What makes a language easy or difficult to learn?

When we say that language “x” is easier to learn than language “y”, what do we exactly mean?

I wanted to find out the answer to the question that what elements make a language easier or difficult to learn?

One language that I have heard is easier to learn is Bahasa, and trust me it doesn’t sound easy but most of foreigners who have learnt it, say it is.

For all of you guys, what makes a language easier or difficult?

Good question!

I know a lot of people always talk about tonal languages being the hardest but after my experience with Mandarin I’d like to dispel that myth!

For me - grammar is still the one that gets me. If the grammar is hard, I find it a slog to learn.

This is why I’ve always said (to the amazement of many), I find Mandarin easier to learn than Italian. With Italian, so much of the sentence is based on grammatical rules. This isn’t the case with Mandarin.

That is very true, I also believe tones can sometimes be overrated.

Also, I feel just because languages like Italian, Spanish still have that connection with English which still gives that feeling of familiarity with one’s native language.

Grammar and pronunciation for me are 2 big things while learning the language.

One word: GRAMMAR!!

And that is exactly why I am very happy French is my native language, so I don’t have to learn all of the grammar :laughing:

This with conjugations and stuff, are the most difficult for me in any language. So if there are many rules, exceptions, tenses etc in a language, I would struggle and maybe even lose interest.

I agree that Mandarin is easy to learn in that sense!

I agree with Max and Marine here, grammar is for sure one of the main reasons I define a language as difficult to learn.

However, I feel like tonal languages are SO difficult as well because of the pronunciation. For example, even if Mandarin’s grammar is not as complex as the Italian (my native language), the tones make it very difficult to me because there’s always the risk to say something instead of something else

I think another interesting point is how the difficulty of a language evolves over time.

E.g. the learning curve of Chinese and Japanese pronunciation looks like this:

English speakers can usually hit the ground running with Japanese, as the pronunciation is pretty straightforward initially and doesn’t pose too many challenges. And then of course there are the Chinese tones :skull: which are super important to nail in the beginning but can be notoriously difficult to get the hang of. There are also new sounds to distinguish between, like sh/x (少/小)

BUT once you get past the initial struggles of Mandarin, pronunciation is smooth sailing. In Japanese however, hitting the native-level sentence intonation is meant to be pretty tough!

Interestingly, the learning curve for grammar in the two languages is the opposite (although unsurprisingly the difficulty of Japanese grammar is higher and stays there for much longer :laughing: )

:point_right: The language curve idea is talked about in more depth here: 9 Surprising Reasons Why Mandarin Isn’t Hard To Learn At All


Another reason for me not to insist with Japanese :laughing:

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Here is a page that includes rankings of the most difficult languages, according to the US Department of State Foreign Service Institute. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are considered to be among the most difficult for English speakers, while European languages such as Spanish and French are much easier for English speakers to learn.

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Interesting that Vietnamese is ranked as easier than Cantonese/Mandarin, even though it’s also a tonal language. I wonder if that difference is purely because of the writing system, or if there are any other linguistic elements at play :eyes:

Interesting topic! Writing is an important part, it’s the diacritic system and character order to structure a word. Anything related to Latin alphabet is easier for me to adapt because it’s familiar to Vietnamese alphabet somehow. I learnt HSK3 in Chinese, I can use and understand Mandarin (simplified) but still can’t remember/recognize words lol

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Granmar, pronunciation, alphabet/writing system.
Mandarin grammar isn’t too difficult, but for Americans, the pronunciation and characters are really hard. Russian is hard in all three categories. Ditto for Urdu and Myanmar (Burmese). On the other hand, for Americans, Norwegian, Dutch, and Afrikaans are quite easy.

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I agree, I took very few Russian lessons last year and it became very clear early on that Russian grammar, pronunciation and overall structure is quite different and slightly on the difficult end

Eclectic mix there!

I wouldn’t have expected Afrikaans to be filed in the easy category. Then again I have zero experience.

Here is a sentence in Afrikaans. See if you can translate it:

My pen is in my hand.

Afrikaans is derived mostly from Dutch and a little from English. It was the language spoken in South Africa by immigrants from the Netherlands.

Is this as obvious as it looks or am I being tricked here? :sweat_smile: :rofl:

It’s real Afrikaans and it means exactly what it does in English.

I just had a translate of some sentences and it is remarkably like Dutch. I had no idea about this.

A lot of basic sentences are actually very guessable to be honest.

Learn something new every day :wink: