The 33 Hardest Languages to Learn
Learning a new language is a fun and rewarding experience.
However, some languages are harder to learn than others. As an English speaker, you’d probably find Spanish, Dutch, or French to be the easiest to learn.
All of these languages use the same Latin script. All of them use similar grammatical structures. Many of them share loanwords (cognates) with English.
But there are many languages that don’t share these characteristics.
Here are our picks as the most difficult languages to learn.
Feel free to use the links to jump to the explanation for any particular language.
The 33 Hardest Languages to Learn
Use the links in the list to jump to that language’s section!
Now that we have our list, let’s take a closer look.
Hardest African Languages to learn
Africa is rich with linguistic families and languages.
Listed below is a small sample of the many unique languages found among the many ethnic groups inhabiting the 54 countries that make up the continent.
Taa, also known as !Xun, is one of the most difficult languages to learn. It is spoken by the !Xun people in southern Africa, and is a member of the Khoisan language family.
!Xun is known for its complex system of click consonants. These clicks are produced by making a sharp sucking or popping sound with the tongue and lips, and are used to distinguish between words. There are four basic types of clicks in !Xun, each with several variations. This means that there are over 150 different click sounds in the language, making it extremely difficult for non-native speakers to master.
!Xun also has a complex tonal system, meaning that the pitch of a word can change its meaning. There are four tones in !Xun: high, mid, low, and falling. The tone of a word can be difficult to distinguish for non-native speakers, especially when combined with the clicks.
Another challenge when learning !Xun is its grammatical structure. The language has a system of noun classes that divide the nouns into different categories based on their meaning. Each class has its own set of pronouns, prefixes, and suffixes, which must be used correctly in order to form a grammatically correct sentence.
If that doesn’t make !Xun hard to learn, the relatively small number of speakers makes it difficult to find resources for learning the language. There are few textbooks, audio recordings, or other materials available for learners, and few opportunities to practice speaking with native speakers.
Xhosa is a complex language with a unique set of linguistic features that make it challenging to learn for non-native speakers. One of the main difficulties is its system of click consonants, which are sounds produced by drawing air into the mouth and making a popping noise. These sounds can be difficult for non-native speakers to master and differentiate, as there are several different types of clicks used in Xhosa.
In addition to the click consonants, Xhosa also has a complex system of noun classes, which determine the form of words in a sentence. The noun class system includes 18 different classes, each with its own set of rules for agreement and inflection.
Furthermore, Xhosa has a rich oral tradition and cultural history that is reflected in its language. An understanding of Xhosa culture and customs is essential for effective communication and learning the language.
Overall, while learning Xhosa may be a challenge, it is a fascinating and rewarding language to study for those willing to put in the time and effort to master its complexities.
Dholuo or Luo, is a language spoken in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It is a challenging language to learn for non-native speakers due to its unique linguistic features and lack of widespread language resources.
One of the main difficulties in learning Dholuo is its complex tonal system. The language has eight different tones that are used to distinguish between words and meanings, making it crucial to master the correct tone when speaking.
Additionally, Dholuo has a complex system of verb conjugations and noun classes, with different forms of words used depending on the tense, mood, and subject of the sentence.
Furthermore, resources for learning Dholuo are limited, with few language textbooks or online courses available. This means that learners may need to rely on finding a native speaker or immersive language program to truly master the language.
Sesotho (Southern Sotho)
Sesotho, also known as Southern Sotho, is a language spoken in South Africa, Lesotho, and Botswana. It is a challenging language to learn for non-native speakers due to its complex grammar structure, unique phonetic sounds, and lack of widely available resources.
One of the main difficulties in learning Sesotho is its complex grammar structure, which includes various noun classes and intricate verb forms that change depending on the subject and tense of the sentence.
Additionally, Sesotho has a unique set of phonetic sounds, including click consonants, that are not present in many other languages. These sounds can be difficult for non-native speakers to distinguish and produce accurately.
Furthermore, resources for learning Sesotho are limited, with few textbooks or online courses available. This means that learners may need to rely on finding a native speaker or immersive language program to truly master the language.
Hardest Asian Languages to Learn
The Asian continent boasts a wide range of languages that can seem completely unrelated to one another. And for practical purposes, they might as well be.
Let’s take a look at the many challenging languages found in Asia.
Eastern Asian Languages
Cantonese is one of the two major Chinese dialects spoken within mainland China. Ethnologue, a non-profit language database organization, estimates that 82 million people speak Cantonese as their native language, and that number rises as speakers outside of the country are included.
Cantonese is one of the most challenging languages to learn due to its tonal complexity and unique vocabulary. With nine different tones, Cantonese speakers use tone changes to differentiate between words, and a small difference in tone can drastically alter the meaning of a sentence. This makes it difficult for non-native speakers to communicate effectively.
In addition to its tonal complexity, Cantonese also has a unique vocabulary that can be challenging to master. Many Cantonese words are made up of a combination of Chinese characters and colloquial slang, which can be difficult for non-native speakers to understand. Furthermore, Cantonese has a large number of loanwords from English and other languages, which can add to the complexity of learning the language.
The writing system is also challenging, as it uses traditional Chinese characters rather than simplified characters used in Mandarin. This means that Cantonese learners must learn an additional set of characters on top of the ones used in Mandarin. Overall, Cantonese is a fascinating language, but one that requires significant time and effort to master.
Mandarin Chinese is often considered one of the most difficult languages to learn, especially for English speakers. There are several reasons why Mandarin is so challenging.
One of the biggest hurdles for learners of Mandarin is the writing system. Chinese characters, or hanzi, are a fundamental part of written Mandarin. There are over 50,000 characters in existence, but only about 20,000 of them are still in use. Even basic literacy requires knowing at least 2,000-3,000 characters. This can be incredibly daunting for learners, especially because each character has its own unique meaning and pronunciation.
Mandarin also has a complex tonal system. There are four tones in Mandarin, and each tone changes the meaning of a word. This means that a single syllable can have multiple meanings depending on the tone used. For non-native speakers, distinguishing between the different tones can be challenging, and mispronouncing a tone can lead to misunderstandings.
Another challenge in learning Mandarin is the grammar. Unlike English, Mandarin has no articles, verb conjugations, or plurals. Instead, sentence structure is determined by the order of the words. This can be challenging for English speakers who are used to a more rigid grammatical structure.
Mandarin is also a tonal language, which means that it uses pitch to convey meaning. It has a range of sounds that are not used in English, including retroflex consonants and the "ü" sound, which is pronounced with rounded lips and is similar to the "ü" sound in German. This can make pronunciation difficult for non-native speakers.
Japanese is considered to be one of the hardest languages to learn due to its complex writing system, intricate grammar, and cultural nuances. The writing system alone is a challenge, as it includes three different scripts: kanji (Chinese characters), hiragana, and katakana, with thousands of characters to memorize. This can take years to master.
Additionally, Japanese has a unique grammar structure that includes sentence-ending particles, verb conjugations, and honorific language, all of which can be confusing for non-native speakers. Mastery of these grammatical nuances is necessary for conveying appropriate levels of politeness and respect.
Japanese also has a rich cultural heritage, and an understanding of cultural norms and values is essential for effective communication. This includes the use of honorific language, the importance of indirect communication, and understanding the complex social hierarchy.
Korean is a challenging language to learn due to its complex grammar, intricate writing system, and cultural nuances. One of the main difficulties for non-native speakers is the grammar structure, which is different from many other languages. Korean uses a subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure, which can be difficult to master.
The writing system is also a challenge, as it uses a unique combination of phonetic and symbolic characters known as hangul. While hangul is simpler to learn than the Chinese characters used in Japanese and Mandarin, it still requires memorization of hundreds of characters.
Korean also has a range of honorific and polite speech levels that are used to convey social status and respect. Understanding these nuances is essential for effective communication in Korean society.
Furthermore, Korean pronunciation can be tricky due to the use of tense consonants and vowel sounds that are not present in other languages.
South East Asia
Vietnamese is a complex language and difficult language to learn. One of the main difficulties is its tonal system, which includes six different tones that are used to distinguish between words and meanings. Mastering the correct tone when speaking Vietnamese is crucial for effective communication.
Additionally, Vietnamese has a complex system of vowels and consonants, with some sounds that do not exist in other languages. The language also has a unique word order and grammatical structure that can be difficult for non-native speakers to grasp.
Furthermore, Vietnamese uses diacritics to indicate tone and pronunciation, making it even more challenging for learners to read and write the language accurately.
Thai is a complex language with many unique features that makes it challenging to learn for non-native speakers. One of the main difficulties is its complex system of tones, which includes five different tones that are used to distinguish between words and meanings
It has a complex system of consonant clusters and vowels, and some sounds that do not exist in other languages. The sentence structure, too, is unique, which can be confusing for learners who are used to a different language pattern.
It also has a unique script derived from the Old Khmer script known as aksorn Thai. It has 44 consonants and 28 vowels, with its own set of characters and a different writing system than many other languages. This can make reading and writing Thai a challenge for learners.
Southern and Central Asia
Over 320 million people speak Hindi as their first language, and another 270 million people speak it as a second language, bringing the total to 590 million speakers.
Like many languages on this list, Hindi uses a complex system of consonants and vowels. Many English speakers will have to spend a considerable amount of time practicing the pronunciation. The language also has a unique sentence structure, which can be confusing for learners who are used to a different language pattern.
Another area of the Hindi language that beginners find difficult is the complex system of noun declensions, which changes depending on gender and number. It requires memorizing a large number of grammar rules and exceptions.
Hindi uses the Devanagari script, which differs substantially from the Latin script used in English.
Like Hindi, one of Urdu’s main difficulties is its complex system of noun declensions, which changes depending on gender and number. This creates many versions of the same word that must be matched properly with the context in which it is used.
Additionally, Urdu has a rich vocabulary, with words borrowed from Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit.
Urdu uses a unique script, the Nastaliq script, which can be challenging for learners to read and write. The script includes many characters and diacritics, which require a lot of practice to become proficient in.
Telugu is native to the Indian regions of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It is spoken by about 92 million people, primarily in India, and it is part of the Dravidian language family.
It has a rich and complex grammar system, with a variety of verb forms and noun declensions.
Furthermore, Telugu uses a unique script, derived from the Brahmi script. The script includes 16 vowels, 3 modifiers, and 41 consonants.
Interestingly, Telugu was the fastest growing language in the United States during 2018.
Near East and Middle East
Arabic is considered one of the hardest languages to learn due to its unique linguistic features. It has a complex system of consonants and vowels, with some sounds that do not exist in other languages. TheArabic script can be challenging for learners to read and write.
Another difficulty with Arabic is its grammar, which has a complex system of noun declensions and verb conjugations. This requires a lot of memorization and practice to master.
Considering the many countries in the Middle East and North Africa that speak Arabic, it is no wonder that the language has many dialects, which can be challenging for learners to understand and communicate with native speakers from different regions. Each dialect has its own unique features, including pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.
Turkish is a unique language with a set of linguistic features that make it challenging to learn for non-native speakers.
Turkish has complex system of grammar, which includes many suffixes and changes based on the context of the sentence
It also has a rich vocabulary, with many loanwords from Arabic, Persian, and French.
Furthermore, Turkish uses a unique set of characters and diacritics, which can be challenging for learners to read and write.
The Turkish script has gone through many changes in the last 500 years. Currently, it uses a form of Latin Script, not unlike the letters you would find in English. However, there are still many challenges a student may face when learning the language.
It will take hard work and dedication to truly master Turkish.
Hardest Australian/Pacific Languages to Learn
Australian and Pacifica languages are native to the Australian continent and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean.
While English is spoken in many of these regions, there are a few languages that would be totally foreign to an English speaker.
Warlpiri is an indigenous language spoken in Australia and is considered one of the hardest languages to learn. For starters, only about 3,000 people speak the language, so finding a practice partner will be difficult.
The language has a complex system of grammar, which includes many noun and verb suffixes and prefixes that change the meaning of words.
The unique set of sounds and intonations are not found in other languages. It also has a complex system of kinship terms, which are used to describe relationships between individuals and groups in the community.
Warlpiri has a rich oral tradition and is a highly inflected language, meaning that it relies heavily on context and tone to convey meaning.
Pitjantjatjara is an indigenous language spoken in Australia and has a little over 3,500 native speakers. Despite these numbers, some sources consider it to be the most widely spoken Aboriginal language.
It has a unique sound system, and it has a complex system of grammar, which includes many suffixes and prefixes that change the meaning of words.
It is a highly inflected language, meaning that it relies heavily on context and tone to convey meaning.
Like Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara has a rich oral tradition and is closely tied to the culture and history of the Anangu people. Learning the language requires an understanding of cultural norms and customs, which can be difficult for non-indigenous learners.
Tongan is a Polynesian language spoken in the Kingdom of Tonga. The language has a complex system of grammar, which includes many different types of verbs and verb endings that can change the meaning of words. Additionally, Tongan has a unique sound system, with many vowel and consonant sounds that are not found in other languages.
Moreover, Tongan has a rich oral tradition and is closely tied to the culture and history of the Tongan people. Learning the language requires an understanding of cultural norms and customs, which can be challenging for non-Tongan learners.
Furthermore, it is a highly inflected language that relies heavily on context and tone to convey meaning. This can make it difficult for learners to understand and communicate effectively.
Hardest European Languages to Learn
With English originating in Europe, it can be reasoned that some of the continent’s languages will be easier to learn than languages that develop half a world away.
This is true for languages like Dutch, French, Spanish or Italian. However, there are quite a few languages that will challenge even the most dedicated European linguists.
Basque, also known as Euskara, is a language spoken in the Basque Country, which spans across northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is considered one of the hardest languages to learn due to its unique grammar and syntax that sets it apart from all other known languages.
Basque has a complex system of verb conjugation, with more than 20 different forms for each verb. It also has a complex noun system with 16 different cases, making it difficult for learners to understand and use the language correctly.
It lacks any obvious similarities to other European languages, which can make it challenging for learners to find cognates or patterns to help them learn. Additionally, the language has many dialects, each with its own unique set of rules and variations.
Hungarian is a Uralic language spoken in Hungary and parts of neighboring countries.
One of the most challenging aspects of Hungarian is its extensive system of cases, with 18 different cases used to indicate grammatical relationships between words. In addition, Hungarian has a complex system of verb conjugation with numerous irregularities and exceptions.
You may hear Hungarian referred to as an agglutinative language. This roughly means that prefixes, suffixes, and stems can be added to a word to make it longer and change its meaning.
Moreover, Hungarian has a unique sound system with many vowel and consonant sounds that are not found in other languages, making it challenging for learners to accurately pronounce words.
Additionally, Hungarian lacks obvious cognates (loanwords) with other European languages, so learners must memorize vocabulary and grammar rules without relying on familiar patterns or similarities.
Russian is a Slavic language spoken by over 250 million people worldwide, making it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. However, it is also considered one of the hardest languages to learn for non-native speakers.
One of the reasons Russian is difficult to learn is its complex grammar system, which includes six cases and a highly inflected verb system. This means that the ending of each word changes depending on the grammatical context, making it difficult to memorize and use correctly.
Additionally, Russian has a complex sound system, with several sounds that do not exist in many other languages, making pronunciation a challenge for learners.
Its vocabulary is vast, and many words have multiple meanings depending on the context in which they are used. Learning to read and write Russian can also be challenging due to the Cyrillic alphabet.
Icelandic is a North Germanic language spoken by about 330,000 people, primarily in Iceland. It is considered one of the hardest languages to learn for non-native speakers due to its complex grammar and unique features.
One of the most challenging aspects of Icelandic is its complex inflectional system. The language has four cases, three genders, and two numbers, and every noun, adjective, and pronoun must agree with each other based on these categories. Additionally, Icelandic has a complex system of verb conjugation, which includes irregularities and archaic forms.
Icelandic pronunciation is also notoriously difficult for non-native speakers. The language has several sounds that do not exist in English, and its stress patterns can be challenging to master.
It has a small vocabulary and a distinct cultural identity, which can make it challenging for learners to immerse themselves in the language.
Finnish is a Uralic language spoken by around 5.5 million people, primarily in Finland. It has complex grammar, extensive vocabulary, and unique features, making it one of the hardest languages to learn for non-native speakers.
One of the most challenging aspects of Finnish is its agglutinative grammar, similar to Hungarian. This means that words are formed by combining smaller morphemes together. Finnish nouns have 15 cases, which can be a daunting task for learners to master. Additionally, Finnish has complex rules for conjugation and tense formation.
Another difficulty for learners is Finnish vocabulary, which is not closely related to other European languages, making it difficult to find cognates or similarities with other languages.
Finnish pronunciation can also be challenging, as it includes many vowel and consonant sounds that are not found in other languages.
Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language spoken by approximately 1.1 million people in Estonia.
Estonian grammar features 14 cases, which can be a significant challenge for learners. In addition, the language has a complex system of inflection that requires mastery of vowel harmony and consonant gradation. Estonian also has a unique sound system with three phonemic lengths for vowels and consonants, as well as a distinctive set of diphthongs and umlauts.
Furthermore, Estonian vocabulary has relatively few cognates with other European languages, which can make learning the language even more challenging for non-native speakers.
Hardest North American Languages to Learn
The North American languages on this list come from the native people of the land. Their beautiful linguistic history leaves us with quite a few unique languages from which to choose.
Many residents of the United States and Canada may recognize some of the language patterns shown here in the names of counties, rivers, lakes, and landmarks near their homes.
Despite not being widely used, these languages have made a mark on modern North America.
Navajo is an indigenous language spoken by around 150,000 Navajo people in the United States.
Navajo has a complex system of verb conjugation that includes various aspects and modes, such as perfective, imperfective, and progressive, making it difficult for non-native speakers to master. Additionally, Navajo has a complex system of noun declension that includes 12 cases, each with its own unique suffixes.
The language also features a unique sound system that includes several phonemes that are not present in other languages. Navajo words can be very long, with complex consonant clusters and vowel combinations, making it challenging for non-native speakers to distinguish between sounds and understand the meaning of words.
The Navajo is a language that is deeply rooted in Navajo culture and history. it can be difficult for non-Native learners to fully grasp the nuances of the language without a deep understanding of Navajo culture and history.
Inuktitut is an indigenous language spoken primarily in the Arctic regions of Canada and parts of Greenland. It is widely considered to be one of the hardest languages to learn due to its complex grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.
One of the most challenging aspects of Inuktitut is its highly agglutinative nature. Inuktitut words are formed by combining multiple morphemes together, resulting in words that can be incredibly long and difficult to decipher. Additionally, Inuktitut features a complex system of verb endings that change based on the subject, object, and tense, making it challenging for non-native speakers to keep track of all the different forms.
Another challenge for learners of Inuktitut is its unique writing system, which uses syllabics instead of the traditional Latin alphabet. This means that learners must first become proficient in reading and writing in a completely different script before even beginning to tackle the complexities of the language itself.
Seneca (Onödowáʼga) is a language spoken by the Seneca people, a Native American tribe located primarily in western New York.
The polysynthetic nature of Seneca makes it difficult to master for English speakers. Seneca words are formed by combining multiple morphemes together, often resulting in words that are extremely long and difficult to decipher for non-native speakers. Additionally, the language features a complex system of verb conjugations and noun declensions, making it challenging for learners to keep track of all the different forms.
Oftentimes, learners of Seneca face a lack of resources available for learning the language. There are very few textbooks or language programs available, and the language is primarily passed down through oral tradition within the Seneca community.
Zapoteco is an indigenous language spoken in parts of Mexico, primarily in the state of Oaxaca. Its complex grammar and unique tonal system makes it one of the most difficult languages to learn.
Let’s take a look at its tonal system. The language features five distinct tones that can change the meaning of a word, making it difficult for non-native speakers to distinguish between similar sounding words. Additionally, Zapoteco has a complex system of verb conjugation and noun declension, with different forms for gender and number.
Another challenge for learners of Zapoteco is the lack of resources available for learning the language. There are few textbooks or language programs available, and the language is primarily passed down through oral tradition within the Zapotec community.
Ch'orti' is a Mayan language spoken in parts of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The Ch'orti' language is polysynthetic, which means that it has long words made up of many different parts, each of which can carry a separate meaning. This makes it difficult for learners to identify and remember the meaning of each part of the word.
It has a complex system of verb morphology that requires learners to memorize many different verb forms and endings.
Moreover, Ch'orti' uses a number of grammatical constructions that are unique to the language, such as switch-reference, which requires speakers to indicate the relationship between two clauses in a sentence.
Cherokee is a Native American language spoken by the Cherokee people of North America. It has a complex grammar system and unique writing system.
LIke other languages on this list, Cherokee is a polysynthetic language, which means that words are formed by combining multiple morphemes. This results in very long and complex words. Cherokee has six different tones, which can completely change the meaning of a word depending on the tone used.
Cherokee also has a unique writing system known as the Cherokee syllabary, which was developed by Sequoyah in the early 19th century. This writing system consists of 85 symbols representing syllables, making it difficult for English speakers to learn and use effectively.
Furthermore, Cherokee has many cultural and historical references embedded within its language, making it a challenge for non-native speakers to fully understand and appreciate its nuances.
Hardest South American Languages to Learn
Like North America, South America is full of interesting native languages, some of which would be difficult for English speakers to learn.
Pirahã is a language spoken by the Pirahã people of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, and it is known for its unique phonology, grammar, and cultural context, making it one of the hardest languages to learn.
It has an extremely small phoneme inventory, with only ten consonants and three vowels. Its grammar is also incredibly complex and challenging to understand, with no words for numbers, colors, or past tense, and its sentence structure can be ambiguous and difficult to decipher for non-native speakers.
Pirahã is closely tied to the Pirahã culture and worldview, making it hard to learn without a deep understanding of their customs and beliefs.
The Pirahã people have a deep aversion to outsiders and are reluctant to share their language and culture with non-Pirahã individuals, adding another layer of difficulty to learning the language.
Mapudungun is a language spoken primarily in Chile and Argentina by the Mapuche people.
It is considered one of the hardest languages to learn due to its complex grammar system, including many suffixes and prefixes that can change the meaning of a word entirely. Additionally, there are multiple variations of the language, making it difficult for non-native speakers to understand the nuances of each dialect.
Mapudungun also has a unique writing system that uses a combination of Roman letters and symbols to represent sounds and meanings. This means that learners must not only learn the vocabulary and grammar, but also a new writing system.
Ticuna is a language spoken in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. It has a complex grammatical structure that is vastly different from Indo-European languages. For example, the language has an extensive system of noun classification and marking, where each noun is classified into a specific category, and its form changes depending on its function in the sentence.
Another reason why Ticuna is considered difficult to learn is due to its large inventory of sounds, including a large number of nasalized vowels and tones. These sounds can be challenging for speakers of other languages to distinguish and pronounce correctly.
In addition, there is a lack of educational materials and resources available for learners of Ticuna, which makes it harder to find resources to aid in language learning.
Where to Learn a New Language?
With ReDefiners! No language is too great a challenge for us. We offer courses in Arabic, English, Mandarin, and Spanish.
ReDefiners is a pioneering non-profit organization with the goal of developing a compassionate community of global citizens, who are both economically and socially responsible, through world language and cultural enrichment. Education in global communication is paramount in developing cognitive skills, creating opportunities for upward mobility, and establishing a foundation to excel in an ever-increasing globalized society.
We strive to provide local language learning opportunities in Arabic, English, Spanish, and Mandarin through our enrichment programs to youth and adults, regardless of socioeconomic background.
Our programs target children in grades k-5, along with their caregivers, in the Tampa Bay area and through virtual learning with a mission of promoting social change, creating equity in educational opportunities, providing a competitive advantage to youths and adults, and developing multilingual global citizens with an understanding and respect for different cultures.