If there is one thing the Dutch often tell me about their language, it’s that it’s difficult. I am always surprised when I hear this. After all, it didn’t sound so difficult to me. German proved to be a huge help when learning Dutch- speakers of German can read Dutch even though the pronunciation is different, making speaking it a little bit harder.
This made me wonder whether some languages were more difficult than others. I browsed the web in search for the most difficult languages in the world, and found this or this list.
I am a native speaker of Polish, which is notorious for being difficult, and some lists even mention Polish as the most difficult language ever- see here for the explanation why it’s supposedly so difficult. I have been speaking German since a very young age, and it didn’t seem difficult to me, but I was very surprised that many of my co-students at school often stated that they preferred English because it was easier.
So, just because one language is considered easy or difficult, doesn’t mean that this is the case, because whether a language can be called easy or difficult depends on so many things. One of them is its distance to the native language. I considered Dutch easy because it’s close to German. So even though Polish can seem impossible to learn (Cases! More exceptions than rules! All these “sh-sounds!”), it might appear easier to someone who already knows Russian, Slovak or Czech. If you know Italian, you can easily learn Spanish, etc.
Another aspect is that in fact, all languages have their own unique characteristics. For example, while Chinese doesn’t seem to have any grammar to speak of (so it could be considered easy), but then it has a totally different language system, and a complex alphabet on top of that. English is considered easy, but personally, I found German easier than English: English has TENSES! As a speaker of a language that doesn’t have so many tenses, I couldn’t have cared less whether something had happened before something else happened, or that something has been happening for a while now, or has only happened recently. And there is no way of knowing how something is spelled or pronounce. Italian or Spanish always seemed easy to me but they have a complicated system of tenses, just like many other Romance languages.
Another thing is that sometimes we have a talent for languages in general or, a better understanding of some languages over others. A friend of mine told me that she had a talent for Romance languages and she was very proud of her knowledge of Italian. I have learned a great deal of Germanic languages, can understand some Italian and Spanish, but still struggle with French.
Then, there is the motivation for learning the languages: if it’s a duty, it’s going to be hard. If it’s fun, it’s going to be challenging- not necessarily easy, but at least it will be fun! Still, I think that each language we learn is a benefit, and each language we learn gives us a glimpse into another world.
What is important is that we don’t make this a competition. Learning a language- any language- is an accomplishment!