The relative difficulty of languages
by Lode Van de Velde, June 2018
There are numerous lists and speculations about "difficult languages", but basically most of it depends on how remote the target language is from the student's background. In this article, we will discuss which language characteristics determine the difficulty of languages.
Relative "difficulty" of languages
Chinese is often cited as an example of a "difficult language", probably because the articles are written for/by English natives. However, Chinese is not so difficult for a Japanese student, who is already familiar with a lot of the ideograms and part of the vocabulary, even if they don't belong to the same language family. (Japanese ideograms have also a Chinese pronunciation, the so-called 'on'-reading.)
Spanish is easier to learn for someone that lives near the Mexican border or who has had a Latin nanny than someone who lives close to Canada due to the exposure difference.
Complications in foreign languages
Here is a list of factors that make a language difficult to learn, add them up to make a "degree of difficulty" if you want to compare languages.
Depending on the language and the learner's personality, some factors may also be more important than others. Feel free to use +2 or +3 instead of +1 if you feel some factors to be a bigger obstacle than others.
If you know several languages already, you may already master some elements described below, it doesn't matter from which language you know them, it can only be helpful to you! E.g. if you've learnt Latin at school very well, cases should not be too much of a problem, unless there are a lot more of them.
Here is a number of factors dependant on the language student that make language acquisition harder - or easier:
Now compare different language students
I didn't find it useful to include a list of sources for every single example cited; everything has been verified, mostly through Wikipedia. It is a very useful (descriptive) source for information about languages and linguistics.
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