Saturday, 18 September 2010
What's the most difficult language?
There are over 6000 languages spoken around the world but, according to my year 8 students, "English is the most difficult language to learn".
If that is the case, why do they find French and German so difficult?
They also think that all foreigners can speak fluent English, so it can't be that difficult, can it?
So what makes a language difficult?
I suppose it is all relative and depends on how you define "difficult".
If your first language was Ukrainian then learning Russian would be less of a trial than a mandarin speaker learning Russian.
Similarly, a native Swedish speaker would find learning Norwegian much easier than a native English speaker would.
As an English speaker and teacher of languages, I think the most difficult languages to learn would probably those which don't use "our" alphabet, have different grammatical rules and have few or no cognates. Examples of these would be Russian, Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic.
It also depends on how you define "learning".
Learning to write a language is much harder than learning to speak it.
I learned some Japanese a few years ago from a book and a CD. Even though I can remember a few basic phrases and numbers, I never learned to write it, except in Romaji.
Successful language learning can depend on how good your teacher is, too.
However, I've discovered that the most difficult language in the world has to be Sentinelese.
It really exists. It is spoken on North and South Sentinel Islands in the Bay of Bengal by about 200 people.
So why is it so difficult? Nobody knows.
Mainly because going to the islands is illegal and anyone attempting to visit is killed by the locals.
And we complain about severe grading...