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Hardest Languages for English Speakers to Learn

Learning a new language can be difficult for a lot of people. Learning French, Spanish and German is quite common in native English speaking schools. These languages also have many similarities to English. So they are some of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. But what about other languages? We have taken a look at some of the more niche languages from around the world and 5 of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.

5 Hardest Languages for English Speakers


With over 1 billion native speakers in the world, Mandarin is the second most popular language on the planet. Despite its popularity, it is considered by many to be one of the most difficult languages for English native speakers to learn. The difficulty of learning Mandarin comes in many forms.

Mandarin - Hardest Language for English Speakers

The first hurdle for many people to overcome when learning Mandarin is reading and writing. Rather than using Latin characters as the majority of European languages do, Mandarin uses thousands of special characters to represent letters and words. This can be very confusing for those accustomed with European languages.

The second stumbling block is the use of tone when speaking Mandarin. There are four separate tones used when speaking Mandarin. This means that one word can have four separate meanings depending on the tone used when speaking! A prime example of this is the word “ma”. Depending on the pronunciation, “ma” can either mean “horse”, “rough”, “mother” or “scold”. It makes the English issues of “there”, “their” and “they’re” look a lot more straightforward.


The main difficulty those learning Hindi come across is the written form of the language. Written Hindi is an ‘abugida’. Which means that each symbol represents and a vowel and consonant combination rather than a single letter.

This means that, for example, ‘to’ and ‘ta’ have two completely different symbols when written. This feature of an abugida language can be confusing for English speakers as well as those used to learning other European languages.

The next level of difficulty comes from the fact that written Hindi does not include phonetic markings. This makes it very difficult to understand pronunciation and emphasis on certain letters and words. While this may not be a major issue in other languages, in Hindi, a slight difference in pronunciation can change the entire meaning of a word.


Again, one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. But Arabic is still one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.

Arabic - Hardest Language for English Speakers

As with Mandarin and Hindi, Arabic uses a non-Latin alphabet, but thankfully has only 28 characters. The first obstacle for English speakers when it comes to learning Arabic remains reading and writing. To start with, Arabic is written from right to left, which can be initially confusing for new students. Secondly, Arabic does not include vowels in many words which. It can feel somewhat unusual when reading and writing early on in your learning experience.

The one other major surprise that people come across when learning Arabic is speaking. Arabic features sounds which appear in no other languages, and uses vocal techniques which may seem strange when compared to other languages. For example, certain sounds are made at the back of your throat, which for English speakers is very much new territory.


While Russian uses a Cyrillic alphabet which is more common in Europe, it is still a difficult language for English speakers to learn.

This is primarily due to the fact that Russian has six different cases and omits the verb ‘to be’ in the present tense. This will be strange to English speakers as translations come across as ‘pigeon English’. For example, “I am a doctor” translates to “I doctor”.

The use of consonants can also make Russian tricky to pronounce. Whereas English follows specific rules for use of vowels and consonants, in Russian it is not uncommon to find words with large groups of consonants together.


While it follows very simple grammatical rules and spelling is relatively straightforward, Turkish remains tricky to learn. As an agglutinative language, Turkish uses prefixes and suffixes to determine meaning and direction of word. This means that you will find the length of verbs a lot longer than those in English or some other languages.

Turkish - Hardest Language for English Speakers

Turkish also uses vowel harmony which can be confusing. Vowel harmony is when a vowel is changed to make the word run more smoothly. This is something which will be completely new to those learning Turkish for the first time and can be somewhat confusing initially.

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Fancy Taking the Challenge?

While some of these tricky languages are the most popular languages in the world they are not easy to learn. However, with a structured and tailored course, you will could be speaking Mandarin, Russian or Hindi in no time!

Cactus offer a range of courses suitable for all levels in each of these languages, from beginners to advanced. Not only can you study in one of our language centres, but you can also study at home! With weekly lessons, you can soon build up your skills to be able to converse in one of these countries.

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