The "Hardest language to learn"
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What do you think?
My guess is that the hardest for English speakers are tone languages—starting with the six-tone ones. Polish comes WAY down the list.
For adults a lot of the question is what you are learning the language for. Reading academic articles requires a different set of skills than ordering food in a restaurant. Talking to teenagers at a sports event is different again. Being able to do one of those well doesn't mean that you can handle the others.
Another aspect is how correct the target language expects outsiders to be. Some language communities are pleased that someone is trying. Others object to their language being mangled.
Formula for difficulty in a language = O*(G+V+(w*.1)+(A*2.0)+S+V(1.5))"
Sounds like he has it figured out.
For myself, I struggle with any language, even English, which is my L1
Which also brings up the candidates for the list. There's a lot of languages harder to learn then Sentinelese, given that we do have tiny microtransmitters but no time machines. Whatever language uses Linear A, if it's not Greek, is a great example of something we have a corpus of but no idea what it means.
There's maybe seven or so world languages that combined would get you just about anywhere; English, Chinese, French, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian off the top of my head. (The argument being instead of learning Polish or Finnish, the person you're communicating with or one of their coworkers can communicate in English, French or Russian.) There's maybe a hundred national languages (and a handful of major non-national languages) that knowledge of would let you comfortably communicate with about anyone in the civilized world in a language they're fluent in. There's "Teach Yourself" books for around 70 languages, as per our series page.
At no point are you going to really need to know Basque unless you're a linguist or trying to talk down a mad ETA bomber*, so a practical list isn't going to mention it. That would neatly exclude all the languages with limited or no corpus or dictionary, or non-speakers not having any experience in it. The really interesting question--and much more testable--is which of the languages that people commonly learn that is the hardest.
One of my friends is still grumpy that when he went into the Defense Language Institute that he tested at the highest level, putting him in the Korean program instead of the Russia program. DLI lists Modern Standard Arabic, Arabic - Levantine, Arabic - Iraqi, Chinese, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese and Pashto as their hardest languages.**
* In all fairness to the ETA, they've observed their latest cease-fire and have offered to disband; perhaps a mad ex-ETA bomber.
I also think Arabic has an undeserved reputation for difficulty because the standard textbook used in the US is so bad.
Different tonal sounds of the same word have a different definition.
Spanish is a most popular choice to learn as a foreign language for English speakers. It is a phonetic language, which means that words are pronounced as they are written as in the English language.
How come this ___ kid can't keep b and d separate?
How come this ____adult isn't sure of whether that is ח or ת?
How come s/he is sounding out satt when we just had it three lines up?
Why do I have to sound out נפשי every time it shows up in the psalm I've been working on for the past week?
It takes a lot of practice. Which, of course, is why the school wants me there every week.
One of my flatmates was an Iranian refugee struggling to master English and a bare minimum of German. The Iranian consul was contemptuous of her difficulties. He pointed out that he himself was now mastering Polish, which everyone knows is much more difficult than English or German.