A Map Showing How Much Time It Takes to Learn Foreign Languages: From Easiest to Hardest

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.

The map above visualizes the languages of Europe (at least those deemed diplomatically important enough to be taught at the FSI), coloring them according the average time commitment they require of an English speaker. In pink, we have the English-speaking countries. The red countries speak Category I languages, those most closely related to English and thus learnable in 575 to 600 hours of study: the traditional high-school foreign languages of Spanish and French, for instance, or the less commonly taught but just about as easily learnable Portuguese and Italian. If you’d like a little more challenge, why not try your hand at German, whose 750 hours of study puts it in Category II — quite literally, a category of its own?

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. Now if, like me, you consider studying foreign languages one of your main pursuits, you know that possessing a genuine interest in a language — in its mechanics, in its ongoing evolution, in the cultures that created it and the cultures it in turn creates — can do wonders to get you through even the most aggravating difficulties on the long journey to commanding it. Then again, I’m also a native English speaker who chose to move to Korea, where I study not just the Category-V Korean but the Category-V* Japanese through Korean; you might want to take with a grain of salt the words, in any language, of so obvious a masochist.

You’ll find the full Foreign Service Institute language difficulty ranking list below. No matter which category you’d like to take on, you can get a start at our Free Foreign Language Lessons collection, many of whose materials come produced by the FSI itself.

Category I: 23-24 weeks (575-600 hours)
Languages closely related to English
Category II: 30 weeks (750 hours)
Languages similar to English
Category III: 36 weeks (900 hours)
Languages with linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
Category IV: 44 weeks (1100 hours)
Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik)
Category V: 88 weeks (2200 hours)
Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers
Cantonese (Chinese)
Mandarin (Chinese)
* Usually more difficult than other languages in the same category.

via Big Think

Related Content:

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215 Hours of Free Foreign Language Lessons on Spotify: French, Chinese, German, Russian & More

The Tree of Languages Illustrated in a Big, Beautiful Infographic

Where Did the English Language Come From?: An Animated Introduction

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (105)
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  • jeremy Singer says:

    Why is Arabic, a semitic language, more difficult than Hebrew?

  • Loomans says:

    Category IV: For your information, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian are identical and the same languages which can be written with two alphabets; Cyrillic and Latin alphabet! Belgium do not have a language! Australia do not have a language! Canada do not have a language! Austria do not have a language, Monaco do not have a language, Vatican, Mexico, Brasilia… US do not have a language!!! How do you teach people ” Bosnian” or ” Croatian” language? Which language do you use as a base language to teach people those so called “languages”!?

  • Who do you think you are? says:


  • Michael Sharpe says:

    As a college language instructor in Japan, a student of the Japanese language (and Welsh), I wonder if the categories work in reverse…

  • George Jetson says:

    Its really hard to see the textbook through a burkha so that effort accounts for the extra time.

  • Olivier says:

    Even on this website do we find idiots.

  • Sílvia says:

    Where is Catalan? Seven milion people speaks Catalan !!!

  • Matt Col says:

    I notice that Korean (Hangul) is supposedly one of the hardest languages to learn, but this is false. Yes, it is very visually different from English and of course it sounds a lot more like Korean than English, but Hangul was specifically created to be an easy language to learn so that literacy could be easily achieved throughout Korea. Other than the visual when you actually look into it the Korean language is VERY easy to learn. I’d wager as easy to learn as French.

  • Layla says:

    Why no mention of any of the Celtic languages? I am also curious where other African languages are ranked (only saw Xhosa and Swahili), down to the clicks spoken by the San. Australian and Pacific languages missing. Native American tongues also not ranked. Can you flesh this out?

  • Mike says:

    I’ve dabbled in both. French, like most other western European languages, is far easier than any of the Asian languages. The noun/verb agreement is one example that immediately makes Korean a difficult language. 50 years or so of the best linguists in the world have thought it to be true, but I suppose they could be wrong. BTW, what exactly do you mean by “is sounds a lot more like Korean than English?” Fun little list here though.

  • Christian K says:

    Sure, Hangul is super easy to learn to *read*, but Korean is not easy to learn to speak for an english speaker, and the fact that you consider it as easy as french makes me wonder if you even know any of the two languages? I might have a unique perspective, as a Dane living in South Korea with a french girlfriend, but I have no expend almost no effort to catch a lot of french words, because there are so many that are the same as the english words, with a small change. Korean on the other hands introduce a lot of different new things with politeness levels, the noun/verbs as another commenter mentioned, and a *completely* different vocabulary where you can’t use any of your experience in english.

  • bage says:


  • Timothy S Hawkins says:

    Swahili – 900 hours

    complete nonsense, swahili (kiswahili) is an extremely simple language with a tiny vocabulary compared to most modern languages, in most countries, they are forced to backfill the vocab with colonial language loan words to make up the difference, hence there are french, english, etc versions of swahili. Perhaps they are referring to learning all the possible variants, but for a single variant its no where near 900 hours

  • Derek Hsu says:

    Yes, it’s true. Korean should not be listed there. Korean can be seen as a simplified Chinese and Japanese. The vocabularies are derived from Chinese and grammar is very similar to Japanese but easier.

  • Holger says:

    Why is german, a germanic language, more difficult than e.g. danish ?
    Well i dunno details about the differences of arabic and hebrew, i just assume the grammar or the diversity
    is just more hard.
    So e.g. german language is not more hard to learn (to be understood) than danish (from the english native perspective), but the grammar is by far more complicated …

  • Dave Miller says:

    Where is Malayalam, 38 million speaks malayalam!!

  • Andreas says:

    I think it is wrong to equate easiness with closeness of relation to English. German is much more closely related to English than Spanish. Spanish is just an objectively easy language to learn, and German is hard.

  • Mara says:

    The color scheme of this graph is pretty off, do consider using diverging pallete or something similar. https://betterfigures.org/2015/06/23/picking-a-colour-scale-for-scientific-graphics/

  • Richard Gadsden says:

    There seem to be some pretty uninformed comments here.

    The only languages that are covered are those that the FSI teaches. They will be teaching languages that are diplomatically useful, that is ones used by national governments that the US sends ambassadors to. The reason they don’t teach Celtic languages is that there is no embassy to Wales, or Brittany, or the Gaeltacht.

    Second, they’ve adopted the position of those governments in determining whether there is a language difference. So, for instance, Belgium does not regard its national languages as being distinct from the French in France, the Dutch in the Netherlands, or the German in Germany – so the FSI doesn’t teach (eg) Flemish as a separate language. Meanwhile, Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia all regard their languages as distinct, so the FSI follows them in doing so.

    Finally, the difficulty is for English-native adult learners. Spoken languages are all about equally difficult for non-verbal children to learn as a native language. Written languages do have a significant variation for non-literate children learning to read and write their native language: languages that use Chinese characters are harder than anything else; languages with spelling systems that systematically follow pronunciation are slightly easier than those (like England) that don’t. But for English-native adults, the important things are the amount of shared vocabulary, phonology and grammar with English.

    Note that Category IV* and V are mostly tonal languages because English speakers find tonal distinctions (as opposed to articulatory distinctions) particularly difficult. Other than Arabic, category V languages are those that use “Chinese characters” (hanzi, kanji, Hanja).

    I’m a little surprised at Arabic being in V not IV or IV*, but I suspect it’s a combination of several factors:

    First, its script is notoriously hard for English speakers, because characters are always joined and there are changes in shape (e.g. word-final characters) and there are fewer possible shapes, so the distinctions between letters tend to be finer than in the Latin or Cyrillic or Greek or Hebrew alphabets.
    Second, there are two modern languages, Modern Standard Arabic and the dialect of the country to which you’re being posted – there is a major difference between MSA and local dialect, and a diplomat is likely to need to learn both. They are also likely to need some understanding of Classical Arabic (ie the language of the Qu’ran) – a passive ability to understand quotations would be sufficient. Having to learn two or three forms of the same language, with different phonology and grammar is inevitably going to take longer than just one.

  • Shadow says:

    Que pesao … ya cansa el tema

  • Richard Gadsden says:

    German might be more closely related, but English has much more Romance vocabulary than Germanic (we use the Germanic words more, but there are more Romance words).

  • Franz says:

    Romance languages as easy as Scandinavian ones?

    OMG pleeeeeeeeaseee…

    Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French have verbs that change almost always for EACH person and a lot more tenses than the Scandinavian ones.
    Their subjunctive and conditional moods are bona fide moods, not just composite of other moods and modal verbs…

    Prepositions merge with articles, many nouns can have two different genders, adjectives must match in number and gender…

    Absolutely NO way they can be in the same tier…

  • CB says:

    “The map above visualizes the languages of Europe (at least those deemed diplomatically important enough to be taught at the FSI)”

    Blame the FSI?

  • Gabby Seligman says:

    I don’t think Icelandic belongs in the most difficult category. It’s a Scandinavian language with traceable common roots with English. Although it is less similar to English than Danish, Swedish and Norwegian – I’d put it in category 2 with German.

  • J says:

    Likely because Arabic varies widely between regions. Speaking Arabic in Morocco is very different than speaking Arabic in Egypt or Saudi, so much that even native speakers of one region have significant difficulty understanding others from a different region.

  • paul says:

    Hangul is just the alphabet. Yeah, the Korean alphabet is easier to learn than most. The language is quite hard because the grammar is extremely different, the morphemes are fairly different, and there’s no shared origin the the words (except English loan words obviously.)

  • Francesc Rosàs says:

    I don’t see Basque (“Euskera”) in the list either but it’s still represented in the map.

    Could it be Catalan falls in the same difficulty category as Spanish and French so that no distinguishing color is shown in Catalonia, Andorra and rest of regions?

  • Vladimir says:

    Serbian and Croatian does differ slightly in pronunciation and some of words but base is 99.95% the same and be sure that they understand each other perfectly; same for Bosnia region, Montenegro and all those parts of ex-Yugoslavia. Simple said, don’t speak about something that you don’t have a clue or at least basic facts.

  • Andrew Weiler says:

    These charts look illuminating but they also hide a lot.
    The reality is that a “good” language learner can learn a difficult language faster than than a “poor” language learner can learn an easy one!
    I should hasten to add that we were all born good language learners – hence all of us become fluent in our mother tongue in much the same time. And that poor language learners can become good language learners once they let go of disempowering beliefs, attitudes and practices. Of course it helps to take on ones that lead them to become good language learners! :-)

  • Kris Lindbeck says:

    I speak some Hebrew and have attempted Arabic.

    It’s harder because
    1. Alphabet is more complex (most letters change shape depending on whether they are in initial, middle, or final position in a word)
    2. Grammar is similar, but more complex
    3. Ashkenazi Hebrew, still the “standard” accent in Israel, has a French “r,” and, more or less, a German “kh” sound. Arabic has a glottal stop, and two (or more?) “kh” sounds, one is a softly aspirated “h”/”kh” (I forget the proper transliteration) that is tough for most European language speakers — certainly is for me.
    4. Modern Hebrew syntax and tense structure has been influenced by European languages, Arabic, not. (I’m 90% sure of this; 1-3 I know).

    I’ve spoken to Palestinian Arabic speakers who say Hebrew is easy for them; for Hebrew speakers Arabic is accessible, but not super easy.

  • Peter Dahu says:

    Modern Hebrew has similarities to Arabic. However Arabic has a ton of dialects.

  • Eric says:

    Thank you – I was just coming to post this!

  • Kaeru says:

    This article was exaggerated in the point of “to master”.
    The time mentioned in this list really means how long time they take in the class to get some level in the language. So, don’t forget that it wasn’t mentioned about out of the class.

    And you don’t select the target language, which is what you want to learn, with difficulty except for few langugae collectors, do you?
    It’s non-sense to compare diffrculties of a language with of another language.
    The difficulty depends on what you want to reach.

    I’ve already dedicated to English over 3,000 hours at least, but I’ve never come up with that I mastered English at all.

  • Leon says:

    Wait til you reach N1.

  • Trevor says:


  • Dr Bob says:

    I don’t think that Serbian differs from Croatian any more than the English spoken in Ireland differs from the English spoken in Australia. Probably a lot less. And certainly a LOT less than the Arabic spoken in Syria differs from the Arabic spoken in Tunisia.

  • rjc says:

    English is a Germanic language so German should be in the “Languages closely related to English” category. At the same time, none of the Romance languages belongs in that category. We’re talking about language relations here, not just vocabulary, which are two different things altogether. Apart from English, many other European languages, have vocabulary borrowed from French, Italian, Latin, Greek, etc. but that doesn’t make them related to those languages in any shape or form.

  • Sheila says:

    Hangul is the Korean alphabet, not the language. I learned the Hangul alphabet in two days, but that does not mean I can speak the language. Korean sentence structure (subject + object + verb) is very different from English (subject + verb + object), which makes the language more difficult to learn. You must also contend with forms of speech (honorifics) to differentiate who you are talking to. You speak differently to someone younger, older or in a position of authority than you would to someone of equal age or status.

  • Edna says:

    Just a warning that the upper poster is wrong. Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian are definitely not the same language. Very similar, yes, but with many different words (and some grammar rules are different!). I am a native speaker of one of those languages and have trouble fully understanding the others.

    There are simply many cases where we have have one word for it in one language and the other in the other language.

    From what my friend tells me, Austrian is not the same as German, either… And I won’t even get started on the differences between British and U.S. English.

    People who only use languages for communication and basic understanding often tend to claim that “those are all the same”, but if you look deeper and want correct grammar, spelling and usage, you become more aware of how many differences there are and how necessary it is to differentiate similar languages.

  • Edna says:

    I speak one of those languages and don’t understand the other that well at all. I have friends who disagree… But it usually turns out that they were exposed to both languages as kids so they automatically learned both.

    I also think this is a generational thing – older members of my family who learned and used both languages tend to view them as more similar, but us kids find many differences and it feels like different languages altogether.

  • maaike says:

    6, I thought; but then there are a few more in Sardinia and Italy

  • Yohannes says:

    Haven’t you heard of the four German noun cases ? In general understanding the German language is not difficult ( it took me a week ) but mastering it is almost an impossibility.

  • Ari Maayan says:

    To: Kris Lindbeck – Your point#3 is incorrect. The standard accent in Israel is not Ashkenazi, it is Sephardic. Hebrew also has a letter with a glottal stop, like the letter Ayin in my name in Hebrew. It also has 2 kh sounds, one slightly softer than the other. Until you are fluent in Hebrew you shouldn’t try to evaluate it against Arabic or any other language. Go study at the David Yellin Institute in Jerusalem if you really want to understand the Hebrew language.

  • Katago Ngobi says:

    For me French is more difficult than Kiswahili. I studied French for two years but the outcomes weren’t good. Kiswahili Sox month and my command is good.

  • Joe says:

    Indonesian is much easier to learn than any other foreign language. The grammar is simplistic. There are no tenses, no conjugation, and no word genders. Almost all words are pronounced just as you read it with just a few exceptions.

    In trying to think why it is listed as a III, the best I can come up with is that there is a formal form that is a little different than the everyday form.

    I studied Russian in college for almost 3 years and although I was at best able to read and write so-so, speaking and listening were still distant goals.

    For Indonesian, all I needed was a few phrasebooks, a dictionary, and Indonesian girlfriend, and a few weeks.

  • Joe says:

    I agree with you on that. Korean looks hard and for a long time I couldn’t figure out those characters, even though I could read some Chinese. Then finally it was explained to me that those were not characters, but an alphabet.

    I haven’t learned it, and my current Korean-American girlfriend isn’t really an expert either, but it seems easy enough from having been in Korea a few times.

  • David Wright says:

    Learning to pronounce words written in hangul is easy, but that’s just making the sounds. Learning the language requires learning a large vocabulary with very few words related to English, and with a very different grammatical system, including levels of formality (important for diplomats).

    Korean is not so hard to learn if you speak Japanese (and v.v.) because their grammars are related.

  • Kathleen says:

    THANK you! I was completely baffled (and annoyed) by the claim that it takes less than a year to master Russian. The article (or the FSI) should make it clear that it takes far longer to master (mostly) any language within the time-frames they specify.

  • David Wright says:

    Hebrew was revived as a spoken language in the 19th century, so you don’t have to worry about regional dialects of Arabic (e.g., Maghrebi Arabic is near impossible for Middle Easterners to understand) and the difference between standard written Arabic and the spoken language of whatever country you’re being trained to communicate with.

    Also, a large % of Israelis are second language speakers, so the resources for teaching and learning Hebrew are better developed and the tolerance for learners’ mistakes may be helpful.

  • David Wright says:

    Remember, this is all from the US Foreign Services. The Foreign Service is not going to use scarce resources to teach Gaelic to FSOs posted in Dublin. English works fine there.

  • Slamet says:

    I can confirm this statement. Informal Bahasa Indonesia is basically grab a dictionary and join the words together. So it cannot be easier for English speaker to learn Bahasa Indonesia, especially with the fact that it is easier for foreigner to get Indonesian girlfriend than us, the male demographic.

    On the other hand, most of us, Indonesians, spend 6+ years to learn English and we barely speak it.

  • bob says:

    I think it’s an island of Spains in the Mediterranean

  • Willis says:

    Arabic has a much broader range of dialects than Hebrew. There are many alternate letter pronunciations as well as additional letters added to the alphabet in some regions. This fractured language landscape makes Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) a necessarily more complex language in order to be understood by international speakers whose local dialects can differ significantly. That being said when I was an Arabic translator ten years ago, Arabic was considered to be just a difficult category four and Japanese was considered category three so I’m not sure how accurate this list is.

  • AMW says:

    The Celtic languages and Native American languages aren’t listed because they’re not taught at the Foreign Service Institute. They focus on languages that are used in international diplomacy. If you’re working in a consulate in Bretagne or Scotland, people who come in to conduct business are going to speak to you in French or English, not in their home language.

  • chamaneh says:

    hello tank yuo

  • Janos Simon says:

    There is no “Austrian” language.

    Brasilia is a city, not a language or a country.

  • Serge says:

    (That’s actually Modern Hebrew, not Ashkenazi Hebrew — the latter is quite different.)

  • AMW says:

    Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian may be one language, but are YOU going to tell them that? Remember, this list is from the US Foreign Service– the diplomatic corps. Their primary function is to avoid offending people. Using the name that the people of a country use for their language, even if other people use a different name for the same language, is a very easy way to avoid offending them.

    And Belgium, Australia, Canada, etc most certainly do have languages! Or do you think people from those countries just go around pointing at things? The map shows the degree of difficulty English-speakers encounter in learning the language spoken in each of those countries; it’s not implying that the language of each country developed there or is not spoken elsewhere. Although if you told a Flemish-speaking Belgian that Belgium doesn’t have its own language, you might get an argument. And Brazil actually does have its own language; Brazilian and Lusitanian Portuguese are as different from one another as they are from Spanish or Gallego.

  • marcia kahn says:

    What about learning Yiddish?

  • AMW says:

    There are many more dialects of Arabic. If you learn Saudi, you won’t necessarily be able to speak to and understand an Egyptian, so it takes longer to meet Foreign Service competency requirements. Also, these ratings are for reading and writing, not just speaking, and Arabic script tends to be harder for English speakers to read.

  • Clint says:

    I think you are pushing your point a bit too hard to the point that you making your own falacies. I kind of doubt you bothered to read the article or you understood it. English does not seem to be your native tongue. I do know Croatian is a language that is very similar to Serbian, but not the same. Don’t ever tell a Croatian that he speaks Serbo-Croatian. They are similar languages but to lump them together is a Western shortcut to describe languages that don’t get any interest in the West. I asked a Croatian if he could understand a Serbian, and his response was “I can, if they are educated.”
    Also, if you even tried to read the article you would have gotten the answer to your last question. This article is written in English, so that could give a hint.

  • Clint says:

    You are correct in that all these languages are similar. But, you answered your own question in your last sentence. The grammar of German is the most complex of the Germanic languages, while the Scandinavian languages enjoy the simplest grammar. Some have said Swedish is the easiest language to learn with its simple grammar.

  • AspiringSLP says:

    I wonder if the difficulty would change if the individual learning the language were already bilingual beforehand, say for someone who spoke english and spanish?

  • BA says:

    Where is Tamil?

  • Clint says:

    Thanks for pointing that out. I used the phrase “Serbo-Croatian” with talking to a Croatian guy I had met. He got a bit offended.

  • AMW says:

    Andrew Weiler, people who think they’re “poor” language learners don’t go to the Foreign Service Institute. This list is based only on “good” language learners, because anybody who can survive 6-18 months, 12 hours a day of language lessons is going to become a good learner whether they start out that way or not.

  • Miroslav says:

    That is not correct. Croatian and Serbian are mutually intelligible languages, but these are two different languages. The base is approximately 80% identical (conclusion made by both Croatian and Serbian linguists). Out of 80% of the vocabulary, additional 20-30% words have different ending and/or pronunciation. Enough to distinguish these two languages and treat them as two languages. Mutual intelligibility is a result of a) cultural reference to media influence while Croatia and Serbia were part of Yugoslavia, or b) sub-conscious retention of vocabulary that is different in Croatian and Serbian (ex: fall-autumn, gas station – petrol garage…) Bosnian is a non-existing language, identical to the language spoken by Bosnian Croats and/or Serbs, those calling themselves Bosnians or Bosniaks are descendants of Croatians and Serbs forcibly converted to Islam.

  • Sam Johnson says:

    As somebody who speaks both English and Portuguese quite fluently, I will tell you that Brazilian and “Lusitanian” (aka from Portugal itself) Portuguese is practically identical. The difference is more like somebody native to New York City trying to understand Texan. A few different words and clearly a different pronunciation for many words (aka “accent” to use the term), but also the same language. Speakers of Portuguese don’t need interpreters when traveling between Rio de Janerio and Lisbon, but they might between Rio and Sao Paulo.

    There is far more difference between English in Illinois vs. Jamacia than is the case between the two variants of Portuguese you mentioned here. Portuguese of Macao, Goa, and Angola even even more pronounced (but mostly fading out of existence in those locations). I sort of think Portuguese from Angola is sort of pretty myself.

    It isn’t a different language like Scot or Flemish to a native English speaker. Those are clearly different languages, even though I can understand about 80% of what is said in either language.

  • AMW says:

    Aspiring SLP, yes, as a general rule, a third language is learned faster than a second, especially for people who learned the second in adulthood. If you’re English-Spanish bilingual, you can reach working competency in Portuguese or Italian within about 250 hours of intensive training.

    And even studying a language in which you don’t really develop any competency still makes learning successive languages easier. You learn how to learn– you recognize that all languages do certain things, like marking a difference between who performs an action and who is affected by it, and you can actively look for examples of how to do those things. It might be a case marking on the noun, a separate particle, word order, or vocal stress, but it’s going to be there. I’m not sure how much the category of difficulty of a particular language would change, but the degree of difficulty of any language is lesser for bilinguals and polyglots than for monolinguals.

  • Baker says:

    Where is Tamil? This list is not complete.

  • jamz says:

    @Loomans – Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian are similar but not identical.

  • Mick says:

    Very good consideration,what makes you a bigger expert than author of this article but, I will ad something more,and that is : Bosnians and Croatians don’t have language …that is in basic Serbian,just different dialect.Thats in the same time answer on your question ” How do you teach people Croatian or Bosnian” you will teach them Serbian…And believe me folks,what nickname ” edna” writes in her comments is absolutely not true. The Bosnians , Croatians, and Serbs, speak Serbian language with different dialects and perfectly well understand each other.What she does not understand is probably another topic….

  • Khiem says:

    As a graduate of FSI in 1968 (Vietnamese) their calendar is for fluency, i.e., about the 8th grade level, which of course is NOT real fluency in any language. In my case, after a 62 week course AND two years in Vietnam, I became quite fluent in my target language.

  • Paul says:

    I’m guessing this list is based on reading writing and listening. not just the written language. Hangul is simplified relative to mandarin or Japanese writing, but verbally, Korean is still very complex.

  • Mark Bramlette says:

    Japanese Language School, World War Two, 14 months to fluency for people with English as their native language. As I recall from an alumna of this school, it accepted only volunteers who had graduated from college and were members of Phi Beta Kappa. (Training in European languages was only a few months.) She was a graduate of the University of Nebraska with a triple major — art, math, and architecture.

    From the net: “One of the more unusual – and intensive – training facilities for officers was the Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There WAVES officers trained alongside Navy men in an intensive, 14-month-long course in Japanese. It was assumed the trainees would be fluent in the language at the end of training. The school opened in July of 1943”.

    My friend told me that the students there put on a version of the musical “Oklahoma!” with all the songs translated to Japanese. (Some said “why?” For the fun of it, I bet.) This presented a challenge due to the custom that a song’s words should end when the music does, and Japanese seems to use a lot more syllables for the same ideas than English does. My friend also told me that “All the cattle were standing like statues.” defied translation into Japanese. Instead, they used the Japanese equivalent of “Animal husbandry was flourishing.”

  • PANCAKES says:

    I think they don’t really need to add Tamil, they already have a lot of other Southeast Asian languages. However, I think it would be cool if they added more languages.

  • just my 2 cents says:

    They are taliing about languages people have any interest on learning.

  • Elena says:

    “Malaysian” is not a language. But Malay is.

  • Tom says:

    Same goes for Amharic

  • Maria says:

    Does this change if you are bi-lingual? For example I speak English and Spanish, so just this make things easier for me as both are technically my native languages? Just curious.
    Also for people that have differing native languages (ex: English & Korean, English & French, English & Portuguese)how would this apply? I know some people will argue that this only makes learning languages faster but other than that how else would this poll or research affect in outcome for people who speak multiple languages?

  • Ben says:

    Matt, you’re showing that you’re a novice at Korean. Yes, the alphabet is easy to learn. So it’s easier on the very first day. That’s where the easy part ends. The pronunciation is more difficult than Japanese. The word order (like Japanese) is more difficult than Chinese (which is often quite similar to English). The grammar is very similar to Japanese, but Japanese grammar is a bit harder than Korean grammar when you get into more advanced transformations. Both Japanese and Korean grammar and usage are very difficult for English speakers.

    Other language institutes put Japanese and Korean in the same category as more difficult than any other languages for English speakers.

  • Farheen says:

    Well, I am very proud to say I learned Arabic through a burka!

  • Tom says:

    Daj bre ne seri mamu ti jebem. Kaj kenjaš kad nemaš pojma o čemu pričaš.

  • John says:

    Catalan is a Romance language and therefore a Category 1 language.

  • Angel says:

    Same category as Spanish, Italian, … and the other Romance Languages.

  • Steven Lytle says:

    How can you say it’s false when it’s based on decades of actual experience of English speakers learning Korean? You may think Korean is easy, and it may actually BE easy, but it’s still one of the hardest for English speakers to learn, which is really what the categories mean. Hangul is easy, but it’s still very different from the Latin script, and it takes a long time to get used to it.
    In other words, it’s not just somebody’s opinion, but empirical fact.

  • Kenlay says:

    I’m Canadian and I definitely have a language. I’m using it at the moment. It is basically “American”, just with a larger vocabulary, more exact grammar, and without nearly as many expletives. Interestingly, Canadians can understand ‘American’ quite quickly, within only a few hours of first hearing it, but Americans can never fully comprehend ‘Canadian’.

  • Dyre says:

    I guess its that red part in the top right corner of Spain…

  • Peggy says:

    Hangul in itself is not the Korean language; it is a very efficient system for writing the Korean language phonetically. The language encompasses much more: grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure; listening, speaking, reading & writing.

  • Deborah Flores says:


  • Renato says:

    I also consider this missing language in this list important (very more important than english, for example). But it’s list only consider languages “diplomatically important enough to be taught at the FSI”, as this text says in segundo paragraph.

  • Sheila says:

    Hangul is the Korean writing system, or alphabet, and is fairly easy to learn. I Learned to read Hangul in 3 days. Learning Hangul is not the same as learning the Korean language. That’s like saying that a non-English speaker only has to learn the Latin alphabet to be fluent in the English language.

  • Louis Wunsch-Rolshoven says:

    This is about English native speakers learning a foreign language.
    I would like to get an answer for the inverse direction: How much time is necessary to learn English up to a certain level, if your mother tongue is, e.g. Spanish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Hungarian, Russian or Chinese? Are there any studies about this subject?

  • Jeff Lazar says:

    It’s important to distinguish between the written text and the language itself, which existed millennia before Hangul was invented. I would agree that Hangul is one of the easiest alphabets to learn, and this makes starting to learn Korean more accessible, but the language itself, the grammar and vocabulary, are so different that it belongs in a more difficult category.

  • Hoger says:

    Where is Kurdish which is the language of 40 million people?

  • Katie says:

    Black pink song they are cool ever cool ever cool.

  • Laura says:

    Is Irish Gaelige really so dead that it doesn’t a deserve a spot on this is list? Irish is a rich and full culture that has had centuries of ancient people to visit, inhabit and create what it is now.

  • George DeCarlo says:

    The simplest method to ACQUIRE any language is by the Acquisition Method. Essentially the main element is having fluent speakers read children’s stories. Explaining words or phrases is to only be done in the target language. The failure of grammar translation in having no natural speaking also failed me with Tagalog. I follow the instructions by Prof. Jeff Brown at Poly-glot-a-lot on YouTube. The full videos on the method are at the end of the list there. No need for useless classes and grammar texts. I have my 90 children’s books and now up to 200 hours of readings and understanding. New words are incorporated as they come up. No language other than the target language, no grammar, no translation.

  • Khushboo Aggarwal says:

    What about Korean language, is it very difficult to learn
    If i give 2hours daily
    Than hoe much time it will take to learn?

  • Penelope Vos says:

    Esperanto is category 0.3 :-)

  • Satya ranjan mishra says:

    For u s what we learn .Guide me.

  • Raúl Salinas-Monteagudo says:

    Yes, 3 months is enough for most people to become fluent in Esperanto.

    It would be great if you could add it to the list, thanks :)

  • William Paul Robinson says:

    A little surprised too that Catalan is not included, but remember the phrase about the languages that are considered important diplomatically for American diplomats! In the tougher part of French and Spanish territory there are two smallish colours different to the rest, which are where Breton, and Basque are spoken (yet not Corse – Corsican to anglophones). I note no different colour spanning the French/Belgian border (where I lived for 8 years), as Ch’ti/Picard and several other names of the local patois, that are simply not considered as a seperate language but a dialect, like most of my natal Northern ireland, where Ulster/Scots has fought to be considered a language on a par with Erse – Irish gaelic, but only considered a dialect. Nearing 2 years in Vannes, in the Morbian district od S.E. Bretagne, I’ve barely scratched the surface of “real” Breton, mostly just the patois with a mix od a few Breton words and phrases, inserted into French. Like many other commenters I am sure it is again the point of view of the original editor of the study what is a “significant” and “diplomatically important” language to the U.S., and all of us who live in a country or area, where a different language, than the map shows, or a language only considered a dialect, will have our disagreements with this, and bien sur other articles of the similar types. Friday evening in the Golfe de Morbihan, for a Cht’Irlandais du Chnord biloute, so bon apero et bon weekend. Yer mat as we Bretons say! Lol. Santé, slainté, cheers, bottoms up, prosit, nas dravia (sorry for spelling!), etc. Vive la difference!

  • Andrei says:

    I suppose Danish and Dutch grammar are more simple than German grammar. German noun cases are really complicated for me (Romanian). They are really a big mess in my head. Plus it’s hard to tell why a girl is neuter and the sun is feminine in German.

  • Caitlin says:

    As a linguist, I disagree with the classification of the language difficulty for native English speakers on this site. I am a polyglot with working knowledge of more than 40 languages, most of which are ancient. Most linguists spend a lifetime focused on one or only a handful of languages; it depends on the purpose of their study and aims of their research endeavors. The same is true for a diplomat or anyone aspiring to use this service by the Foreign Service Institute. Your goal and needs in learning a language will be tailored to your purpose in studying the language and will require different levels of proficiency in reading, speaking, listening, and understanding the language, its usage, and its cultural-historical context. The degree of proficiency and expertise in these languages varies greatly depending on the time and effort devoted to study by any language student, regardless if they are multilingual, learning a foreign language for the first time, or only using it for a specific purpose (such as for specialized conversation in a diplomatic or cultural context). Ultimately, you get out of language study what you put into it and if you do not use a language, you lose it.

    I think this site also neglects that learning a language is more than just learning its grammar and rules. It is learning about the culture to which that language belongs and its historic and present-day context. Linguistic study is innately multidisciplinary and certain languages will be easier for others because the grammar makes more sense, you have greater motivation to learn the language, more time to study it, or you can connect more easily with the civilization that uses that language because it interests you or resonates with your own life experience. Even if the site is only focused on the most in-demand languages, and the ones specifically offered by the Foreign Service Institute, many of these languages are related, or can trace their origin back to a common linguistic ancestor. The more familiar you are with the structure, application, and usage of various languages, the easier it often is to acquire additional proficiency in other languages.

    The Romance Languages certainly fall into this category, as they are related and can all trace their origin to one of the two main classical dialects of Latin from the Roman Empire. However, each Romance Language is distinct and varies from the other members of its linguistic family tree. Sometimes knowing a related language helps you learn a related language, and sometimes it hinders your study because of differences between the mechanics of the language, variations in grammatical rules, or similarities in structure, phonetics, semantics, or orthography.

    English is also a unique language because it has integrated and borrowed words from other languages over time. For instance, it has significantly integrated words from French and Latin, but also has Scandinavian roots. It is a Germanic language that can trace its roots to that language family, making German related languages sometimes easier to understand compared to other languages. However, that is not always the case and depends on the evolution of the languages over time and how closely related their modern dialects are. Any language you are taught in a foreign language class is predominantly the ‘standardized’ form of the language, rather than the numerous dialects and regional or local differences any given language has. Therefore, your study is only going to prepare you to use the most common form or commonly accepted form of the language and cannot prepare you for all situations in which you may need to use or apply that language. Furthermore, all languages constantly evolve, however gradual or sudden that change may be. Some changes are more constant, while others disappear after only briefly being used by native speakers of that language. Ultimately, how difficult you find certain languages will be as unique as who you are as a person and how much effort and time you devote to your studies, how easily language study comes to you, and how and how much you use the language.

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