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:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

What Are the Most Effec­tive Strate­gies for Learn­ing a For­eign Lan­guage?: Six TED Talks Pro­vide the Answers

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.

by | Permalink | Comments (105) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (105)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.