The Most Difficult Languages To Learn
Replies: 48 - Last Post: May 14, 2011 5:24 AM Last Post By: fear_rua
May 16, 2007 3:29 PM
30Confusing, isn't it? I think we'll have to settle with a draw: Vinny and I are both right.
If anyone is still interested in the analysis of the example I gave in #25: 'she' is the subject, so in the nominative case, 'him' is the indirect object so in the dative case, 'the black ballpoint' is the direct object so in the accusative case. In Dutch, the grammatical case does not affect the inflection of articles, adjectives and nouns (with a few exceptions). Only the gender of a noun affects the inflection. So, whether 'de zwarte balpen' is in the nominative, the genitive, the dative or the accusative case does not matter: it remains 'de zwarte balpen', because 'balpen' is a feminine or masculine noun, it requires 'de' as the definite article and an additional e to the adjective. The few exceptions are the strong nouns that inflect differently with different cases. In Dutch, these few nouns are inflected only in several archaic expressions, while in German the strong nouns are always inflected according to the case. Dutch strong nouns include: tijd (ten tijde van), huis (Huize Balkenende), vrouw (Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis). German strong nouns include: Haus (nach Hause gehen), Herr (An Herrn Stoiber) and a few more.
May 16, 2007 6:10 PM
May 16, 2007 6:30 PM
32There may be occasions when it's useful to use the word "case" in sense 3b (#27). But a discussion (like this one) as to whether a particular language has case is not such an occasion. All languages have case in sense 3b, including suchj famous caseless languages as Chinese, for example. Therefore, if the topic of discussion is whether a particular language has case (it might be clearer to say "exhibits case"), "case" would be understood by everyone (with apparently one exception in the known universe) to be used in sense 3a.
May 17, 2007 11:43 AM
May 18, 2007 9:41 AM
34Hmm, I haven't read all the replies but re: the case discussion -- was it related to how it may make a language more difficult to learn? If that's what the above case discussion was ultimately about, then I would think that it's not a simple question of "language A has cases" vs "language B does not have cases". I would think that the 1) number of grammatical cases to learn and 2) how similarly they work compared to your mother tongue (or languages you speak well) are more important factors than the mere "has cases vs doesn't have".
For example, I'm sure that the Finnish grammatical cases are quite difficult to learn to master e.g. for native English speakers, because Finnish has quite a few cases. But for a native Estonian speaker I wouldn't think it's that difficult, because although there are some differences in the case systems of Finnish and Estonian, by and large they correspond to each other very well.
Aug 25, 2007 9:36 AM
Aug 26, 2007 4:03 PM
Any more interesting and challenging examples by speakers of African languages, anyone? What makes or made your language learning difficult?
I spent some time learning Ghanaian languages, and have become passably fluent in one of them. It was certainly a challenge. The grammar is actually fairly easy - there are no declensions or inflections. But the phonology is another story. Ghanaian languages are tonal (like most sub-Saharan tongues) and there are distinctions made for vowel length, and for aspirated versus unaspirated consonants. And of course the vocabulary is totally different. Even when words are borrowed from English they are often unrecognizable. For example, airport is rendered as 'pulen paaga', from 'plane park'.
Fortunately finding people to speak with was not too hard - lots of older people and quite a few younger ones do not know English and people love it when an outsider makes an effort to speak a native language.
Good luck with Amhara. I hope to spend time in Ethiopia or Eritrea one day and learn one of the Abyssinian languages myself.
Aug 26, 2007 6:18 PM
37Good luck you too with the Ghanaian languages. Been to Ghana twice and love the country and the peoples, but as far as Ghanaian languages are concerned I managed to learn two or three words in Ewe or Twi and always forgot everything the next day.. It's terrible how one creates a learning method which relies too much on written text, every time I did not write new words down I just could not make them stay in my head! Since then I'm trying to grow out of this habit and instead let intuition guide me more i.e. learn more by listening only and guessing from the context and trying my luck with new words in new contexts, without ever having seen them written anywhere. For me this seems to be working very well with Amharic, especially when a beginner, though in this case knowing Arabic helps also a lot.
Mar 3, 2011 8:11 AM
38Actually Dutch also has three genders for words: male, female and neuter. Dutch grammar rules are quite simpel, if there weren't so many exceptions. Also they might be able to speak dutch, but they would have trouble understanding dutch people because of the amount of expressions they use. Also the word order and grammar rules are completely different form English.
I don't understand why German takes almost 2 times as much time to learn then Dutch, the word order is the same, and most of the German grammar is about knowing the rules and using them. Also the writing is almost as far from phonetic as you could go...
Mar 3, 2011 8:37 AM
Mar 7, 2011 4:44 AM
40Another issue is speaking ability and literacy. Mandarin is listed as super difficult. I did not learn to read (except a menu). Speaking wise I found it easier than Vietnamese and Khmer (and I also found Khmer harder to speak than Vietnamese, and much harder to write and read).
So my personal difficulty list is Khmer is harder than Vietnamese which is harder than Mandarin.
Comments from speakers of these languages?
Mar 7, 2011 12:38 PM
41Since this is a resurrected 3-year old thread, I should remind folks that the lists are based on spoken AND written fluency. The State Dept. list in particular is based on people developing sufficient fluency to be able to function in an embassy in a country where that language is spoken.
And, I'll copy a post of mine from a different thread:
This is a very technical document that assesses comparative difficulty for English speakers.
Foreign Language Learning: A Comparative Analysis of Relative Difficulty It is not easy to read, even for a native English speaker. It is from the US National Security Agency. The word "unclassified" on the pages means that it has been declared not to be top secret.
There is a chart at the end of the paper that shows how different some languages are from English.
A side note: since the last time I looked at the US MIlitary Defense Language Insittute, several months ago, they have added a new resource, "Advanced North Korean Dialect Materials" and more Arabic stuff. You can draw your own political conclusions.
The do have some Khmer resources. The "Basic Survival guide" has a section on land mines, should you ned to say "danger," "demolition," or "grappling hook."
Mar 12, 2011 12:41 PM
42i think it doesn't only depend on the difficulty of the language itself (and that i suppose also differs for different people, what they find difficult and what not) but also on resources, practice opportunities and similar things, as someone here already pointed out.
for example, while japanese is not easy at all for me, the huge amount of resources available online are a big help. there are thousands of people learning japanese who share their experiences, and many sites geared at them, whose creators know what difficulties learners have, what to point out, etc.
on the other hand, i have been trying to learn malayalam while being in kerala for half a year, but still found it the toughest language i have worked on so far - mainly because it seems almost impossible to find good resources, and because even surrounded by native speakers no one seemed to really be able to explain anything to me. found similar problems for quechua, though not quite as extreme, there are at least some resources that seem to have a good linguistic base...
so i think the learning material available can play a big role in how easy or hard it is to learn a language...
Mar 13, 2011 12:18 AM
Mar 15, 2011 3:40 AM
44I must admit hindi is pretty hard.
Some of the difficulties are
a) the script is quite difficult to learn.
b) some letters have four different sounds that in english look like one to us. And there are lot of examples of this
c) they have formal and informal pronouns like french
d) they have gendered nouns if i recall correctly.
e) the word order is quite tricky. Sometimes it like english and sometimes (often) its not.
What is easy about it though is that once you know the letters and know the sounds, you can pronounce a word correctly.
But another difficulty, on the ground is that there is so much variation across the country in the way hindi is spoken by the people.
For all that it was worth trying to learn it when there.
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