Being able to speak different languages is a coveted skill. It doesn’t come easy to everyone, however.
I’ve observed friends and family members learning Italian, Japanese, Spanish, German, Greek, French, and Irish Gaelic. Still, according to Gallup, only one in four Americans can hold a conversation in a language other than English.
Personally, I’m definitely not in that skilled 25% of the US population. I barely scraped through five years of basic Latin (and today, the handful words I remember mostly pertain to carriages getting stuck in ditches, thanks to the supremely weird textbook we used).
Using Quora poster Sanda Golcea’s list of the most spoken languages in the world by native speakers and number of countries, here are five languages that might be a bit trickier for English speakers to master, but are definitely worth the effort:
Writing on Pinyin.info, a site that provides guides to writing Mandarin, University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies David Moser reveals that Mandarin can pose quite a challenge for English speakers.
“If you don’t believe this, just ask a Chinese person. Most Chinese people will cheerfully acknowledge that their language is hard, maybe the hardest on earth. (Many are even proud of this, in the same way some New Yorkers are actually proud of living in the most unlivable city in America).”
He lists the writing system, lack of an alphabet, lack of cognates, and status as a tonal language as aspects that might prove particularly confusing for beginners.
That being said, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, according to Ethnologue — without even considering the other varieties of the language, 897 million people speak Mandarin alone. So, while it might take years to fully master, learning Chinese will definitely be worth the effort.
In the Quora thread “Is it really difficult to learn Hindi?” posters gave several reasons why learning the language might be challenging for individuals who aren’t native to a related language, citing differences in gender and handling the language’s script.
Still, as an Indo-European language, there are word roots that are quite similar between Hindi and English, as one anonymous user noted.
Hindi is the fifth largest language in the world by speakers, according to Ethnologue.
In an article for Slate, Robert Lane Greene writes that Arabic’s script, the lack of vowels in its written form, and certain pronunciations can be quite tricky for an English-speaker to figure out. Additionally, there are numerous different dialects of the language that vary between countries.
However, Ethnologue reports that altogether, these various branches of the language make Arabic the fourth most popular language in the world by number of speakers.
Svetlana Tchistiakova responds to the Quora discussion “How easy/hard is it to learn Russian?” with a note that English speakers might have a tougher time with the language, at first:
“If you have had experience with languages that mark case such as German or have similar sounds such as the ‘rolling r’ in Spanish, then you will be even better off. If you only have experience with English, then there may be a slightly steeper learning curve. Don’t worry though — everyone’s got to start somewhere!”
Ethnologue reports that Russian is the eighth most popular language in the world, with a total of 171 million speakers.
Quora user Stuart Woodward gave some insight into studying the language in the Quora thread “Why is Japanese so hard for English speakers to learn?”
“If you learn how to read the characters in a European language you can absorb words from your surroundings. Pick out words on signs, newspapers and in books. With Japanese, seeing a Kanji Character gives you very little clue about how to read it. So the written language must also be intensively studied to be able to read any writing accessible to a normal literate adult.”
Ethnologue reports that Japanese is the ninth most spoken language in the world, by number of speakers.