Foreign Languages, From Easiest to Hardest.

Colin Marshall wrote at Open Culture (last year, but I don’t think I posted about it) about the FSI language rankings:

Do you want to speak more languages? Sure, as Sally Struthers used to say so often, we all do. But the requirements of attaining proficiency in any foreign tongue, no doubt unlike those correspondence courses pitched by that All in the Family star turned daytime TV icon, can seem frustratingly demanding and unclear. But thanks to the research efforts of the Foreign Service Institute, the center of foreign-language training for the United States government for the past 70 years, you can get a sense of how much time it takes, as a native or native-level English speaker, to master any of a host of languages spoken all across the world. […]

In total, the FSI ranks languages into six categories of difficulty, including English’s Category 0. The higher up the scale you go, the less recognizable the languages might look to an English-speaking monoglot. Category III contains no European languages at all (though it does contain Indonesian, widely regarded as one of the objectively easiest languages to learn). Category IV offers a huge variety of languages from Amharic to Czech to Nepali to Tagalog, each demanding 44 weeks (or 1100 hours) of study. Then, at the very summit of the linguistic mountain, we find the switched-up grammar, highly unfamiliar scripts, and potentially mystifying cultural assumptions of Category V, “languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers.”

To that most formidable group belong Arabic, Chinese both Mandarin and Cantonese, Korean, and — this with an asterisk meaning “usually more difficult than other languages in the same category” — Japanese.

There’s a convenient map (though only for Europe) as well as the full Foreign Service Institute language difficulty ranking list. I have to say, based on my own attempts to learn languages it’s pretty accurate — Arabic was definitely the hardest I tried (and I never got very far). Thanks, Jonathan!

Comments

  1. I assume Japanese is a bit easier for people literate in Chinese or Korean… and wonder if it’s equally difficult for the entire rest of the world (aside from those two places) to learn Japanese? After all, it is an isolate. Does, for example, an Indonesian or Malagasy speaker find Japanese as hard to learn as an English speaker, or are there gradations of pain involved depending on one’s mother tongue?

    Then there’s the question of reading / writing vs. speaking / listening. I find comprehending spoken Japanese slightly easier than Chinese because I think I’m (linguistically) tone-deaf. What percentage of the world’s population are similarly challenged?

  2. The notion that Icelandic is as hard for English-speakers to learn as, say, Khmer or Burmese is frankly ridiculous.

  3. re Chinese languages, Prof Mair at LLog makes a sharp distinction between learning to speak vs. learning the script. With Japanese there’s the added difficulty of multiple scripts.

    He claims that MSM (Mandarin) was very easy to learn to speak. He also thinks learners should not even be shown the script for several years.

    I presume the FSI is of the opinion that you need command of the script to function as a US diplomat/representative. Cantonese would be extra-difficult: far more tones than MSM, both traditional script and simplified, and arguably no clearly-agreed script for the Cantonese words/phrases that are not cognates of MSM.

  4. Yes, the list is obviously based on the idea that you have to learn to listen, speak, read, and write. Thus Chinese and Japanese are way up there.

    I think age is an unmentioned factor.

    For me, Japanese was easy. Of course, I was young and eager and smitten with the whole experience.

    Chinese was harder — older and less smitten, plus the auditory aspect was harder, the language is filled with lots of sayings from the old literature, and there is a lot of accented Chinese around.

    Mongolian is impossible. It is a difficult language but people learn it. The trouble is I’m much older and can’t remember things, plus I find it hard to incorporate the language into my linguistic habits. People are impressed and encouraged that someone my age is taking on the challenge of learning a new language. I find that even more depressing 🙂

  5. Two favorite quotes, from Teach Yoursef to Learn a Language:

    Do not be misled by such titles as these:
    — Welsh in a Week.
    — French in Five Days Without a Master.
    — German withut Grammar.
    — Fluent Finnish in a Fortnight.

    (The last one is my favorite, naturally.)

    And, quoting Teach Yourself Malay:

    Malay is an easy language. Bafflingly easy. At the end of ten weeks you feel that you know all there is to be known. At the end of ten years, you know that you never will.

  6. Mongolian is impossible

    I have a remedy for cases like this.

    Just reach a level of reasonable reading fluency (say, an ability to read newspaper article and getting the gist of it) and declare to yourself that, yes, I know the language now, so I will stop studying and from now on I will just perfect my mastery of it.

    This will remove anxiety and depression, leaving you free to keep improving without stress and worry.

  7. Being in-country makes learning an order of magnitude faster. A few weeks ago I picked up more Hindi on the streets in India in a few days than I did studying for some months before. And I wasn’t actually trying to learn anything.
    For the higher-category languages, I imagine being out of country isn’t even an option, so I’m not sure about these numbers.

  8. I know the language now, so I will stop studying and from now on I will just perfect my mastery of it.

    Thank you, SFReader, that is sage advice! 🙂

  9. With Japanese there’s the added difficulty of multiple scripts.

    Not really. Hiragana and Katakana should take a week or so each.
    And now, as opposed to 30 years ago when I started, there are various websites, some with animated characters, where you can look and copy:

    https://www.japandict.com/hiragana

  10. The link for katakana:

    https://www.japandict.com/katakana

  11. Looking at a dictionary entry for borz (‘wolf’ in Chechen), I see:
    borz (actually, it is buorz)(berzan (gen), barzana (dat), barzō (erg), barzē (loc), y-class; berzaloi (pl), y-class).

    What category does this put it into?

  12. Big Think: English is of course an official language in Ireland and the UK

    Really? That sounds a teeny bit xenophobic. I never knew. Maybe it makes sense in Ireland or Whales. I’ve never heard it mentioned.

    The notion that Icelandic is as hard for English-speakers to learn as, say, Khmer or Burmese is frankly ridiculous.

    Yes, I’d love to know their reasoning. Is it cultural differences (no word for tree, 40 pony gaits)?

  13. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Malay is an easy language. Bafflingly easy. At the end of ten weeks you feel that you know all there is to be known. At the end of ten years, you know that you never will.

    I was surprised that Malay didn’t rank higher. Everything I’ve ever read about Malay confirms what your quotation says, so that after ten weeks you’re in a position to use it. When I was a child in Singapore our Cantonese-speaking nurses made no attempt to teach us Cantonese, but they did try to instil some rudiments of Malay. That probably says something about the perceived easiness of Malay.

  14. squiff-marie von bladet says:

    Unless and until someone knows better I intend to believe that the difficulty levels assigned by the FS&I are empirically based: they actually teach actual languages to actual students, and the measures of how much teaching it actually takes are based on how much teaching it actually takes. I mean, why wouldn’t you?

    The truly dispiriting part of the Japanese reading experience, I am assured, is when the learner confronts the distinction between on- and kun- readings of the kanji.

  15. Japanese multiple scripts includes kanji, I should think. With multiple readings at that

  16. The problem with the FSI scale is that it really describes how hard it is to teach American foreign service personnel (mostly diplomats). Not how easy it is to learn the language. It will also reflect the number of people taught, availability of resources and quality of instructors. There are some baffling results there. Swahili is easier than Indonesian? Not on any measure of language complexity you could design.

    Btw: The Malay quote applies to pretty much any language. English has been called an “easy language to learn badly’ in the same spirit. The key difference between say Spanish and Czech is how much you can do after 10 weeks.

  17. The easiest language to learn for Korean speakers is generally held to be Japanese. Of course, reading is difficult, but literate Korean speakers will have at least a basic background in Chinese characters which is a huge help with the kanji.

    The shared vocabulary is really helpful, even in comparison to other languages within the Sinosphere. For example, ‘airport’ is 空港 in both Korean (공항 gonghang) and Japanese (くうこう kūkō), but 機場 or 飛機場 in Chinese (jīchǎng or fēijīchǎng in Mandarin).

  18. Is Hungarian (or Finnish) really more difficult than Turkish? I wonder how rigorous any of this ranking is.

    I took a stab at Arabic once and my sense was that it would be fairly easy to learn to speak passable colloquial Egyptian or colloquial Syrian. Not significantly more difficult than German. The problems begin when you layer MSA and Classical on top of it.

  19. John Cowan says:

    English is not an official language of the UK nor of England. It is a co-official language of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as of the republic of Ireland.

    A majority of states have made English official or co-official, but the U.S. as a whole doesn’t have an official language.

  20. @Vanya: Yeah, I’m roughly following the “Formal Spoken Arabic” model articulated by various innovative scholars (in practice, basically colloquial Levantine with some Classical polish) and I don’t find it too bad. It still baffles me that so many authorities insist on teaching an unerringly Classical way of speaking to general students: according to one study I saw, even the most prestigious native speakers use Classical case and mood endings far less than half of the time in conversation. You should have enough passive comprehension to understand it when it’s used, but I don’t see much point in actually learning to speak it.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    I had a Kusaasi colleague in Ghana who spoke L1 Kusaal along with L2 Mooré, Twi, Hausa and English, all extremely well. I asked him which was the most difficult, and he replied “English” immediately, “because it’s the most different.”

    The interesting thing is that he didn’t find Hausa particularly difficult despite being as unrelated to the others as English is. I think this is because Hausa semantics and sheer modus operandi align closely with its Niger-Congo neighbours. You use unrelated vocabulary and a wholly different kind of morphology in Hausa, but what you say and how you say it is much like what you’d say in Kusaal, and quite different from English.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    The notion that Icelandic is as hard for English-speakers to learn as, say, Khmer or Burmese is frankly ridiculous.

    Depends on how scared you are of grammar. Khmer and Burmese are isolating, Icelandic is very much not.

    And while Icelandic shares Germanic word roots with English, it does not share the Romance ones.

    and wonder if it’s equally difficult for the entire rest of the world (aside from those two places) to learn Japanese?

    Probably, more or less. The multiple kanji readings mentioned above will be similarly hard for everyone, the grammar isn’t downright similar to anything other than Korean, and to ever grasp the politeness system, you allegedly have to be Javanese.

    Cantonese would be extra-difficult: far more tones than MSM

    Only two more (6 instead of 4) – but three of them are level, as opposed to just one in MSM, and they’re bunched together in just half of the pitch range the tones occupy! I find the MSM tones easier than most people who grew up toneless, and find the Cantonese tone system seriously scary. (Admittedly, I’ve never tried to learn Cantonese beyond counting to 3.)

    Is Hungarian (or Finnish) really more difficult than Turkish?

    The Finns have been hanging out around Indo-Europeans for so long that they decline their adjectives, and they have some non-agglutinative morphophonology going on (“consonant gradation”) which is definitely not trivial to learn. Hungarian lacks that, but like Finnish it has turned a long list (and counting!) of postpositions into case endings, a lot more than Turkish; maybe that’s considered a factor.

    And in Hungarian, aren’t lots of adjectives really verbs or something?

  23. I would agree with Jongseong Park, and amplify: you really can’t overemphasize how much that shared vocabulary helps. Or to put it differently, I think that overlaps in grammar and vocabulary help in very different ways, but that vocabulary overlap gives you much better long-term mileage.

    I tried to learn Turkish twice. The first time was as an enthusiastic undergraduate with nothing but a beltful of Romance and Germanic languages of various periods. The second was after half a decade of immersion in Japanese. As a language nerd like the rest of you, the first time wasn’t exactly hard in the conceptual sense, though nothing came of it, but there’s no comparison to how much more transparent Turkish seemed after Japanese because of (non-genetic, fight me) grammatical affinity. Yet for all of that exciting grammar boost, I still speak Turkish very badly. Without another language like Arabic or Persian to anchor a lot of its vocabulary for me during dry spells away from it, my active Turkish word-hoard just shrivels up raisin-style. When I passed through Istanbul last year on the way to Europe I found the signage both easily parsible and 80% opaque, and laboriously able to make myself understood while understanding very little of what was spoken back.

    This compared to Korean, which I speak badly but also fairly fluidly (not fluently). By this I mean that the combination of broad overlap with Japanese in grammar and vocabulary gives me the tools to say and understand quite a lot, with very little study, but in a way that is often very unnatural to Korean speakers, though comprehensible. That said, I’m not even close to being able to understand say, Korean music or television, which would require the same serious, time-consuming effort it took me to get there in Japanese. Less time, I think, but more because of more language learning-experience since then, rather than any Japanese-derived dividend.

    Yet I think “vocabulary overlap” is not really conceptually sharp enough to capture the subtlety of why vocabulary helps. It’s not just in my experience phenomenally helpful in saving time, but also provides a (very crude imitation of a) native-like infrastructure for acquiring and integrating further vocabulary at plateau-busting speeds. This is why Japanese people can almost always confidently assume that even not very diligent Chinese and Korean learners will (on-odds) reliably have far better language skills than all but the most hard-working students from elsewhere, though Chinese speakers often have a very noticeable accent and iffy control of honorifics. I’m not sure if this would continue to hold if, say, some populous Turkic-speaking country bordered Japan, with high grammar but low vocabulary overlap, but I think it would.

    (In a ranty aside, this is why I think Professor Mair’s anti-character allergy is so awful. There’s no way to reach advanced fluency without a good control of the character-anchored segmental lexemes, and really little chance of doing that without the intermediate step of character-mastery unless your native tongue, like Korean, allows you to skip that step, and even then only in part. Cynically I wonder if the goal is just to produce a lot of intermediate-level students, but that seems too uncharitable.)

  24. @Lazar

    …even the most prestigious native speakers use Classical case and mood endings far less than half of the time in conversation. You should have enough passive comprehension to understand it when it’s used, but I don’t see much point in actually learning to speak it.

    I’ve always wondered about this. My Arabic is fairly non-existent, though I have a decent grasp of the language situation you point towards, and have always wondered if Western discourse on it wasn’t missing something essential. From the Sinographo-sphere experience, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that no one “spoke” the register of most written communication (everything from government paperwork to academic papers), but some command of it is essential to navigate many crucial areas of life, and indeed being uncomfortable with it does disadvantage many native speakers with less formal education. I realize that such a comparison passes over a number of incogruencies, but, e.g., how well could you confidently navigate even all the written information in a grocery store without that literary Arabic training, much less the tax office?

  25. speedwell says:

    Ook said: Being in-country makes learning an order of magnitude faster.

    Unless you’re in Ireland, where the very children in your housing estate, whose names are Aoife, Oisín, Tadgh, and Éibhleann, tell you, “Ew, we have to learn that in school” and refuse to speak it to you. Even when you are standing in the middle of a Gaeltacht, people look blankly at you and say, “You live in Sligo and you speak fine English. And what do you want to learn Irish for so”. That is a quote, spoken not unkindly, from the woman I stayed with when taking a week’s course for beginners in County Donegal. She had turned from talking in Irish to the other two students taking a more advanced course that week to say it. But I’m an American and who knows what we’re about. Once I reassured her that despite being married to a County Tyrone man I had nothing to do with religion, politics, or the venomous offspring of the two of them, it was all fine and pleasant from there.

    As for Hungarian, it is fiendishly difficult to learn when your Hungarian-born father refuses to teach you any of it (she said bitterly). If I had learned it well enough to read a newspaper, I could become a Hungarian citizen tomorrow, which, if not for the fact that I would sooner give the head of government there a kick up the hole as look at him, would be a useful thing.

  26. , the grammar isn’t downright similar to anything other than Korea

    I came to Kazakh and Turkish after learning Japanese, and I agree with Elessorn – Turkish grammar becomes fairly transparent if you already speak Japanese. I suspect Turkic speakers have a lot less trouble with Japanese than native English speakers do. The idea that Turkic languages and Japanese are not related somehow has always struck me as ridiculous at a gut level, someday I will have to engage intellectually with that argument.

  27. @elessorn: Well, a lot of the important points of difference (e.g. the aforementioned case and mood endings, variations in the choice of short vowels, the intricacies of the Classical number system) aren’t even conveyed in writing. Many others are – but as I said, I do acquaint myself with the differences as I go. A lot of the resources that I’ve used follow a template like “This is how Fuṣḥá does it, and this is how Egyptian and Levantine speech diverge from it.”

  28. English is not an official language of the UK nor of England. It is a co-official language of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as of the republic of Ireland.

    Well, depends on your definition of “official language”. The government of the UK works, very largely, in English, so that probably makes English a de facto official language. Bits of it will work in various other languages if you ask them to – you will be able to get a Bengali version of a council tax form if you want one, rather than having to do it in English, which I suppose makes Bengali official in a way that Icelandic isn’t. But the UK government won’t employ you for pretty much any role if you don’t speak adequate English.

  29. Swahili is easier than Indonesian? Not on any measure of language complexity you could design.

    I found it quite easy (many years ago), but then I never tried to learn Indonesian, so I can’t compare.

  30. Unlike SFReader (and Echoing David Marjanović to some degree) I can certainly accept that Icelandic is as difficult for anglophones as Khmer or Burmese. The entire system of grammatical gender in Icelandic, for instance, with its impact upon adjectival agreement especially, would probably seem both more alien and more difficult to an anglophone learner than the classifier system of any South-East Asian language.

    Indeed, a professor of Latin and Old English of my acquaintance told me once that nominal case-marking was, far and away, the most difficult aspect of those languages for her (mostly anglophone) learners. And whereas morphological case is wholly irrelevant in Khmer, Burmese and neighboring languages, it is inescapable in Icelandic, and moreover quite complex, with multiple declension classes, various morphophonemic alternations, plus the intersection of case with gender and with the suffixed definite article (plus the weak/strong distinction in adjectives). I suspect this greater complexity of nominal morphology accounts for Icelandic being considered more difficult than German, and for the Germanic languages other than Icelandic and German being considered as easy as the Romance languages.

    On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that Romanian is easier for an anglophone learner than German, and even harder to believe that Albanian is more difficult than Romanian. The latter two languages, in particular, are so close to one another, typologically (Very similar morphosyntax, very similar phonologies, orthographies that are about equally faithful to the phonology; lexically, Albanian has borrowed so much from Latin/Romance that its vocabulary is about as (un)familiar to an anglophone as that of Romanian is) that I take it for granted that an anglophone would find learning either language about as difficult as learning the other.

    I thus find it difficult not to suspect that the map, in indicating this gap between Romanian and Albanian, points to a sort of cultural bias more than to actual comparative linguistic difficulty. I sense that the logic is roughly: Romanian equals Romance and therefore equals “easy for anglophones to learn”, whereas Albanian equals non-Romance non-Germanic and therefore equals “NOT easy for anglophones to learn”.

  31. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that Romanian is easier for an anglophone learner than German

    It was for me.

  32. The entire system of grammatical gender in Icelandic, for instance, with its impact upon adjectival agreement especially, would probably seem both more alien and more difficult to an anglophone learner

    Oh, so that’s why anglophones can’t learn Russian

  33. harder to believe that Albanian is more difficult than Romanian.

    I suspect FSI puts a lot of emphasis on reading. Look at the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

    Albanian (Tosk): “Të gjithë njerëzit lindin të lirë dhe të barabartë në dinjitet dhe në të drejta. Ata kanë arsye dhe ndërgjegje dhe duhet të sillen ndaj njëri tjetrit me frymë vëllazërimi.”

    Romanian: “Toate ființele umane se nasc libere și egale în demnitate și în drepturi. Ele sunt înzestrate cu rațiune și conștiință și trebuie să se comporte unele față de altele în spiritul fraternității.”

    I cannot make heads or tails of the Albanian. The Romanian is fairly easy, especially if you have had exposure to another Romance language.

  34. Exactly.

  35. Vanya: Actually, the Albanian text does contain the Latin-Romance loanwords “lirë”, “dinjitet” and “drejta”, the second of which is actually closer to English “dignity” than Romanian “demnitate” is. I certainly agree that the Romanian text is easier to understand for someone who already knows some other Romance language(s), but the FSI classification assumes a monolingual anglophone learner.

    In this light, compare the following (article 4):

    English: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”

    Romanian: “Nimeni nu va fi ținut în sclavie, nici în servitute; sclavajul și comerțul cu sclavi sînt interzise sub toate formele lor.”

    Albanian: “Asnjeri nuk duhet të mbahet si skllav ose çifçi; skllavëria dhe tregtia e skllevërve janë të ndaluara në të gjitha format.”

    I agree Romanian is much easier to understand to someone who already knows (a) Romance language(s). But compare the three text specimens: vocabulary-wise, the only way in which Romanian is “easier” (=more English-like) lies in its word “servitute” versus Albanian “çifçi”: notice, though, that Albanian “skllavëria” is closer to English “slavery” than Romanian “sclavajul” is. That is not much of a difference, and structurally the two languages are very similar: so are their phonologies.

    So practically speaking, I stand by my original statement: Romanian and Albanian are comparable languages, in terms of their level of difficulty from the vantage point of an anglophone learner.

  36. I think you’re underestimating the passive acquaintance with French that even a monolingual anglophone learner has; English is filled with loan words, borrowed phrases, and the like that make French seem familiar even if you can’t speak or read it. The same goes for Spanish. Put them together, and I guarantee you that the Romanian will seem much less alien than the Albanian.

  37. Garrigus Carraig says:

    I constructed a language-learning-difficulty trivia question that fails as a trivia question but succeeds perhaps as a trivia nugget. Here goes:

    Q: What’s the hardest language to learn?

    A: North Sentinelese, because its speakers kill you if you try to visit their island.

    I actually constructed this before that American Christian missionary died trying to visit North Sentinel Island recently.

  38. @Garrigus Carraig: You are technically correct – the best kind of correct. (At least for living languages.)

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    Requisition me a beat!

  40. David Marjanović says:

    how much more transparent Turkish seemed after Japanese because of (non-genetic, fight me) grammatical affinity

    That reminds me of this book chapter that I recently read. I had evidently underestimated how noticeable these similarities are in practice!

    Oh, so that’s why anglophones can’t learn Russian

    It is in any case what scares John McWhorter witless about Russian.

  41. A J CORNISH BOWDEN says:

    My efforts to learn some Turkish (before a shortish trip to Turkey as a student) were pretty ineffectual, but I did get the impression that apart from the alien vocabulary it was not among the more difficult languages.

    I was surprised to learn that the Turkish for mine was mayın (pronounced very similarly), until I realized that Teach Yourself Turkish was directed primarily to military personnel posted to Cyprus, and that the sort of mine they had in mind was not what I expected.

  42. No, Romanian is definitely easier for a monoglot English speaker. No men something something tenant in slavery or in servitude; slavery something commerce something slavery something forbidden under total forms. As compared to Albanian: ???? ???? maybe slavery ???? slavery ???? treaty ???????? forms. The thing is that most of the Albanian words are so urecognisable that an Anglophone wouldn’t feel confident guessing even at the ones that are similar to English words.

    Romanian: “Nimeni nu va fi ținut în sclavie, nici în servitute; sclavajul și comerțul cu sclavi sînt interzise sub toate formele lor.”

    Albanian: “Asnjeri nuk duhet të mbahet si skllav ose çifçi; skllavëria dhe tregtia e skllevërve janë të ndaluara në të gjitha format.”

  43. Oh, so that’s why anglophones can’t learn Russian

    I don’t know. I’ve known plenty of anglophones who learned to speak Russian fairly well, modestly including myself. It doesn’t have the reputation that Hungarian has.

  44. Of course, the similarities between your mother tongue and the language you want to learn is very important when it comes to determine the difficulty, but in practise I find that the logistical concerns play a much bigger role. For example, in Sweden it’s pretty easy to learn English, since it is taught in primary and secondary school as well as adult education, and there is easy acces to dictionaries, books, music, tv dramas and so on. Mandarin Chinese is of course much more difficult, since it’s only taught at a few places and Swedish-Mandarin dictionaries are rare and expensive. With the internet, you can access some music and tv dramas, but you need some language skills in either English or Chinese to even find them. As for other Chinese languages such as for example Shanghainese, well, I don’t even know where you would start.

    A lot of Swedish-speaking people find German grammar difficult to learn, but in terms of vocabulary and spelling it’s much closer to Swedish compared to English. I find the grammar difficult too, actually, but luckily German people are pretty tolerant of tourists with bad grammar. I’m surprised that Swedish and German are considered different categories, I would have thought they would be in the same category for an English speaker. I wonder why German would take longer.

    In practise, the perception of linguistic ability will often rest on two parts: pronunciation and pragmatics. If you have a good pronunciation and knows the cultural expections, you can manage to seem very fluent with a small vocabulary, and on the contrary, not many people will appreciate your in-depth language skills if they are combined with a bad pronunciation and missing the cultural cues.

    Oh, and I wanted to add on the topic of verbs: In Mandarin Chinese, a lot of prepositions are actually verbs. Very funny! 😀

  45. David Marjanović says:

    In Mandarin Chinese, a lot of prepositions are actually verbs.

    At first glance, it has both pre- and postpositions. Then it turns out it has neither: the prepositions are actually verbs (zài = “in” = “to be in”), and the postpositions are actually nouns ( = “in” = “the inside”).

  46. I’m surprised that Swedish and German are considered different categories, I would have thought they would be in the same category for an English speaker. I wonder why German would take longer.

    Swedish has much simpler morphology than standard German, no?

  47. @Lazar
    I guess it’s simpler, but Swedish still has two genders, adjective declination and really long words. The verb inflection is much simpler in Swedish, and Swedish doesn’t really have any cases (unless you count genitive). Noun definitiveness is usually difficult for learners of Swedish.

  48. squiffy-marie von bladet says:

    Ooh, I can personally anecdata this one!

    I learned decent Swedish (later transmogrified into Dutch). I didn’t get as far with German, and pretty much all the reasons were morphology. Swedish adjectives have the bare minimum of morphology, German ones have much more. I didn’t mind post-positional articles, if anything I found them easier than the Dutch ones. And the German articles have an intense morphology, which the Swedish ones don’t.

  49. And the German articles have an intense morphology

    Yes, that was one of the things that drove me to despair.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    We’ve been gradually outsourcing noun morphology to the articles for a long time.

  51. If morphological differences involving inflection in the noun system account for why Icelandic is classified as harder than German and German harder than Dutch and the Continental Scandinavian languages, I am at a loss to understand why Romanian and French are classified as equally easy (as easy as Dutch and Continental Scandinavian): French and Romanian differ rather drastically when it comes to inflectional noun morphology, the former having basically none left (leaving aside a few irregular nouns and the -s or -x found in the spelling) and the latter having a declined suffixed definite article, vocative and dative case endings present on (some) indefinite nouns, and a very complex/opaque system of nominal plural formation.

  52. Stu Clayton says:

    Best not to think at all of things in German as “morphing”. What you refer to are semantic hyperlinks that free the mind from linearity.

  53. Romanian is certainly harder for monophone English speakers than Spanish or Italian. The problem is that we only have 5 categories. For me Romanian falls between French and German, but maybe closer to the latter.

  54. I had evidently underestimated how noticeable these similarities are in practice!

    I guess it works in the other (=Uralic) direction as well. Trying to learn Estonian and Finnish proved to be greatly assisted by being familiar with a Turkic (Tatar) grammar.

    P.S. I believe they reversed the correct order in “uzak gökten” (far from heaven) in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.”

  55. Funnily, in Tatar, “ozak” means only “long-lasting,” not “distant.” You’ll have to use “yeraq” to express that.

Speak Your Mind

*