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Fun with the “world’s hardest language”

October 13, 2013

Mandarin Chinese has a reputation as the “world’s hardest language”. Baloney. Really. There are some real doozies out there that I have tried, and I haven’t even remotely tried them all. Would you like to know what is the toughest language I have ever seen? Try Russian. There is no other way to learn it than memorizing charts of conjugation tables, if you didn’t learn it from Mama. Best of luck with that one. People who learn Russian are really, really, smart. They are also some of the most dedicated students on Earth. Cracking Russian as a non-native speaker is one of the most challenging intellectual achievements I can imagine. Verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, possessives, they all conjugate, in every sentence, depending on the structure. Yep, every word in the sentence changes. In every sentence. So “car” has a whole bunch of different endings, depending on the classification of the sentence. Brutal, just brutal.

Try classical or Modern Standard Arabic. Another language with very complex verb conjugation. Not as hard as Russian, in my humble opinion, but still, very, very hard. I bet there are not very many fluent speakers in the above two languages who are foreigners unless they have spent lots of time “in country”. Another one I found very challenging was Turkish. It is related mostly closely to the Altaic languages of Siberia. Yes, oh my, not very close to anything even close to English. It’s closest cousin, and even that is plenty distant, is Japanese. I swear it.

By comparison, Mandarin Chinese is actually pretty straight forward. It all makes sense. There are no complex verb ending changes to try to memorize. It is just learning the names for things and then stringing sentences together. Not so difficult at all. Words stay the same, since there are no complex grammatical rules. The more words you memorize, the better your Chinese is. Ta-da!Even the characters contain lots of visual clues as to meaning and/or pronunciation, if you know the code to look for. I am studying the traditional characters now. They are no longer used in mainland China, but they offer even more visual hints than the modern ones.

It is by no means a language for dummies. But if tomorrow I had to go to China, I would feel comfortable talking on a basic level. It is a language that can be learned by foreigners with a modicum of effort. And it is fun, not maddening. I found Russian to be horribly frustrating, as I did Arabic. Turkish was just a mystery. Chinese is a joy to study.

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