A US-based travel blog has compiled a list of the 10 most difficult languages to learn for native English speakers. Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian are the only European languages on the list, placed fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.
Using data from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) at the US Department of State, Atlas & Boots ranked language difficulty based on the complexity of grammar, writing systems and how long it takes an English speaker to reach proficiency.
The three most difficult languages for English speakers to master are all from east Asia: Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), and Korean, which all have difficult writing systems and different ways of speaking depending on relationship between the speaker and the listener. Forth comes Arabic with its fluid script an idiosyncratic pronunciation.
Next on the list are the three Finno-Ugric languages with their numerous noun cases. Estonian apparently takes precedence over Finnish and Hungarian because it also sports a complicated gradation system.
“Consonants and vowels in Estonian can come in three lengths (short, long, overly long), and often change the meaning of a word (lina is ‘linen’ while linna is ‘city’),” Atlas & Boots said. “Moreover, Estonian has 25 diphthongs (when two adjacent vowel sounds occur within the same syllable) and many exceptions to defined grammar rules.”
FSI estimates that all three Finno-Ugric languages in the list take approximately 1,100 class hours to master.
Rounding up the list are Mongolian, Vietnamese, and Thai.