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Hard Languages for English speakers to learn

Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic.

Ever since I couldn't order myself a Turkish kebab properly in Austria, I've had a dream of becoming fluent in German. I achieved German proficiency in college, and liked to think that I spoke quite well when I had a few beers at the campus pub. I never achieved fluency then, though, even after studying abroad in Austria for a few months.

German is hard. I've always wanted to know what fluency in it would be like--it's got to be a total mind trip for someone as obsessed with the English language as I am--but the time and place haven't been right yet. I think it will happen someday.

But in the immediate future, I'm trying to learn Mandarin Chinese for teaching in China for the next few months. It isn't as difficult in terms of conjugation and verb tenses as is German--or English for that matter--but it requires a whole different written system, which is perhaps a bigger cognitive overhaul than learning some new conjugations.

Infographics, in conjunctions with, has made a helpful visual about the languages that are the easiest and most difficult for English speakers to learn. German isn't on the list, but I'm sure it would be in the Easiest category, along with Dutch and Spanish. According to the graph, these languages are the closest to English, and proficiency can be achieved after 23-24 weeks, or 575-600 classroom hours.

The medium proficiency languages were a little more surprising. In order to achieve proficiency in these languages, English speakers need to spend 44 weeks or 1,110 classroom hours improving their foreign language speaking and comprehension. Languages in this category include Hindi, spoken by 182 million people, Russian, spoken by 140 million people, and Vietnamese, spoken by 68.6 million people.

Unfortunately for me, Mandarin, spoken by 1.2 billion people, is one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. The language has four tones that change the meaning of words that sound similar to English speaking ears. Plus, the language is hard to learn to read and write in that there are thousands of unique characters that one has to memorize to become proficient. Other languages that are particularly difficult for English speakers to master are Korean, spoken by 66.3 million, Japanese, spoken by 122 million, and Arabic, spoken by 221 million people.

What languages do you speak? Was this chart helpful in contemplating the next language goals you might tackle?