8 Hardest Languages to Learn

Published: 3 years ago, Last Updated: 7 months ago
Daniel Brown
Writer: Daniel Brown

Some people love a good challenge. This is why you may see individuals of various ages aiming to learn some of the hardest languages in the world.

If you think picking up a little French or Spanish in your spare time is difficult, the languages listed below may seem downright impossible. Some of the languages from around the world set the bar high, especially for English speakers. To help get a better understanding of what you might be diving into, we have compiled a list of the hardest languages to learn.

Lest we discourage you from learning a new language altogether, we should point out that picking up a language or two can be the gateway to helping you earn extra money.

While these languages may be difficult to learn for English speakers, they are definitely worth the challenge!


Mandarin alphabet on a chalkboard

Starting off the list is Mandarin, an extremely difficult language to master. While English may be the most spoken language around the world, Mandarin is the largest if you count only native speakers.

This is a tonal language, meaning if you are strictly an English speaker, it will definitely be a challenge to accomplish. It is full of idioms, aphorisms, and homophones, making it all the more arduous to learn — without the help of some of the culture. With all those challenging additions, keep in mind that it also has its very own alphabet. The alphabet is made of very elaborate characters, meaning the ability to speak the language does not necessarily signify that you can read it.

The Foreign Service Institute has ranked Mandarin as one of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers. However, this tonal language packed with idioms has its perks. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in China, and according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China has the largest economy by purchasing power parity. China is home to many colossal businesses, such as Alibaba and Qzone. The basic knowledge of the most widely spoken language can give you the edge you need to trade in China, making it one of the best languages to learn for business.


Arabic alphabet

Second on our list of the hardest languages to learn is Arabic, and it is also considered one of the most useful languages for business.

Just like with Mandarin, to learn Arabic, you will have to learn a new alphabet — not to mention having to read from right to left. This, in turn, creates a challenging obstacle for mono language speakers, especially if it is English. Many of the sounds in the language are tricky, making it one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers. The grammar is bound with irregular verbs. Even if you accomplish the basics of the languages, it still does not mean that you can get by in all the Arab countries. If you have strictly learned the Lebanese dialect of the language, it will be difficult for you to communicate in Jordan.

With that being said, there are about 422 million people who speak Arabic across the world, so this makes it a coveted language to hold on to. Arabic is the primary language of the Middle East, which is known for its oil fields, tourism, infrastructure, and fashion. If you are eager to trade with these nations, then learning Arabic is an important step.


Japanese text on a chalkboard

Although many may argue that Japanese is possibly simpler to learn to speak than Mandarin, you might want to reconsider that. Viewed as one of the most useful languages, Japanese has three independent writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji, with each using its own alphabet with thousands of characters. However, if you do speak Chinese, Japanese may come as less of a threat.

While the grammar may seem very simple, Japanese uses particles — markers for parts of speech that do not have an English equivalent.

Japan is distinguished for its technology and the wealthy lifestyle of the people. With roughly 120 million Japanese speakers in the world, most of which are located in Japan.

Known as one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Japan is the incubator for innovations in learning. In addition, Japan is a significant patron of development assistance across the world, and its influence in climate policies, finance, energy, and natural resource security is exceptional. If you are looking to set your foot in the Japanese market, then learning their language will be an advantage.


Hindi writing on a chalkboard

India is, without a doubt, a mark that cannot be missed in the global economy. With a population of nearly 1.37 billion, India is a wide market for all trades, and Hindi is a staple amongst business languages.

In a nutshell, learning Hindi can be extremely difficult, especially if you are a sole English speaker. The language is filled with similar sounding words and subtle variations. Mastering the cadence and tone of speech will require extra time and effort, and the grammar placement of subjects, predicates, verbs, and nouns is vastly different from English. The written language is something you do not see much across the world, helping Hindi one of the hardest languages to learn. However, with exceptional work and determination, you can become a skillful speaker of the language.

Becoming fluent in Hindi is worth the effort and has its perks. India is one of the largest countries in the world, and Hindi is one of the two most spoken languages there. Learning the language gives an incentive to international business professionals and world travelers to conduct business with you. India is a flourishing economy and holds a significantly growing Indian consumer market. India is a land of a distinct culture, art, and agriculture, making it a significant consumer market for business and a developing manufacturing sector.


Russian text on a chalkboard

Russian is one of the top business languages. While many may argue that Russian is not all difficult to learn, there are some specific roadblocks to learning Russian fluently. The spelling is not always straightforward, and the language is full of vowel sounds foreign to the English speaker. Like most languages on this list, Russian requires learning a whole new alphabet.

Overall there are roughly 258 million Russian speakers in the world, and not all of them live in the Russian Federation. Countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan also use the Russian language. Russia is also the world’s sixth-largest economy, in addition to having some of the finest minds in core science, engineering, and materials science. Russia is a significant, highly engaged international player with a tremendous amount of energy and natural resources, making the Russian language greatly beneficial for international relations, diplomacy, and trade. Learning Russian can be profitable if you are investigating business possibilities in Russia.


Portuguese writing on a book

The Portuguese language emphasizes lots of nasal sounds — from nasal vowels to diphthongs, such as ‘ã,’ ‘om,’ ‘ãe,’ and ’em’ — which may be hard to pronounce. Portuguese can be a complicated language to learn because of all of the conjugation of verbs. However, it gets easier after grasping the basic rules of regular verbs. Keep in mind that Portuguese is similar to French and Spanish when assigning gender to inanimate objects. This can be the source of many mistakes, confusion, and a definite throw-off for most English speakers.

There are 270 million Portuguese speakers in the world, and 218 million of those are native speakers, mainly concentrated in Brazil. The language holds vast similarities with Spanish, making it a tad easier if you already know that language. Brazil is part of BRICS (the acronym issued to connect five major economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and they are impacting the world with the way they do business. The Portuguese influence is remarkable around the world, hence driving many business professionals to learn the language. Learning Portuguese may unleash business opportunities in various sectors of the world.


Spanish textbook

Spanish is often considered a difficult language to learn. Whether it is gender involvement, pronunciation, or speed, new learners struggle with the language.

Almost 580 million people speak Spanish, and a good 480 million of these are native Spanish speakers. Additionally, Spanish is the official language or official co-language of over 20 countries, including Argentina, El Salvador, Venezuela, and, of course, Spain. The language derives around 75% of its history from Latin, and also reserves influences from Ancient Greek and Arabic. It also acquires words from other languages, such as French, Italian, and Sardinian, making it the ultimate melting pot of languages.

With so many countries utilizing Spanish on a daily basis — and almost 12 percent of the US population speaking Spanish — this one is a staple for businesses. As the second most spoken language in the world, coming after Mandarin and edging out English by just a few percentiles, Spanish is a coveted language for plenty of business ventures.

Whether you wish to expand your business in any of the Spanish-speaking areas domestic or abroad, then learning Spanish can serve you with a number of advantages.


German language on a chalkboard

While German might not be avidly considered one of the hardest languages to learn, it is definitely not easy. While you may hear familiar words here and there, with its numerous pronouns, specific vocab, and unfamiliarly harsh pronunciation, learning German is not a walk in the park.

German has a very rich lexicon; this is partially due to its ability to create new terms. Moreover, German maintains three different genders (masculine, feminine and neutral) with only a few vague rules. German has some of the harshest pronunciations out there.

With that being said, there are nearly 130 million German speakers. The language is primarily used in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein. Germany has commanded the automobile sector for decades, not to mention its other business enterprises such as banking. Germany is also the third-largest patron in research and development in the world. With so many advantages and benefits to the language, German has got to be on the list of languages to learn for any business owner out there.

If your business is in health and social science, arts, automobiles, then being fluent in German can be useful.

Final Thoughts

How to say "hello" in different languages

Whether you are a business owner or an employee, there are two sets of skills that you should always hold on to, business skills and foreign language skills. Trading with another country allows new opportunities for success, but your gateway to those cultures is through their languages. Foreign languages present a competitive edge in career choices.

Business is global. Investors in China and Egypt are financing startups in Spain and Japan, connecting with contractors in Kenya and the Philippines.

Businesses are developing at a rapid pace, growing the market landscape and smashing into international markets. This foreign development comes with the requirement for bilingualism to guarantee reliable communications.

Whether you are looking to learn a new alphabet or a language that employs the Latin alphabet, having an extra language or two is a sure-fire way to improve your marketability.

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