Top 10 Hardest Language to Learn In 2024

If you are looking to learn a second or even third language, it is challenging but rewarding. Languages are intricate systems of communication that reflect societies’ unique histories, cultures, and structures. While some languages may seem relatively straightforward to master for native speakers of certain tongues, others may be hardest due to their grammar, syntax, phonetics, and cultural nuances.

We have previously looked at some of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, but what about the hardest ones? Some difficult languages to learn are also the most widely spoken. Mandarin Chinese is a difficult language spoken by 918 million people.

Top 10 Hardest Language to Learn In 2024

  1. Mandarin Chinese: Approximately 2,200 class hours due to tonal complexities and character system.
  2. Hungarian: Around 1,100 class hours are needed due to its unique grammar structure and vowel harmony.
  3. Arabic: Roughly 2,200 class hours are needed due to its complex script, grammar, and dialectal variations.
  4. Bulgarian: Approximately 1,100 class hours are needed due to its Slavic roots and intricate grammar.
  5. Japanese: Around 2,200 class hours are needed due to its combination of characters (Kanji) and honorific systems.
  6. Albanian: Roughly 1,100 class hours are needed due to its distinct Indo-European features and grammar.
  7. Korean: Approximately 1,100 class hours are needed due to its unique writing system and honorifics.
  8. Turkish: Around 1,100 class hours are needed due to its agglutinative nature and vowel harmony.
  9. Greek: Roughly 1,100 class hours are needed due to its rich vocabulary and grammar structures.
  10. Vietnamese: Approximately 1,100 class hours, given its tonal system and unique phonetics.

Remember, these are approximate estimates and can vary significantly based on individual factors and learning methods.

1. Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken and is one of the several varieties of Chinese spoken in China. It is the official language of China and Taiwan and one of Singapore’s official languages. Mandarin is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

It uses four distinct tones (plus a neutral tone), where each tone can change the meaning of a word. For example, the word “ma” can mean “mother,” “hemp,” “horse,” or “scold,” depending on the tone used.

It is traditionally written using Chinese characters, also known as Hanzi. Each character represents a single syllable and often a specific meaning.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • The sheer number of characters: Imagine memorizing thousands of tiny pictograms, each with unique stroke order and pronunciation.
  • The tonal challenge: Mastering the four tones is crucial, as a slight pitch change can turn “hello” into “mother-in-law!”
  • Grammar with its logic: Prepare for a different landscape where word order reigns supreme and verbs rarely conjugate.
  • Lack of familiarity for Western ears: The sounds and rhythm of Mandarin differ drastically from most European languages, requiring significant ear retraining.

Free Resources and Apps to Learn:

  • HelloChinese: Gamified lessons and character writing practice.
  • Duolingo: Free Mandarin course with bite-sized lessons and gamification elements.
  • Pleco: Comprehensive dictionary app with character writing guidance and audio pronunciation.
  • ChinesePod: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Yoyo Chinese: Interactive lessons and graded reading materials.

2. Hungarian

The Hungarian language is a unique and complex Finno-Ugric language spoken primarily in Hungary and certain regions of neighboring countries. It uses a modified Latin alphabet, spiced up with special characters like “ő” and “ű” that dance on the tongue.

It is known as “Magyar” in its native form, is the official language of Hungary, and is spoken by most of the country’s population. Additionally, Hungarian is spoken by significant communities in neighboring countries like Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, and Austria.

Its complex grammar system includes numerous cases, verb conjugations, and tenses. It uses the Latin alphabet with additional characters and diacritical marks to represent specific sounds. T

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • Vowel harmony: This intricate ballet of vowel sounds, where front and back vowels can’t mingle in the same word, can leave non-native speakers tongue-tied and yearning for the simplicity of a flat “a.”
  • Agglutinative grammar: Words transform into multi-syllabic monsters adorned with numerous suffixes that dictate their role in the sentence. Unmasking their meaning and mastering their pronunciation can be a daunting feat.
  • Cases galore: Brace yourself for 18 noun cases, each demanding meticulous attention to a word’s position and function within the sentence. It’s enough to make even the most seasoned grammarian break into a cold sweat.
  • Unfamiliar sounds: From guttural “h”s to vowel combinations absent in English, Hungarian demands your tongue to contort into unfamiliar shapes, potentially twisting itself into linguistic knots.

Free Resources and AppsTo Learn :

  • Nyelvmester: Structured online course with various levels and interactive exercises.
  • Memrise: Gamified Hungarian vocabulary learning with flashcards and spaced repetition.
  • Anki: Create your own flashcards and decks for personalized learning and vocabulary building.
  • italki: Connect with online Hungarian tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • Nyelvtudás Klub is an online platform with Hungarian learning resources, including grammar explanations and vocabulary lists.

3. Arabic language

Arabic language

The Arabic language is a Semitic language that belongs to the Afroasiatic language family, primarily spoken in the Arab world, which encompasses 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Arabic is written from right to left using a script consisting of 28 letters. The script is cursive, meaning letters are connected in most instances. Arabic script is also used to write languages like Persian, Urdu, and Kurdish, with additional characters or modifications.

It has a complex morphological structure with a system of roots and patterns that allow for deriving numerous words from a single root.

It holds immense cultural, historical, and religious significance, particularly in the Islamic world. The Quran, Islam’s holy book, is written in Classical Arabic, making it a central language for Muslims worldwide.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • The alphabet: Mastering the script with unfamiliar letter shapes and diacritical marks can be a hurdle for beginners.
  • Verb conjugations: The myriad forms verbs take depending on context can feel like climbing Mount Everest one conjugation at a time.
  • Noun declensions: Nouns, too, dance through various forms based on their role in the sentence, adding another layer of complexity.
  • Lack of familiarity: For Western language speakers, the sounds, sentence structure, and grammar logic of Arabic can feel like traversing uncharted territory.
  • Dialectal variations: Navigating the diverse landscape of Arabic dialects, each with its pronunciation and nuances, can be challenging for aspiring learners.

Free Resources and Apps to Tame the Tongue of the Desert:

  • Madinah Arabic: Free online course emphasizing Quranic Arabic and MSA.
  • Memrise: Gamified Arabic vocabulary learning with flashcards and spaced repetition.
  • HelloTalk: Language exchange app to connect with native Arabic speakers for conversation practice.
  • Drops: Fun and visually appealing app for learning basic Arabic vocabulary.
  • BBC Arabic: News website and radio broadcasts for immersive exposure to MSA.

4. Bulgarian

Bulgarian is part of the South Slavic branch of the Slavic language family, which includes languages like Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Macedonian. It is traditionally written using the Cyrillic alphabet, which consists of 30 letters.

It has a complex grammar system includes three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), seven cases, and a system of verb conjugations and tenses.

It has around eight million native speakers, primarily in Bulgaria. This language has a relatively transparent phonetic spelling system, meaning that words are generally pronounced as they are written

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • The Cyrillic alphabet: Mastering the unfamiliar script, with its different letter placements and sounds, can be a hurdle for beginners.
  • Verb conjugations: The multitude of forms verbs take depending on context can feel overwhelming, demanding dedicated practice and attention.
  • Noun declensions: Nouns, too, follow a complex path of declensions based on their role in the sentence, adding another layer of memorization.
  • Lack of familiarity: For English speakers, Bulgarian’s grammatical structures and sound combinations can feel like navigating uncharted territory.
  • Limited resources: Compared to more widely spoken languages, finding learning materials and opportunities to practice spoken Bulgarian can be more challenging.

Free Resources and Apps to Conquer the Bulgarian Challenge:

  • Duolingo: Free introductory course to Bulgarian vocabulary and grammar with gamified elements.
  • Memrise: Flashcard app for learning Bulgarian vocabulary with spaced repetition and fun quizzes.
  • italki: Connect with online Bulgarian tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • Bulgarian Pod101: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Bulgarian for Beginners: Comprehensive website with grammar explanations, vocabulary lists, and audio resources.

5. Japanese

Japanese

The Japanese language is unique and multifaceted, with a rich cultural heritage, complex writing systems, and distinct grammatical features. It has a unique grammatical structure characterized by subject-object-verb (SOV) word order.

Japanese phonetics consists of a relatively small set of distinct consonant and vowel sounds. This language does not employ stress patterns like English but utilizes pitch accent and intonation to convey meaning and grammatical distinctions.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • The writing systems: Mastering three distinct scripts with different functions and thousands of characters can be a marathon of memorization.
  • Verb conjugations: The myriad forms verbs take depending on context can feel like climbing a grammatical Everest, one conjugation at a time.
  • Honorifics: Navigating the intricacies of politeness and social hierarchy through speech levels can be a delicate dance for non-native speakers.
  • Lack of familiarity: For Western ears, Japanese sound combinations and sentence structures can feel completely alien, requiring significant retraining of the ear and brain.
  • Cultural nuances: Understanding the cultural context embedded within language adds another layer of complexity, demanding immersion and sensitivity.

Free Resources and Apps to Learn Japanese:

  • Duolingo: Free introductory course to Japanese vocabulary and grammar with gamified elements.
  • Memrise: Flashcard app for learning Japanese vocabulary with spaced repetition and fun quizzes.
  • italki: Connect with online Japanese tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • JapanesePod101: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese: Comprehensive online resource with detailed grammar explanations and examples.

6. Albanian

Albanian is an Indo-European language, and it is the official language of both Albania and Kosovo. Around six million people speak it in the Balkans. It uses its unique alphabet, which consists of 36 letters.

It has a complex grammar system with a rich array of noun cases, verb conjugations, and grammatical features. It is also challenging for English speakers to learn due to its complex grammar. 

It is a fascinating language that will connect you to a unique culture. It has a modified Latin alphabet with special characters like “ë” and “ç,” adding flavor to the written word.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • Unfamiliar sounds: From guttural “h”s to vowel combinations absent in English, Albanian demands your tongue to contort into unfamiliar shapes, potentially twisting itself into linguistic knots.
  • Verb conjugations: The multitude of forms verbs take depending on tense, mood, person, and number can feel overwhelming, like climbing a grammatical Mount Everest one conjugation at a time.
  • Lack of familiarity: For English speakers, Albanian’s grammatical structures and sound combinations can feel like navigating uncharted territory, demanding significant retraining of the ear and brain.
  • Limited resources: Compared to more widely spoken languages, finding learning materials and opportunities to practice spoken Albanian can be more challenging.

Free Resources and Apps to Learn This Language:

  • Memrise: Flashcard app for learning Albanian vocabulary with spaced repetition and fun quizzes.
  • italki: Connect with online Albanian tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • Learn Albanian: Comprehensive website with grammar explanations, vocabulary lists, and audio resources.
  • AlbanianPod101: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Anki: Create your own flashcards and decks for personalized learning and vocabulary building.

7. Korean

 Korean

Eighty million people speak this language in both North and South Korea. It is also spoken in countries like the United States, China, Japan, and Russia.

It uses a unique writing system called “Hangul,” invented in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great and scholars. Hangul consists of 24 letters, including 14 consonants and 10 vowels. These letters are combined into syllabic blocks to create words and sentences.

Korean phonetics includes a unique set of consonant and vowel sounds, with specific rules governing pronunciation, intonation, and syllable stress patterns.

It is deeply embedded in Korea’s rich history, culture, and national identity. It has evolved through interactions with neighboring countries, cultural exchanges, historical events, and technological advancements.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • Honorifics: Navigating the intricacies of politeness and social hierarchy through speech levels can be a delicate dance for non-native speakers, and a single wrong syllable can change the meaning entirely!
  • Grammar logic: While Hangul is easy to learn, Korean grammar has its own internal logic, which can differ significantly from Western languages, requiring a shift in thinking.
  • Sentence structure: Korean sentence structure often flips the subject-verb-object order, forcing your brain to rewire its linguistic circuits.
  • Lack of cognates: Unlike Spanish or French, Korean has fewer cognates (shared words) with English, making vocabulary building a more strenuous task.
  • Limited exposure: Compared to more widely spoken languages, finding opportunities to immerse yourself in spoken Korean outside of K-dramas and music can be more challenging.

Free Resources and Apps to Learn:

  • Duolingo: Free introductory course to Korean vocabulary and grammar with gamified elements.
  • Memrise: Flashcard app for learning Korean vocabulary with spaced repetition and fun quizzes.
  • italki: Connect with online Korean tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • KoreanPod101: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Howtostudykorean.com is a comprehensive website with detailed grammar explanations, vocabulary lists, and audio resources.

8. Turkish 

It is a more widely known language in the Turkic language family. With over 75 million native speakers in Turkey. It is also spoken in Iraq, Syria, and many parts of Europe.  It’s also one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. 

It uses the Latin alphabet, adopted in the early 20th century as part of language reforms initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Turkish utilizes vowel harmony rules, where vowels within a word harmonize based on frontness or backness to maintain phonetic harmony.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • Vowel harmony: This intricate web of vowel relationships, where front and back vowels can’t share the same word, can leave non-native speakers tongue-tied and yearning for the simplicity of a flat “a.”
  • Agglutinative grammar: Words transform into multi-syllabic monsters adorned with numerous suffixes that dictate their role in the sentence. Unmasking their meaning and mastering their pronunciation can be a daunting feat.
  • Lack of cognates: Unlike Spanish or French, Turkish has fewer cognates (shared words) than English, making vocabulary building more strenuous.

Free Resources and Apps to Conquer the Turkish Challenge:

  • Duolingo: Free introductory course to Turkish vocabulary and grammar with gamified elements.
  • Memrise: Flashcard app for learning Turkish vocabulary with spaced repetition and fun quizzes.
  • italki: Connect with online Turkish tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • TurkishPod101: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Coffee Break Languages – Turkish: Podcast series with practical lessons and dialogues on everyday Turkish.

9. Greek

Greek

Greek is the official language of Greece and Cyprus and is spoken by Greek communities worldwide. It belongs to the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language family. It shares historical and linguistic connections with other Indo-European languages.

It has a unique writing system, the Greek alphabet, which consists of 24 letters. This alphabet has historical roots dating back to ancient times and has influenced the development of other writing systems, including the Latin alphabet used in English and many other languages.

It is spoken as a native language by around 13 million people, primarily in Greece and Cyprus. It has a lot of new vocabulary, three different genders for nouns, and complex grammar rules.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • The Greek alphabet: Mastering unfamiliar characters and pronunciations can be a hurdle for beginners, requiring dedication and practice to unlock their secrets.
  • Verb conjugations: The numerous forms verbs take depending on tense, mood, person, and number can feel overwhelming, like climbing Mount Olympus one conjugation at a time.
  • Lack of familiarity: For English speakers, Greek grammatical structures and sound combinations can feel like navigating uncharted territory, requiring significant retraining of the ear and brain.

Free Resources and Apps to Learn:

  • Duolingo: Free introductory course to Greek vocabulary and grammar with gamified elements.
  • Memrise: Flashcard app for learning Greek vocabulary with spaced repetition and fun quizzes.
  • italki: Connect with online Greek tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • GreekPod101: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Learn Greek with GreekPod101.com: Comprehensive website with grammar explanations, vocabulary lists, and audio resources.

10. Vietnamese

The Vietnamese language is the official language of Vietnam and is spoken by most of the country’s population. Vietnamese hold significant cultural, historical, and linguistic importance within Southeast Asia. It can be tricky for English speakers due to its difficult pronunciation. 

It belongs to the Austroasiatic language family, which includes various languages spoken in Southeast Asia and parts of South Asia. Within this family, Vietnamese shares linguistic connections with other Austroasiatic languages, but it stands distinct due to its unique phonetic features, vocabulary, and grammar.

Why is it Hardest to Learn?

  • The tones: Mastering the six distinct tones, which can change the meaning of a word entirely, can be a major hurdle for non-tonal language speakers. Imagine the difference between saying “hello” and “goodbye” with just a slight change in pitch!
  • Lack of cognates: Unlike Spanish or French, Vietnamese have fewer cognates (shared words) than English, making vocabulary building more strenuous.
  • Grammar nuances: While grammatically simpler than other Asian languages, Vietnamese still throws curveballs like limited verb conjugations and noun declensions that require understanding their specific functions.

Free Resources and Apps to Learn:

  • Duolingo: Free introductory course to Vietnamese vocabulary and grammar with gamified elements.
  • Memrise: Flashcard app for learning Vietnamese vocabulary with spaced repetition and fun quizzes.
  • italki: Connect with online Vietnamese tutors for personalized lessons and conversation practice.
  • VietnamesePod101: Podcasts with transcripts and vocabulary breakdowns for various levels.
  • Learn Vietnamese with VietnamesePod101.com: A comprehensive website with grammar explanations, vocabulary lists, and audio resources.

Conclusion

I have shared the Top 10 Hardest Language to Learn. I have also shared the free resources to learn the new language. Learning a new language is a difficult task, but it is rewarding for all users.

What is the hardest 1st language?

Mandarin, Navajo, Icelandic, Basque, and Finnish are often considered challenging due to their complex grammatical structures, unique phonetic features, and limited resources available for learners compared to more widely studied languages.

What are the most tricky languages?

Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, and Hungarian are often considered challenging due to their unique writing systems, complex grammatical structures, intricate phonetics, and cultural nuances

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