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Is there a language that is most difficult to learn?
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Language complexity is relative

Another language’s learning difficulty is only relative to a speaker’s first language(s).
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Several blogs and sites claim that languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Korean, and Japanese are the hardest languages to learn.[1] Yet, are these languages objectively difficult, or are they only difficult for English speakers, who are likely reading the article in English?

The Argument

Language complexity is relative. Another language’s complexity depends on the learner’s first language(s).[2] For example, Russian may be a difficult language to learn for English speakers. Russian speakers have to deal with more declensions compared to English speakers. Yet, a Serbian speaker may find that Russian is much easier to learn than English because Serbian and Russian may share cognates and are part of the same language family. Furthermore, a study found that native Indonesian speakers learned English faster than they learned Mandarin Chinese because English and Indonesian shared a writing system in the Roman alphabet. There can be no objectively difficult language because any explanation of such language will come from the point of view of language. Linguistic complexity, and explanations of linguistic complexity, is relative to what language the learner or linguist starts from. Because every person uses a language as a starting point, they will approach each new language with the standpoint of their native language(s).

Counter arguments

While measuring linguistic complexity is difficult, some linguists have used criteria to systematically measure or rank linguistic complexity. A linguist can measure and compare language complexity between one another and rank which ones are objectively easier or more difficult.[3] For example, linguist Michael Campbell used three aspects of difficulty to objectively measure across languages: 1) vocabulary acquisition, 2) syntax and morphology for fluency, and 3) phonology for fluency.[4] This particular methodology found that Ubykh (an extinct Northwest Caucasian language spoken along the eastern coast of the Black Sea) was the hardest language to learn for anyone.[5]


Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Thursday, 27 Aug 2020 at 16:11 UTC

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