This post is copied from my Facebook page, but I think I should move it here just in case if I need to review it again or if this might help any lost souls who stranded here, or just for archive. Enjoy.
So, I was once had an argument with my friend about the most difficult language on Earth someone can learn, and he said that Chinese / Mandarin is the hardest, partly because we have to know how to pronounce it in correct intonation or phonology, and they consist of thousands of pictograms or kanji, in which each “word” have specific stroke orders.
I have learn and be interested in many natural languages and constructed languages for so long, but started to take this seriously just recently, about one year ago when I started to learn Japanese. I even can’t decide which one is the hardest language for me. Some languages take time to be learn because they’re a bit more complicated, but it doesn’t mean the language is difficult. It looks difficult because some people just looking at specific language but not trying to understand and learn other languages, usually they compare it just with their native language or L2 (secondary language) like English. If you say Chinese is hard, try learn Japanese or European language like German or Spanish for a while.
If I have to give my honest opinion, the most difficult language if you’re an Indonesian should be Bahasa Indonesia. We have used it daily for whole of your lifetime, but some of us may still have difficulty to manage which words we need to be used when writing a formal email to our boss or client, or when you have to write a scientific paper or formal reports or letters. Even some of us perhaps don’t know when to use “di” as a preposition or as a prefix, like “di rumah” and “dirumahkan”, comparable with some native English speaker who have difficulty to use “you’re” and “your”, Or something like when to use space in “tanggung jawab” and ignore them in “pertanggungjawaban”. Why? Simply because it’s not in our interest to learn and use native language properly.
How many of us got more than 90 out of 100 when we took an exam in our high school? I myself as far as I remember got only 80-ish in my final standardized test (or 90, perhaps? Not sure, clouded memory). Perhaps nowadays children tend to have higher score in English and Mandarin than in Bahasa Indonesia. If this happens, can we take a conclusion that Bahasa Indonesia is harder than Mandarin and English, or vice versa? If Mandarin is the most difficult, it should have lower number of users since lower number of people will be able to acquire it, but in fact it’s one of the most used language in the world, and it keeps growing nowadays. On the other side, Esperanto which is deemed as the most easiest language have only 2 million users worldwide.
In the end, it’s just a matter of interest, right? For now I have learned L2 language like Esperanto for about 100 hours, German for 20 hours, Spanish for 20 hours, Japanese since about 1 year ago (not noting my learning hours because I learn it a bit randomly), English for roughly 15 years since I was in middle school. and some minor languages As I have read in some polyglots’ blog, acquiring new language is easier if you have already known some L2 languages, but honestly Japanese is the most challenging so far. Not the most difficult, but the most challenging, SO FAR. Anyway, here is the list of challenges I found in each language I have learned:
Japanese: it has a different structure compared to Bahasa Indonesia other language I’ve learn which is subject – object – verbs sequence. Have different writing system (katakana, hiragana, kanji) and multiple forms of word according to formality and time, and multiple reading for each Kanji character (kunyomi and onyomi) . But something make it easier because it pronounce consistently with it’s writing in kana.
Esperanto: almost no difficulty in this language, just a bit problem with the vocabulary, a bit different alphabets, and some prefixes. Mainly it’s a bit weird to speak in a constructed language that is so consistent in structure and grammar. If you have a basic in European language, this will boost your speed in learning Esperanto. Also Esperanto is from the word “esperi” which means to hope, which added with suffix -ant which basically means “someone who did the <verb>”, so it means “the one of hope” perhaps?
Spanish: Language with gender, like France and German. So, the cat can be “la data” (feminine) or “el gate” (masculine), and a sofa is masculine, no, seriously. Every verb has it’s own form depends on the subject, e.g, I eat: = yo como; she eats = ella come; we eat: nosotros (masculine) / nosotras (feminine) comemos; you eat = usted come (formal) / tu comes (informal); you (plural) eat = ustedes comes. LOL… And also “j” pronounced as “h”, so rojo (red) will be read as “roho”, just need to get used to this unique pronunciation. Also there is many more mysteries in it that I need to know since I’m a beginner.
German: Almost same with Spanish, a gender language, so a cat is feminine “eine Katze”, and a dog is masculine “ein Hund”. So what if they it’s a female dog or male cat? Screw you, because the grammatical gender is not a biological gender, so deal with it. Oh, did I said there are also gender neutral nouns? HAHA… Also verb-form depends on the subject (I drink = Ich trinke, you drink = Du/Sie trinkst, he/she drinks = Er/Sie trinkt, they drink = Sie trinken; and yeah, Sie can be used as she, you in formal, or they), and inconsistent pronunciation like English (perhaps since English is actually rooted from Germanic). Also am a beginner so I need to learn more before I can write down more challenges in this list but I think this should have make you think twice before learning this German, yes? No? Good, try it then, don’t let me discourage you.
Mandarin: Nah, this one is as challenging as Japanese, but should be easier since the structure is consistent and you only need to learn the Kanji, just have to learn the intonation or phonology of word when speaking and listening. See? Now I say it’s easy right? At least Hakka is my mother’s language so I have spoke it naturally as my L1 when I was a child, though I’m not used it as much when I was grown up, so intonation should not be a problem to learn.
Arabic: actually I learned it in high-school but not really into it that time. But why did I learn this in HS? Because it’s part of “curriculum” from my Bahasa Indonesia teacher who said we have to learn Malay-Arabic (Arab Melayu). Mainly the difficulty is the right-to-left system so far, but I will take time to learn this more in the future.
Elvish (Sindarin + Tengwar script): Yeah, this is from LOTR… Learned the writing system but have forgotten about it. This is a low priority language since it’s for fun. grin emoticon
Basically, every language is easy or hard depends on your interest in learning the language, but no language is the most difficult language in the world. Arguing about this matter is the same as to say which is the most delicious food in the world, you will not know until you taste it all, which practically impossible to do (considering for one language usually there are different accents, like food which use different spices). So if you’re really interested in a language. go learn for it. Even if the language you are interested in is used by minority of people, or specific group of people, don’t afraid to learn it because you have nothing to lose when it comes to acquire a new usable language. Take the course online, or from the language learning center in your place.