Which foreign language most difficult to learn?

Many of those who study foreign languages wonder which language is the most difficult one in the world. Linguists say that there is no precise answer to this question because everything depends on which language you speak. Neurophysiologists believe, though, that the Chinese or the Arabic could be described as world's most difficult languages. The brain of native Chinese or Arab speakers may find it difficult to perceive those languages.

Specialists of linguistics say that complications in learning a foreign language depend on the language carried by the person who studies a foreign language. For example, the Russian language, which is generally considered to be one of the hardest in the world, will not be very hard to learn for Ukrainians or the Czechs. However, a Turkish or a Japanese student may never be able to study Russian - they may find it incredibly hard to learn.

From the point of view of affinity, the Basque language - Euskara - can be considered one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. This language is not connected with any other language group, not matter live or dead.

The Guinness Book of World Records gives another example - the Chippewa. This is a dialect of Ojibwe - an Indian tribe in Canada and the USA. There is also the Haida - an Indian tribal language in the north-west of North America. The Tabasaran - a native language for an ethnic group in Dagestan is also extremely difficult, along with the Eskimo and Chinese languages.

The Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages are considered the world's most difficult languages from the point of view of written language. In Japan, for example, children study for 12 years. A half of this time is devoted to only two subjects: the Japanese language and mathematics. To leave school, Japanese students have to pass the exams that test their knowledge of 1,850 hieroglyphs. To read a newspaper article, a Japanese person needs to know at least 3,000 hieroglyphs.

Scientists from the US-based Defense Language Institute made the ranking of world's most difficult languages for studying. The group of the easiest languages (for native English speakers) included: Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili and Swedish.

The second group consisted of the following languages: Bulgarian, Dari, Farsi (Persian), German, (Modern) Greek, Hindi-Urdu, Indonesian, Malay.

The following languages are more difficult: Amharic, Bengali, Burmese, Czech, Finnish, (Modern) Hebrew, Hungarian, Khmer (Cambodian), Lao, Nepali, Pilipino (Tagalog), Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Sinhala, Thai, Tamil, Turkish, Vietnamese.

And finally, the most difficult languages in the world (for English-speakers, though) are: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Interestingly, the Hebrew and the Arabic languages, which belong to the Semite language group, were ranked on different levels of difficulty. This peculiarity is the same for native speakers of both languages. A research conducted by the scientists from the University of Haifa showed that it was harder for Arabs than for Jews and British (or Americans) to read Arabic texts. The reason for that is as simple as it is remarkable: the human brain processes the written characters of those languages differently.

It is commonly known that the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the human brain are different. The right part of the brain is responsible for solving abstract tasks and template information processing. The left part specializes in distinguishing speech and texts. The right cerebral hemisphere is responsible for intuition and is capable of understanding metaphors. The left part deals with the realization of only the literal meaning of words.

Israeli scientists analyzed the activity of the brain when reading and distinguishing words among the native speakers of English, Arabic and Hebrew languages. Volunteers took part in two experiments. During the first one, they were shown words and meaningless combinations of letters in their native language. The respondents had to decide whether the words had any meaning, while the researchers were registering the precision and  time at which the answers were given.

During the second experiment, the volunteers were shown words on the left and the right parts of the screen simultaneously. The brain thus had to analyze the symbols either with the right or with the left hemisphere.

The results proved to be very interesting. The English-speaking and Hebrew-speaking volunteers could read the words easily with one of the hemispheres regardless of the other. The results shown by the Arabic-speaking respondents were different. When reading the Arabic, the right cerebral hemisphere can not function without using the resources of the left hemisphere. Reading the symbols of the Arabic written language activates cognitive systems of the brain, the scientists concluded. Therefore, if you want to develop your mind, you can take the studies of the Arabic language as a good option.

Similar peculiarities were discovered during the experiments with the Chinese and the English languages. The researchers observed the brain activity of the carriers of the Chinese and the English languages at the time when they were listening to their native speech. English speakers had only the left part of their brain activated. As for the Chinese, both of their cerebral hemispheres were working.

Many dialects of the Chinese language have four main tones, and the brain needs to be fully activated to process such information. Strangely enough, the Chinese grammar is one of the easiest in the world. Chinese words do not change grammatically at all.

Those native English speakers who study their language professionally, say that English is not as simple as it may seem to be. The English language became international incidentally, British scholars say. English grammar is hard to learn and understand indeed. It has been established that English is easy to learn for young students from the countries of Roman languages - France and Italy.

Yana Filimonova


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov