Top 10 Hardest Languages in the World

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Ever wondered which languages give even the bravest learners a run for their money?

The world has a diversity of languages, with close to 6,900 distinct tongues spoken across various regions and cultures. 

Asia stands out as the continent with the highest linguistic diversity, hosting approximately 2,197 languages, while Europe contributes around 230 languages

Many of these hardest languages in the world are known for their complex writing systems, such as Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Japanese, each featuring intricate scripts with thousands of characters or symbols. 

Moreover, hardest languages in the world like Finnish, Hungarian, and Georgian challenge learners with complex grammatical structures, including extensive case systems and verb conjugations.

Tonal hardest languages in the world like Mandarin Chinese and Thai present an additional hurdle, as the meaning of words can change based on tone. 

Do you ever wonder which is the hardest language in the world? It’s Mandarin Chinese.

Let’s know about these hardest languages in the world in detail!

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10 Most Difficult Languages in the World

In this section, you’ll be entering the world of language learning, focusing on the top 10 most difficult languages in the world.

Top 10 hardest languages in the world and how many people speak these languages:

LanguagesApproximate Number of Speakers
Mandarin ChineseOver 1 billion
Arabic310 million
Japanese128 million
Korean80 million
Russian154 million
Finnish5.5 million
Hungarian13 million
Icelandic360,000
Georgian4 million
Navajo170,000
Source: unofficial

Now, let’s look at these hardest languages in the world in detail to understand them better:

Mandarin 

Mandarin Chinese, also known simply as Mandarin, stands as the most spoken language globally by native speakers, with over a billion individuals conversant in it. 

One of its distinctive features is its tonal nature, where words can have different meanings depending on the tone used. Mandarin has four tones: flat, rising, falling-rising, and falling. 

For instance, the word “ma” can mean “mother,” “hemp,” “horse,” or “to scold,” depending on the tone in which it’s pronounced. 

This tonal aspect poses a significant challenge for learners, particularly those accustomed to non-tonal languages.

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Top 10 Hardest Languages in the World

Arabic

Arabic is a language spoken in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s a bit tricky to learn because it has some special features.

  • First, Arabic has lots of different ways to form words, which can be confusing. 
  • Second, it uses a unique kind of writing called the Arabic script, which goes from right to left. The letters in Arabic can also look different depending on where they are in a word. 
  • Third, Arabic has many different ways of speaking, which are called dialects. This means people in different places may speak Arabic differently.

Japanese

Japanese is a language spoken in Japan, and it’s a bit different from English. 

First off, Japanese uses three kinds of writing: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are like alphabets with symbols that represent sounds, while kanji are characters borrowed from Chinese that stand for whole words or ideas. This means you need to learn lots of symbols to read and write in Japanese!

Secondly, Japanese has a special way of showing respect called the honorific system. You use different words and phrases to show respect depending on who you’re talking to and the situation.

Lastly, Japanese grammar works differently from English. For example, in English, we usually have a subject, then a verb, and then an object (like “I eat sushi”). But in Japanese, the order can change, and sometimes, you leave out parts of the sentence because they’re understood from the context.

Korean

Korean is a language spoken in Korea, and it’s different from English in a few ways. First, Koreans have their own special way of writing, called Hangul. Hangul uses symbols to represent sounds, kind of like our alphabet, but it’s different. Learning Hangul is important for reading and writing in Korean.

Secondly, Koreans have some level of politeness and honorifics. This means the words you use can change depending on who you’re talking to and how polite you want to be. It’s like using “Mr.” or “Mrs.” in English, but even more complex!

Because of these differences, learning Korean can be challenging, especially for English speakers. But don’t worry. With practice and patience, you can become fluent in Korean and explore its rich culture and history!

Russian

Russian is a language spoken in Russia and some other countries. It’s different from English in a few ways. First, Russian has a special way of organising words called cases. There are six cases, and they show how words relate to each other in a sentence. This can be tricky to learn because English doesn’t use cases in the same way.

Secondly, Russian uses a different alphabet called the Cyrillic script. This means the letters look different from English letters. Learning the Russian alphabet is an important first step in learning the language.

Lastly, Russian pronunciation can be tough for English speakers because there are sounds in Russian that we don’t have in English. Some Russian sounds might sound strange or hard to say at first, but with practice, you can improve!

Finnish

Finnish is a language spoken in Finland, and it’s quite different from English. One big difference is how words change to show their role in a sentence. This is called grammar, and Finnish has a lot of it! 

For example, Finnish has many cases, which means words can change depending on their job in the sentence. This can be tricky to learn because English doesn’t use cases in the same way.

Another thing that makes Finnish challenging is agglutination. This means that instead of using separate words for things like tense, number, and person, Finnish adds endings to words. 

So, one word in Finnish can have many different endings that show different meanings. It’s like packing a lot of information into one word!

Hungarian 

Hungarian is a language spoken in Hungary and some neighbouring countries. It’s quite different from English in a few ways. First, Hungarian has a lot of rules for how words change depending on their job in a sentence. This is called grammar, and Hungarian grammar can be complex. For example, Hungarian has different word endings for things like who is doing the action or when something happens. This can take some getting used to for English speakers.

In Hungarian, the word “szeret” means “to love.” However, depending on who is doing the loving, the word “szeret” changes its ending to match. Here are a few examples:

  • “Szeretek” means “I love.”
  • “Szeretsz” means “You love.”
  • “Szeret” means “He/she/it loves.”
  • “Szeretünk” means “We love.”
  • “Szerettek” means “You (plural) love.”
  • “Szeretnek” means “They love.”

As you can see, the ending of the word “szeret” changes depending on who is performing the action of loving.

Navajo 

Navajo is a language spoken by the Navajo people, Native Americans living mainly in the southwestern United States. Navajo is quite different from English in a few ways. First, Navajo has a special way of organising words, which is called a verb system. This means that verbs (words that show actions) change differently to show who is doing the action, when it happened, and other details. This can be tricky to learn because English verbs stay the same.

Secondly, Navajo has intricate grammar rules for how words are formed and how they fit together in sentences. This is called morphology, which includes adding prefixes or suffixes to words to change their meaning. Navajo also has a unique way of showing possession, which differs from English.

Lastly, Navajo uses tones to convey meaning, similar to languages like Mandarin Chinese. This means that the pitch or tone of a word can change its meaning. 

For example, the word “shí” can mean “father” or “rock,” depending on the tone used.

Georgian

Georgian is a language spoken in Georgia, a country in Eastern Europe. It’s different from English in a few ways. First, Georgian uses its own special writing system called the Georgian script. The letters in this script look different from English letters, so learning to read and write Georgian takes some practice.

Secondly, Georgian has a complex way of organising words in sentences, especially verbs (words that show actions). This means that verbs can change in many different ways to show who is doing the action, when it happened, and other details. Georgian also uses a lot of word endings to show things like possession or how words relate to each other.

Lastly, Georgian has a rich system of inflection, which means that words can change in different ways to show their role in a sentence. For example, nouns can change their endings to show if they’re the subject of the sentence or the object. This can be challenging for English speakers who aren’t used to this kind of system.

Icelandic

Icelandic is a language spoken in Iceland, a country in the North Atlantic. It’s quite different from English in a few ways. First, Icelandic has a complex grammar system with four cases. Cases are like different forms of words that show how they’re used in a sentence. For example, a noun in Icelandic can change its form depending on whether it’s the subject, object, or possessive.

Secondly, Icelandic has a lot of declensions, which means that words can change their endings to show different things like gender, number, and case. This can be tricky for English speakers because English doesn’t have as many declensions.

Lastly, Icelandic has some old-fashioned words and pronunciations that can be hard to learn. Some words in Icelandic come from old Norse, the language of the Vikings, and they sound different from modern English words.

What is Foreign Service Institute?

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Language Difficulty rankings are a set of guidelines developed by the United States Foreign Service Institute to classify hardest languages in the world based on the estimated time it takes for an English speaker to achieve proficiency in speaking and reading them. 

The rankings inform language training programs for diplomats and other government personnel who need to learn foreign languages for their work.

The FSI categorises hardest languages in the world into different difficulty levels based on factors such as the language’s similarity to English, the complexity of its grammar and syntax, the writing system used, and the availability of language learning resources. 

These categories include:

Category I: Languages closely related to English, such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. These languages typically take around 24-30 weeks of full-time study (or 600-750 class hours) for English speakers to achieve proficiency.

Category II: Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English, such as German, Indonesian, Swahili, and Malaysian. These languages generally require around 36 weeks of full-time study (or 900 class hours) to reach proficiency.

Category III: Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English, more complex grammatical structures, and/or different writing systems. Examples include Russian, Hindi, Greek, and Thai. Learning these languages typically takes around 44 weeks of full-time study (or 1,100 class hours).

Category IV: Languages considered exceptionally difficult for English speakers due to significant linguistic and cultural differences, complex grammar, and/or non-Roman writing systems. Examples include Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Achieving proficiency in these languages may require around 88 weeks of full-time study (or 2,200 class hours).

Importance of Language

Language is how we connect with each other. Whether we’re using words, symbols, or even gestures, it’s all about sharing our thoughts and feelings. Think about it like this: When you talk to someone, you’re using language to tell them what’s on your mind, right?

Now, as our world gets smaller and more connected, there’s a bigger need to understand each other’s languages. That’s where international languages come in—those tricky ones that people all around the world use to communicate. 

Learning these hardest languages in the world, even the tough ones, is important. Why? Because it helps us connect with people from different cultures, whether we’re trading goods, studying abroad, or just making new friends. 

So, as the world keeps changing and people keep moving around, knowing these international languages (also hardest languages in the world) can open up a whole new world of opportunities and connections!

Imagine you’re travelling to Thailand, excited to explore its culture, delicious cuisine, and stunning landscapes. As you step off the plane and into the bustling streets of Bangkok, you quickly realise that English isn’t as widely spoken as you expected. 

Signs are in Thai, and while some people might understand a few English words, communication can be challenging.


But here’s where learning a few key phrases in Thai can make all the difference. With a simple “Sawasdee ka” (hello) or “Khap khun kha” (thank you), you’re able to greet locals and show appreciation for their help. 


Suddenly, navigating the bustling markets and ordering your favourite dishes becomes much easier.


By taking the time to learn even just a few basics of the local language before your trip, you can enhance your travel experience, connect with the people and culture of Thailand, and make unforgettable memories along the way!

Wrapping up

Exploring the top 10 hardest languages in the world offers a fascinating adventure into the complexity of human communication. 

From Mandarin Chinese to Icelandic, every hardest language in the world presents its own challenges and rewards. 

While learning these hardest languages in the world may be tough, it’s also incredibly rewarding, opening doors to new cultures and experiences. 

So, let’s welcome the challenge, plunge into the world of language learning, and discover the beauty of these remarkable tongues!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. Which are the top 10 hardest languages in the world?

    A. The top 10 hardest languages in the world include Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Georgian, and Navajo. These languages are renowned for their intricate grammar systems, complex writing systems, and significant differences from English.

  • Q. Why are these hardest languages in the world considered difficult?

    A. These hardest languages in the world are deemed the hardest due to their unique linguistic features, which pose challenges for learners. They often have complex grammar systems with various verb conjugations, extensive vocabulary, and different sentence structures compared to English. Additionally, some languages utilise intricate writing systems, tonal aspects, or uncommon phonemes that are not present in English.

  • Q. Is Mandarin Chinese difficult to learn?

    A. Yes, Mandarin Chinese is considered the hardest language in the world for several reasons. Firstly, it’s tonal, meaning that the meaning of a word can change based on the tone used. Secondly, it has a complex writing system with thousands of characters, each representing a word or a morpheme. Finally, its grammar structure can be quite different from English, requiring learners to adapt to new patterns and rules.

  • Q. Is it worth learning these hardest languages in the world?

    A. Yes, learning these hardest languages in the world can be highly rewarding. Beyond the practical benefits of being able to communicate with speakers of these languages, learning difficult languages opens up opportunities for cultural understanding, personal growth, and intellectual challenge. It allows individuals to connect with diverse communities, access rich cultural heritage, and broaden their perspectives on the world.

  • Q. How can I make learning these languages easier?

    A. To make learning hardest languages in the world easier, it’s essential to approach language learning with dedication, patience, and perseverance. Immersing yourself in the language through regular listening, speaking, reading, and writing can help reinforce learning. Language courses, textbooks, online tutorials, language exchange partners, and immersive experiences can provide valuable support and guidance in your language learning journey.

  • Q. Are there any online resources available to learn these languages?

    A. Yes, there are numerous online resources available for learning hardest languages in the world, ranging from language learning apps and websites to online courses, tutorials, and forums. These resources offer a wide range of materials, including grammar explanations, vocabulary lists, interactive exercises, audio recordings, and cultural insights tailored to different learning styles and proficiency levels.

  • Q. Can I learn these languages on my own, or do I need formal instruction?

    A. While self-study is possible, and many learners successfully learn difficult languages independently, formal instruction can provide structure, guidance, and opportunities for interaction and feedback. Language classes, tutoring, and language immersion programs offer valuable support and expertise to help learners overcome challenges and achieve their language learning goals more efficiently.

  • Q. How long does it take to become proficient in these languages?

    A. The time required to become proficient in difficult languages varies depending on factors such as language complexity, prior language learning experience, individual learning pace, and the intensity of study. While some learners may achieve proficiency in a shorter time frame, it generally takes several months to several years of dedicated study, practice, and immersion to attain fluency in these languages. Consistent effort and perseverance are key to success in language learning.

  • Q. What are the main difficulties in learning Korean?

    A. Korean presents challenges for learners due to its unique writing system, Hangul, which requires mastering new symbols and letter combinations. Additionally, Korea has a complex system of politeness levels and honorifics, reflecting social hierarchy and politeness. Furthermore, Korean grammar includes various verb endings and sentence structures that differ from English, requiring learners to adapt to new patterns and rules.

  • Q. What makes Russian a difficult language to learn?

    A. Russian’s difficulty stems from its complex grammar system, which includes six grammatical cases, each with its own set of rules for noun and adjective declensions. Moreover, the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian writing may be unfamiliar to English speakers. Additionally, Russian pronunciation can be challenging due to sounds not present in English, such as palatalised consonants.

  • Q. Why is Finnish considered challenging for language learners?

    A. Finnish presents challenges due to its complex grammar structure, which includes extensive case systems and agglutination. Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and numerals can all change form based on their grammatical role and relationship to other words in a sentence. Additionally, Finnish vocabulary and phonology may be quite different from English, requiring learners to adapt to new sounds and word forms.


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Saket Kohli

An International Higher Ed professional with 7+ years of experience studying, working, and living across three geographies, currently on a mission to share his journey as an International Student.

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