Some languages are more ‘difficult’ to learn than others. Generally speaking, it is probably more common for language novices to try learning some form of European language followed then by others such as Chinese, Russian and Japanese.
The majority of European languages use the same Latin alphabet as English, making the learning process a little easier – it’s hard enough to learn the words, without throwing another alphabet into the mix.
Language difficulty often plays a large part in the decision of which language to learn. When I was at school, I had to study German, the only other option at that point was to take French. European languages are generally categorised into Romantic and Germanic. Since German and English (and Dutch etc.) are Germanic Languages, they share linguistic similarities, in some vocabulary and sentence structures, although through my own experience of learning German, it cannot be said that this makes it ‘easy’.
An article on Lingholic ranks language difficulty for a native English speaker to learn. As the post suggests, there is no such thing as an inherently ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ language to learn because each person’s native language has it’s own linguistic roots and foibles.
For a season language learner, the challenge of a ‘hard’ language (for example Chinese or Japanese for a native English speaker) is probably one of may reasons that draws them in, and makes them want to learn. For beginners or the uninitiated, sticking the word ‘hard’ in front of something they’re already uncertain about is only going to succeed in putting them off trying. In part, combined with the mentality of ‘everyone speaks English’ labelling languages as hard is what is putting the UK at a disadvantage in MFLs.
The Defense Language Institute in the USA divides languages into four categories – 1 being the easiest and 4 being the hardest dependant on the number of hours it takes to teach native speaking English students up to a certain level of proficiency. Languages like French and Spanish end up in category 1 where as Arabic and Chinese are categorised as 4. German falls into the second category.
As I’ve mentioned many times on my blog, German is my favourite language. Spanish and I, on the other hand, have a tempestuous love affair, where we are currently able to co-exist in peace if not complete harmony. Technically, if we were to take this categorisation at face value, I should not have found Spanish as difficult to learn as I did. But to me German made more sense, and still continues to do so.
This is not to say, however, that German is a better language. For a logical country, the German language is very illogical and over complicated in sentence and grammatical construction. I mean, who needs 16 words for the depending on context, gender and case!?! Dutch is a far more simple languge to learn for English speakers grammatically, but I feel that the pronunciation is perhaps more unusual for a native English tongue.
Categorising languages by difficulty is something that is expected – but because no two languages are the same, it is impossible to compare them fairly. Similarly, language groups such as Germanic and Romantic, make it easier for native speakers of a particular language to pick up another similar one.
However, most importantly in my opinion, language learning and teaching play an even bigger role in the popularity and portrayl of what a language is like to learn. Enthusiastic teachers and innovative resources can change people’s perspectives and preconceptions – whilst the opposite can damage things irreparably.
It is also important to remember that each language learner is different, as is each learning style – whilst plain book reading might be boring to one learning, it could be the preferred method of another. Dedication and repetition of the material covered are vitally important in any form of learning, and often it’s the lack of dedication and discipline that can lead to failure to achieve these goals.
No matter the language, if you are not willing to put effort into learning, no matter the learning style or how good your resources are, you will not succeed. These factors will also determine how long it takes for you to learn a language to the level you want.
To conclude, labelling languages as easy or difficult is misleading. Learning is highly subjective, and dependent on a variety of factors, of which the language being learned is only one consideration out of many.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and if you have any insights or thoughts, please leave me a comment below! I love to read them. Alternatively, visit me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts.
Until next time,