By Alison Kroulek
Reblogged from The Language Blog by K International with permission from the author (including the images)
This infographic, based on information provided by the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State, might have the answer. It shows how much class time it generally takes to become proficient at speaking one of 23 major languages.
European languages like French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese are classified as “easy,” generally taking 24 weeks and 600 class hours to attain proficiency in.
Meanwhile, in the “Medium” category, we have Hindi, Russian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Polish, Thai, Serbian, Greek, Finnish and Hebrew. To become proficient in one of these languages, it usually takes 44 weeks of study or 1,110 classroom hours.
Finally, the “Big Four.” According to the US Department of State, the four most difficult languages to learn are Arabic, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. To become conversational in one of these languages, you’ll probably need 1.69 years, spending 2,200 hours in class!
What makes these languages so hard to learn? For Arabic, one problem is simply that there aren’t many cognates to help give English speakers a head start on vocabulary. Then, there’s the fact that written Arabic tends to drop vowels. One reporter trying to learn Arabic described the resulting confusion in Slate here:
Maktab, or “office,” is just written mktb. Vowels are included as little marks above and below in beginning textbooks, but you soon have to get used to doing without them. Whn y knw th lngg wll ths s nt tht hrd. But when you’re struggling with comprehension to begin with, it’s pretty formidable.
Other factors mentioned in Slate include unfamiliar sounds and a “ferociously unfamiliar grammar.”
What about the other languages? Chinese has two strikes against it. First of all, it’s a tonal language, which means that the tone you say a particular word in changes the meaning of the word. Secondly, there are literally thousands of characters to learn.
A complex writing system is also listed as a mark against Japanese, though some Japanese enthusiasts argue that the FSI is giving the language an undeserved bad rap.
English speakers trying to learn Korean face difficulties with syntax, sentence structure and conjugating verbs, plus written Korean uses some of those pesky Chinese characters, too. Again, there are dissenters. For example, translator and ESL teacher Donovan Nagel says,
“Languages like Korean, Mandarin and Arabic tend to draw this kind of negativity from people and it usually comes from bitter people who gave up at some point early on.”
Whether learning a particular language comes easy or not depends on a bunch of different factors, including your native language and whether or not you are already bilingual.
The complete infographic is below- do you agree with how the different languages are ranked?
Via: Voxy Blog