainly are many cognates; both words of Indo-European origin and more direct borrowings). In terms of grammar it’s just as easy as any other language.

  24. Bobby

    There are some factual errors about Polish language. I have no time to point out all them them, but for example ó, u and ł are not the same sound, ó and u are vowels and they indeed sound the same, ł is a consonant and u may form diphthongs where it sounds like ł.

  25. FrankBD

    Robert, this is merely tangential to the subject, but on another blogboard (HalfSigma) that sometimes discusses the same issues you do, some threads about teaching early reading, irregular spelling rules, and international languages, motivates the question whether there’s something like Simplified International English that keeps the vocabulary while simplifying spelling, pronunciation, verb tenses and other irregularities. Sort of like Esperanto but with more of an English- than Romance-based vocabulary. (A Google search on “simplified international English” returned only suggestions that such a thing should be developed.)

    Do you know of any such thing?

  26. Jan Bauer

    Hello, I really enjoyed your article, especially the party about the slavic and baltic languages, I only have one little concern:
    In the part about German you write that a word changes it gender from singular to plural e.g. das Kind, die Kinder.
    I think this is not correct as the article for plural simply is “die” regardless of gender in singular,i.e. there is no gender in plural in the German language.

  27. Brazilian Portuguese is difficult because of diglossia, 18th century Continental Portuguese is used in writing, while Brazilian vernacular is used is speech.

    I love you
    Amo-te or Amo-o[standard, written]
    Eu te amo or Eu amo você[spoken]

    We saw them
    Vimo-los [standard, written]
    A gente viu eles [spoken]

  28. Pierwszy gosc (pytanie):
    Hello, Do you know maybe something about polish manufacturers of [url=http://baterie.lazienkowe.bialystok.pl]baterie lazienkowe[/url] ?
    I wan’t to get some contacts to them. I have some offer ;-) you
    know…

  29. Larry

    Persian, which enjoyed a long period as the lingua franca of a broad region from the Middle East to Central Asia to South Asia and beyond, is a very easy language at the entry level. However advanced levels such as Sufi poetry can be very difficult because of subtleties of meaning. This would average out to a 3 but it would be better to recongize that the range of difficulty increases from elementary to advanced

  30. Pingback: Danish children speak later than others

  31. Tancosak

    Hello,
    I’ll talk about CZECH. You wrote there: “It’s sometimes said that even Czechs never learn to speak their language correctly, but that is probably an exaggeration.”
    No. It’s true. I’m from Czech Republic and we don’t know our language perfectly. And for immigrants, learn Czech is catastrophe :-D.
    We learn our grammar nine years in school, but some rules Czech learns in universities! It’s strange.
    So, I’m not surprised, that Czech is a Guinness Record – Hardest Language… I see what I see (I’m common people, not a linguist)

  32. Miroslav Capek

    Dear Robert,
    these pages are fascinating, thanks a lot for them!
    I am a Czech. I can speak English and also some German, Russian and Spanish. I understand Slovak well and partly Polish and Croatian.
    I have a few remarks on Czech language:

    – what you say about the language is mostly true. However, there is always something more to be said, of course. For example, the language changes slightly according to who you speak to – if you are on “first names terms” with him/her or not. Also, women use different verb suffixes in past tense from men. This is probably similar to Japanese or Chinese but not so complex.

    – Czech is a very difficult language and if it wasn’t my L1, I would never like to learn it. On the other hand, it is nowhere near Navajo or many other non-IE languages. I strongly disagree with the opinion that Czech is the most difficult language in the world. In Europe, it might be in TOP5 – but not in terms of the whole world.

    – Czech is extremely difficult for a foreigner to learn – but it is not impossible. I know a few foreigners who speak Czech quickly, fluently and with almost no grammatical mistakes (I mean fewer than 3 mistakes in a half-hour monologue) – they come from the USA, England, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, … There is always some strange accent left so you can always tell they are foreigners – but their grammar is fast and as correct as natives have. Well, I also know one man from Armenia, whose Czech is perfect including the accent. He moved here about 20 years ago and it is totally impossible to distinguish his Czech from mine. I have been friends with him for 4 years and he has never made a slightest mistake. If he hadn’t told me he wasn’t a Czech, I would never have found out.

    – I guess that learning Czech is much more about memorizing whole phrases and sentences then about logic and rules.

    – most of the facts written about Polish language applies to Czech and Slovak as well – and, I suppose, all Slavic languages.

    – There are a few sentences written in Polish section that actually speak about Czech and NOT Polish. For example the letter/sound “ř” is exclusively Czech. Poles, Slovaks, Russians, Germans,… – nobody has it. (Though I heard that maybe it is used in one of Eskimo languages.)
    The two sentences (Strč prst skrz krk or Mlž pln skvrn zlvh.) are also Czech and not Polish.

    – The letters “r” and “l” are considered “half-vowels” in Czech. (The term in quotes is mine – it’s not the official name). It actually is possible to pronounce them quite easily – that’s why those two sentences do not harm your tongue.

    Concerning mistakes in grammar made by natives… – well, it is true, but it is not so bad either. There are native English speakers who make mistakes in English too and that’s probably the case in most languages.
    In everyday life, when speaking, most Czechs speak quite correctly unless they run into areas of difficult grammar (see below).
    Writing, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. It is quite hard so just a few Czechs write with no mistakes. In fact, at least a third of the population makes at least one grammatical or spelling mistake in every single sentence they write. (Young generation is generally much worse in this respect as schools now aren’t so strict as they used to be and do not engage drill anymore.)

    – Areas where native Czechs make most mistakes when SPEAKING:
    (my subjective observation)
    * use of the Czech equivalent to English “would” (frequent slight mistakes)
    * use of the third conditional (Ex.: “If I’d known it, i wouldn’t have asked.”) (It is not so difficult but most Czechs have given up using it. They use the 2nd conditional instead – thus making the language poorer and unable to distinguish between a condition in the past and in the present.)
    * one specific use of the gerund – as in sentences like “She looked at me smiling.” or “He walked along whistling.” or “He was in his bed reading a book.” This is extremely funny because this use is both very simple and very frequent in English. It is not simple in Czech at all! I estimate that only about 3% of Czechs are able to say these sentences correctly. I am a university graduate myself and I cannot do it even though I have tried to learn the rules many times. Instead, Czechs usually divide such sentences in two: “She looked at me and she smiled.” or “He was in his bed and he was reading.”

    (I am certain that this must sound ridiculous to an English speaker. On the other hand, there are many other situations in the Czech language where Czech (and not English) is more elegant, more precise and faster.)

    • Miroslav Capek

      Well, one more note: some Czech sounds (mostly “R” and “Ř”) are quite difficult for children to master. Most of the kids learn to pronounce them correctly at the age of 5 or 6 but some native Czechs NEVER learn to say these sounds, even after decades of trying. As you might have guessed, these letters also cause huge problems to foreigners learning Czech. Some of the foreigners eventually suceed and learn to pronounce it, some do not.

  33. If you want an easy Indo-Aryan language, may I suggest Bengali? It uses a variation of the Sanskrit alphabet so it is difficult to learn to read and write, and like all other Indo-Aryan languages on the sub continent it has many phones that are absent in English. However, it lacks grammatical gender, and that one advantage makes it much easier (or so I’ve been told).

    I don’t speak Bengali at all, but as an American who has learned Hindi I have noticed my Bengali friends who speak Hindi make the same gender-speaking mistakes that I do.

    Punjabi might be more difficult than any other Indo-Aryan language SPOKEN because it is tonal. Otherwise it’s similar to Hindi. I hate tonal languages. I just can’t understand speaking in a prescribed pitch.

    All that being said, I never found Hindi difficult. Many of the words in English are related to Hindi because 1) either they’re mutual cognates from Sanskrit or 2) they were borrowed from Hindi. Here are some examples of words in Hindi that you can find in English:

    loot — verb meaning to plunder or destroy.
    mausaum — season or weather, English equivalent is monsoon
    toofan — storm, English equivalent is typhoon
    kammarband — something tied around the waist, English equiv. cummerbund
    badnaam — literally bad name, means bad reputation. These are both cognates to the English words bad and name.
    bangalaa — house, English equivalent bungalow
    jangal — jungle
    pandit — priest, English equiv. pundit

    • Wade in MO

      “Many of the words in English are related to Hindi because 1) either they’re mutual cognates from Sanskrit”

      Are you attempting to promote the Out of India theory here? Wouldn’t they actually be cognates because of their common origin in proto-indo-european?

      • No, I’m not promoting any theory regarding English. I meant that they’re mutual cognates in both languages, with the Hindi ancestors coming over from Sanskrit, not necessarily that the English cognates came directly from Sanskrit. It’s a poorly formed sentence.

  34. Lena

    I don’t contest that Danish (I find them very hard to understand!) might be harder to learn than Swedish, but the two reasons you list aren’t actually differences between the languages. Swedish also has two different words for ‘a’ (en/ ett; a dog= en hund; a pet= ett husdjur), modify nouns to include ‘the’ by adding different en/et suffixes (hunden; husdjuret), and this determines how adjectives are modified as well. Also, Swedish also has three extra vowels at the end of the alphabet that don’t exist in English (å, ä, ö). They are basically the same extra vowels as in Danish- just written somewhat differently. Thanks for the interesting post though.

  35. maidros

    Hello Robert,
    There seems to be a small error in this page. You have rated Sanskrit both 4 and 5. Which is the correct rating, in your opinion?

    If you were to ask me (a native speaker of Sanskrit), then I would say that Sanskrit certainly merits a 5 in difficulty. After 30 years of speaking it routinely and holding a full university education, I still find some places where the grammar is atrociously complex and I end up confused. The language has simply too many grammar features that I have rarely (or never) found in any other language.

    The declension of the nouns is based on the letter they end in (for instance, the declension of a noun ending in `a’ would be very different from the declension of a noun that ends in `e’, which are very different from the nouns ending in `u’, and so forth). Then, the masculine, feminine, and neuter genders decline very differently. For each noun, there are eight cases, with three numbers (singular, dual, and plural), so there are 24 forms for each noun. Considering that (between the different endings, and genders), there are roughly 20 different kinds of nouns (some letter endings either do not exist in the language, or exist in so tiny a number that they are negligible), there are 1440 different REGULAR forms of nouns. To add to this, there are some noun cases that have multiple forms. And there are exceptions in addition to this.

    The pronouns have the same cases and numbers, but their declension is rather different (particularly, for the `I’ and the `you’ pronouns), but all in all, pronouns are a piece of cake, compared to the nouns.

    Then there are verbs, where each verb can exist in 10 different tenses and moods (there is an additional one in Vedic Sanskrit, but it has mercifully fallen out of use). There is one present tense, two future tenses, and three past tenses, an imperative form, a form which expresses doubt, a form which expresses hope (or other positive things like offering benediction), a form which expresses the condition (if only,…, then) form. There are two different conjugations based on who the direct beneficiary of the actions is – oneself or others. And there are ten groups of verbs, all of which conjugate fairly differently. All verbs have different forms in single, dual, and plural forms, and in first, second, and third person.

    If you can master all this, then you are ready to take on the real devils in the language, the participals, noun derivatives, and agglutinatives, all three of which are far far more complex. Let me know if you want me to explain those as well.
    Regards,
    Maidros

  36. JFR

    no sabia que supieras hablar bien el español para que le dieras el rango de “1”,
    1 no mencionas la ortografía, (b=v)(k=c) (s=z)(s=c)(h) la “C” suena como “S” en algunas palabras, igual la “g” suena como “j” aveces tan bien
    2 la “H” muda
    3 el sonido de la “ñ”, “g”, “i”, “y”, “ll”, “r”, “rr”
    4 el “ser” y “estar” = (are) / que sé usa MÁS en el español que en los otras lenguas
    5 el “ese”, “este”, “aquel”
    6 los 6 tiempos
    7 los generos
    8 de + el = del
    9 (the) = el / las / los / las
    ……..
    y al pobre portugués le distes un miserable punto XD y eso que tiene mas sonidos que el español

  37. Stubmled into your website when doing research about bilingualism for my school paper. I am a Swedish born gal (living in the US) who got a free language (Finnnish) at home, by her Finnish born parents. I was hoping you had touched more on the Finnish language as well. It is said to be the hardest to learn to talk and it indeed is for people who aren’t born into it. It is even hard for us who are born into, but with the percistance by one or both parents,it is doable. :)
    I will come back to your blog and see what more interesting stuff you have here…I hope it is an active blog.

  38. A.

    I think that Czech is a little bit harder then Slovak (Yes, I’m from Czech republic). Because Slovak has a more regular grammar and so on. And yes: Czech is full of exceptions :D Sometimes it’s hard to remember.
    This is an interesting article. I like to read something about other languages. I didn’t know that we have so many different ways of declension. (Sorry for my english if there is something wrong. I tried to write correctly. )

  39. Skurinksi

    No way is European Portuguese easier than English…

  40. Tim Weir

    Very interesting. I’d just pick up on a couple of points a) what you say about perfective and imperfective forms of verbs in Polish is also true in Russian b) although the pronunciation in Scots and Irish Gaelic (Q-Celtic) looks irrational to English speakers, it is actually quite regular and consistent .

  41. “Any Gaelic language is tough. Irish students take Irish for 13 years, and some take French for five years. These students typically know French better than Irish. There are inflections for the inflections of the inflections, a convoluted aspiration system, and no words for yes or no. The system of initial consonant mutation is quite baffling.

    Welsh and Scottish Gaelic are also very hard to learn, some say harder than Irish, although Welsh has no case compared to Irish’s two cases. And the Welsh has a mere five irregular verbs. Gaelic languages are harder to learn than German or Russian. Both Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are written with non-phonetic spelling that is even more convoluted and irrational than English.

    Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Irish get 5 ratings, hardest of all.”

    Woah… have you ever tried to learn any of these languages? The Celtic languages are by far some of the simplest Indo-European languages going. Scottish Gaelic has a completely regular and phonetic spelling system, it has only 3 cases [nom [as normal], dat [add an 'i' for feminine nouns] and gen], it has only 10 irregular verbs [which are regular within themselves], the verbs themselves do not conjugate and the language has gotten rid of 99% of the varied [but completely understandable] mutations of Welsh and Irish [lenition being the only one left]. On top of this, Gaelic has a very systematic approach to working out whether words are masculine or feminine and the language’s syntax is very simplistic if you learn the rules.

    The only real issue for non-Scots who are learning Gaelic is the pronunciation – bh, mh, aoi, dh, gh, L, N , R, sh, th all cause great issues.

    In conclusion, Hungarian, yes – 5. Celtic languages, no. 2, yes. 3 at a push.

  42. Joseph Callahan

    Celtic languages differ. Welsh is very straight-forward and simple, once you get past two sounds English doesn’t have. It’s been heavily influenced by English in the 20th century, so many idioms are direct translations of English ones. Intitial mutations exist, but written Welsh shows both the original and new letter.
    Irish doesn’t show the original one, and it has a more complex grammar, but it’s not a really difficult language. Main problem, I think, is idioms–there are lots, as in English. “Cuir suas de” for example (literally “put up from”) means “to decline, refuse.” “Cuir faoi” (literally “put under”) means “to settle.” Scottish Gaelic is basically an Irish dialect that’s become a seperate language due to political/economid developments after 1600. It’s about the same as Irish, though phonology (I think) is a little more challenging. Breton is more complex than Welsh, (particularly verbal system) and has tons of opaque idioms, like Irish. Cornish is very similar to Breton, but was recorded only partially before its demise as a community language about 1800. Manx, one Celtic scholar has propsed, is almost “baby Irish” learned by mainly-Norse speaking children of Norse fathers (conquerors) and Irish mothers. It’s also written according to a very strange system probably based on written medieval Lowland Scots (English dialect). The discussion so far hasn’t touched on any of the submerged languages of Europe, which are often much more interesting than the regularized plasticized standard languages–Piedmontese, Romansch, Frisian, Galicia, Basque, Occitan, etc. etc.. Traditional rural dialects of standards are often equally interesting.

  43. Just a quick note about English. As a trained ESL professional and linguist I have a little input for English for you. You hit the nail on the head with the phrasal verbs, and that English is actually a difficult language to learn. A quick note about spelling though, spelling was standardized fairly late in English, but before pronunciation had settled a little more, hence differences in orthography and pronunciation. You are however incorrect to say there are no rules. 80% of English orthography does match pronunciation, the other 20% though has high frequency usage which is why we think there is more that doesn’t match some kind of spelling rule. English actually has lots of rules for structure, spelling, and grammar to help the second language learner.

  44. Maggie

    I find it hilarious the pride some people take in the supposed difficulty of their language, as if it is something to be proud of. The seem actually angry if a foreigner manages to master it. Silly people.

  45. NC

    I must say is very strange you give one “1” to Portuguese language. Probably one of the most complicated “Romance” languages. You can’t really imagine how grammatical is complicated. I’m a native and still made some unwanted errors, sometimes it too much to handle even to us. Youth now can’t even write or speech with at least something in a phrase said/wrote be incorrect. Also pronunciation is so complicated and harder to master that even foreign residing in country with more than a decade can’t even get pronunciation right or reach some “perfection” to someone don’t notice that is not native. Even brazilians residing here have hard times understand us, loosing their accents and some difficulty in adaptation. A portuguese in holiday at Brazil have also problems getting and understand the right “brazilian” speech “mood” . TV shows that came from Portugal never succeed in Brazil cause of the slow, clear, not “mellow” pronunciation that brazilians have. Easy? More than English? And Spanish? Certainly a joke. I’m not a good foreign learner and speaker but one thing that continental portugueses are some aptitude is for talk foreign languages. Why? First because of “neutral” accent-free pronunciation. Also because all the rest of european languages seem so much more easy than portuguese.

  46. Jaro

    Hi!

    I find your article interesting, though I wouldn’t agree with you on many points. But first, I think that your article is simply not very well organised. You devote ten paragraphs to one language but another one is dwelled on within only a single paragraph. Most of all, I have no idea why you decided to include that awfully long list of English phrasal verbs. That was not the point of your article, was it? Also, sometimes you lack coherence. Let’s take this paragraph:

    “I and y, s and z, je and ě alternate at the ends of some words, but the rules governing when to do this, if they exist, don’t seem sensible. The letters ř and ť are very hard to pronounce, and the ř exists in no other language. There are nasal vowels as in Portuguese. The ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, sz, cz, dz, dź, dż sounds are hard for foreigners to make. There are sounds that it is even hard for native speakers to make, as they require a lot tongue movements.”

    At this point you are supposed to be talking about Polish yet some of the distinctive letters you mention here are Czech rather than Polish.

    I also don’t really understand the criteria you apply conerning a language’s difficulty. Half of those listed are “hardest of all” but there’s hardly any comparison between them. And when you do make a comparison, it’s often kind of strange. If the Baltic languages are so difficult, why compare them to not-so-hard Russian? It’d have been better if you used Polish or Czech here.

    There’s another thing that bugs me and that’s the way you treat Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Now, I don’t know a thing about Portuguese but most opinions I heard about it were that it’s hard, definitely harder than Spanish. Like I said: it’s just rumors that I heard but still…

    Anyway, I have no idea why Spanish should be graded higher than English. You seem to think that your language’s main problem is the fact that pronounciation often has very little to do with spelling. That’s not the case with qute a handful of European languages, I agree. Another bad thing about it is the number of phrasal verbs that are supposed to be impossible to master.

    Well, I think you’re forgetting one very important thing. The thing that in my opinion makes English the easiest language on Earth: its dominance. English is everywhere and, unlike Spanish, it surrounds us on a daily basis, it keeps talking to us whenever we turn on the Internet or leave our homes; no matter what country we live in. I can’t quess the pronounciation on the basis of spelling? Well, I’ll watch a couple movies and sooner or later I’ll get this right. Willy-nilly.

    Also, I think you underestimate the value of not having any inflections in your language. Now that’s a HELL of an advantage when it comes to comparing with other languages. Can you show me another in which almost none verb would ever appear in more than five variants, most of which are 100% regular anyway? And uses the Latin alphabet, so that you don’t come up with Chinese. ;) Whose grammar, by the way, is not as much easier than that of English, as it is commonly believed. I don’t mean it’s hard (grammar is the last thing you ought to be afraid of when it comes to learning Chinese) but it has its peculiarities (like two different ways of negating a sentence).

    Don’t take it too personal though. :) It’s just my personal notions, that’s all.

  47. Ria

    Dying light blonde hair reddish blonde or strawberry blonde is as hard as learning Finnish and Hungarian. Dying dark brown or medium brown hair pale blonde or platinum blonde without bleaching it is as difficult as learning Polish and Armenian. But dying light brown or dark blonde hair strawberry blonde is as easy as learning Spanish and Italian.

  48. viv

    I read only passage about slavic languages and I do not want to continue, it is not very proffessional. You have a problem to distinguish slavic languages. You put together features of slovak and czech or polish.
    Where did you find czech has 6 genders? It has only 3 – masculine, feminine and neutrum, I am sure about that I am a slovak and I can speak and read czech almost as my mothertongue, for me it is just like a different dialect of slovak language.
    verbs in both slovac and czech take gender only in past tense

    • Iveta V.

      I think he meant that Czech has 6 verb conjugations like Spanish… já jsem, Ty jseš, on/ona je, oni jsou, vy jste, mi jsme. Also, 3 genders? Maybe it’s because I speak it all the time and just don’t notice the grammar… but I’m pretty sure that there’s only male and female, because I can never find a way to avoid putting gender to a verb. And yes, sometimes I’m reading something in Slovak and mistake it for Czech with bad grammar until I realize it’s a different language.

  49. (December 1, 2009 at 9:35 PM
    Ok Randy, I split it in two, IE and non-IE. Is that better? Let me know…
    This was another one of my magnum opuses.)

    Sorry to be pedantic Robert, for this is indeed a magnum opus, but shouldn’t the plural be “magna opera” ?

  50. Simon

    About french language: “since they have a committee that is set up in part to keep the language as orthographically irrational as possible.”

    lol… wrong… something you don’t understand doesnt mean its irrational. French language is connected to the history, to latin etc…you should learn to see beyond. French language is logic when you know a bit about France History.

    If french people had to edit dictionnary everytime a guy is pronuncing bad or making gram mistakes, then it would become really irrational. More ever, french isnt frozen in time, new expressions, new words, slang are registred in dictionnary, always evolving. But what is a part of History, stays as it, unchanged. Would you prefer people talk sms language?

  51. Eder

    Considering Portuguese easier than Spanish is not correct. Portuguese is far harder. Especially if we take into consideration the European variant (Brazilian Portuguese has an easier pronunciation, but European Portuguese strongly omits vowels, and has more sounds per letter than the Brazilian variant). Portuguese has both nasal and open vowels, which Spanish lacks, Standard Portuguese has at least 12 vowel phonemes while Spanish has 5. Also, Portuguese still keeps the primitive Subjunctive Future, which may seem odd and hard to understand for speakers of languages that lack it (like English and any other Romance language). While speaking about the future, in Spanish the phrase “when I am president, I will change the law” is “cuando yo soy presidente, voy a cambiar la ley” using the Present tense just like in English, while in Portuguese this sentence should be “quando eu for presidente, vou mudar a lei”, using the Subjunctive Future which doesn’t exist in English and in any other modern romance language. Also, while Spanish permits the use of the easier-to-remember compound past as in “yo he trabajado”, Portuguese always force you to use the conjugated form which varies among verbs as in “eu trabalhei” because the sentence “eu hei trabalhado” simply doesn’t make any sense in Portuguese. Although Spanish also has some details not present in Portuguese, they are far more insignificant. By the way, I’m a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker who also speaks Spanish, English, Italian, and currently learning German.

    • Richie

      “By the way, I’m a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker who also speaks Spanish, English, Italian, and currently learning German.”

      As a native Spanish speaker I have to tell you that your Spanish is not good enough to make assessments of its difficulty. You were wrong about two things:

      First, there is a future subjunctive tense in Spanish. Despite what you may find in sites such as Wikipedia some people still use it, especially when speaking formally. It might disappear in a few years but I still hear it to this day. It is mostly young people who don’t really know how to use it properly, but it is still around.

      Second, your translation “cuando yo soy presidente, voy a cambiar la ley” is wrong, similar to the way a 5 year old would say it, proving what the author said in the Spanish article: foreigners don’t ever really get the hang of tenses in Spanish the way a native does, it is just too much nuance, especially the subjunctive. The correct way should be “cuando fuere presidente cambiaré la ley” although as I said before, people now days tend to substitute the future subjunctive with the present subjunctive and you hear “cuando sea presidente cambiaré la ley”. Either of those is correct, but never “cuando soy presidente cambiaré la ley”. Also “cambiaré” is a better translation than “voy a cambiar”.

      Look, this is not a competition. If you feel like you need to defend your language out of a sense of pride I get it, it’s human nature, but I’d suggest you to make a case for your language rather than trying to put down the competition.

      The entire article, although good, is full of biases and cliches; each language is difficult in its own way, that’s why no foreigner should expect to master a foreign language after teenage hood, only to get better at it in time.

  52. Katerina

    Hi Robert, there are many languages which are not commonly taught. Those languages are difficult to learn for many reasons: they are not codified (lack of standardized grammar, lexicon, pronounciation, script…), there are not so many textbooks and other learning materials, number and access to their native speakers (not talking about the proportion of the literate and educated ones) is limited. Say Pashto and look at its recent geo-political importance. It is far more difficult (in grammar, syntax, pronounciation etc.) than Farsi. And it is a fairly big language but still not the most difficult of other tiny surviving Iranian languages. Or Sanskrit. It is a pretty complex language but as the classic Sanskrit is a kind of ideal, artificial language it is very much regular. The next level is Pali or any of Prakrits – that is a challenge! The realm of languages is fascinating, indeed. For me, the answer for the question “which language is the hardest to learn” is simply the language I am not interested in.

  53. PL

    Człowieku Polski nie jest językiem germańskim ,nauczy się najpierw a nie że bzdety wypisujesz.Polski to język słowiański a nie jakieś gówno .

  54. J. S. C.

    I’ve actually found that Polish is quite regular, there are just SO many rules that it gives the impression of irregularity. But behind them all there is a logic.

  55. J. S. C.

    moreover, Polish orthography is 100% regular, just because there are two ways of saying the ‘h’ sound (ch/h) does not make it irregular as English is, because ch and h will ALWAYS make that sound, likewise ‘u’ and ‘ó’ always make the same sound, so it’s not irregular. It might look intimidating with clusters like ‘szcz’ but once you know the rules it’s actually quite straightforward!

    • Jaro

      Got to agree with J. S. C. here… the difference between “ch” and “h” in Polish used to be distinctive but is not anymore. Nowadays, only language purists are able to produce the “proper” sound of either of them. For instance, the accurate way of rendering the sound of laughter in Polish would be “cha, cha, cha,” even though 99.9% of the native speakers would write “ha, ha, ha” instead. The same thing goes for “ó” and “u;” it takes a lifetime for a primary school teacher of Polish to explain to their pupils why it should be “kura” (hen) rather than “kóra” as the choice of the letter doesn’t seem to alter the pronounciation in the slightest.

  56. Jon

    Hi Robert. First, I must say, this is a fantastic article. I found it very informative and interesting!
    I am glad you included Romanian, which doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention in many places. I wanted to mention a few things, though.
    You said, “However, there is no case in Italian, as in all of Romance.” This is actually incorrect. Romanian has five (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, vocative). However, the vocative is not commonly used, and nom./acc. and gen./dat. are grouped together. I.e. N-A “aeroportul”, G-D “aeroportului.” It’s not quite as confusing as many Slavic languages.
    Another thing that makes Romanian tricky is that it has three genders, unlike the other romance languages. It retains the neuter gender from Latin, however neuter words are simply treated as masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, unlike in languages such as Russian where neuter is treated as a completely different gender.
    I think 3 is a good rating for Romanian. I would say it has a lot of grammar that is unusual to the other romance languages (case, articles attached as suffixes as you mentioned, neuter gender) and its pronounciation can be tricky at first as well. I studied Spanish for several years, and this is definitely harder, but still easier than Russian which I am having a difficult time learning.

  57. Addison

    I think this is a very interesting post so please don’t take offense to my question; but why is inflection always considered more difficult than auxiliary verbs and pronouns? If English used ‘giveshe’, ‘givewe’, ‘givenhavei’, ‘gaveshe’, ‘givingbewillwe’, ‘givenhaveyou’, and ‘givenhasshe’ (instead of ‘we give,’ ‘i have given,’ etc) would it suddenly be more difficult?

  58. Gerry

    Very interesting article. Shouldn’t the last two languages on your list be 5’s, not 4’s, as they’re rated as hardest of all? Also, I recall meeting a Spaniard, who said that he found Italian easier to understand than Portuguese.

  59. Maggie

    What about Basque?

  60. mihail

    ettyi think that russian is underestimated., it’s in fact as difficult as polish. in addition, the autor wrote about some features of certain slavic langauge which are in fact universal to almost all slavic languages, like:
    – imperfective/perfective aspect is present in all slavic languages, not only in czech and polish (
    – animated/unanimated nouns distinction is also universal for slavic langauges
    – animated/unanimated male numerals also present in russian: dvoje muzhchin (two men), troje muzhchin (three men),, chetvero, pyatero, shestero and semero vs dva duba (two oaks), tri duba, chetyre duba and etc.
    – there are also a number of features you noticed in other s:lavic langauges that you didnt notice for russian.

    and russian deserves also to be rated as “hardest of all” like polish. here is why:
    – russian orthography is the most “unphonetic ” of all slavic langauges. in most cases spelling and pronounciation dont correspondent to each other: “moloko” > “malako”; “muzhchina” > “muschina”, “vstavlyajemogo” > “fstavlyaimava”, “seychas” > “sichas” or “schas”, “pozhalujsta” > “pazhalusta”, thousands of them! there are about.10-20% words in russian that have a correspondence of spelling to pronounciation. russian pronounciation differs significantly from spelling. in polish, in its turn, pronounciation and spelling in most of cases correspond to each other, you just need to memorize that “prz, trz” = psh, tsh; and in the rest of cases “rz” is pronounced like french “j” and “w” after “t” sounds like “f”. polish ortbography is uncorporable more phonetic than russian. +1 for russian
    allso, polish has fixed stress. in 99% of words its always the second syllable from the end. in russian its unpredictable and you need to memorize it. +1 for russian.
    declension is quite the same. polish has 7.cases and russian has 6. the missing case is vocative, which even barely a case.
    polish have a bit more complicated past tense conjugation than russian:
    russian
    1 ya kupil/kupila (i bought m/f)
    2 ty kupil/kupila (you bought)
    3 on/ona/ono kupil/kupila/kupilo (he/she/it bought)
    1 my kupili (we bought)
    2 wy kupili (you bought)
    3 oni kupili (they bought)

    polish:
    1 kupilem/kupilam (i bought m/f)
    2 kupiles/ kupilas (you bought m/f)
    3 kupil/kupila (he/she bought)
    1 kupilismy/kupilysmy (we bought m/f)
    2 kupiliscie/kupilyscie (you bought m/f)
    3 kupili/kupily (they bought m/f)
    +1 for polish
    also, as far as i know polish has plusquamperfect. +1.

    so, in terms of difficulty and complication, i think, that russian and polish are equal.

  61. Attila

    The part about Spanish being easy is garbage. The rules may be quite regular, and the spelling perfectly phonetic- but Spanish is highly idiomatic- and the multiple subjunctives make for a wide range of nuance. It is almost impossible to find a non-native speaker who speaks it in a convincing manner. And the fact it is spoken in so many countries means that the dlalects differ widely. Even native speakers make egregious mistakes when using the subjunctive in conditional sentences. Ban me if you want- it doesn’t matter to me.

  62. James Schipper

    Dear Robert
    Dutch originally had 3 genders, but now it has only 2, common and neuter. Masculine and feminine merged, except for persons. What is amazing about Dutch is that most native speakers don’t quite know what pronoun to use in the third person singular. That’s because there are 2 systems.
    hij = he
    zij (ze) = she
    het = it

    System 1
    male persons – hij
    female persons – zij
    neuter words – het
    animals – hij, unless the noun is neuter
    objects – hij, unless the noun is neuter
    abstractions – zij, unless the noun is neuter
    substances – hij, unless the noun is neuter

    System 2
    male persons – hij
    female persons – zij
    all animals – hij
    all objects – hij
    all abstractions – zij
    all substances – het

    For instance, melk is a common noun. Under system 1, it would be hij. But under system 2, it would be het because it is a substance.

    Aren’t you impressed? James

  63. Paul

    I’m Polish speaker who tried Lithuanian. And I can tell you one thing:

    It is the hardest Indo-European language. Probably Worse than Polish and Sanskrit. Irregular, illogical and with no real vocabulary. So old that your beard starts growing after 5 minutes. Much more declension patterns than in Polish and no rule for Pitch Accent (They don’t even exist).

    Most underrated language on planet.

  64. Matteo Daniele Ramojno

    You actually made a mistake about macedonian language: NO WAY it is written in latin alphabet, but in Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet.
    I do agree with you about the difficulty collocation anyway.

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  67. Albert

    Just a question:

    What about if you consider Latin by itself? It certainly is harder than German, Italian and French. Probably more than Modern Greek (although saying it is harder than Ancient Greek would be senseless).

    And an ever harder question: What about Proto-Indo-European (PIE) by itself? I believe Ancient Greek and Sanskrit are extremely hard (5 out of 5), but PIE has to be harder. More archaic, and therefore probably more irregular…

  68. Nick T.

    There are a few things about which I am particularly curious.

    1. Is there any evidence that systematization of a language is a crucial factor in objective ease of learning? I notice that many of the most obscure languages on this list rank higher in difficulty, which makes sense for any language that is not commonly taught and so would likely have less of a structure to it. If they had such a structure, would they rank lower on the list?

    2. I’d like to know how linguists define agglutination as it pertains to some of these more obscure languages, i.e. in languages that are traditionally oral but have had foreign systems of writing imposed on them.

    Thanks in advance!

    • They are all systematized. The more obscure ones are not widely spoken. When a language becomes widely spoken, it tends to simplify and lose a lot of its “cruft.”

      Agglutination doesn’t have much to do with obscurity. Turkish and Finnish are agglutinative.

      Definition is here. All of these languages have been written down at least by linguists. That’s the only way that determinations like isolating, synthetic, agglutinative and polysynthetic even come about in the first place.

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  91. Nice post!

    One little correction though: Danish has two grammatical genders, common and neuter.

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  99. Iveta V.

    Czech is my first language, and I have to say, I’m pretty proud to know how hard it is. It makes all the other Slavic languages easy to learn once you know it. However, on this website it’s rated as super hard because of all the grammar rules, but almost no native speakers speak or write it correctly. The whole spoken language is essentially slang nowadays. There are a few people however, that can speak “spisovně” (writtenly), I don’t really know how, they just sort of hear it, and usually from the time they first start speaking and are considered gifted. But what I couldn’t find in this article is whether Czech is the only language that has the Ř sound. I don’t know of any other Slavic languages that have it…

  100. Znawca

    In Polish there’s no such word as “pięćsetdwadzieściajedenmiliardówdwieścieczterdzieścisiedemmiloionów-trzystaosiemdzisiątpięćtysięcyczterystadziewięćdziesięciopięcioletni ”
    In Polish it is “pięćset dwadzieścia jeden miliardów dwieście czterdzieści siedem milionów trzysta osiemdzisiąt pięć tysięcy czterysta dziewięćdziesięciopięcioletni”. Big numbers are not written together like in German, there are separate words.

  101. A lot of the stuff about Celtic languages is not accurate and is often said by people that begin trying to learn a Celtic language as their first second language and give up in the first chapter. Their orthography is magnitudes more consistent than that of English, not less as is asserted. Take ‘tacsaidh’ for example. There’s lots of arguably unnecessary letters, but their configuration in every case allows someone that understands the orthography to pronounce the word even if they have never heard it once. So ‘aidh’ is always going to be the ‘ee’ sound. It is very transparent, unlike English where if someone has never heard the word ‘tornado’ they would have no idea if it is pronounced ‘tor-nah-dow’, ‘tor-nay-dow’, ‘torn-a-do’, ‘torn-ado’, ‘tor-neh-doo’ or what.

  102. I stumbled upon your post while googling whether the actor Robert Lindsay is dyslexic. It was a very happy find! Absolutely fasincating stuff – thank you for all the work you put in! I’m bookmarking it for future reference. :-)

  103. Jan

    I´m Austrian, and I´m speaking my mother tongue German an English fluently. I´m now learning Spanish (speak it already quite well) and Polish. English and Spanish are really easy languages (for foreigners from most backgrounds definetely easier than German (Spanish is said to be easier even for English speakers)). About Polish: It´s definetely not an easy language, but also by far not as bad as many People make it. For example, you don´t Need to know all the different names for ladybug and as already said most forms of the word “two” aren´t used in common language. So it will not be dramatic, if you don´t know them all. And also Germanhas many different forms of the word my (mein, meiner, meine, meines, meinem, meinen) and some things in Polish seems to be more Logical than in German for me. But though, most foreigners (exept from that with a Slavic and maybe Baltic background) will find Polish considerably harder than German.

  104. Jan

    English/American People are arguably fluentl in their mothertongue at age 12, while Poles are fluent not before 16? But this compares only these two languages. What about people from other countries? When for example is the average German/Austrian fluent in his mothertongue, when the average French?, the average Russian? The average Icelandian? The average Hungarian? The average Japanese?
    I don´t know how many Germans can speak the “real German language”, but most Workingclass People in Vienna speak a slang which has not much to do with the “true German” and theyalso make bad grammar mistakes when they write. I think German should get a rating 4.0 (very difficult).instead of 3.5. I think it is on the same tier of “hardness” as Russian (maybe even a little bit harder). Also Portuguese should get 3.5 instead of 3.0 while Bulgarian should get 3.5 instead of 4.0

    • Jan

      But despite it´s my mother tongue I wouldn´t call German a beautiful language, Spanish for example is indeed beautiful.

    • Jan

      But if this difficulty list is only from the perspective of a native English Speaker, then of course German is considerably easier than Russian because it´s much more related to English..

  105. Konrad

    I agree that Spanish is probably the “easiest” romance Language, at least if you take into consideration basic and intermediate levels. It is true that Spanish subjunctive is hard to grasp, particularly for some foreigners (especially English and Slavic people). For instance, in my opinion, both Italian and Catalan are a bit harder than Castilian, grammatically speaking, Spanish lacks some pronominal particles such as Italian: ci, ne, vi, Catalan: hi en. Their use is essentially idiomatic and it may take you a whole life to master them properly. Besides, Spanish makes use of just one auxiliary verb to form all the compound tenses, unlike Italian (essere and avere) or French (avoir etre) the use of the proper auxiliary is rather elusive sometimes. Last but not least, Spanish plurals are a piece of cake there is no irregular form. Probably only Esperanto, an artificial Language, is as easy as Spanish in this regard. Italian plurals are not so irregular but Italian has a series of “weird plurals”: for instance a bunch of words are masculine in singular and feminine in plural, retaining the the neuter Latin ending -A:
    uovo – uovA egg/eggs; dito/dita finger-fingers and so on. Even the plurals of nouns ending in -co -go are often unpredictable, They may end in -ci – gi or -chi and ghi.

  106. Jan

    Amazingly that Icelandic and Faroese got the highest rating for English Speakers, despite the fact, they are Germanic languages. So they really must be insanely hard

  107. Konrad

    As a foreigner I could say that German is not particularly difficult as a Language. Cases are much more simplified than in Latin, Ancient Greek, Lithuanian , Russian or any other Slavic Language, except Macedonian and Bulgarian; verb tenses are far easier than in Portuguese, Spanish or Italian. For instance the simple past and subjunctive are rarely used in spoken language, unlike other languages. In my humble opinion, English tenses are much more complicated and varied than in German. Even the German syntax is rather logical, even though it is quite peculiar. On the other hand, noun gender and plurals can be difficult sometimes. The Geman articles may be also tricky, particularly for those people who don’t have any article in their own native Language, like Russians, Poles, Finns and so on.

  108. Jan

    You could also say Hungarian is not difficult, because it has 1. no genders, 2. no articles, 3. only 3 tenses, 4. easy plurals which are made by adding a “k” at the wor´s end. What´s more It´s cases are rather prepositions than cases which are used in German, Greek or in the slaviv tongues, and it´s grammar has very strict rules with only few exceptions.
    Also Icelandic has only 4 tenses like German and also easier tenses than the romance languages, but despite of all, it is said to be extremely tough. German may have easier cases than the slavic tongues,, but it´s morphology is still more conservative than that of other germanic tongues (except from Icelandic and Faroese).

  109. Jan

    Did he mean that it´s hard or easy with “fucked up”?

  110. Jan

    You see, although Hungarian has no genders and easy plurals as well as very strict rules it is a bloody hard language (maybe even one of the hardest in world?). This is also said in this Forum (at non indoeuropean languages). But there are also people who believe it isn´t that hard (because of the reasons I already mentioned).
    Konrad believes that German is easy because of the reasons he mentioned. Yes, it´s probably not as hard as Hungarian, but I know that many foreigners, like for example all Spanish speakers I have talked about it, still find it very, very difficult.
    I have mentioned that about Hungarian, because you can see in each language easy parts- even in the “terrible” Hungarian.

  111. Aaron

    I think German deserves more than 3. I would say its difficulty is at least 3.5. For surely it is more difficult than English. And I think Portugese is no more difficult than 3. Not much more than Spanish.

  112. Jan

    It is very interesting that some extremely hard like Albanian and Lithuanian are never mentioned in List of the hardest languages.

  113. Jan

    “Some say that Lithuanian is harder to learn than even Polish or Czech, it may be true.”
    I beliefe it´s save to say that Polish is less diffifult than Lithuanian (by far). I´m sure everyone who knows both languages will agree with that.
    About Czech, I don´t know how difficut it is.

  114. Nick

    Having learned English and German as second languages, I very much agree that German is harder. Basic English is an easy language, its Middle-English form being a kind of lowest-common denominator of parent languages, a language created for ease of communication between groups with different linguistic backgrounds in early medieval England. It is a kind of living Esperanto. A rating of 3 is probably too high.

    On the issue of German gender – “Figuring out which word gets which gender must simply be memorized as there are no good clues”. There are occasionally good cues, especially for nouns ending in -heit, -keit or -ung, which are all feminine. Indeed, nearly all abstract nouns (nouns that express ideas rather than tangible objects) are feminine, as in Latin and Greek: Melodie, Musik, Geschichte, Idee, Gedanke, Freiheit, etc.There are some other rules, such as semi-precious stones or weather phenomena being masculine.

  115. Greg

    I’m a Lithuanian leaner, and I’d like to draw your attention to an unmentioned aspect: the verb prefixes.

    I won’t go into great detail here, but if you’re curious, they’re explained in detail here: http://www.lituanus.org/1991_4/91_4_06.htm

    To put it shortly, there’s hundreds of possibilities based off single verbs, an example given is “sukti” – “to turn” – using the 12 prefixes, you can create 12 words with 294 meanings depending on their context. And that’s before you start getting into suffixes and participles.

    And just to add to the fun – the prefixes don’t always mean the same thing. An example: uždainuoti means “to begin to sing” but užaugti means “to finish growing up”. So, you have to learn them individually.

    Lithuanian’s more than deserving of a 5, imo. To be honest, I wish there was a more advanced scale than 1-5.

    • Wow, thanks for this information, amazing. I just received some more info about Lithuanian and its difficulty.

      • Russ

        The same is very true about Russian. There is a very large number of prefixes and suffixes which can be applied to both nouns and verbs to create entirely new variations and words; this is actually one of the harder concepts of the language for foreign learners, but is also one of the things that makes the language extremely rich. Most learners never fully grasp this concept at all.

        For example, check the following Wikipedia link for an example of what you can do with a root for the word “thought” (мысль): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_grammar#Word_formation

        The above link is only an example and is definitely not exhaustive; I can create hundreds of new words just by applying prefixes and suffixes to a root.

        The same goes for verbs and adjectives(!). I can apply sets of prefixes and suffixes, as well as other transformations, to “fine-tune” the word’s meaning and create a very large number of new words “on-the-fly” – to fit the context perfectly.

        I believe there is a similar concept in Arabic and Hebrew – where most roots are three or four syllables and all the other words are formed from there (Russian roots can be any number of syllables, though). After some thinking, it seems to be the case in Russian where “raw” words are seldom used at all (mostly in the case of verbs); most words you will come across in literature and conversation have been morphed one way or another to better fit into their context and describe what the speaker intends on a “finer” level; unmodified (“raw”) words are more commonly used in the case of nouns & adjectives.

        About a decade ago, I briefly studied Lithuanian and reached a conversational level when I spent the summer there as a child. I will agree that their system of prefixes & suffixes is even more complex. I do not know if it’s bigger than Russian or is simply different, but I know that there are concepts I could form by applying prefixes in Lithuanian which could not be done with the Russian prefix system and would require two separate words in Russian. However, I also came across cases of the reverse, where a concept that can be morphed into one word in Russian would require two or more words in Lithuanian… So it is very possibly just different. But I don’t know Lithuanian enough to comment (never continued studying it, unfortunately).

        One thing I do remember, though, is that a common point of laughter among Lithuanians about the bizarre complexity of their language is the longest word – which is something like 33 letters long and created by heavy morphology. I actually just looked up the correct spelling, its “nebeprisikiškiakopūsteliaudavome” – and means (if I remember correctly) “we were no longer gathering the rabbit cabbage” (or some other plant, don’t know). Just something I remember thinking was very cool :)

  116. Jan

    I´m still wondering that Czech is such an insanely hard language. Is there anyone here who can prove that?

    • I knew a Czech speaker once from Czechoslovakia and she told me it was hard as Hell and a totally insane language. She laughed and said it was the hardest language in the world.

  117. Jan

    I have recently looked a bit into Czech and compared it to Polish what I am learning now. Well, while Czech seems to be somewhat easier to pronounce Czech grammar is indeed way more difficult than even Polish grammar. For example in Polish in 99% you can recognice the gender of a Substantive by the word´s ending, in Czech you can´t. Also Czech case declenission looks even more irregular than Polish case declenission. What´s more Czech has less loanwords from germanic and romance rood, so it´s vocabullary is more alien for a Speaker of a germanic or romanic language than Polish vocabullary is.

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  120. I don’t like how Czech commentators enjoying that language is so hard. Look at opinions of teachers http://aboutworldlanguages.com/Language-Difficulty or google “fluent in 3 months”, it consists some lang hacking.

    Lots of difficulties comes from patterns we do not use (gerund, hard variants of conditionals), latin forms of words are acceptable, but their slavic variants are more used, most of frequent words come from 100 roots x 10 suffixes and prefixes. Language is very “robotic”, stress and pronunciation is regular and it doesn’t infatuate meanings. The same is for intonation. We do not trim worlds (so much) and we use glottal stops. It should confirm someone, but listening and reading is easy. I agree that is hard to write diploma.

    Please, put us lower and do not spread fear :d

  121. Moviestar

    Interesting that many Poles as well as eg. Hungarians and Icelanders are usually very proud on the difficulty of their language while Czechs usually don´t even like it if they hear their language is difficult

  122. Moviestar

    Greek gets a 5? You mean Greek (modern Greek) is harder to learn than e.g Russian and Serbo-Croatian? This is a question, I don´t know much about Greek, neither modern nor ancient.

  123. “However, Br Portuguese lacks the personal infinitive.”

    As a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker, I assure you that this is not the case. Sure, the following sentences are common:

    para eu fazer / for me to do
    para você fazer / for you to do
    para ele/ela fazer / for him/her to do
    para a gente fazer / for us to do

    But this is part of a more general trend of replacing the 2nd-person singular pronoun “tu” with “você”, which always takes 3rd-person singular verbs, and replacing the 1st-person plural pronoun “nós” with “a gente”, which also takes 3rd-person singular verbs. Compare with the present tense:

    eu faço / I do
    você faz / you do
    ele/ela faz / he/she does
    a gente faz / we do

    However, the following sentences are deemed wrong by most educated speakers, even in informal speech:

    pra vocês fazer
    pra eles fazer

    Some Brazilian speakers with low degree of education (or in extremely informal situations) do speak like this. But, again, this is not specific to the personal infinitive, as the same speakers tend to do the same in all other verb tenses. For instance, in the present tense, they would say

    tu faz
    nós faz
    vocês faz
    eles faz

    …instead of the more usual and correct “tu fazes / nós fazemos / vocês fazem / eles fazem”.

    So, in the Personal Infinitive, the more usual/correct would be

    pra vocês fazerem / for you all to do
    pra eles fazerem / for them to do

    In brief:
    – Brazilian Portuguese does have a Personal Infinitive;
    – There’s a general trend of substituting “tu” and “vós” with “você” and “vocês” (semi-formally) and “nós” with “a gente” (informally);
    – “você” and “a gente” agree with 3rd-person verbs;
    – Some speakers make any pronoun other than 1st-person singular “eu” take 3rd-person singular verbs, as in “eu faço / tu faz / ela faz / nós faz / eles faz”, but this is deemed wrong/extremely informal by most educated speakers, and it’s not particular to the Personal Infinitive.

  124. William

    The easiest language is the one you want to learn. Please don’t discourage people by saying that their target language is hard.

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  126. Jan

    This is a List on the difficulty of languages from the perspective of a native German Speaker ( from that of e.g. a Russian it definetally would be different) in a Scala from 1- 10 (1= easiest, 10= hardest)
    English: 3/10
    Swedish: 3/10
    Spanish: 4/10
    Italian: 4/10
    French: 5/10
    Russian: 6/10
    Serbian: 6,5/10
    Polish: 7/10
    Finnish: 8/10
    Basque: 9/10
    caucassian and maybe also northern- american Indian languages : 10/10
    On the first sight I would also give Chinese a 10, but because of lacking Grammar it probably only gets 8 or 9

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