As so often in life,
beauty difficulty is in the eye of the beholder.
Spelling bees in Hungarian, often called “the most difficult language in the world”, would be a total snoozefest as the language is phonetic. That means that every letter, or combination of letters (like ly and dy), corresponds with the same sound in 99% of all cases.Take that English!
Mandarin Chinese, again “notoriously hard”, has no tenses. That means you don’t need to do anything special with your verb when something happened in the past or will happen in the future. You basically say the Chinese equivalent of “tomorrow (明天) I go to the doctor” and “yesterday (昨天) I go to the doctor”. Easy peasy!
Yet, of course there are languages that will come easier to you personally, for example:
1. Your mother tongue
You basically get this one for free. Well no, you don’t, but you don’t remember the hard work that went into it. You didn’t lose face because you mispronounced a word or your construction was a bit off. Your fellow kindergartners could not have cared any less, even if they had known how to.
2. Languages that are close to your mother tongue
Speakers of languages like Korean* and Basque: Tough shit, you’re a language isolate. You don’t have any friends.
Most other languages share some words and grammar with other language so that learning those languages becomes a lot easier. I love this visual representation of languages spoken in Europe. Look at poor Hungarian and Finnish, they don’t get to go in the big Indo-European tree (plus the added drama of those two cats longingly staring at the big tree).
3. Popular languages
English is ridiculously difficult, if you think about it. The sound /tu/ can be written as ‘to’, ‘two’ and ‘too’ and you have no way of knowing which one it is before you learn its meaning.
But… you can read and listen to it anywhere you go and speak it to about 1,500 million people.
Note: According to a die-hard Esperanto speaker I know, Esperanto is about to take its place. It’s still roughly 1,498 million speakers behind as of date, but keep the dream alive!
4. Languages that you like or have a special connection with
Swedish has the same conjugation for all persons (= I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they), which a lot of learners find very handy (myself included).
However, that handy tidbit of information is of no use whatsoever to you if you want to read your favourite manga in Japanese, want to impress the parents of your Italian girlfriend or have to learn Mandarin Chinese to do business.
So stop browsing those ill-researched top 10 lists on the internet and just learn the language you want or need.
*It has been brought to my attention that Koreans learning Japanese and vice versa have an ‘unfair’ advantage too (even though they are supposedly not related) as there are major similaraties between the two languages both in vocabulary and in grammar.
Els! This is so great! Thank you so much for writing it and making it so fun and easy to read. Keep up the good work!
Yes, more regular posts from Els 😀 – Love your view of the world!