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Top 10 Most Difficult Languages to Learn

It’s official: UNESCO has ranked languages according to how difficult they are to master. This is an opportunity to put together a top 10 list of the most difficult languages, whose obscure grammar rules baffle the rest of the world…

Number 10: French!

Ah yes, the language of love. If you can already wrap your tongue around this one, then you have mastered one of the 10 most difficult languages in the world. Congratulations!

While it is relatively easy to learn for speakers of other Romance languages (Spanish, Italian…), for English speakers, its complex grammar and pronunciation rules (silent letters, liaison…) can make it a serious challenge for those who try their hand at it…

Number 9… but also numbers 8 and 7: Germanic languages

Danish, Norwegian and, above all, German are rough at first sight, with their large number of consonants and the sheer length of certain compound words, but that’s not all. As inflectional languages, they require you to change the form of words according to their grammatical relationship to other words in the same sentence. And let’s not forget the declensions and complex conjugations, and the existence of numerous local dialects…

…and what about Swedish?

Absent from this UNESCO ranking, it’s considered “too easy”: its conjugations are much simpler and there are only 2 genders (masculine/feminine) and no declensions. Too easy, I tell you!

Number 6: Finnish

Finnish is in sixth place: a language with mysterious origins (it’s Finno-Ugric, not part of the Indo-European language family), it’s a fusional and agglutinative language (words have numerous prefixes and suffixes added to them).

Finnish goes so far as to change verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives and numbers (!) according to their role in the sentence… And let’s not even mention the vowel harmony that keeps students up at night: certain vowels cannot be juxtaposed in the same word, so they have to be adapted.

Number 5: Japanese

The first Asian language in this ranking, Japanese is distinguished by its own alphabet (or rather alphabets, with Kanji with two readings and the two syllabaries, Hiragana and Katakana) and by the great difference between the written and spoken languages. The grammar is relatively simple but there is also a vast array of linguistic courtesies and formalities called keigo, cultural aspects that make faux pas commonplace for non-native speakers.

Number 4: Icelandic

Finally, a Nordic language on our list: Icelandic is the hardest of them all! It takes on the “classics” of northern Germanic languages, with a (serious) dose of archaisms stemming from its long geographical isolation.

Its vocabulary is highly specific and as for its grammar, certain vowels are affected by their surroundings in declensions and conjugations… Imagine the headache students get when they learn that a single word can take on up to 70 different forms!

Number 3: Literary Arabic

Looking beyond its alphabet, written from right to left, and the scarcity of vowels, Arabic has other difficulties in store. The complex construction of words from a basic root complicates learning, and pronunciation requires a great deal of patience and perseverance as it is highly complex, with guttural sounds being the most difficult for speakers of English or French.

And for what? Not much, because literary Arabic is spoken by almost nobody. It’s a written language, and each country has its own very different spoken version. So, you need to learn at least one of the (very) many “dialects” if you really want to speak Arabic!

Number 2: Greek

Greek may have changed since the Classical Greek of your middle school classes but it remains a highly complex language with many archaic inheritances. Once past the alphabet barrier, its accentuation rules are notoriously complex. Accents play a central role in this language: the meaning of a word can change completely depending on the intonation – and therefore the accents.

top 10 most difficult languages,top 10 hardest languages to learn

The World’s Most Difficult Language: Chinese!

UNESCO is giving credit where credit is due: Chinese is officially the most difficult language in the world.

To give you an idea of the complexity of this language: The written form gives no clues as to pronunciation… And pronunciation and intonation completely change the meaning of a word. Intonations, or tones, which, of course, are specific to Chinese and almost impossible for a Romance or Germanic ear to hear… So, you will need to train relentlessly to master this language!

Have a translation problem?

Alltradis Translation and Interpreting is at your service to help your documents cross the language barrier, and to interpret even the most difficult languages! Our agency translates into 25 languages worldwide.

Bonus: The Easiest Language?

English! A “light” version of the Germanic languages, English has become simpler over time. What’s more, we all have at least a basic vocabulary in English, whether from English words borrowed into our native languages or from our business vocabulary, and many terms are very similar to French and other Romance languages, making it much easier to learn.

TL; DR: Top 10 Most Difficult Languages

Here are the final UNESCO rankings!

10: French

9: Danish

8: Norwegian

7: German

6: Finnish

5: Japanese

4: Icelandic

3: Literary Arabic

2: Greek

1: Chinese is the most difficult language!

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