The Most Difficult Asian Language to Learn, Ranked

Choose the language you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on May 22, 2024 06:23
Learning a new language can often feel like unlocking a new level in a complex game, where each language presents its unique set of challenges. Among these, Asian languages are known for their distinct alphabets, tonal variations, and cultural richness, which can significantly vary in difficulty for learners depending on their native linguistic backgrounds. Ranking these languages in terms of difficulty can provide valuable insights for potential learners, helping them to select a language that aligns with their learning goals and interests. This rank aggregation serves as a dynamic reflection of collective experiences and opinions. By participating, users contribute their individual perspectives, enriching the database and assisting others in making informed decisions. The ability to vote and see real-time changes in rankings not only fosters a community of learners but also keeps the list relevant and tailored to current learning trends and needs.

What Is the Most Difficult Asian Language to Learn?

  1. 1
    67
    votes
    Japanese - Japanese has a complex writing system with three scripts is hiragana, katakana, and kanji, making it difficult for non-native speakers to learn. The language also has a complex grammar structure with various honorific and polite expressions.
    Japanese is a language primarily spoken in Japan and is known for its complex writing system, which consists of three scripts: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. This intricate system poses a significant challenge to learners as each script has unique rules and purposes. With its rich cultural history and unique linguistic features, Japanese is a fascinating language to study.
    • Writing System: Three scripts: hiragana, katakana, and kanji
    • Hiragana: Used for native Japanese words and grammatical elements
    • Katakana: Primarily used for loanwords, foreign names, and onomatopoeic expressions
    • Kanji: Adopted Chinese characters used for nouns, verbs, and adjectives
    • Pronunciation: Includes various sounds, such as long vowels, nasal sounds, and voiced consonants
  2. 2
    25
    votes
    Mandarin Chinese
    LiliCharlie (user name) · CC BY-SA 4.0
    Mandarin Chinese has a tonal system, which can be challenging for non-native speakers to distinguish and reproduce accurately. The writing system uses characters, which can be difficult to memorize and write.
    Mandarin Chinese, also known as Putonghua or Standard Chinese, is the most widely spoken language in China and one of the most influential languages in the world. It is based on the Beijing dialect and is the official language of both China and Taiwan.
    • Number of speakers: Over 1.3 billion native speakers
    • Script: Uses Chinese characters (Hanzi) and Pinyin (Romanized Chinese)
    • Tonal language: Mandarin Chinese uses four tones (plus a neutral tone) to distinguish different meanings of words
    • Syllable structure: Relatively simple syllable structure with predominantly consonant-vowel (CV) patterns
    • Word order: Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order
    Mandarin Chinese in other rankings
  3. 3
    5
    votes
    Korean has a complex grammar structure, including honorific and humble forms of speech. The writing system uses a combination of characters and letters, which can be confusing for beginners.
    Korean is an agglutinative language predominantly spoken in both North and South Korea. It is known for its distinct phonetic system, grammatical structure, and aesthetic writing style.
    • Phonetics: Korean has a unique phonetic system with 14 basic consonants and 10 vowels, which can be combined to form syllabic blocks.
    • Grammatical Structure: Korean follows a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order and is known for its agglutinative nature, where particles and suffixes are attached to the root word to indicate different grammatical features.
    • Writing System: Korean uses the Hangul writing system, which was created during the 15th century by King Sejong the Great and a group of scholars. Hangul is considered one of the most logical and scientific writing systems in the world.
    • Honorifics: Korean has a complex system of honorifics to display respect and maintain social hierarchy. Different verb endings, speech levels, and vocabulary are used depending on the speaker's relationship to the listener.
    • Vocabulary: Korean vocabulary has influences from Chinese, Japanese, and English, along with its own native words. It also includes a wide range of idiomatic expressions and onomatopoeic words.
  4. 4
    15
    votes
    Vietnamese has six different tones, making it difficult for non-native speakers to distinguish and use appropriately. The writing system uses the Latin alphabet with accents and diacritics, which can be challenging to learn.
    Vietnamese is a tonal language known for its lyrical and melodic qualities. It is the official language of Vietnam and widely spoken by approximately 90 million people worldwide. Vietnamese is highly influenced by Chinese and French, resulting in a unique fusion of vocabulary and grammar. The language is written using the Vietnamese alphabet, which is based on the Latin script with additional diacritic marks to indicate tones.
    • Tonal Language: Vietnamese is a tonal language with six distinct tones that give different meanings to words.
    • Official Language of Vietnam: Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam and is used in all official communications and educational institutions.
    • Diacritic Marks: Vietnamese is written using the Vietnamese alphabet, a Latin-based script with additional diacritic marks to indicate tones.
    • Influences from Chinese: Vietnamese has been heavily influenced by the Chinese language, particularly in terms of vocabulary and syntax.
    • French Loanwords: During the French colonization period, Vietnamese adopted numerous loanwords from French, especially in the areas of arts, sciences, and technology.
  5. 5
    10
    votes
    Tibetan has a unique writing system that uses a combination of characters and symbols. The language has complex grammar and a large number of irregular verbs.
    Tibetan is a complex and unique language that belongs to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. It is primarily spoken in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and parts of India and China. With its distinctive script and grammatical structure, Tibetan poses several challenges for learners.
    • Script: Tibetan uses the Tibetan script, which is derived from the ancient Brahmi script. It consists of thirty vowels and consonants, with a complex system of diacritic marks and modifiers.
    • Grammar: The Tibetan grammar is agglutinative, meaning that words are formed by adding affixes to the root words. It has a complex system of honorifics, verb conjugations, and grammatical markers.
    • Tones: Tibetan is a tonal language, with various tones used to distinguish different meanings of words. Pitch contour plays a crucial role in conveying semantic distinctions.
    • Verb System: Tibetan has a rich and complex verb system with multiple tenses, moods, and aspects. Verbs are conjugated according to tense, subject, object, and various other grammatical factors.
    • Vocabulary: Tibetan has a vast vocabulary influenced by Sanskrit and other neighboring languages. It consists of numerous technical terms related to Buddhism, medicine, astrology, and Tibetan culture.
  6. 6
    11
    votes
    Thai has a complex writing system with 44 consonants, 15 vowel symbols, and four tone marks. The language also has a complex grammar structure with various particles and honorific expressions.
    Thai is a beautiful Asian language primarily spoken in Thailand. It is a tonal language belonging to the Tai-Kadai language family. Thai script is said to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing writing systems in the world, known for its graceful curves and loops.
    • Classification: Tai-Kadai language family
    • Native speakers: Over 20 million
    • Writing system: Thai script
    • Tones: 5 tones
    • Vocabulary: Influenced by Pali, Sanskrit, and Khmer
  7. 7
    7
    votes
    Burmese has a complex writing system with a large number of characters and ligatures. The language also has a complex grammar structure with various particles and honorific expressions.
    Burmese is a challenging Asian language primarily spoken in Myanmar (Burma). It belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family and has its roots in Old Burmese, which can be traced back to the 11th century. Burmese is known for its complex grammar and pronunciation.
    • Script: Burmese script is an abugida writing system combining syllabic and alphabetic elements.
    • Vocabulary: The Burmese vocabulary is influenced by Pali, Sanskrit, and Mon languages.
    • Tones: Burmese is a tonal language with four tonal distinctions.
    • Grammar: It has a complex grammar that utilizes various particles for verb tense, aspect, mood, and more.
    • Word order: Burmese follows a Subject-Object-Verb word order.
  8. 8
    9
    votes
    Cantonese has a tonal system and uses a large number of idiomatic expressions, which can be challenging for non-native speakers to understand and use.
    Cantonese is a complex language primarily spoken in the Guangdong province of China, and in Hong Kong and Macau. It is often considered one of the most challenging Asian languages to learn due to its unique pronunciation, tonal system, and complex characters.
    • Pronunciation: Cantonese has a wide range of distinctive sounds, including nasals and other consonant variations that are not found in other Chinese dialects.
    • Tone system: Cantonese has six tones, including some complex tone interactions which can change the meaning of words.
    • Character complexity: Cantonese uses traditional Chinese characters, which are generally more complex and have more strokes compared to simplified characters used in Mandarin.
    • Vocabulary: Cantonese has a rich vocabulary that includes unique words and expressions not commonly found in other Chinese dialects.
    • Grammar: Cantonese grammar follows a subject-verb-object word order, but it also includes more complex sentence structures and particles.
  9. 9
    17
    votes
    Mongolian has a unique writing system that uses the Cyrillic alphabet with additional characters. The language also has a complex grammar structure with various cases and verb conjugations.
    Mongolian is a complex and highly inflected language primarily spoken in Mongolia, China, and Russia. It belongs to the Mongolic language family and is known for its unique script, rich history, and diverse dialects.
    • Script: Mongolian script is derived from the Uighur alphabet, written vertically from top to bottom in traditional script and horizontally from left to right in Cyrillic script.
    • Grammar: Mongolian grammar is highly complex, characterized by its agglutinative nature, extensive verb conjugation, noun declension, and word order flexibility.
    • Verb conjugation: Mongolian verbs have various conjugations based on person, number, tense, mood, and aspect, with both regular and irregular forms.
    • Noun declension: Nouns in Mongolian are inflected for case, number, and possession, with different declension patterns for different noun classes.
    • Vocabulary: Mongolian vocabulary has influences from various languages, including Turkic, Tibetan, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian.
  10. 10
    8
    votes
    Khmer has a complex writing system with a large number of characters and diacritics. The language also has a complex grammar structure with various particles and honorific expressions.
    Khmer is the official language of Cambodia and is considered one of the most difficult Asian languages to learn. It belongs to the Austroasiatic language family and is part of the Mon-Khmer branch. Khmer is known for its unique script and rich cultural heritage.
    • Script: Khmer script is a syllabic alphabet that is written from left to right. It consists of 33 consonants, 24 dependent vowels, 12 independent vowels, and various diacritic marks.
    • Tones: Khmer is a tonal language with four primary tones: high, low, rising, and falling. Tone plays a significant role in distinguishing between different words with similar phonetic sounds.
    • Complex Pronunciation: Khmer pronunciation can be challenging due to complex consonant clusters, vowel combinations, and silent letters. The correct pronunciation often requires practice and careful attention to detail.
    • Word Order: Khmer follows the subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, similar to English. However, it is more flexible and allows for variations in word order without affecting the overall meaning of the sentence.
    • Verb Structure: Khmer verbs have an intricate structure with various affixes indicating tense, aspect, mood, and other grammatical features. Understanding and correctly using verb forms can be challenging for learners.

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Ranking factors for difficult language

  1. Writing system
    The complexity and unfamiliarity of a language's writing system can be a significant factor in determining its difficulty. For example, languages with logographic writing systems like Chinese and Japanese may be more challenging for English speakers than those with alphabetic scripts like Korean.
  2. Grammar
    Some languages have complex grammar rules with numerous exceptions, conjugations, and declensions, while others have simpler structures. Languages with grammatical structures that significantly differ from one's native language may be more challenging to learn.
  3. Vocabulary
    The more similar the vocabulary of a language is to one's native language or other languages one has learned, the easier it tends to be to learn. Languages with entirely unfamiliar vocabulary may require more time and effort to master.
  4. Pronunciation
    Languages with more complex phonetics, tones, or phonemes that are not found in one's native language can be harder to learn. For instance, mastering the tones in Mandarin Chinese or the multiple vowel and consonant combinations in Korean may be difficult for English speakers.
  5. Language family
    Languages that belong to the same family or share common roots with one's native language tend to be easier to learn. For example, European language speakers may find languages from the same language family, such as Japanese, easier to learn than those from unrelated families, such as Chinese.
  6. Cultural context
    Understanding cultural nuances, idiomatic expressions, and social norms within a language can greatly affect one's ability to learn and communicate effectively. This can be particularly challenging when learning a language from a culture vastly different from one's own.
  7. Availability of learning resources
    Learning a language can be easier if there is an abundance of resources available, such as textbooks, online courses, and language classes. Conversely, languages with fewer resources may be more difficult to learn, particularly for self-learners.
  8. Prior language learning experience
    Language learners with experience learning other foreign languages may find it easier to pick up new languages, as they have already developed learning strategies and techniques.
  9. Individual learning styles and abilities
    Each individual has their unique learning style and abilities. Some may find learning certain languages easier than others, depending on their personal strengths and preferences.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult Asian language to learn. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or language is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!

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  • 167 votes
  • 10 ranked items

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A participant may cast an up or down vote for each language once every 24 hours. The rank of each language is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.

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More information on most difficult asian language to learn

Learning a foreign language can be a challenging experience, and when it comes to Asian languages, the difficulty can vary greatly depending on the language in question. Asian languages are known for their complex grammar, tonal systems, and writing systems, which can make them particularly difficult for non-native speakers to learn. Some of the most commonly studied Asian languages include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, but which one is the most difficult to learn? In this article, we will explore the unique features of each language and rank them according to their level of difficulty for English speakers.

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