The Problem with Defining “The Hardest Language to Learn”

This is something that kind of irks me. Often I will see friends or friends of friends post links to info-graphics or websites that categorize languages from easiest to hardest to learn. It starts with languages that are similar to English, which it then classifies as “easier” for a native English speaker to learn. Then it goes on, listing languages that are further away in similarity to English, finally ending up with Chinese, Japanese, or Korean as the hardest language to learn.

This information is great…

….if you want to be completely intimidated about learning Chinese.

….if you want to establish a virtual barrier in your mind to Chinese, that it is too hard to learn.

….if you want an excuse to not learn it, or to not learn it well.

I suggest avoiding this kind of information as it’s only useful in intimidating you.

The fact is, anyone can learn Chinese. Anyone. It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are. You can do it.

When you’re fluent in Chinese, you can come back, bring those charts to a high school reunion and show off how smart you are to those jerks from second period look at those charts and laugh

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4 thoughts on “The Problem with Defining “The Hardest Language to Learn”

  1. Chinese, Japanese and Korean are all major languages with tons of television, music, movies and other media. If you’re motivated, you’ll find language learning materials all over the place. Taiwanese is much harder, most people who can speak it can also speak Mandarin, learning materials are pretty sparse, there’s no definitive writing system and its global reach is very limited. If you really want a “hard” language, then try Blackfoot. Still no writing system, virtually no media at all, the speakers are bilingual in English and the native speakers are all in their later years.

    Mandarin really isn’t that difficult to get started with, in the big scheme of things. Still, denying that progress will be slower than it would be with a language more closely related to your mother tongue is wasted effort. Reality is what it is.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      You’re absolutely right, and you have to be aware of your progress being slower compared to others (such as going for romance languages). Certainly, though, you don’t want to let that keep you from trying. That’s part of the reason I dislike those charts, I think it may keep people from trying.

  2. I totally agree with your post about Mandarin being made a big deal for no real reason. I recently wrote on similar lines so check it out: http://prachipreaches.blogspot.in/
    I think people are just really intimidated primarily with the characters. I honestly tried my luck with German and French for a couple years each during school and college years and honestly, I find Mandarin much much easier!

    • Great post! I enjoyed the pictures you used in the article, too. Thanks for sharing!

      I agree with you, I think it is the characters that people find the most intimidating, with the tones follow in a close second. I say, forgot about what makes it hard and just sit back and enjoy the ride!

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