The Most Difficult Languages to Learn
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Even though English may seem easy to us, often our English as a Foreign Language students will complain that English is a very difficult language to learn. We can’t really blame them, with phrasal verbs, conditional sentences and idiomatic language making things very complicated for them. But they’re often not the only ones learning a language. As English as a Foreign Language teachers, we can find ourselves in an environment where we need to learn the local language in order to communicate. If this might be you in the near future, you may be interested to find out what the most difficult languages to learn are.
Bear in mind, these are languages which are difficult for English-speakers to learn. Part of a language’s level of difficulty results from its relationship to the learner’s first language. So Italian will be more difficult for an Arabic speaker to learn than a Spanish speaker, since it is closer to Spanish than Italian. (If you are not an English native speaker, this list may not be true for you.)
Difficult Languages to Learn
On the one end of the spectrum are North Germanic languages and Romance languages. These include Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, as well as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. They are members of the Indo-European language family, as is English, which is probably why they are considered the easiest to learn. They should take about 600 hours of classroom instruction to learn.
Then there are a few languages which are considered slightly more difficult. Indonesian, Malaysian and Swahili should take about 900 hours of classroom instruction to learn.
The next category of languages includes the majority of languages. They should take about 1100 classroom hours to learn. This category of languages includes Albanian, Turkish, Zulu and Slavic languages like Russian, Serbian, Slovakian and Slovenian.
A few languages which are slightly more difficult than these include Hungarian, Finnish, Georgian, Vietnamese and Estonian.
Finally, the category of languages that are considered the most difficult to learn include five languages: Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean.
Arabic is one of the topmost spoken languages in the world with over 300 million native speakers. Arabic is spoken throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Its alphabet typically excludes vowels and has very few words in common with English which makes it one of the most difficult languages to learn. The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters and is written right to left. There are dozens of dialects that are very different from each other so even if you understand one dialect you can have issues understanding another.
There are over 900 million Mandarin speakers around the world. Mandarin is the official language in the Republic of China and is spoken in Malaysia, USA, Myanmar, and Singapore. Mandarin is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn for a couple of reasons. First, there are thousands of special characters you must memorize, which are completely different than any writing system seen in Latin-based languages. Not only is the writing difficult, but as a tonal language speaking is very challenging as well. Mandarin is a tonal language and there are four different tones used. As a tonal language, each word differs in meaning depending on the pitch.
Cantonese is widely spoken in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, and Southeastern China. Cantonese and Mandarin share the same base alphabet, but the differences in pronunciation, grammar, and lexicon make it mutually unintelligible. But Cantonese is a tonal language with eight different tones so one word can be pronounced in eight pitches and hold eight different meanings. This makes it very difficult for English speakers that regularly speak with emphasis!
Japanese has two sets of written characters that learners need to memorize which make it one of the difficult languages to learn. The two scripts are Hiragana and Katakana. There are literally thousands of characters you need to memorize in order to achieve fluency. What helps English speakers learn Japenese? The vowel and consonant sounds are similar to English which makes it easier to pronounce and understand. As a contextual language pronouns require different forms depending on the formality of the social situation. The social context is influenced by the social hierarchy of the group dynamic and whether is it a casual or formal situation.
The primary alphabet in Korea is Hangul, which consists of 24 letters, 14 which are constants and 10 vowels. So why is Korean one of the most difficult languages for English speakers? Other than the characters differing from Latin-based languages, Korean is agglutinative language meaning that prefixes and suffixes are attached to words to decipher their meaning and direction rather than using separate prepositions. Korean has six different dialects that are similar enough to make dialects mutually understandable. Similar to Japanese, the social context influences the grammar. When speaking to someone with a superior status—an older distant relative or employer—the speaker has to use specific nouns or verb ending to identify their status.
These languages will take a person approximately 2200 hours of classroom instruction to learn, which is about two years.
Don’t let this classification deter you from trying to learn a foreign language. No two learners are the same and just because English is your first language does not mean that you will necessarily need two years to learn Mandarin, for example. You may have a natural knack for languages which will help you learn any language relatively quickly. Also, if you are living in a country where they speak the language, the chances are high that you will pick up a language quicker because you will be immersed in the culture and constantly surrounded by the language.
On the flip side, you may want to consider where your English as a Foreign Language students fit on the spectrum, because if you will find their language difficult they will find yours difficult! You can assess your student’s English level to find out.
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LAST UPDATED: 27th August 2021
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Processing of personal information you think is inaccurate
- You can tell us if you think the personal information we are processing about you is factually inaccurate. You can require us to restrict how we use your personal information until we can verify the accuracy of the information. We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the information is inaccurate, and may also ask that you provide some supporting evidence of the alleged inaccuracy.
- If we find that the personal information we are processing about you is inaccurate, we will take appropriate steps to correct the information.
Personal information is no longer needed by Everything TEFL Ltd but needed by you in connection with a legal claim
- In most circumstances, we will securely delete or dispose of personal information when we no longer need it for our legitimate business purposes. Our approach to retention is outlined in our corporate retention schedules.
- However, if the personal information we no longer need would assist you in establishing, exercising or defending a legal claim, you can require us to keep the information for as long as necessary. We may ask you to provide an explanation and any available supporting evidence that a legal claim is ongoing or contemplated.
Right to erasure of personal data (“the right to be forgotten”)
In the following circumstances, you have the right to require that Everything TEFL Ltd securely deletes or destroys your personal information:
- If the personal information we hold about you is no longer necessary for the purposes for which we originally collected it.
- The processing is based on consent – if you have previously given your consent to Everything TEFL Ltd collecting and processing your personal information, and you notify us that you withdraw your consent. Please note: withdrawing your consent does not mean the processing of your personal data which occurred before the withdrawal was unlawful.
- We are processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes, and you want us to stop.
- If you think Everything TEFL Ltd has processed your personal information unlawfully.
If you think any of the above situations apply, we may ask you for an explanation and further information to verify this.
Right to object to processing
You have the right to object to the Everything TEFL Ltd processing your personal data in the following circumstances:
Personal information used for direct marketing
If we are using your personal information to send you direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time. If you exercise this right, we will stop processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes. However, we may keep your information on a “suppression list” to ensure your information is not added to any marketing lists at some point in the future.
Automated decision making and profiling
- ‘Profiling’ is the automated use of personal data held on a computer to analyse or predict things that have a legal effect, or other similarly significant effects, on the individual. Examples would include economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests and location. You have the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision (that is, a decision made electronically, with no human intervention), and this may include profiling (although there is no general right to object to profiling). If you are concerned the Everything TEFL Ltd has made a solely automated decision about you, you can object.
- Please note, Everything TEFL Ltd is allowed to carry out automated decisions with no human intervention where you have given your explicit consent to this processing (although you have the right to withdraw your consent).
- We are also permitted to make automated decisions with no human intervention in the following circumstances:
- The automated decision is necessary to enter into, or perform a contract, or complete a contract involving you and the Everything TEFL Ltd.
- The automated decision is allowed under a law passed at the European Union level, or at the level of the European Union or EEA member state level (i.e., is allowed under national law). The law will provide safeguards to protect your rights and freedoms.
However, you still have a general right to object in both of the above circumstances, providing reasons why you think the processing is having a negative effect on you. If you do object, we will carefully consider your reasons, and decide whether to review the decision-making process in your specific case.
Right to data portability
- If you have provided your information to Everything TEFL Ltd, you have the right to request and receive a copy of that information in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- You also have the right to ask us to send the information we hold about you to another organisation.
- There are some situations in which the right to data portability does not apply. For further information, please contact us.
Exercising your rights concerning the processing of your personal information
If you wish to exercise any of the above rights concerning the way in which we process your personal information, please contact:
Risk Management Team
Everything TEFL Ltd
28 – 32 Pembroke Street,
Republic of Ireland
Telephone: +353 (1) 554 6227
Your right to complain to a national data protection regulator (data protection supervisory authority)
- If you think we have processed your personal information unfairly or unlawfully, or we have not complied with your rights under GDPR, you have the right to complain to a national data protection regulator.
- Complaints about how we process your personal information can be considered by the data protection regulator.