English Hardest Language?

All of these people at my school are stubborn about English being the hardest language in the world I try to say otherwise but they disagree. Now I realize difficulty is subjunctive based off of the native language of the learner, but I do not believe English is the hardest language in the world. A couple reasons being absolute abundance of resources, alphabet vs. symbols or characters, no cases, no gender, no tones, relatively open word order, no subjunctive (though I have heard it still exist in formal speech don’t quote me on that). I do see peoples arguments with a lot of inconstancies in the language, but I’m sure other languages have many many more, I’ve heard Russian is full of irregularities, even more so than English (I’m not just picking on Russian). I’ve had native Chinese speakers tell me that Chinese is just difficult, no ifs ands or buts about it, the script isn’t phonetic which they admit is hard and confusing. Do English speakers think English is the hardest language to learn because of a feeling of cultural superiority and we (they) want to believe our (their) everything is bigger and better than everyone else’s? or is it just ignorance? or am I completely wrong and English is the hardest language? Thoughts?

Without taking into account the person’s starting language, English is probably not the hardest language in the world/nor one of the hardest.

Spelling is hard as is pronunciation of written words, but the grammar and other characteristics that you mentioned really make it more accessible.

Apparently in China, a lot of people aren’t able to write that well in Chinese anymore because they usually type out characters. For equivalently educated English speakers, you wouldn’t see these problems with writing.

I read or heard that English has a lot more words than most languages, however.

English might have a much larger list of accessible words (due to borrowed vocabulary meaning nearly the same thing and just the common usage of English world wide must brew up some new words often you’d think) but the most common 2000 or so are probably not all that different (in meaning) to other languages. @Cazasigiloso Why do you feel English speakers often classify English as the hardest language?

I presume that most people say that about their native language. haha.

Even some Dutch people apparently said that Dutch was the hardest language in the world when it really should be one of the easiest for people in the West.

It’s just how you will hear people complain about things that they think are hard like passing the GED or finishing college in an easy major. (we all know what these majors are, let’s be real) Somebody that was studying for their US citizenship test said to me, “My test is really hard; there is a lot of information to know.” What? Like remember a few names such as George Washington, 1776, 50 states, Barack Obama…not darn rocket science there. The person doesn’t have much formal education so maybe that is why they said that.

I think it is the sheer number of words in English that make it difficult to get really advanced in it for a non-native speaker, but I think it’s pretty easy to get going in the language…one’s meaning can be understood fairly well even with poor pronunciation and mixed up grammar. However, I do think you need to take into account the native language of the person studying English to evaluate this question in any meaningful way. English is obviously far easier for Europeans than someone who speaks a tonal Asian language with a non alphabet written language. To take “the English is hard” route: I’d argue for say, a Chinese or Japanese person to learn English is just as challenging as a native English speaker learning Chinese and Japanese. I think the praise for Westerners learning Asian languages is a bit inflated when compared to Asians learning English – the challenges Asians contend with in English are just as immense (however it’s worth noting proficiency in English is on average higher than Westerners studying Asian languages mainly because they are at it for a much longer time, often starting as early as primary school…but not necessarily because “English is easier.”

I found this quote from a Chinese girl online who posits an interesting perspective, and which I believe has merit:

“Somehow the sentiment I always encounter is that if a westerner is learning an east Asian language, it’s an amazing feat equivalent to scaling Mount Everest. When an Asian learns a Western language, equally foreign and challenging to them, the reaction is just ‘meh, another ESL straggler’.”

Plus, English is a LOT more influential than Mandarin or Japanese. If you look at the stats for people studying a foreign language, it is WAY skewed toward English. Berlitz posted some information in 2005 and here are the percentages of languages studied as a foreign tongue.

“Este informe, que tiene como base metodológica el número de lecciones impartidas de cada idioma en los centros que Berlitz tiene en todo el mundo durante 2004”. The methodology is not perfect (no study is) and is based on the number of lessons given in each language in Berlitz centers in 2004. The numbers probably have changed a bit but I’m assuming not that much. China has been a booming economy for a LONG time, actually!

69% English
7% French
6% Spanish
5% German
2% Italian
2% Chinese
9% Other

Sorry, I only have it in Spanish.

El español, la tercera lengua más demandada del mundo en el ámbito de la enseñanza

EE.UU., Alemania y México son los países con mayor demanda de nuestra lengua

Fecha de publicación: 13 de mayo de 2005

El español es la tercera lengua a nivel mundial más demandada en el campo de la enseñanza, por detrás del inglés (69,43%) y a escasa distancia del francés (6,8%), según se desprende del I Informe Berlitz sobre la Demanda de Enseñanza de Español en el Mundo, realizado por esta escuela de idiomas.

Este informe, que tiene como base metodológica el número de lecciones impartidas de cada idioma en los centros que Berlitz tiene en todo el mundo durante 2004, revela que la demanda de español supone en la actualidad un 5,95% del total. Le siguen el alemán (4,9%), el italiano (1,6%) y el chino (1,75%). El 9,46% restante corresponde a otros idiomas.

Los diez países con mayor demanda de enseñanza de español son, por este orden, EE.UU., Alemania, México, España, Francia, Brasil, Japón, Bélgica, Canadá y Argentina.

Europa representa un total del 24% de la demanda. Concretamente, Alemania es el país europeo donde más se estudia español, con un tercio de la demanda. Le siguen España (20,67%), Francia (15%) y Bélgica (10%). Los últimos lugares de la tabla los ocupan Irlanda, Finlandia y Portugal, donde el estudio de nuestra lengua es muy escaso.

América representa el 70% de la demanda de enseñanza de español. El área de Norteamérica, y en concreto EE.UU., aporta el 51% del total de toda la demanda mundial.

En Latinoamérica, México es el país con mayor demanda de castellano (4,8%). Le sigue Brasil, el único gran país del área que no tiene el español como lengua nativa y oficial. En Colombia, Perú, Venezuela o Chile la preeminencia del inglés es abrumadora (92,91%), aunque el español se mantiene como segunda lengua.

En cambio, Asia y Oceanía presentan la menor demanda de español. En estos continentes nuestro idioma se encuentra en cuarto y quinto lugar, respectivamente, por debajo de lenguas como el francés o el inglés, y en algunos casos por debajo del alemán, italiano y portugués.

That’s interesting. If I have read the Spanish correctly, French is more studied in Europe than Spanish, and it is the opposite in the US, where Spanish is the top foreign language learned. Diplomatically French is much more important in Europe than here, I think.

Do you think the reason French is slightly higher at 7% percent of learners, one percentage point above Spanish, is because people from South America don’t have to learn Spanish?

Another factor to consider is Canadian Anglophones learning French. I’d imagine that is not ever going to decrease based on the (many quite silly) Quebeker pro-francophone policies.

Still, based on my rough reading of the Spanish you linked to, I’d imagine Spanish is soon to overtake French in foreign learners.

I don’t think many people could claim with a straight face that Spanish is more influential than French in Europe. :slight_smile:

That data was from the 2004 classes at Berlitz; I imagine it would look better now for Spanish and worse for French, though not dramatically so. I’d have to think that most people would say that Spanish is rising and French is falling, though French is an extremely influential language. I don’t know if Berlitz has many centers in Latin America, though I don’t think there would be much of a market because almost everybody speaks Spanish in Latin America!

But if Berlitz had a lot of African centers, that would increase the French numbers. (I haven’t checked if there are Berlitz schools in Africa)

The number of French speakers and learners in Canada is continually increasing and I don’t think that will ever change. However, relative to English, French in Canada doesn’t look incredibly promising. I’d have to think that English is gaining slightly in detriment to French in Canada.

I think that learning a language is not hard, finding a suitable method to study is harder. after long time study english i realize that if we listen enough from 2 to 3 years, we can speak automatically, naturally, easily. like a child learn to speak his mother tongue language.

@anejame: How do you define “hard”? Do you define difficulty by the number of hours required to reach a certain level in a language, the talent or god-given ability to do something?

It is a lot harder getting a C2 in French than an A2 in French. A LOT more hours put in.

It is a lot harder running 100 meters in less than 10 seconds (a handful of people can do so in the WORLD) than in 20 seconds. (almost any able-bodied, under 30 year old non-obese male can do this)

Is memorizing thousands of characters and knowing how to write them in Chinese hard if your native language is not Chinese? I suppose that almost any motivated person could do it if they had no preexisting conditions that impaired learning. So very little “talent” is probably needed. But a heck of a lot of time spent is required.

Apart from the similarities of vocabularies with familiar languages, acquiring which are the main “time consumers” in language learning, there are factors relating to grammar. It always has some difficult and easy parts: for instance, in English tenses are the difficult part, while declension is the easy part. Difficult and easy parts for different languages are presented quite well on the Comparative table of languages and language profiles for the prospective learner page.

I agree sirs
first we should know our target with many levels. if you want to be a teacher, or a native, it maybe take you the whole life… never perfect

English is not particularly hard in my view. But it all depends on how similar a language is to one you know.

@Steve I agree, but have you ever mentioned to anyone that you enjoy learning languages, you get to talking about the subject then suddenly they’re talking about how hard it must be to learn English like it’s the hardest language to learn! I’m sure native Mandarin speakers love the fact that what we write sounds just like our words (somewhat) or that a native Hungarian would be pleased to know there are no cases in English! Even though to them it seems “normal” to them to either write symbols or “have cases”, they must find that you write what you hear and there are no cases an instant relief when they start to learn English right? Maybe the best input would be from someone who came with a language that English speakers consider “hard” and they say whether they find English harder or easier than their native language (Obviously the native language will obviously BE easier for the person, but the question is which is easier as in complexity of grammar, writing system, verbs, etc.)

Another way to look at it would be if someone lived in a bubble (or multiple people in separate bubbles) for 20 years, never heard a single word in any language, then all of a sudden they were each exposed to 2 different languages, one English (for the constant), the other a more “difficult” or irregular language (if you will). which will he/she find easier?

Obviously that experiment is impossible to conduct, but I find it interesting to think about language difficulty with no bias what so ever. Kinda blows my mind a little bit.

@watupboy: Well, if the person was a Portuguese speaker and then had to learn English and Spanish, I would bet it all that he/she would consider Spanish much easier. Similar languages are much easier; the more distant the target language is from your starting language, the harder you have it! (in almost all cases)

I have not really heard people say that English is the hardest language to learn. It is hard, but so are all languages. But I doubt it is the hardest, if there is such a thing.

“It is hard, but so are all languages.”

I am not sure if there is one language that is the hardest in absolute terms but there are definitely huge differences in the rate of progress for different languages for a learner based on what his native language is. I wonder whether there are any studies that looked into the speed at which children learn their native language. That would possibly give clues as to whether there is something as an absolute difficulty ranking.

I was always struck by how good the English of the children of my American friends is. In German I feel that children would make more grammar mistakes or use much simpler sentence structures befor there are in their teens or so. That would suggest that grammar structures take longer time to become fully internalised in different languages, but that is of course just my personal and very unscientific observation.

English the hardest language!? Are we being serious here?

IMO, strong and mixed verbs are the only “hard” feature of English from a learner’s point of view.

I’ve noticed that my 5-year-old nephew usually makes all verbs weak (“bringed” instead of “brought”, for example) even though he is extremely fluent and has a surprisingly sophisticated vocabulary. So this would support Friedemann’s observation about harder grammatical features taking longer to become internalized…

IMO, strong and mixed verbs are the only “hard” feature of English from a learner’s point of view.

Those are nothing special. But as I’ve mentioned, the grammar of tenses is rather complicated.

@Friedmann That’s an interesting thought about child acquisition of their native tongue. I wonder if a study could be conducted but then again, think of all the variables. Though if studies were conducted I do feel that your hypothesis would be correct, I’ve thought about that same thing for a while.