An Analysis of the Difficulty of Learning Various Foreign Languages for English Speakers – Non Indo-European Languages

Another of my massive works. This one is 113 pages. Enjoy. Download as pdf for best experience.

An Analysis of the Difficulty of Learning Various Foreign Languages for English speakers non IE languages

An Analysis of the Difficulty of Learning Various Foreign Languages for English speakers – Indo-European Languages

Another of my major works. This one is 100 pages. Download as pdf to enjoy.

An Analysis of the Difficulty of Learning Various Foreign Languages for English speakers IE languages

A Look at the Tsou Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Tsou language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Austro-Tai

Austronesian

Formosan

Tsouic

Tsou is a Taiwanese aborigine language spoken by about 2,000 people in Taiwan.
Tsou is also ergative like most Formosan languages. Tsou is the only language in the world that has no prepositions nor anything that looks like a preposition. Instead it uses nouns and verbs in the place of prepositions. Tsou allows more potential consonant clusters than most other languages.
About 1/2 of all possible CC clusters are allowed. Tsou has an inclusive/exclusive distinction in the 1st person plural and a very strange visible and non-visible distinction in the 3rd person singular and plural. Both adjectives and adverbs can turn into verbs, as they are marked for voice in the same way that verbs are. Verbs are extensively marked for voice.
Nouns are marked for a variety of odd cases, often referring to perception (visible/invisible) and person and place deixis

'e         "visible and near speaker"
si/ta      "visible and near hearer"
ta         "visible but away from speaker"
'o/to      "invisible and far away or newly introduced to discourse"
na/no ~ ne "non-identifiable and non-referential"*
*often when scanning a class of elements

Tsou gets a 5 rating, extremely hard to learn.

A Look at the Valman Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Valman language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Torricelli

Wapei

Valman

Valman, spoken in Papua New Guinea, is a bizarre case where the word “and” that connects two nouns is actually a verb, of all things, and is marked with the first noun as subject and the second noun as object.
“’John’ (subject) and ‘Mary’ (object) went to the store.”
“John” is marked as subject for some reason and “Mary” is marked as object for some reason, and the “and” word shows subject agreement with “John” and object agreement with “Mary”.
Valman gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Chukchi Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Chukchi language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Chukotko-Kamchatkan

Northern

Chukot

Chukchi is a polysynthetic, agglutinating and incorporating language and is often listed as one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.

Təmeyŋəlevtpəγtərkən.
“I have a fierce headache.”

There are five morphemes in that word, and there are three lexical morphemes (nouns or adjectives) incorporated in that word: meyŋ “great”, levt “head”, and pəγt “ache”.
Chukchi gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Inuktitut and Kalaallisut Eskimo Languages

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Kalaallisut and Inuktitut languages in terms of how difficult they would be for an English speaker to learn them.

Eskimo-Aleut

Eskimo

Inuit-Inupiaq

Inuktitut is extremely hard to learn. Inuktitut is polysynthetic-agglutinative, and roots can take many suffixes, in some cases up to 700. Verbs have 63 forms of the present indicative, and conjugation involves 252 different inflections. Inuktitut has the complicated polypersonal agreement system. In a typical long Inuktitut text, 92% of words will occur only once. This is quite different from English and many other languages where certain words occur very frequently or at least frequently. Certain fully-inflected verbs can be analyzed both as verbs and as nouns.
Words can be very long.

Inuktituusuungutsialaarungnanngittuaraaluuvunga.
I truly don’t know how to speak Inuktitut very well.

You may need to analyze up to 10 different bits of information in order to figure out a single word. However, the affixation is all via suffixes (there are no prefixes or infixes), and the suffixation is extremely regular.
Inuktitut is also rated one by linguists one of the hardest languages on Earth to pronounce. Inuktitut may be as hard to learn as Navajo.
Inuktitut is rated 6, hardest of all.
Kalaallisut (Western Greenlandic) is very closely related to Inuktitut.
Look at this sentence:

Aliikusersuillammassuaanerartassagaluarpaalli…
However, they will say that he is a great entertainer, but…

That word is composed of 12 separate morphemes. A single word can conceptualize what could be an entire sentence in a non-polysynthetic language.
Kalaallisut is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Buyang Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Buyang language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Kam-Sui

Kra

Paha

According to a Fudan University study, Buyang in the third most phonologically complex language in the world. Buyang is a cluster of four related languages spoken by 1,900 people in Yunnan Province, China. Buyang has a completely wild consonant inventory.
It has a full set of both voiced and voiceless plain and aspirated stops, including voiceless uvulars. The contrast between aspirated and plain voiced stops is peculiar. The stop series also has distinctions between palatalized and rounded stops. It has a labialized voiceless palatal fricative and a voiceless dental aspirated lateral, both unusual sounds. It has four different voiceless aspirated nasals. It has voiceless y and w, both more odd sounds. It also has plain and labialized palatal glides.
That is one wild phonology.
Buyang gets a 5 rating, extremely hard to learn.

Is There a Language That is (Nearly) Impossible to Learn to Speak Without Growing up with It?

Answer from Quora
I recently talked to a man who is learning Min Nan, which is a Sinitic language often called a dialect of Chinese. He told me that Min Nan speakers say that the tones are so hard that no one who doesn’t grow up speaking Min Nan ever seems to get it very well.
Cantonese is a similar language that is very difficult. It is much harder than Mandarin, and many native Mandarin speakers say they tried to learn Cantonese and gave up on it because it was too hard. Cantonese has nine tones.
Basque is said to be very hard to learn unless you grow up with it. There is a joke that the Devil spent seven years trying to learn Basque, and he only learned how to say Hello and Goodbye.
Navajo would also be hard. Even Navajo children struggle quite a bit learning Navajo and don’t seem to get it well until maybe age 12. When Navajo children arrive at school, they often do not speak Navajo well yet.
Korean is a surprise, but apparently it is very hard to learn well. A native Korean speaker told me that Korean is so hard that no Korean speaker ever speaks it with 100% accuracy, and everyone makes errors.
Czech is also hard. Even most Czech speakers never get Czech all the way. They have TV contests in Czechoslovakia where they try to stump native speakers with hard forms in the language. If you can last 30 minutes without making even one error, you win. I think only two men have been able to do it, but one was a non-native speaker!
Piraha, spoken in the Brazilian Amazon, is also very hard. Over the course of a few centuries, several Portuguese speaking priests had tried to learn Piraha, but they had all given up because it was too hard. And these same priests had been able to master a number of other Indian languages, but Piraha was just too much. Daniel Everett learned the language and wrote important papers on it. He is only of the only non-native speakers who was able to learn the language.
Tsez, spoken in the Caucasus, is also murderously hard. Every verb can have over 100,000’s of possible forms. I understand that even native speakers make regular errors when speaking Tsez.

A Look at the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages in terms of how difficult they would be for an English speaker to learn them.

Benue-Congo
Bantoid
Southern
Narrow Bantu
Central
S
Nguni

Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu are closely related languages that are widely spoken in South Africa. Some think that they are not even separate languages and instead of being three languages here, there are only one or two languages and one or two dialects of the other tongue(s).
Xhosa, a language of South Africa, is quite difficult, with up to nine click sounds. Clicks only exist in one language outside of Africa – the Australian language Damin – and are extremely difficult to learn. Even native speakers mess up the clicks sometimes. Nelson Mandela said he had problems making some of the click sounds in Xhosa. The phonemics in general of Xhosa are pretty wild.
Xhosa gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.
Zulu and Ndebele also have these impossible click sounds. However, outside of click sounds, the phonology of Nguni languages is straightforward. All Nguni languages are agglutinative.
Ndebele gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.
Zulu has pitch accent, tones and clicks. There are nine different pitch accents, four tones and three clicks, but each click can be pronounced in five different ways. However, tones are not marked in writing, so it’s hard to figure out when to use them. Zulu also has depressor consonants, which lower the tone in the vowel in the following syllable. In addition, Zulu has multiple gender – 15 different genders. Some nouns behave like verbs. It also has 12 different noun classes, but 90% of words are part of a group of only three of those classes.
These languages also make plurals by changing the prefix of the noun, and the manner varies according the noun class. If you want to look up a word in the dictionary, first of all you need to discard the prefix.
For instance, in Zulu:
“river” umfula
“rivers” imifula, but
“stone” ilitshe
“stones” amatshe, yet
“tree” isihlahla
“trees” izihlahla
Zulu gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Inuktitut Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Inuktitut language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Eskimo-Aleut
Eskimo
Inuit-Inupiaq

Inuktitut is extremely hard to learn. Inuktitut is polysynthetic-agglutinative, and roots can take many suffixes, in some cases up to 700. Verbs have 63 forms of the present indicative, and conjugation involves 252 different inflections. Inuktitut has the complicated polypersonal agreement system like Georgian and Basque. In a typical long Inuktitut text, 92% of words will occur only once. This is quite different from English and many other languages where certain words occur very frequently or at least frequently. Certain fully inflected verbs can be analyzed both as verbs and as nouns.
Words can be very long.
Inuktituusuungutsialaarungnanngittuaraaluuvunga.
“I truly don’t know how to speak Inuktitut very well.”
You may need to analyze up to 10 different bits of information in order to figure out a single word. However, the affixation is all via suffixes (there are no prefixes or infixes), and the suffixation is extremely regular.
Inuktitut is also rated one by linguists one of the hardest languages on Earth to pronounce. Inuktitut may be as hard to learn as Navajo.
Inuktitut is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Swahili Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Swahili language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Benue-Congo
Bantoid
Southern
Narrow Bantu
Central
G
Swahili

For unknown reasons, Swahili is generally considered to be an easy language to learn. The US military ranks it 1, with the easiest of all languages to learn. This seems to be the typical perception. Why Swahili is so easy to learn, I am not sure. It’s a trade language, and trade languages are often fairly easy to learn. There’s also a lot of controversy about whether Swahili can be considered a creole, but that has not been proven. For the moment, the reasons why Swahili is so easy to learn will have to remain mysterious.
On the down side, Swahili has many noun classes, but they have the benefit of being more or less logical.
Swahili gets a 2 rating, moderately easy.

A Look at the Ju|’hoan Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Ju|’hoan language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Khoisan
Southern Africa
Southern
Northern

Ju|’hoan, a Khoisan language spoken by 5,000 people in Botswana, has one of the wildest phonological inventories on Earth. Some question whether these segments actually exist and say that they are instead spoken with a “breathy-voice.” However, voiced aspirated consonants do appear to be real.
In addition, Ju|’hoan has a closed class of only 17 adjectives since descriptive functions are done by verbs. They are the following:
female
male
other (those remaining)
other (strange)
true
old
new
a certain
each
all
some
the numbers one through four
Ju|’hoan scored very high on a study of the weirdest languages on Earth.
Ju|’hoan gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Taa Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.
Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.
Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.
Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.
This post will look at the Taa language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Khoisan
Southern Africa
Southern
Hua

!Xóõ (Taa), spoken by only 4,200 Bushmen in Botswana and Namibia, is a notoriously difficult Khoisan language replete with the notoriously impossible to comprehend click sounds. Taa has anywhere from 130 to 164 consonants, the largest phonemic inventory of any language. Of this vast wealth of sounds, there are anywhere from 30-64 different click sounds. There are five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. Speakers develop a lump on their larynx from making the click sounds.
In addition, there are four types of vowels: plain, pharyngealized, breathy-voiced and strident. On top of that, there are four tones. Taa appears on many lists of the wildest phonologies and craziest languages period on Earth.
Taa gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Incredible Pirahã Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the amazing Pirahã language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Muran

Pirahã is a language isolate spoken in the Brazilian Amazon. Recent writings by Daniel Everett indicate that not only is this one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn, but it is also one of the weirdest languages on Earth. It is monumentally complex in nearly every way imaginable. It is commonly listed on the rogue’s gallery of craziest languages and phonologies.

It has the smallest phonemic inventory of any language with only seven consonants, three vowels and either two or three tones. Everett recently wrote a paper about it after spending many years with them. Previous missionaries who had spent time with the Pirahã generally failed to learn the language because it was too hard to learn. It took Everett a very long time, but he finally learned it well.

Many of Everett’s claims about Pirahã are astounding: whistled speech, no system for counting, very few Portuguese loans (they deliberately refuse to use Portuguese loans) and evidence for both the much-maligned the Sapir-Whorf linguistic relativity hypothesis, and violation some of Noam Chomsky’s purported language universals such as embedding. It also has the t͡ʙ̥ sound – a bilabially trilled postdental affricate which is only found in two other languages, both in the Brazilian Amazon – Oro Win and Wari’.

Initially, Everett never heard the sound, but they got to know him better, they started to make it more often. Everett believes that they were ridiculed by other groups when they made the odd sound.

Pirahã has the simplest kinship system in any language – there is only word for both mother and father, and the Pirahã do not have any words for anyone other than direct biological relatives.

Pirahã may have only two numerals, or it may lack a numeral system altogether.

Pirahã does not distinguish between singular and plural person. This is highly unusual. The language may have borrowed its entire pronoun set from the Tupian languages Nheengatu and Tenarim, groups the Pirahã had formerly been in contact with. This may be one of the only attested case of the borrowing of a complete pronoun set.

There are mandatory evidentiality markers that must be used in Pirahã discourse. Speakers must say how they know something – whether they saw it themselves, it was hearsay or they inferred it circumstantially.

There are various strange moods – the desiderative (desire to perform an action) and two types of frustrative – frustration in starting an action (inchoative/incompletive) and frustration in completing an action (causative/incompletive). There are others: immediate/intentive (you are going to do something now/you intend to do it in the future)

There are many verbal aspects: perfect/imperfect (completed/incomplete) telic/atelic (reaching a goal/not reaching a goal), continuative (continuing), repetitive (iterative), and beginning an action (inchoative).

Each Pirahã verb has 262,144 possible forms, or possibly in the many millions, depending on which analysis you use.

The future tense is divided into future/somewhere and future/elsewhere. The past tense is divided into plain past and immediate past.

Pirahã has a closed class of only 90 verb roots, an incredibly small number. But these roots can be combined together to form compound verbs, a much larger category. Here is one example of three verbs strung together to form a compound verb:

xig ab op = “take turn go” or “bring back.” This refers to when you take something away, you turn around and you bring it back to where you got it to return it.

There are no abstract color terms in Pirahã. There are only two words for colors, one for “light” and one for “dark.” The only other languages with this restricted of a color sense are in Papua New Guinea. The other color terms are not really color terms, but are more descriptive – “red” is translated as “like blood.”

Pirahã can be whistled, hummed or encoded into music. Consonants and vowels can be omitted altogether and meaning conveyed instead via variations in stress, pitch and rhythm. Mothers teach the language to children by repeating musical patterns.

Pirahã may well be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.

Pirahã gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Southern Nambikwara Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Southern Nambikwaran language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Nambikwaran
Mamaindê

This is actually a series of closely related languages as opposed to one language, but the Southern Nambikwara language is the most well-known of the family, with 1,200 speakers in the Brazilian Amazon.

Phonology is complex. Consonants distinguish between aspirated, plain and glottalized, common in the Americas. There are strange sounds like prestopped nasals and glottalized fricatives. There are three different tones. All vowels except one have nasal, creaky-voiced and nasal-creaky counterparts, for a total of 19 vowels.

The grammar is polysynthetic with a complex evidential system.

Reportedly, Nambikwaran children do not pick up the language fully until age 10 or so, one of the latest recorded ages for full competence. Nambikwara is sometimes said to be the hardest language on Earth to learn, but it has some competition.

Southern Nambikwara definitely gets a 6 rating, hardest of all!

A Look at the Hixkaryána Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Hixkaryána language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Carib
Waiwai

Hixkaryána is famous for being the only language on Earth to have basic OVS (Object-Verb-Subject) word order.

The sentence Toto yonoye kamara, or “The man ate the jaguar,” actually means “The jaguar ate the man.”

Toto yonoye kamara
Lit. “The man ate the jaguar.”
Gloss: “The jaguar ate the man.”

Grammatical suffixes attached to the end of the verb mark not only number but also aspect, mood and tense.

Hixkaryána gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look ast Some Tucanoan Languages: Tuyuca and Cuneo

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Tuyuca and Cuneo languages in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Tucanoan
Eastern Tucanoan
Bará-Tuyuka

Tuyuca is a Tucanoan language spoken in by 450 people in the department of Vaupés in Colombia. An article in The Economist magazine concluded that it was the hardest language on Earth to learn.

It has a simple sound system, but it’s agglutinative, and agglutinative languages are pretty hard. For instance, hóabãsiriga means I don’t know how to write. It has two forms of 1st person plural, I and you (inclusive) and I and the others (exclusive). It has between 50-140 noun classes, including strange ones like bark that does not cling closely to a tree, which can be extended to mean baggy trousers or wet plywood that has begun to fall apart.

Like Yamana, a nearly extinct Amerindian language of Chile, Tuyuca marks for evidentiality, that is, how it is that you know something. For instance:

Diga ape-wi. = “The boy played soccer.” (I actually saw him playing).
Diga ape-hiyi.
= “The boy played soccer.” (I assume he was playing soccer, though I did not actually see it firsthand).

Evidential marking is obligatory on all Tuyuca verbs, and it forces you to think about how you know whatever it is you know.

Tuyuca definitely gets a 6 rating!

Central Tucanoan

Cubeo, a language spoken in the Vaupes of Colombia, has a small closed class of adjective roots similar to Juǀʼhoan:

ɨra – “big/large
kɨhĩ
– “small
bãbã
– “new/young
bɨkɨ
– “old/great
bẽa
– “good/beautiful
ãbẽ
– “bad/ugly”

However, verbs can function as adjectives, and the adjective roots can either turn into nouns themselves or they can take the inflections of either nouns or verbs. Wild!

Similar to how the grammar of Tariana has been influenced by Tucano languages, the grammar of Tucanoan Cubeo has been influenced by neighboring Arawakan languages. The grammar has been described as either SOV or OVS. That would mean that the following:

“The man the ball hit.”
“The ball hit the man.”

Both mean the same thing: “The man hit the ball.”

OVS languages are quite rare.

Morphemes belong to one of four classes:

  1. Nasal (many roots, as well as suffixes like -xã  = associative)
  2. Oral (many roots, as well as suffixes like -pe  = similarity, -du = frustrative)
  3. Unmarked (only suffixes, e.g. -re  = in/direct object)
  4. Oral/Nasal (some roots and some suffixes) /bãˈkaxa-/(mãˈkaxa-) – “to defecate” and -kebã = “suppose”

Just by looking at any given consonant-initial suffix, it is impossible to determine which of the first three categories it belongs to. They must be learned one by one.

Cubeo has nasal assimilation, common to many Amazonian languages. In some of these, nasalization is best analyzed at the syllable level – some syllables are nasal and others are not.

dĩ-bI-ko
/dĩ-bĩ-ko/
nĩmĩko = “She recently went.”

The underlying form dĩ-bI-ko is realized on the surface as nĩmĩko. The ĩ in dĩ-bI-ko nasalizes the d to the right of it along with the the b and and the I to the right of it, so nasal spreading works in both directions. However, it is blocked from the third syllable because k is part of a class of non-nasalizable consonants.

Pretty difficult language.

Cuneo gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Bora Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Bora language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Huitotoan
Proto-Bora-Muinane

Bora, a Wintotoan language spoken in Peru and Colombia near the border between the two countries, has a mind-boggling 350 different noun classes. The noun classifier system is actually highly productive and is often used to create new nouns. New nouns can be created very easily, and their meanings are often semantically transparent. In some noun classifier systems, classifiers can be stacked one upon the other. In these cases, typically the last one is used for agreement purposes. The classifier system effectively replaces much derivational morphology on the noun and noun compounding processes that other languages use to expand the meanings of nominals.

Bora also is a tonal language, but it has only two tones. In addition, nearly all consonantal phonemes have phonemic aspirated and palatalized counterparts. The agreement structure in the language is also quite convoluted.

Bora gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Tariana Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Tariana language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Maipurean
Northern
Upper Amazon
Eastern Nawiki

Tariana is a very difficult language mostly because of the unbelievable amount of information it crams into its morphology and syntax. This is mostly because it is an Arawakan language that has been heavily influenced by neighboring Tucanoan languages, with the result that it has many of the grammatical categories and particles present in both families.

This stems from the widespread bilingualism in the Vaupes Basin of Colombia, where many people grow up bilingual from childhood and often become multilingual by adulthood. Learning up to five different languages is common. Code-switching was frowned upon and anyone using a word from Language Y while speaking Language X would get laughed at. Hence the various languages tended to borrow features from each other quite easily.

For instance, Tariana has both a noun classifier system and a gender system. Noun classifiers and gender are sometimes subsumed under the single category of “noun classifiers.” Yet Tariana has both, presumably from its relationship to two completely different language families. So in Tariana is not unusual to get both demonstratives and verbs marked for both gender and noun classifier. Tariana borrowed such things as serialized perception verbs and the dubitative marker from Tucano.

In addition, Tariana has some very odd sounds, including aspirated nasals mh (), nh (n̺ʰ) and ñh (ɲʰ) and an aspirated w () of all things. They seem to be actually aspirated, not just partially devoiced as many voiceless nasals and liquids are.

Tariana gets 6, hardest of all.

A Look at Some Oto-Manguean Languages: Chinantecan Chinantec and Jalapa Mazaltec

Oto-Manguean
Western Oto-Mangue
Oto-Pame-Chinantecan
Chinantecan

Chinantecan Chinantec, an Indian language of southwest Mexico, is very hard for non-Chinantecs to learn. The tone system is maddeningly complex, and the syntax and morphology are very intricate.

Chinantec is rated 6, hardest of all.

Popolocan
Mazatecan
Lowland Valley
Southern

Jalapa Mazatec, another Indian language spoken in Mexico, has distinctions between what are called “modal”,”creaky”, and “breathy-voiced” vowels along with nasal versions of those three. It also has “creaky” consonants and odd things called “voiceless nasals.” It has three tones – low, mid and high. Combining the tones results in various tones that are called “contour tones.” In addition, it has a 3-way distinction in vowel length. Whistled speech is also possible.

It has a bizarre phonemic distinction between “ballistic” and “controlled” syllables which is only present only in Oto-Manguean languages and no where else in the world.

Ballistic (short)
– “warm
nīˑntū
– “slippery
tsǣ
– “guava
hų̄
– “you plural”

Controlled (half-long)
sūˑ – “blue
nīˑntūˑ
– “needle
tsǣˑ
– “full
hų̄ˑ
– “six”

Jalapa Mazatec is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at Some Uto-Aztecan Languages: Hopi, Nahuatl and Comanche

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Uto-Aztecan languages Hopi, Nahuatl and Comanche in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn them.

Uto-Aztecan
Northern

Hopi is so difficult that even grammars describing the language are almost impossible to understand. For instance, Hopi has two different words for “and” depending on whether the noun phrase containing the word “and” is nominative or accusative.

Hopi is rated 6, hardest of all.

Southern Uto-Aztecan
Corachol-Aztecan
Core Nahua
Nahuatl

In Nahuatl, most adjectives are simply what are known as “stative verbs.” Hence:

Umntu omde waya eTenochtitlan.
Literally: “The man he is tall went to Tenochtitlan.”
“The tall man went to Tenochtitlan.”

“He is tall” is a stative verb in the above.

Nahuatl gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Numic
Central Numic

Comanche is legendary for being one of the hardest Indian languages of all to learn. Reasons are unknown, but all Amerindian languages are quite difficult. I doubt if Comanche is harder than other Numic languages.

Bizarrely enough, Comanche has very strange sounds called voiceless vowels, which seems to be an oxymoron, as vowels would seem to be inherently voiced. English has something akin to voiceless vowels in the words particular and peculiar, where the bolded vowels act something akin to a voiceless vowel.

Comanche was used for a while by the codespeakers in World War 2 – not all codespeakers were Navajos. Comanche was specifically chosen because it was hard to figure out. The Japanese were never able to break the Comanche code.

Comanche is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Karok Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Karok language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Karok

Karok is formally a language isolate, but some theories put into Hokan, although Hokan itself is not even a recognized grouping.

Karok spoken by a few dozen people in northern California. The last native speaker recently died, however, there are ~80 people who have varying levels of L2 fluency.

In Karok, you can use a suffix for different types of containment – fire, water or a solid.

pa:θ-kirih
throw into a fire”

pa:θ-kurih
“throw into water

pa:θ-ruprih
throw through a solid

The suffixes are unrelated to the words for “fire”, “water” and “solid”.

Karok gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Huamelutec Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Huamelutec language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Hokan
Tequislatecan
Coastal Chantal

Huamelutec or Lowland Oaxaca Chantal, a Hokan language spoken in Mexico, has the odd glottalized fricatives , , ɬʼ and as its only glottalized consonants. They alternate with plain f, s, l and x. The , ɬʼ and sounds are extremely rare in the world’s languages, usually only found in 2-3 other languages, mostly in NW Caucasian. The sound occurs only in one other language – Tlingit. The sound is slightly more common, occurring in five other languages including Tlingit. In other languages, these odd sounds derived from sequences of basic sequences of consonant + q: Cq -> Cʔ -> glottalized fricative.

Sentence structure is odd:

“Hit the ball the man.”
“Hit the man the ball.”
“The man hit the ball.”

All mean the same thing.

Huamelutec gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at Some Algonquian Languages: Cree, Ojibwa, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Gros Ventre

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at Algonquian in general and Cree, Ojibwa, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Gros Ventre in particular in terms of how hard it would be for an English speaker to learn these languages.

Algic
Algonquian

All Algonquian languages have distinctions between animate/inanimate nouns in addition to having proximate/obviate and direct/inverse distinctions. However, most languages that have proximate/obviate and direct/inverse distinctions are not as difficult as Algonquian. Proximate/obviative is a way of marking the 3rd person in discourse. It distinguishes between an important 3rd person (proximate) and a more peripheral 3rd person (obviative). Animate nouns and possessor nouns tend to be marked proximate while inanimate nouns and possessed nouns tend to be marked obviative.

Direct/inverse is a way of marking discourse in terms of saliency, topicality or animacy. When a noun ranks higher than another in terms of saliency, topicality or animacy means it means that this noun ranks higher than the other in terms of person hierarchy. It is used only in transitive clauses. When the subject has a higher ranking than the object, the direct form is used. When the object has a higher ranking than the object, the inverse form is used.

Central Algonquian
Cree-Montagnais

Cree is very hard to learn. It is written in a variety of different ways with different alphabets and syllabic systems, complicating matters even further. The syllabic alphabet has many problems and is often listed as one of the worst scripts out there. It is polysynthetic and has long, short and nasal vowels and aspirated and unaspirated voiceless consonants. Words are divided into “metrical feet,” the rules for determining stress placement in words are quite complex, and there is lots of irregularity. Vowels fall out a lot, or syncopate, within words.

Cree adds noun classifiers to the mix, and both nouns and verbs are marked as animate or inanimate. In addition, verbs are marked for transitive and intransitive. In addition, verbs get different affixes depending on whether they occur in main or subordinate clauses.

Cree is rated 6, hardest of all.

Ojibwa-Patowatomi

Ojibwa is said to be about as hard to learn as Cree as it is very similar.

Ojibwa is rated 6, hardest of all.

Plains Algonquian
Cheyenne

Cheyenne is well-known for being a hard Amerindian language to learn. Like many polysynthetic languages, it can have very long words.

Náohkêsáa’oné’seómepêhévetsêhésto’anéhe.
I truly don’t know Cheyenne very well.”

Cheyenne is quite regular, but has so many complex rules that it is hard to figure them all out.

Cheyenne is rated 6, hardest of all.

Arapahoan

Arapaho has a strange phonology. It lacks phonemic low vowels. The vowel system consists of i, ɨ~,u, ɛ, and ɔ, with no low phonemic vowels. Each vowel also has a corresponding long version. In addition, there are four diphthongs, ei, ou, oe and ie, several triphthongs, eii, oee, and ouu, as well as extended sequences of vowels such as eee with stress on either the first or the last vowel in the combination. Long vowels of various types are common:

Héétbih’ínkúútiinoo.
I will turn out the lights.”

Honoosóó’.
It is raining.”

There is a pitch accent system with normal, high and allophonic falling tones. Arapaho words also undergo some very wild sound changes.

Arapaho is rated 6, hardest of all.

Gros Ventre has a similar phonological system and similar elaborate sound changes as Arapaho.

Gros Ventre is rated 5, hardest of all.

A Look at the Tsez Language

Method and Conclusion.. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Tsez language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Northeast Caucasian

NE Caucasian languages have the uvulars and ejectives of Georgian in addition to pharyngeals, lateral fricatives, and other strangeness. They have noun classes like the Bantu languages (but usually fewer). Nevertheless, they have noun class agreement markers on verbs and adjectives. One thing NE Caucasian has is a lot of case. Some languages have 40+ cases. The cases are built from the ground up via two forms – one a spatial form such as in, on or around and the other a directional motion form such as to, from, through or at.

Tsezic

Tsez

Tsez has 64-126 different cases, making it by far the most complex case system on Earth! It is one of the few languages on Earth that has two genitive cases – Genitive 1 (-s) and Genitive 2 (-z). Genitive 1 is used when the genitive’s head noun is in absolutive case, and Genitive 2 is used when the genitive’s head noun is in any other case. It also has four noun classes. It is said that even native speakers have a hard time picking up the correct inflection to use sometimes.

In Tsez, you need to know a lot Tsez grammar to communicate at a basic level. Look at the sentence:

English: “I like your mother.”

Tsez: Дāьр деби энийу йетих. (Dǟr debi eniyu yetix.)

In order to speak that sentence in Tsez, you need to know:

• the words themselves (word order is not as important)
• that the verb -eti- requires the subject to be in the dative/lative case and the object to be in the absolutive
• the noun class for eniyu (class II)
• the dative/lative form of di “I”, which is dǟr
• the genitive 1 form of mi “you”, which is debi
• the congruence prefix y- that corresponds to the noun class of the absolutive argument of the phrase, in this case “mother”
• the present tense ending for vowel-final verbs -x

Tsez is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at Iriquoian Languages and the Cherokee Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Cherokee language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Iroquoian

All Iroquoian languages are extremely difficult, but Athabaskan is probably even harder. Siouan languages may be equal to Iroquoian in difficulty.

Compare the same phrases in Tlingit (Athabaskan) and and Cherokee (Iroquoian).

Tlingit:

kutíkusa‘áatIt’s cold outside.
kutíkuta‘áat
It’s cold right now.

In Tlingit, you can add or modify affixes at the beginning as prefixes, in the middle as infixes and at the end as suffixes. In the above example, you changed a part of the word within the clause itself.

Cherokee:

doyáditlv uyvtlvIt is cold outside. (Lit. Outside it is cold)
ka uyvtlv It is cold now. (Lit. Now it is cold.)

As you can see, Cherokee is easier.

Cherokee

Cherokee is very hard to learn. In addition to everything else, it has a completely different alphabet. It’s polysynthetic, to make matters worse. It is possible to write a Cherokee sentence that somehow lacks a verb. There are five categories of verb classifiers. Verbs needing classifiers must use one. Each regular verb can have an incredible 21,262 inflected forms! All verbs contain a verb root, a pronominal prefix, a modal suffix and an aspect suffix. In addition, verbs inflect for singular, plural and also dual. For instance:

ᎠᎸᎢᎭ   a'lv'íha 

You have 126 different forms:
ᎬᏯᎸᎢᎭ gvyalv'iha     I tie you up
ᏕᎬᏯᎸᎢᎭ degvyalviha    I'm tying you up
ᏥᏯᎸᎢᎭ  jiyalv'ha      I tie him up
ᎦᎸᎢᎭ                   I tie it
ᏍᏓᏯᎸᎢᎭ sdayalv'iha    I tie you (dual)
ᎢᏨᏯᎢᎭ  ijvyalv'iha    I tie you (pl)
ᎦᏥᏯᎸᎢᎭ gajiyalv'iha   I tie them (animate)
ᏕᎦᎸᎢᎭ                  I tie them up (inanimate)
ᏍᏆᎸᎢᎭ  squahlv'iha    You tie me
ᎯᏯᎸᎢᎭ  hiyalv'iha    You're tying him
ᎭᏢᎢᎭ   hatlv'iha      You tie it
ᏍᎩᎾᎸᎢᎭ skinalv'iha    You're tying me and him
ᎪᎩᎾᏢᎢᎭ goginatlv'iha  They tie me and him etc.

Let us look at another form:

to see

I see myself    gadagotia
I see you           gvgohtia
I see him/          tsigotia
I see it            tsigotia
I see you two       advgotia
I see you (plural)  istvgotia
I see them (live)   gatsigotia
I see them (things) detsigotia

You see me          sgigotia
You see yourself        hadagotia
You see him/her         higo(h)tia
You see it              higotia
You see another and me  sginigotia
You see others and me   isgigotia
You see them (living)   dehigotia
You see them (living)   gahigotia
You see them (things)   detsigotia

He/she sees me          agigotia
He/she sees you             tsagotia
He/she sees you             atsigotia
He/she sees him/her         agotia
He/she sees himself/herself adagotia
He/she sees you + me        ginigotia
He/she sees you two         sdigotia
He/she sees another + me    oginigotia
He she sees us (them + me)  otsigotia
He/she sees you (plural)    itsigotia
He/she sees them            dagotia

You and I see him/her/it       igigotia
You and I see ourselves            edadotia
You and I see one another          denadagotia/dosdadagotia
You and I see them (living)        genigotia
You and I see them (living or not) denigotia

You two see me              sgninigotia
You two see him/her/it          esdigotia
You two see yourselves          sdadagotia
You two see us (another and me) sginigotia
You two see them                desdigotia

Another and I see you      sdvgotia
Another and I see him/her      osdigotia
Another and I see it           osdigotia
Another and I see you-two      sdvgotia
Another and I see ourselves    dosdadagotia
Another and I see you (plural) itsvgotia
Another and I see them         dosdigotia

You (plural) see me  isgigoti
You (plural) see him/her etsigoti

They see me         gvgigotia
They see you            getsagotia
They see him/her        anigoti
They see you and me     geginigoti
They see you two        gesdigoti
They see another and me gegigotia/gogenigoti
They see you (plural)   getsigoti
They see them           danagotia
They see themselves     anadagoti

I will see datsigoi
I saw          agigohvi

Number is marked for inclusive vs. exclusive, and there is a dual. 3rd person plural is marked for animate/inanimate. Verbs take different object forms depending on if the object is solid/alive/indefinite shape/flexible. This is similar to the Navajo system.

Cherokee also has lexical tone, with complex rules about how tones may combine with each other. Tone is not marked in the orthography. The phonology is noted for somehow not having any labial consonants.

However, Cherokee is very regular. It has only three irregular verbs. It is just that there are many complex rules.

Cherokee is rated 5.5, close to most difficult of all.

A Look at the Wichita Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Wichita language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Caddoan
Northern
Wichita

Wichita has many strange phonological traits. It has only one nasal. Labials are rare and appear in only two roots. It also may have only three vowels, i, e, and a, with only height as a distinction. Such a restricted vertical vowel distribution is only found in NW Caucasian and the Papuan Ndu languages. There is apparently a three-way contrast in vowel length – regular, long and extra-long. This is only found in Mixe and Estonian. There are some interesting tenses. Perfect tense means that an act has been carried out. The strange intentive tense means that one hopes or hoped to to carry out an act. The habitual tense means one regularly engages in the activity, not that one is doing so at the moment.

Long consonant clusters are permitted.

kskhaːɾʔa

nahiʔinckskih
while sleeping

There are many cases where a CVɁ sequence has been reduced to due to loss of the vowel, resulting in odd words such as:

ki·sɁ
bone

Word order is ordered in accordance with novelty or importance.

hira:wisɁiha:s kiyari:ce:hire:
Our ancestors God put us on this Earth.

weɁe hira:rɁ tiɁi na:kirih
God put our ancestors on this Earth.

In the sentence above, “our ancestors” is actually the subject, so it makes sense that it comes first.

Wichita has inclusive and exclusive 3rd person plural and has singular, dual and plural. There is an evidential system where if you say you know something, you must say how you know it – whether it is personal knowledge or hearsay.

Wichita gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Lakota Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at in the Lakota language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Siouan-Catawban
Siouan
Mississippi Valley-Ohio Valley Siouan
Mississippi Valley Siouan
Dakota

Lakota and other Siouan languages may well be as convoluted as Iroquoian. In Lakota, all adjectives are expressed as verbs. Something similar is seen in Nahuatl.

Ógle sápe kiŋ mak’ú.
The shirt it is black he gave it to me.
He gave me the black shirt.

In the above, it is black is a stative verb and serves as an adjective.

Ógle kiŋ sabyá mak’ú.
Shirt the blackly he gave it to me.
He gave me the black shirt. (Lit. He gave me the shirt blackly.)

Bkackly is an adverb serving as an adjective above.

Lakota gets a 5.5 rating, nearly hardest of all.

A Look at Some Interior Salish Languages: Straights Salish, Montana Salish, Lushootseed, and Halkomelem

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at a number of Interior Salish languages –  Straights Salish, Montana Salish, Lushootseed, and Halkomelem – in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Interior Salish
Southern

Montana Salish is said to be just as hard to learn as Nuxálk. Spokane (Montana Salish) has combining and independent forms with the same meaning:

spim’cnmouth
-cin
mouth

Montana Salish makes it onto a lot of craziest grammars lists.

This link shows an elder on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, Steven Smallsalmon, speaking Montana Salish. He also leads classes in the language. This is probably one of the strangest sounding languages on Earth.

Montana Salish is rated 6, hardest of all.

Central

Straits Salish has an aspectual distinction between persistent and nonpersistent. Persistent means the activity continues after its inception as a state. The persistent morpheme is . The result is similar to English:

figure out – nonpersistent
know – persistent

look at – nonpersistent
watch – persistent

take – nonpersistent
hold – persistent

is referred to as a “parasitic morpheme” and only occurs in stems that have an underlying ə which serves as a “host” for the morpheme.

How strange.

The Saanich dialect of Straits Salish is often listed in the rogue’s gallery of craziest grammars on Earth for the parasitic morphemes and for having no distinction between nouns and verbs. The writing system is often listed as one of the worst out there.

Straits Salish gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Halkomelem, spoken by 570 people around Vancouver, British Colombia, is widely considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn. In Halkomelem, many verbs have an orientation towards water. You can’t just say She went home. You have say how she was going home in relation to nearby bodies of water. So depending on where she was walking home in relation to the nearest river, you would say:

She was farther away from the water and going home.
She was coming home in the direction away from the water.
She was walking parallel to the flow of the water downstream.
She was walking parallel to the flow of the water upstream.

Halkomelem gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Lushootseed

Lushootseed is said to be just as hard to learn as Nuxálk. Lushootseed is one of the few languages on Earth that has no nasals at all, except in special registers like baby talk and the archaic speech of mythological figures. It also has laryngealized glides and nasals: w ̰ , m̥ ̰ , and n̥ ̰ .

Lushootseed is rated 6, hardest of all.