Difficult languages and easy languages

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People often ask me questions like these:

What’s the easiest / hardest language you ever learned?

Isn’t Chinese really difficult?

Which is harder, Chinese or Japanese?  Sanskrit or German?

Without a moment’s hesitation, I always reply that Mandarin is the easiest spoken language I have learned and that Chinese is the most difficult written language I have learned.  I learned to speak Mandarin fluently within about a year, but I’ve been studying written Chinese for half a century and it’s still an enormous challenge.  I’m sure that I’ll never master it even if I live to be as old as Zhou Youguang.

For many languages that I’ve learned, the level of difficulty between spoken and written is not very great.  For example, Nepali.  I achieved a high degree of fluency within less than a year, and basically I could read and write anything I could say, and vice versa.  Of course, when you get into higher level intellectual discourse, then it becomes more Sanskritic, but for daily conversation that is not normally an issue.

I find Japanese speaking, listening, reading, and writing all to be difficult, although the reading and writing — for obvious reasons — are more difficult than speaking and listening, at least for me.

To see how my own impressions compare with those of others, I invite Language Log readers to list between 2 and 6 “second” languages they have studied according to relative level of difficulty.  I’m limiting the number to 6 so as to keep this project of manageable size and also to keep show-offs under control.

Here’s my list:

EASY

1. Mandarin (spoken)

2. Nepali

3. Russian

4. Japanese

5. Sanskrit

6. Chinese (written)

HARD

After several days, I will attempt to tabulate the results to determine roughly which languages come out near the top (easier) and which near the bottom (harder).

I realize that this is only an impressionistic survey and that it does not possess scientific certitude concerning which languages are objectively harder and which are objectively easier.  Nonetheless, it does evince validity about which languages people perceive to be easier and which they feel are harder.



151 Comments

  1. The Other Mark P said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 9:54 pm

    EASY

    1. Swedish

    2. French

    3. Russian

    HARD

  2. DrButtocks said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 10:07 pm

    EASY
    1. Mandarin
    2. German
    3. Japanese
    4. Irish
    HARD

  3. Victoria Simmons said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 10:11 pm

    EASY

    1. Haitian Krèyol

    2. French

    3. Latin

    4. Ancient Greek

    5. Turkish

    6. Old Irish

    HARD

  4. Fushichô said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 10:12 pm

    (French native speaker here)

    EASY
    1. Esperanto
    2. English
    3. German
    4. Japanese
    HARD

  5. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 10:18 pm

    EASY
    1. Malayalam
    2. Hindi
    3. Sanskrit (disclaimer: my native dialect has a ton of Sanskrit borrowings)
    4. German (disclaimer: I knew English by then)
    5. English
    HARD

  6. Glossy said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 10:26 pm

    I’m a native Russian speaker.

    EASY
    Spanish
    Italian
    English
    French
    German
    Written Chinese
    HARD

    Learning to understand spoken French is much harder than learning to read it. At first it’s hard to figure out where the word boundaries are. Learning to read German is harder than learning to read English or the Romance languages. The sentences are so long and convoluted.

  7. Mara K said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 11:17 pm

    EASY
    1. Mandarin (spoken)
    2. Spanish
    3. French
    4. Hebrew
    5. I don’t know if I can count written Chinese at all, because I don’t feel like I have learned it. Even less so than Hebrew, which I never took formal grammar lessons in.

  8. Tsuji said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 11:39 pm

    EASY
    1. Tagalog
    2. Written Chinese
    3. English
    4. Russian
    5. Irish
    HARD

  9. Jesse O said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 11:56 pm

    EASY
    1. Klingon
    2. Lojban
    3. French
    4. Irish
    HARD

  10. mochas said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 11:58 pm

    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. German
    3. Russian
    HARD

    Not sure I could handle anything much harder than Russian. (Of note, this is the order I started learning them in. However, I feel like there’s a bit more going on than that.)

  11. mwchase said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 11:58 pm

    I… damn you, auto-correct. Damn you sideways.

  12. Yuval said,

    March 4, 2017 @ 11:59 pm

    Native Hebrew speaker (English at preschool so doesn’t count)
    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. French
    3. Arabic
    4. Czech
    HARD

  13. Joshua K. said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:18 am

    Native English speaker.

    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. Italian
    3. French
    4. Hebrew
    5. Latin
    HARD

  14. Michael Cargal said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:28 am

    Easy
    Spanish
    French
    Arabic
    Japanese
    Thai
    Hard

  15. tardigrade said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:31 am

    EASY
    1. Spanish
    3. German
    3. French
    4. Classical Greek
    5. Hebrew
    6. Hungarian

    Hungarian was hard particularly because of (a) the range of vowels/accents and the precision required to enunciate them; (b) almost complete vocabulary uniqueness; and (c) aspects of its agglutinative nature.

  16. Steve R. said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:48 am

    EASY
    Spanish
    German
    English
    Japanese
    HARD

  17. Jeff W said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:49 am

    EASY
    1. Esperanto
    2. Cantonese (spoken)
    3. French
    4. Spanish

    HARD
    Korean

    (Korean is not that hard—it’s just harder than the others. And I think Hangeul is splendidly elegant.)

  18. Karl said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 1:00 am

    Native English

    EASY

    1. Norwegian
    2. German
    3. Farsi
    4. Arabic
    5. Turkish
    6. Ancient Greek

    HARD

  19. Andrew B said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 1:35 am

    Easy
    1. Haitian Creole
    2. Spanish
    3. Hebrew
    4. German
    5. Arabic
    6. Japanese
    Hard

  20. Frank said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 1:55 am

    Native English speaker here
    EASY
    1. German
    2. Spanish
    3. French
    4. Irish
    4b. Breton (if you know Irish and French already)
    5. Russian
    6. Arabic

  21. Even said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 2:01 am

    Native Norwegian speaker.

    EASY
    1. English
    2. German
    3. Spanish
    4. French
    5. Finnish
    6. Japanese
    HARD

    English, German and Finnish are the only ones I know to any useful level, though. Japanese was abandoned in the early stages after getting started on kanji and realising exactly what lay before me. The country is much too far away for me to put in that kind of effort at this stage in my life.

  22. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 2:29 am

    EASY
    Spanish
    French
    German/Latin/Old Norse
    Czech
    HARD

    German, Latin, and Old Norse were all about the same: the declensions were easy to handle, I just had to memorize them.
    Czech just exists in so many dimensions at once.

  23. John Rohsenow said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 2:48 am

    Just like to point out that of course this survey strictly spkg represents a survey of difficulty of languages FOR NATIVE ENGLISH speakers to learn rather than for all “readers of LL”. It has always seemed obvious to me that the relative difficulty of learning a language is not just a function of the inherent nature of any one language itself, but rather varies depending on the characteristics of one’s native language and its similarities (or lack thereof) to that native language.

  24. Julie Sullivan said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 3:24 am

    Native English speaker

    EASY
    French
    Spanish
    Dutch
    Irish
    Chinese
    German
    HARD

    My theory is that every language is equally hard to speak *perfectly*–like a careful native speaker. It takes a lifetime and requires familiarity with the culture. English is considered easy, but as a sometime copy editor I know that very few foreigners and not even all that many native speakers get their prepositions right every time. Italian is approachable, but once you’re in the thick of it, you discover that they really do use the imperfect subjunctive, and a host of other difficulties crops up. Spoken Chinese doesn’t have much “grammar” to learn, but with four-character phrases, measure words, and tones, it’s not all that simple either, especially if you’re not living where you can use it. French is easy to read but the speech is completely different from what you see on the page, and no one can combine so much meaning into one syllable as the French! And this isn’t even mentioning slang, which is constantly changing in every language.

    Obviously a language that’s near your own, like Dutch for English-speakers, is easy. And the age you begin learning, and where you are learning, matter too. Irish people are taught Irish in school from an early age, but when you’re trying to learn Old Irish on your own, it’s not easy to puzzle out even just the pronunciation. Latin is something I’ve also studied for much of my life but never with a teacher, and I wouldn’t say it’s easy either. Nothing so far comes close to the difficulty of written Chinese, though.

  25. quyet said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 3:25 am

    (native english speaker, fluent in vietnamese)

    EASY
    Māori
    Spoken Cantonese (after Vietnamese)
    Thai (after Sanskrit and Vietnamese)
    Vietnamese (living in Vietnam made it very easy compared to other languages)
    Spanish (damn conjugation and connected speech)
    German (damn grammar)
    French (damn spelling)
    Sanskrit (everything)
    HARD

  26. Martin Ball said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 3:31 am

    EASY
    Welsh
    French
    Breton
    German
    Irish
    Swedish
    HARD

  27. A. J. West said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 3:48 am

    1. Tok Pisin (easy)
    2. Malay/Indonesian
    3. French
    4. Mandarin
    5. Old Javanese
    6. Literary Chinese (hard)

    Tok Pisin being an English-based creole, I suspect you can learn a lot of it just by listening to the radio.

  28. reader_not_academe said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 4:40 am

    (Native Hungarian speaker here)

    I think a universal hard vs. easy question makes no sense. It hugely depends on your language background when you start learning a new language. I reached a passable conversational level of Dutch without ever actually learning it, just by perusing a descriptive grammar and hanging out in a Dutch-speaking environment and reading tons. But that was after I already knew both English and German; I instantly understood over 50% of the very first Dutch newspaper I ever came across.

    I do find even spoken Mandarin the hardest to acquire, mainly due to the lack of cognates from languages I know already, and perhaps because I started at 30. But if Mandarin had been my first second language and not English, I might have had an easier time, comparatively – something I’ll never find out now.

    EASY

    Dutch (after English and German)
    Spanish (admittedly, after high school Latin)
    English
    German
    Mandarin
    HARD

  29. cass said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 4:55 am

    EASY
    Latin
    Classical Nahuatl
    Ancient Greek
    Sanskrit
    HARD

  30. flow said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 5:22 am

    I must say there are noticeable differences between active (speaking, writing) and passive (listening, reading) activities.

    For example, I can often glance over a Japanese text (preferably about a subject I specialize in) and get a gist of it; recently I started to read non-fiction in Japanese and so far I’ve been too lazy to look up all the *many* words I don’t know; so far, my reading comprehension has indeed somewhat improved. Ironically, it is precisely this hyperconvoluted spelling system that I can draw a lot from, as many kanji compounds are known to me or are composed transparently from known kanji (I know those are hard because esp. vocabulary cited out of context is often unfathomable). The texts I read are light years above my ability to comprehend from listening, let alone producing them myself; still, reading works ‘somehow’.

    Someone in the thread mentioned German being hard for its convoluted sentences, and I can say very much the same of Japanese. In (especially written?) Japanese it is apparently not cool to just say whatever’s the matter; instead, i believe we can almost state that writers of Japanese do hesitate to circumambulate the subject in more than a few, sometimes wider or narrower, round or elliptic circles, as the case may be, not. Drives you nuts, especially those double and triple negatives (unsurprisingly, Japanese has about five or so grammatical forms to express negation, plus at least five common kanji for negation; one of the forms is ‘nai’, which is also the pronunciation of a frequent morpheme that means ‘within’. I mean, ‘within’ sounds the same as ‘without’, geddit?).

    As for English, the sheer size of the vocabulary is difficult, and after forty years of immersion from a distance I can still find many words (sometimes daily) that when I happen to hear them (say, on Youtube) or look them up (say, on Ahdictionary) I find I have being uttering the wrong way all along the way. It was only through dedicated consumption of long runs of B Haran’s Numberphile videos that I finally internalized that it’s in-finnit, but fie-nite, where the spelling—infinite, finite—is just there to trick you. Frankly, writing ⧞ and ∞ for those two words would be almost more helpful.

  31. uni said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 5:38 am

    EASY
    English
    Korean
    Swedish
    Mandarin
    Czech
    Vietnamese
    HARD

  32. Ray said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 5:49 am

    EASY

    English prose

    English poetry

    HARD

  33. peterv said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 6:00 am

    chiShona, with its 20 or so noun classes and its use of idiomatic expressions, is no cakewalk for an English speaker.

  34. Edwin Schmitt said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 6:18 am

    English Native Speaker

    EASY
    Norwegian (so far)
    Chinese
    French
    Korean
    HARD

    Order in which they were learned
    French
    Chinese
    Korean
    Norwegian

    I agree that spoken Chinese requires less effort than Chinese characters, but it depends on if you want to learn to speak perfect mandarin or if you just want to communicate with a large number of people. The former takes a great amount of practice, but once mastered can be readily replicated. The latter requires a mastery of multiple dialects, which could take a lifetime of interaction with people from all walks of life…or what I call “fun” :-) Actually I am not sure if the division of spoken and written Chinese is really all that insightful. The real division is between syntax and semantics. Chinese syntax is brilliantly simple, while Chinese semantics are breathtakingly complex.

  35. Rachel Sommer said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 6:34 am

    For me, it’s not just written versus spoken, but phonics versus understanding. I’m a native USAian English speaker. I studied Hebrew phonics beginning at age 6, and went to Jewish day school up to age 9, followed by 5-8 hours a week of Hebrew school through age 16 and going to synagogue irregularly after that through my current age of 47. I have not studied spoken French since college.

    EASY
    Hebrew (phonics)
    French (understanding written)
    French (phonics)
    Spanish (understanding written)
    French (understanding spoken)
    French (constructing a grammatical sentence or recalling words)
    HARD

  36. RachelP said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 6:55 am

    I think it’s an interesting question, and would note that it is surely not the case that you can say strictly nothing about how ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ languages are to learn without considering the languages already known by the learner. Dutch is surely easier than German, for anyone – due to the much more limited use of inflection in Dutch.

  37. Bart said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:06 am

    There are these variables (at least) affecting ease of learning a given language:
    – Your native language
    – Your sequence of learning
    – Which aspect of the language you are referring to (pronunciation, grammar etc).
    I’m a native English speaker who learned in this order: 1 French, 2 Spanish, 3 German, 4 Indonesian, 5 Dutch – well enough to be able to work in each.
    If anyone is interested here is my experience by aspect:

    GRAMMAR
    EASY
    Indonesian
    Spanish
    French
    German
    Dutch
    HARD

    VOCAB
    EASY
    Dutch
    German
    French
    Spanish
    Indonesian
    HARD

    PRONUNCIATION
    EASY
    Indonesian
    German
    Spanish
    French
    Dutch
    HARD

    COMPREHENSION OF NATIVE SPEAKER
    EASY
    German
    Dutch
    French
    Spanish
    Indonesian
    HARD

  38. Wes Meltzer said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:07 am

    This was a fun survey! A trip down memory lane.

    EASY
    Spanish
    French
    Hebrew
    Latin
    Russian
    HARD

    But I think some of this (within language groupings) is a function of what sequence you learn the languages in! Spanish was somewhat easier for me than French, but I learned Spanish first and then moved to French. If I had learned French first, I wonder if I would think it was easier. My French teacher said I had a Spanish accent in French, which she found hilarious.

    When I was in college (Northwestern) Swahili had a reputation as the “easiest” language to study. I used to marvel at that, because I had a hard time believing anything could be easier than Spanish! But many of my classmates struggled with what I thought of as basic Spanish.

  39. Tim S said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:41 am

    EASY
    Koine Greek (reading)
    Latin (reading)
    German
    Modern Greek
    HARD

    I learn much better by seeing than listening. I’m learning Spanish now and can read a little of it, but am far from speaking it at all.

  40. Craig said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:51 am

    I think the question of order plays a large role here, as does the fashion in which one learned the language. For me, Dutch was easy after German. Italian seems easy after French and Spanish (and distantly Latin), but Spanish was easier to begin with.

    I was still in school when I learned German, Latin, and Russian, and at the time, I’d have said that was their order of difficulty, but I now think that Latin is in fact harder to learn well.

    Japanese I find harder than all of these.

    My bigger question is how to retain all the languages one has learned. I have found my adult-acquired Spanish has blocked my adult-acquired Dutch, and in turn Italian is even more aggressively ruining my Spanish.

  41. Jeff said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:53 am

    It is, as others have pointed out, very difficult to isolate innate “easiness” or difficulty from other factors. I find Spanish and Italian both “easy”, but I’ve been speaking French since I was 9. I find the romance and geemanic languages easier than Mandarin and Russian. But I didn’t start with the latter two until I was mid-career professional and prospective adoptive parent; whereas I added French, German, and Danish while my profession was student and my bill’s were paid by mom and dad.

    That said, I think there are factors that add difficulty:

    1. Danish and English, for example are each notoriously difficult compared to other Germanic languages because their spoken form varies so much from what’s on the page.

    2. For speakers of Latin alphabet languages, adapting to Asian writing systems and then need to memorize characters makes learning those languages harder. I don’t think the reverse is necessarily true.

    3. Anytime you need to learn a new alphabet or writing system, it adds a layer of difficulty.

    4. The first language of a family is harder than subsequent ones in the same family. I’ve never had an hour of formal instruction in Spanish or Italian, but I can get by (especially reading) in both.

    5. The older you get, the harder it is. The brain loses plasticity, and life becomes too busy to devote the time it takes to gain proficiency.

    And with all those caveats, my list, easy to hard:

    1. French
    2. German
    3. Danish
    4. Hebrew
    5. Russian
    6. Mandarin (I’d add that for me, the tonal aspect of Sinitic languages is very difficult to master).

  42. Jeff said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:54 am

    Autocorrect added that ridiculous apostrophe to “bills” in my prior post.

  43. Anubis said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 8:52 am

    Native English speaker

    Easy
    Mandarin – spoken
    German
    Russian
    Mandarin – written
    Hard

  44. Tim Morris said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 9:14 am

    I’m a native English speaker, learned Latin and Greek first, then French, Italian, Spanish, and finally German. To rank the modern languages:

    speaking/listening
    EASY
    German
    Spanish
    Italian
    French
    HARD

    reading
    EASY
    French
    Italian
    Spanish
    German
    HARD

    Exactly inverse, and a function of how I learned the languages – French entirely from the page and German almost entirely by spoken immersion, with the other two in less extreme proportion.

  45. Dubhglas said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 9:32 am

    Swedish et al

    Catalan
    Icelandic

    Japanese

  46. languagehat said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 9:36 am

    EASY

    1. Spanish
    2. French
    3. German
    4. Russian
    5. Sanskrit
    6. Georgian
    HARD

    Native English speaker; I’ve dabbled in many other languages, of which I’d put Persian at the easy end, Hungarian somewhere in the middle, and Arabic and Old Irish at the hard end (though I found Old Irish a huge amount of fun). I was born in Japan and am said to have spoken Japanese and English with equal four-year-old fluency when I was four, but that was a long time ago.

  47. Q.C. Yao said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 9:43 am

    EASY
    Japanese
    Korean
    English
    French
    German
    Russian
    HARD

  48. Gwen Katz said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 9:44 am

    I’m going to court controversy and rate Russian as easier than Latin for a native English speaker. (It seems against the spirit of things to rate Latin easier just because nobody needs to learn its spoken form.)

    EASY
    German
    Russian
    Latin
    HARD

  49. Charlie C said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 10:02 am

    Native English speaker

    EASY
    Spanish
    Hawaiian (Self-study)
    German
    Russian/Ukrainian (Self-study)
    Vietnamese (North and South)
    Mandarin
    Navajo (Self-study)
    HARD

  50. Kyle Bunkers said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 10:08 am

    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. German
    3. Russian
    4. Japanese
    HARD

    I am a native English speaker. I note that Russian is the language I have the least study in (so perhaps my impression there could simply be due to beginner’s difficulties, the others I feel proficient in, but probably not fluent), and that I find it harder to judge Japanese language difficulty. If I were restricting Japanese speaking/listening to casual (futsuutai or 普通体), then I would probably rate it between Spanish and German, but if formal (keigo or 敬語) speech (or a mix of different politeness levels) is required, I’d keep my ratings the same (and the Japanese writing system immediately puts it at the hardest for me).

  51. Shelagh Kuse said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 10:58 am

    Like many of the people who follow this blog, I’ve spent my life explaining that Linguistics is not “the study of speaking a lot of different languages.” I assure my surprised interlocutors that one can have a PhD in Linguistics without speaking any language other than one’s native tongue. And that’s true, but…I’ve never actually met one of those. The reality is that if you’re interested in language, you tend to be interested in languages. The comments on this blog post have made me smile, as did Victor’s caveat that we must limit our lists to six.

    As for me, a native English speaker:

    EASY
    German
    Latin
    Spanish
    French
    Russian
    HARD

    And that is not the order I learned them in, which would be French, German, Latin, Russian, Spanish. German easiest for an English speaker; Latin so regular it’s simple if you’re good at memorizing; Spanish also a beautifully regular language, and easy if you already know French and Latin; and I undertook Russian just so I could try something different — which it was and is.

  52. Ray said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:03 pm

    I’m kinda amazed/puzzled by all you folks. about what you consider “knowing languages” to be (while not describing how you actually use it, both writtenly and spokenly).

  53. Florence Artur said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:23 pm

    French speaker

    Subjective rating, from easy to difficult
    English
    German
    Japanese

    But…

    I must say that spoken Japanese has never appeared very hard to me “intrinsically”, at least on a conversation level of standard politeness. It has a very limited number of sounds, no tonic accent (which may make it harder for native speakers of languages with tonic accents?) and the structure and grammar are very logical and feel easy to me. What makes it hard to learn is the lack of vocabulary overlap with my own native language. English and German share a lot of words with French, and even if many of them are faux amis, it allows you to jump start the vocabulary and guess at the meaning of words you never formallly learned. No such luck with Japanese, and apart from hard to guess loan words you have to learn everything from scratch.

    So supposing that there is such a thing as “absolute” difficulty, I would put spoken Japanese first.

  54. bratschegirl said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:40 pm

    EASY
    Italian
    Latin
    German
    Hebrew
    Russian
    HARD

    [Latin came first, in high school, apart from a few odd Italian musical terms, but it made acquiring such phrasebook Italian as I have that much easier. Hebrew I’ve found more difficult mostly because of the alphabet; it’s quite happy to follow its rules without exceptions most of the time. Russian is hard for me again due to a different alphabet, with some letters that look like English ones but having very different pronunciation, and then all the formal/informal register issues.]

  55. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:44 pm

    Native speaker of Bavarian and German

    All relatively EASY; none HARD:
    Dutch
    English
    Yiddish
    Spanish
    French

  56. TR said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:46 pm

    EASY

    1. Spanish
    2. Dutch
    3. Latin
    4. Finnish
    5. Classical Greek
    6. Sanskrit

    HARD

    Sanskrit’s position is mostly due to the writing system; in Roman transliteration, especially if spaces are consistently marked, it slips a notch or two lower.

  57. Rodger C said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

    Native English speaker. The six languages I’ve actually taken classes for credit in, and meaning mainly written comprehension:

    EASY
    Spanish
    Catalan
    French
    Latin
    German
    Greek (Attic)
    HARD

  58. cliff arroyo said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 1:29 pm

    American English native speaker

    In no real particular order..

    EASY
    Papiamento
    Esperanto
    Spanish (a bit harder as a first foreign language maybe)
    Norwegian/Danish (reading)

    HARDER
    German
    Turkish
    Hungarian
    Greek

    HARDEST
    Polish
    Vietnamese (so many words, and hard to parse)
    Any Native American language (I’ve looked at a few, all seem really hard)

  59. CM said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

    (Spanish speaker)

    EASY
    1. English
    2. French
    3. Portuguese
    4. Greek (ancient)
    HARD

  60. Joyce Melton said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 2:04 pm

    Languages I have studied:

    EASY

    Spanish* (easy because I started learning it when I was three)
    Esperanto (easy because it is designed to be easy; also, Spanish!)
    Swedish (easy because English is similar)
    French* (easy because English and Spanish supply a lot of vocabulary)

    Vietnamese* (hard to pronounce, easy to translate once you have vocabulary, word-order is English-like with uncomplicated grammar)
    German (hard to learn grammar, but roots of words are easy)

    HARD (but none of these is THAT hard)

    * Have actually learned enough to carry on a conversation (badly in French) or read a newspaper.

    I’ve studied a little Japanese, Russian and Chinese(Mandarin) and all of those seem harder than any of the above. I can puzzle my way through a lot of written Portuguese, Italian and Dutch without ever having really studied them. Latin and Greek also because most of the roots are familiar and knowing a smatter of the grammar helps a lot. Spanish, after all, is just mutated Latin, as English is mutated Norse/GermanXFrench.

    In general, roots and vocabularies are easy, unfamiliar pronunciation and grammars are hard. Writing systems can be very easy (Spanish), middling (Greek) or insanely hard (Chinese).

  61. Adrian said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

    French = German = Hungarian

    After some thought, I’ve decided that they’re about the same, difficulty-wise. It’s hard to judge because what’s easy in one is difficult in another. Hungarian is quite odd, from an English perspective, but once you’re able to accept that a language can work differently from what you’re used to, a lot of it is quite logical and straightforward.

  62. Philip said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 3:26 pm

    EASY
    1. Dutch
    2. German
    3. Portuguese
    4. Latin
    5. French
    HARD

    Native English speaker.

  63. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

    I recall dipping into “Teach Yourself Malay” (1947) by M.B. Lewis when I was at school. The preface had a remark about Malay as deceptively easy, somewhat to the effect that that after two weeks you thought you knew it all and after two years you knew you never would. (I also recall that it showed the style of Malay grammar by giving a sentence literally translated as “pole upstream, laugh crocodiles”, with an implied conditional.)

  64. philip said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

    I never realised there were so many Irish speakers following this page. It is practically a Gaeltacht!

  65. Scott Mauldin said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 5:55 pm

    EASY
    1. Mandarin (Spoken)
    2. Spanish
    3. French
    4. Japanese
    5. German
    6. Turkish
    HARD

  66. Tim Martin said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 6:29 pm

    As far as spoken language goes:

    EASIER
    Spanish
    Japanese
    HARDER

  67. Bruce Gannon said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:09 pm

    One thing I’m curious about: How did the people who said they found (spoken) Mandarin or Cantonese easy find the tones of those languages? I’m just curious, because I’m sure if I ignored the tones (and also the sounds that didn’t exist in English), I’d find Mandarin and Cantonese pretty easy too. But it’s not in my nature to do that. I also don’t know if native speakers of those languages would find me very understandable if I were to do that. If anyone is going to respond to this comment, I’d like to know what your native language is.

  68. Ashley said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:17 pm

    Native English speaker who learned French at a very young age

    EASY
    French
    Spanish
    Korean
    Japanese
    HARD

    Korean is a beautifully systematic language and once you train your ear to the slightly different vowels spelling is not too bad either. Even though I studied Korean for less time than Japanese I feel my skills are much better in Korean because I’m not bogged down in so much kanji and all their multiple readings.

  69. Jenny Chu said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 7:18 pm

    @Shelagh Kuse – LOL! Absolutely. Furthermore, linguistics types go around “collecting” obscure languages. I remember oh-so-casually dropping into the linguistics department in college and and mentioning something about how my Albanian lessons were going, only to be out-cooled by someone learning Mongolian.

    Here’s another thought on order of learning languages: there are two factors going on.

    The first is age/experience: how broad / diverse the languages you’ve learned so far are can have a big influence. I thought Latin cases were tough when I started, but only because I’d never encountered cases before. Czech and Russian cases, when I started on them, were much easier as a result.

    The second is physical/cognitive age: how flexible your mind still is. It was easy to absorb French and English words when I was young; still quite straightforward to knock back Vietnamese vocabulary when I was in my 20s; but Cantonese, which I only started in my 30s, and which is by my reckoning quite an easy language, seems to stymie all my efforts to learn vocab. Is Cantonese vocabulary harder than Russian? Certainly not! I think it’s just that my brain is already full. Nowadays, for every Cantonese word I learn, I have to deliberately forget one in Russian :)

  70. Luís Oliveira said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 8:23 pm

    1. Esperanto
    2. English
    3. French
    4. Mandarin

  71. Christy Goldfinch said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

    U.S. Southern native speaker
    EASY
    1. Latin (written; studied from 7th grade through B.A.)
    2. Spanish (have lived most of adult life in Texas)
    3. Italian
    4. Classical Greek (written)
    5. Arabic (one year living above a deli; learned but have since forgotten how to say “I live above Omar’s Deli”)
    6. Sanskrit (one semester)
    HARD

  72. Arthur Baker said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 10:41 pm

    EASY
    1 Esperanto (by a country mile)
    2 Italian (but only after knowing Latin and French)
    3 Spanish (but only after knowing Latin French and Italian)
    4 French
    5 Latin
    6 Portuguese (despite knowing Latin French Italian and Spanish – vocabulary and grammar was easy but the pronunciation was the killer)
    HARD

  73. Xmun said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 11:09 pm

    EASY
    Maori
    German
    French
    Spanish
    Russian
    Maltese
    Turkish
    HARD

  74. Cyberiagirl said,

    March 5, 2017 @ 11:47 pm

    Native English speaker (Australian).

    EASY
    Indonesian (speaking and writing)
    Mandarin (speaking)
    Korean (writing)
    Mongolian (speaking and writing)
    Korean (speaking)
    Chinese (characters)
    HARD

  75. R. Fenwick said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 1:30 am

    Native speaker of Australian English.

    EASY

    1. Spanish
    2. French
    3. Klingon
    4. Turkish
    5. Ubykh
    HARD

  76. Sol said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 2:25 am

    EASY
    1. French
    2. English
    3. German
    HARD

  77. astrange said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 2:48 am

    EASY
    1. Swedish (basic)
    1. Japanese (spoken)
    3. Scots
    4. German
    5. Japanese (written)
    HARD

    I’ve never found Japanese difficult after the mountain of vocabulary; on the other hand I can’t construct a single proper sentence in German anymore because of noun genders. Memorizing something that never once contributes meaning is just too hard.

  78. Vanya said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 2:59 am

    Native speaker of American English. No one has mentioned dialects yet. Some languages are fairly uniform across a wide geographical and class range. You become proficient in the standard and you can talk to almost anyone. Others are Arabic. Ranking languages in terms of difficulty I have had understanding people or media not using the “standard” language,

    EASY
    1. Russian
    2. Polish
    3. English
    4. French (in Quebec, easy if you stay in France)
    5. Italian
    6. German (almost a tie with Italian)
    HARD

    I speak Spanish fairly well, and would put that on a par with English. There are many regional variants, but Spanish language media, in my experience, tends to be fairly uniform and most native Spanish speakers whether Mexican, Chilean or Madrileno seem to me to be able to speak a fairly neutral Spanish if they want to. I have met plenty of Austrians and Swiss who struggle with “Hochdeutsch”.

  79. Joseph said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 3:19 am

    EASY

    1. Chinese
    2. Japanese

    Hard

    I base my ranking on what I perceive as the relative difficulty of the Chinese and Japanese language sections of the most popular standardized university entrance exams in each country, the Yǔwén section of the Gāokǎo and the Kokugo section of the Sentā Shiken. My reasoning is a foreign student of each of these languages aiming for mastery could aspire to reach a high-school level. As the “national language” section of this Japanese entrance exam includes literary Chinese, and because Japanese composed in literary Chinese throughout their history, I consider literary Chinese to be a part of the Japanese language. Looking on the internet for a random literary Chinese problem from the Sentā Shiken I found a passage by Arai Hakuseki which is of comparable difficulty, in my judgement, to the passage from the Mencius which Professor Mair related on this blog as being a challenge to his graduate students. For a native English speaker to read a passage like this in kun’yomi, as Japanese high-school students do, is commendable.

    Also, I once saw a Japanologist acquaintance using a special dictionary to read the kanji of the cursive script from what I think I was told was a Muromachi period letter. I could not even begin to make out Chinese characters from what looked like only blocks of scribble to me. This gave me the impression that the historian of imperial Japan would have to grapple with manuscripts in cursive scripts more often than the Sinologist reading neat woodblock prints.

  80. Juan said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 3:52 am

    Native Spanish speaker

    EASY
    1. French
    2. Dutch (knew English and German already)
    3. English
    4. German
    5. Russian
    HARD

  81. Felix said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 4:19 am

    German native speaker.

    EASY
    English
    Urdu/Hindi
    Nepali
    French
    Pashtu
    Sanskrit
    HARD

    Learned in the following order: English, Nepali, French, Urdu/Hindi, Sanskrit, Pashtu

  82. Zoe said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 4:48 am

    Native English speaker

    EASY
    1. Italian
    2. French
    3. Turkish
    4. German
    5. Russian
    6. Arabic
    HARD

  83. languagehat said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 8:31 am

    Arthur Baker:

    6 Portuguese (despite knowing Latin French Italian and Spanish – vocabulary and grammar was easy but the pronunciation was the killer)

    May I ask whether you were learning Brazilian or European Portuguese? I’m guessing the latter, because it’s notoriously mysterious. From Patrick O’Brian’s Blue at the Mizzen:

    Stephen bowed: but when they had put on formal clothes he said, ‘Interpret, is it? As I told you before I do not speak – not as who should say speak – Portuguese. Still less do I understand the language when it is spoke. No man born of woman has ever understood spoken Portuguese, without he is a native or brought up to comprehend that strange blurred muffled indistinct utterance from a very early, almost toothless, age. Anyone with a handful of Latin – even Spanish or Catalan – can read it without much difficulty but to comprehend even the drift of the colloquial, the rapidly muttered version. . .’

  84. cliff arroyo said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 8:53 am

    I’d like to clarify my list, my standard was based on reading materials not created for language learning.

    This is why Vietnamese is in the hard list. While textbook vietnamese is not very hard, normal written Vietnamese for Vietnamese speakers is a lot harder for a number of reasons.

  85. languagehat said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 9:04 am

    Bruce Gannon:

    One thing I’m curious about: How did the people who said they found (spoken) Mandarin or Cantonese easy find the tones of those languages?

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I found them pretty hard — not so much the tones themselves but the combinations and the effort to put them together in a sentence in a fluent and convincing way. That said, I don’t think they’re a huge obstacle; even if one never achieves real fluency, one can produce them well enough to be understood and not sound too laughable. They’re certainly less of an obstacle than, say, the Georgian or Old Irish verbal system. (Modern Irish is a piece of cake by comparison.)

  86. Mr Punch said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 9:54 am

    I can really claim only English and French, but I once got through three or four pages of a newspaper before I realized it was in a language I didn’t know – turned out to be Catalan.

  87. Julia P said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 11:06 am

    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. Portuguese (practically the same as Spanish but listed as harder only because it is more difficult to find speakers in my area)
    3. German
    4. Sanskrit (written)
    5. Old Irish (written)
    6. Welsh
    HARD

  88. Vanya said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 11:09 am

    @Mr Punch, I have understood the gist of some basic conversations I have overheard on the train or street in “Slavic” without being completely sure which language was actually being spoken (probably Bulgarian, Macedonian or possibly Slovak, on some occasions maybe Slovenian?).

  89. quyet said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 11:32 am

    @cliff arroyo

    I’ve been in Vietnam for three years, self studied for the first year and the rest has been osmosis, and I have no problem with ‘normal’ written Vietnamese, but poetry has way too much uncommon hán việt vocabulary, and modern literature is just littered with từ láy and thuần việt adjectives (usually describing actions or noises) that I’ve never encountered before.

    There are definitely some phonological rules for producing từ láy, but I’m often taken by surprise.

  90. Lane said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 11:47 am

    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. Italian
    3. Danish
    4. French
    5. Russian
    6. Arabic (have studied both MSA and Levantine dialect; I mean primarily MSA here.)

  91. Robin said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

    Native English speaker, ranking by how comfortable I felt/feel after a year:

    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. French
    3. Finnish
    4. BCS (Serbian type)
    5. Thai
    6. Burmese
    HARD

    (Order of learning: Spanish/French, Thai/Finnish, Burmese/Serbian)

    Thai and Burmese are down there partially because of the writing systems, which affect both reading fluency (and proofreading for my errors!) as well as vocab learning, since I am quite dependent on the visual form of words for remembering. Thai tones never bothered me, but the Burmese system of tone/quality I did not/probably won’t fully acquire.

    I also never felt as comfortable with languages that don’t conjugate or decline in some way, which I assume is an effect of learning Spanish first. In Thai and Burmese I basically am never sure if I am saying the thing I mean to say.

  92. Bruce Gannon said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 1:44 pm

    Thank you, LH.

  93. languagehat said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 2:05 pm

    Julia P:

    5. Old Irish (written)
    6. Welsh

    Really! Could you elaborate a bit? Having studied both, I’m surprised at someone finding Old Irish easier than Welsh (though of course the latter is no Esperanto), and I’m curious about which aspects of each went into your thoughts about difficulty.

  94. norman said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

    Native English speaker, grew up listening/speaking to Cantonese but didn’t learn to write until my 20s

    EASY
    1. Italian (with a base of French and Spanish)
    2. Spanish (with a base of French)
    3. Mandarin Chinese
    4. French
    5. Korean

  95. Chandra said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 3:36 pm

    Native English speaker (though the relative ease of Spanish vs. Nepali for me likely stems from having studied French since Kindergarten).

    EASY

    1. Spanish
    2. Nepali
    3. French
    4. Icelandic

    HARD

  96. Brian K said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

    Native English speaker, learning order was Latin, French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Russian:

    EASY
    – Spanish
    – Italian
    – French
    – German
    – Latin
    – Russian (still beginner level…)
    – (Ancient) Greek
    HARD

  97. (((StuartL))) said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 7:04 pm

    Native English speaker

    EASY
    Spoken Japanese
    Latin
    Telugu
    Tamil
    Classical Hebrew
    Czech
    HARD

    I’m amazed at how many people think Japanese is hard. It’s by far the neatest language out there. Only 2 irregular verbs (and they are not that irregular), no declensions, simple verb conjugation, no noun-verb, or noun-adj agreement, no singular or plural markers, no articles, a straight-forward grammar that is not hard to parse. (But then again lack of explicit marking makes the meaning a bit ambiguous sometimes.) The thematic structure, and the polite language is a bit of a bother, but not too terrible. The writing is not hard; it just needs a lot of memorization.

  98. NatShockley said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

    This depends on so many things, doesn’t it: the language(s) you grew up speaking, the order in which you learned the others, and the degree to which you learned them. I’m a little surprised to see German in the lower half of so many lists – from native English speakers too – and I wonder if that is because these people didn’t take it very far. In my experience, German is a little difficult while you’re still trying to learn the adjectival endings and get the hang of the sentence structure, plurals and genders, but once you’ve memorized the basic rules and have the core vocabulary under your belt, you find that the rest of the language is a relatively easy business of combining and applying what you’ve already learned… And while there are regional dialects and sublanguages, you don’t really need to learn anything of them to consider yourself a fully fluent speaker, and there isn’t much difference (relatively speaking) between the highest register of modern Hochdeutsch and the colloquial language of the streets.

    Whereas with French, for example, I find that it gets harder the further in you go. An English speaker might find it fairly easy at first if they start with written French, but then you find that standard written French – especially in the canonical novels – is a world away from the colloquial street language, and that the argots of teenagers and other hoodlums are each their own seperate universe again, and you find you need to master ALL of these to understand French films, for instance. And like English, the vocabulary seems vast, even in the standard written langauge, let alone the other registers.

  99. Martha said,

    March 6, 2017 @ 10:13 pm

    EASY
    1. French
    2. German
    3. Japanese
    HARD

    That’s also the order I learned them in. I started studying French at around age 14, and Japanese in my early 20s. My German pronunciation benefited from my already having learned the sounds that French and German share.

    I imagine that if my “studying” of Tagalog consisted of more than asking my mom once a month how to say something and then adding the structure to my repertoire and then never using it, it would go on either side of German. Grammarwise probably above German, but pronunciationwise below it, due to the Rs.

  100. Gwen Katz said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 2:05 am

    I’d be interested in hearing what aspect of learning a language people find the most challenging. I seem to be rather unusual in not finding different writing systems much of a hurdle (at least alphabets; logographic systems might be a different story). OTOH I struggle with skills like speech segmentation, which most people seem to have no difficulty with.

  101. Sarah said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 2:24 am

    EASY

    German
    French
    Irish (modern, spoken)
    Latin
    Irish (modern, written)
    Sanscrit

    HARD

  102. Lugubert said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 3:04 am

    I feel like I could write reams on which languages I found easy, challenging or just impossible to learn, and I’ve tried a few.

    As hinted at several times in the thread, easy/hard from which aspects? From ordering a beer to discussing classical poetry? Wouldn’t even try Swedish poetry, so scoring some 20-0 there. I’m on the introvert side, so I go for reading more than speaking, and don’t feel that I need to spend energy on hopefully approaching native-like writing in more foreign languages than English and German.

    Native Swedish speaker, Secondary education English, German, French. M.Eng.(Chem). One to four university semesters each of Spanish, Russian, Sanskrit, Hindi, Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Bible Hebrew, Modern Standard Chinese, Welsh. Parts of semesters on modern Persian, Japanese, Bulgarian, Dutch, NT Greek. Retired professional technical translator, still advertising working from English, German, Dutch, French. Having lived most of my life within not too many hours from Norway and Denmark, I regard Swedish, Norwegian and Danish as Scandinavian dialects, but would never try to write in any Norwegian or in Danish.

    Have really tried to find useful training material on Vietnamese, but reject Colloquial V. as well as Teach Yourself V., and can’t find a site explaining the tones or the “creaky” thing.

    That said, some
    EASY (obviously apart from Scandinavian, and with some above caveats)
    Afrikaans
    Hindi (that escalated quickly)
    Bible Hebrew
    NT Greek (skipped uni class after a couple of months to concentrate on the (to me…) easier B Hebrew)
    Chinese (Most of the few times that a native has understood what I’ve said when e.g. asking for directions, I’ve been rather helpless when they answered. Fortunately, crisis approaching, a kind person understood when I was asking in Chinese for a public loo, and I was able to follow his directions.)
    Japanese (I can accept and try the multiple scripts. But do they even have a grammar? Or are there several competing sets? Suggestions appreciated.)
    HARD

  103. Diane said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 6:45 am

    Native English speaker

    Easy

    French
    Russian
    Latin
    German
    Hebrew
    Classical Greek

    Hard

  104. Curtis Booth said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 11:13 am

    Navajo is reputed to be extremely difficult to learn, but the only evidence I know of is anecdotal; I’ve never tried to learn it myself.

  105. Dominik Lukes (@techczech) said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 11:42 am

    Here’s my list.

    1. Tetun (east timor creole, coming from English)
    2. Russian (coming from Czech)
    3. Albanian (coming from English)
    4. English (coming from Czech)
    5. Mandarin (coming from English – tones and writing)

    I’m counting first three months of study – not achieving full fluency – which I did not in most of these languages.

    I’d like to point out the saying about English: ‘It’s an easy language to learn badly’. All languages are fairly difficult to learn to the degree of developing meaningful intuitions and idiomatic facility in them. But some (like most creoles) just make it much easier to get started and accumulate further knowledge. So the degree of ease would be very subjective. Even simple languages like Tetun (with zero morphology and simple SVO syntax) present many difficulties when you aim for colloquial expression.

    I would recommend the book Fluent in Three Months – which despite its offputtingly ridicculous title actually presents a very cogent argument about language learning difficulty at the various stages with respect to the European competency framework.

  106. John Swindle said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

    I’ve studied some languages but don’t think I’ve learned any. Languages learned early are easiest. Similar languages are easier than different languages. Language classes (hey, what’d you get in that class?) are easier than learning languages. Languages spoken widely are easier than languages spoken less widely, because of the difference in listeners’ expectations.

  107. David HD said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

    Hopefully “studied” rather than “learned” is okay here. Native speaker of American English who first learned French at a rather young age.

    I maintain that French would be an easy language for English speakers to learn if it could be taught without any reference to (prescriptive) grammar or orthography. But the way most anglophones learn it results in them spending the rest of their life trying to figure out the complicated mapping between the formal register and what their neighbours and co-workers actually speak. And don’t get me started on the “rules” of written French…

    EASY

    1. Mexican Spanish
    2. Canadian French (spoken)
    3. Mandarin
    4. French (written)
    5. Russian
    6. Plains Cree

    HARD

  108. Dave Cragin said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 8:28 pm

    For those looking for a ranking of the difficulty of language learning, the US Foreign Service Institute groups languages based on the estimated time to achieving speaking and reading proficiency.

    https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikibooks:Language_Learning_Difficulty_for_English_Speakers#cite_note-1

    I don’t necessarily agree with FSI rankings, e.g., they list Mandarin as one of the hardest. However, as Victor points out, spoken Mandarin has many “easy” aspects as compares to other languages, whereas reading/writing is very hard. I’m not ranking 6 languages myself because I don’t know others in sufficient depth to fully compare them.

  109. Louis said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 10:16 pm

    @ Gwen Katz: You would think pronunciation would be the most difficult thing for pretty much everyone. I’ve yet to hear anyone who started learning a language after the critical period and ended up sounding just like a native speaker.

  110. NatShockley said,

    March 8, 2017 @ 1:10 am

    @Louis: As Gwen suggests, different people find different things difficult. I’ve always found it easy to learn the pronunciation of other languages, even though I only started in my twenties – not sure if that’s within what you think of as the “critical period”… But I have a good ear (for music and other sounds) and as a child I used to enjoy imitating other people’s voices and trying out funny voices of my own. So it was never much of a challenge for me. The aspect of language learning I always find hardest – by far – is listening comprehension.

  111. NatShockley said,

    March 8, 2017 @ 1:14 am

    And yes, I did end up “sounding like a native speaker” in French, German, and Italian, within a very short time of starting to learn them, to the point where I had a real problem with native speakers in the respective countries thinking I was also native and gabbling away at me at full speed, and me not understanding a thing because I was actually still more or less at beginner level…

  112. Margot said,

    March 8, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

    Native American English Speaker.

    EASY
    1. Dutch (learned as a child; have a poor handle speaking and writing due to German interference nowadays)
    2. Turkish (self-taught 1+ years, exposed through media. Different does not mean harder, especially if you’re invested!)
    3. Spanish (studied at formal level – secondary school. Not a competent speaker but I ‘feel’ it’d be easier than German if I tried)
    4. German (studying at formal level, going on four years. surprised? it’s those inflections)
    5. Welsh (I wanted to, I tried, maybe I’ll revisit it one day, but not now)
    HARD

  113. Daniele Brigadoi Cologna said,

    March 8, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

    I am a native speaker of Italian and having grown up in South Tyrol and Germany I have been exposed to German quite early, and attended German-language schools for eight years. I learned English in my teens, then added Spanish and French as I grew up. I started learning modern Chinese 30 years ago and have been teaching it for the last twelve years.
    My list goes as follows:

    EASY

    1. Spanish
    2. French
    3. Chinese (spoken)
    4. German
    5. English
    6. Chinese (written)
    HARD

    Yet I must say that spoken Chinese to me doesn’t really feel that easy. Sure, the grammar is fairly straightforward, morphology almost non-existant and one does achieve fluency in everyday conversations rather quickly, but tones are difficult to master unless one lives in a Chinese language environment for several years. And high-end, learned Chinese spoken language still seems very hard to me, with its frequent use of chengyu, yanyu and literary references. German has a more complex grammar but a very consistent phonology and orthography, which in my opinion makes it structurally easier to learn than English. But then experience and mastery of one language perhaps helps set the stage for every other new one: I learned English and French effortlessly because I came at them from Italian and German. But nothing, alas, paved the way for Chinese. And it has been mostly uphill all the way.

  114. Dennis King said,

    March 8, 2017 @ 7:12 pm

    Time to tabulate the results?

  115. January First-of-May said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 3:20 am

    Native speaker of Russian…

    EASY
    1. Hebrew (with vowels) – every few years I try to learn it and get quite a bit in, then forget most of it again soon after
    2. English – happily learning since kindergarten, now my main medium of online discussion
    3. French – two years at university, got a D, but turned out to be pretty good at reading
    4. Hebrew (without vowels) – how the triangular heck do the locals manage it?
    HARD

    The first three are pretty close (I’m actually not very sure of the order); the last is significantly harder (I was tempted to put it after the “hard” line).

  116. Willard Moore said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

    EASY
    Spanish (but I already knew Latin and English)
    Latin (written only)
    French
    Ancient Greek (written only)
    HARD

  117. ajay said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

    (Native English speaker)
    Easiest at the top:

    French
    German (these two very close)
    Spanish
    Italian
    Latin
    Russian
    Gaelic (Scottish)
    Cantonese

  118. ajay said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

    …and I realise that I can’t count to six reliably. Sorry.

  119. abrunet said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 1:04 pm

    EASY
    English
    Drunkard
    Baby Talk
    Pig Latin
    Swearing
    Singing On Key
    HARD

  120. davebarnes said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 1:34 pm

    As a native English speaker/writer, my list is:

    EASY
    Español (written and spoken)
    Português (written)
    Français (written)
    Français (spoken)
    Português – European (spoken)
    HARD

  121. Scott said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

    (native English Speaker)
    EASY
    1. Spanish
    2. Serbo-Croat
    HARD

  122. Mike said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 2:55 pm

    (Native English Speaker)

    EASIEST
    Spanish
    Norwegian
    Polish
    HARDEST

  123. roeghmann said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 5:25 pm

    (Native speaker of Danish, but English is my real first language)

    EASY
    1. German
    2. Spanish
    3. French
    4. Chinese
    HARD

  124. Bob said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 6:18 pm

    Native English speaker
    Easy:
    Esperanto
    Spanish
    Dari/Tajik
    Hard

  125. Michael said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 7:03 pm

    Most in fairly bookish registers, from easiest to hardest, for native US speaker:

    German – pronunciation close to written
    Marathi – because I had learned some Sanskrit
    Sinhala – Paucity of learning resources, speed of everyday spoken
    Pali – easier than Sanskrit because of relative narrowness of subject matter
    Sanskrit – once you face up to grammatical complexity & breadth of literatures
    Navajo – Very hard, probably because so far from Indo-European. Sheesh.

  126. NeedleFactory said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 7:21 pm

    Native English speaker
    Easy:
    German
    Russian
    Hard

  127. Bakabon said,

    March 9, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

    Native English speaker here.

    EASY
    Malaysian (Bahasa Malaysia)
    French
    Chinese
    Japanese
    Korean
    HARD

    I think you are underrating the difficulty of spoken Chinese. The grammar is simple, but if you really want to speak like an intelligent adult you have memorize an enormous vocabulary. Unlike most other languages, even Japanese or Korean, there are few direct noun borrowings from English for most subjects due to the way the characters work. Add onto that the necessity of using the very-foreign-for-an-English-speaker chengyu and other idioms accurately and Chinese ends up taking much more time than your average language to gain fluency.

  128. Gitai said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 12:01 am

    EASY
    German
    Arabic
    Hebrew
    Persian
    HARD

  129. Ha YS said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 12:34 am

    (Native English speaker, living in HK)
    Easy
    1. Spanish
    2. French
    3. German
    4. Mandarin (spoken)
    5. Chinese (written)
    6. Cantonese (spoken)

  130. Alex said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 4:20 am

    English native speaker.

    EASY
    1. Dutch
    2. German
    3. French
    4. Spanish
    5. Georgian
    HARD

  131. Beth said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 4:32 am

    Native English speaker here

    Easy
    1. Italian
    2. Danish
    3. Hebrew
    4. French
    5. Estonian

  132. DD.Owen said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 6:53 am

    Bilingual English-Welsh speaker (English was primary home language)

    EASY
    Italian
    French
    German
    Mandarin
    HARD

    (Though my Mandarin is probably better than the other three simply because I’m actively learning it right now — I think I can manage five words of Italian and my French and German from school have gone completely.)

  133. Graeme said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 9:17 am

    Surprised more people haven’t noted the age at which they began each language. Or is this a blog full of linguists for whom language acquisition is a natural pastime if not an innate pleasure? I have conquered no foreign tongues to my native English but I distinctly found High School German a relative doddle to studying Portuguese and French at university, and even allowing for the ‘foreignness’ of Celtic to English I struggled more with Irish classes in my mid 20s. My Maori books in my 40s lead me to perceive it as a language of pure vowels and relatively simple grammar; but my mind is beyond retaining them.

    Easier
    German
    Portuguese
    French
    Erse/Irish
    Harder

  134. Jim Philips said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 10:42 am

    This is a trick question. It’s kind of like asking: Which city is farthest away? It depends, of course, on where you’re located when you ask the question. Which language is easiest or hardest depends greatly upon which language is your native language. There is no doubt that a language similar to my native language will be easier for me to learn.

  135. Victor Mair said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 3:16 pm

    I haven’t forgotten my promise to tabulate the results of this survey. Since replies are still coming in, I will wait a few more days, or at least until this post goes off the first page of the Language Log website.

  136. Doug T. said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 4:44 pm

    Spoken
    EASY
    Spanish
    French
    Chinese
    Hebrew
    Russian
    Arabic
    HARD

    Writing/Reading
    EASY
    Spanish
    Russian
    French (many unpronounced letters)
    Hebrew
    Arabic
    Chinese
    HARD

  137. Sam D said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 4:54 pm

    Native English speaker here.

    EASY
    Spanish
    American Sign Language
    Latin
    Russian
    Ancient Greek
    HARD

    As others have noted, this is corresponds almost perfectly to the order in which I began learning the languages.

  138. Weltanschauung said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 6:54 pm

    EASY TO READ
    French
    German
    Chichewa (national language of Malawi, of the Bantu family)
    Latin
    Greek (Koine easier than Attic)
    Russian
    HARD TO READ

  139. tetri_tolia said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 7:02 pm

    Native English speaker.

    Only currently fluent L2 is Georgian for ~6 years. There are both easy and hard things about it. I still don’t read fluently b/c brain doesn’t process alphabet efficiently and tendency of written Georgian to use relatively more complicated registers. Correctness of usage and grammar and diversity of expression especially in intellectual discourse is a constant struggle. But I had most of my fluency down long before the 1st year was up.

    Comparing other languages that I learned to varying degrees at various times:

    Spanish: much easier
    Dutch: easier
    Ancient Greek: slightly easier
    Turkish: slightly harder
    Russian: much harder

  140. mishka said,

    March 11, 2017 @ 2:02 am

    Native Russian speaker:

    EASY
    1. English
    2. Spanish
    3. French
    4. Hebrew
    5. Arabic
    6. Japanese
    HARD

  141. Miatelin said,

    March 11, 2017 @ 11:49 am

    Swedish native, predictably the language furthest from my native tongue (a language which incidentally should have been my native tongue if it hadn’t been for unacceptable linguistic policies) has been the trickiest one so far.

    EASY
    German
    Spanish
    Welsh
    Russian
    Sámi (northern)
    HARD

  142. kevin said,

    March 11, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

    Native English speaker.

    EASIER
    1. Italian
    2. Spanish
    3. Thai (spoken)
    4. Thai (reading)
    5. Thai (writing)
    HARDER

  143. Betsy M said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

    Couldn’t resist!!

    Native english/Russian speaker here whose Russian now is painfully primitive.
    Also, I agree with comments above re: this question being like, what city is the furthest from you right now? But I still could not resist!! But all of the commentary is geared towards English speakers with some sort of interest in grammar.

    EASY

    1. SPANISH/ITALIAN
    I’m actually not amazing with Spanish or Italian, but my inability to speak them seems mostly a failure of laziness rather than anything else. The combination of cognates with English words and/or other Romance languages, fairly straightforward grammar (no cases, familiar word order), and fairly straightforward pronunciation (what you see is what you get!) is pretty hard to beat.

    2. FRENCH
    It’s a little difficult to gage difficulty, because this was one of my first languages. Grammatically and in terms of root words, it’s pretty straightforward like Spanish/Italian, but in terms of speaking + understanding, it’s pretty challenging. I learned French for about 10 years before I “unlocked” the pronunciation and could understand and be understood. That might be bad teachers, but that’s still a pretty long time.

    3. GERMAN
    Coming from English, I always thought German was so fun and similar! There are of course cases and some word order stuff that’s tricky, but if you can get over that… How can one not love the many cognates?! And the long words — they might be a mouthful, but they’re pretty straightforward.

    4. HEBREW
    New alphabet! Yikes!
    I never really mastered Hebrew but did make very reliable progress with it — ultimately German just took over in terms of interest.

    5. RUSSIAN
    I’m theoretically a native Russian speaker, but the subtleties of the prefixes, the verbs and the fairly rich case system are pretty tricky in my book; plus the soft/hard consonants, etc. Maybe because I am a native Russian speaker I can actually hear how off I am with my Russian! Plus, this gets a few minus points for the alphabet.

    6. ARMENIAN
    My first true language fail. I never mastered it or even made much progress in it. The completely new alphabet makes visual learning nigh impossible until you’ve mastered the alphabet — which was a point I never got to. Very few recognizable cognates for an English or even Russian speaker, obviously.

  144. Rebecca said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:16 pm

    EASY
    French
    Spanish
    Russian
    Swedish
    Arabic
    HARD

  145. Louis said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 1:55 am

    @ NatShockley:

    Hmm…I doubt that, but OK.

  146. Mylène Pariset said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 7:22 am

    Native French Speaker, I grew up in the part of Lorraine influenced by the Romance dialect (Lorrain), not by the Franconian German dialect ( Plàtt, Francique lorrain)

    EASY

    1. Italian (super easy, a delight)
    2. English (skewed, because I’ve had most exposure since my teenage years)
    3. German (geographically closer, but less exposure)
    4. Latin (scholarly exposure)
    5. Hebrew (written)
    6. Russian (writing/reading is easier than speaking)

    HARD

  147. Dave Marks said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 12:51 am

    Am I the only one who finds most of the responses here to be boringly predictable? It would be cool to see more native speakers of English who thought, e.g., Mandarin or Turkish was the easiest language. It’s almost as if everyone looked at the language families on Wikipedia or the FSI language difficulty rankings before commenting here. Maybe a blog like this just tends to attract the type of people who would’ve looked at those things before.

  148. languagehat said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 7:44 am

    I hate to tell you this, but most of life is boringly predictable. If you ask people in the US what they eat for breakfast, you’re going to get a lot of eggs, toast, and cereal. If you want exciting, unpredictable stuff, write a novel. And it’s pretty insulting to suggest that people “looked at the language families on Wikipedia or the FSI language difficulty rankings before commenting.” Or are you just trolling?

  149. John Swindle said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 8:26 am

    This blog is in English and based in the USA, so it’s not surprising that many responses are from native English speakers. I suspect the responses will paint a reasonable picture of which languages English speakers find easy or hard. It would be interesting to compare responses from native speakers of the “hard” languages. Which languages do they find easy or hard?

  150. John Swindle said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 8:28 am

    Native English speaker. The order below is closer to the order in which I studied these languages than to the order of my current lack of proficiency in them.

    EASY
    Esperanto
    Spanish
    German
    Chinese (Mandarin or written)
    Vietnamese
    Russian
    HARD

  151. Alon Lischinsky said,

    March 18, 2017 @ 10:02 am

    Native Rioplatense Spanish speaker here.

    EASY
    Catalan
    Italian
    (Brazilian) Portuguese
    Swedish
    English
    French
    (Modern) Hebrew
    German
    Mandarin
    HARD

    The order above is almost entirely unrelated to the order in which these languages were learned, though there are obvious familiarity effects, and important differences that cannot be captured in an unidimensional classification (e.g., Mandarin syntax is relatively simple, but I’ve been consistently defeated by its pronunciation no matter how much effort I’ve spent in trying to master tonality). And I’m not including languages, such as Guarani, Latin or Ancient Greek, in which I have only passive competence; any such comparisons would be so deeply flawed as to be useless.

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