What Are the Hardest Languages to Learn?

Photo: Xavier Leoty/Getty Images.

Want to learn Japanese? If you're a native English speaker, it'll take you roughly 88 weeks to become proficient.

The same goes for Chinese, Arabic and Korean, which are some of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn.

What makes these languages so tough?

Japanese and Chinese both require the memorization of thousands of characters.

Arabic uses fewer vowels than English and few words that even resemble those of European languages.

And while the Korean alphabet, Hangul, is lauded as one of the world's most logical writing systems, Korean's sentence structure and syntax are challenging.

For example, Korean uses a subject-object-verb structure while English follows a subject-verb-object structure. So in Korean you would essentially say, "I lunch eat" instead of "I eat lunch."

Not all languages are quite so difficult for English speakers though. To achieve speaking and reading proficiency in Turkish, Hebrew and other tongues that language-learning website Voxy considers of "medium" difficulty, you'd need only 1,110 class hours, or 44 weeks.

The easiest languages to learn are those most closely related to English, such as Spanish, French and Italian. Reaching proficiency for these requires about 600 hours, or just over 20 weeks of study.

This is your brain on language

Although learning a new language will undoubtedly take time and effort, there are benefits besides ease of international travel and the ability to order authentic foreign dishes.

Studies show that studying a new language improves cognition, delays dementia, and improves memory and attention span.

Knowing another language can also fundamentally alter how we see the world.

Researchers have found that our language can influence how we think, how we orient ourselves and even how we see colors.

And thinking in another language can even enable us to make more rational decisions, according to Wired.

A 2012 study found that thinking in a second language reduces biases that influence how risks and benefits are perceived in decision-making.

Another study in 2016 found that the more languages we learn, the more our brain is able to learn even more information. Language acquisition enhances the brain's ability to respond to and process information.

Considering learning another language? Check out the infographic below to determine how long it'll take you to become proficient in your chosen tongue.

hardest languages to learn infographic