Language Difficulty Ranking

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has created a list to show the approximate time you need to learn a specific language as an English speaker. After this particular study time you will reach “Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3)” and “Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3)”

Please keep in mind that this ranking only shows the view of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and some language students or experts may disagree with the ranking.

If there is a language in this list you would like to learn and it is in a high difficult category, don’t let this stop you from learning it. Even if they are ranked as difficult, it does not mean that they are impossible to learn and maybe it is not hard for you at all. We offer many tips on how to best learn a language that will surely help you to tackle even the most difficult language on this list.

Additionally, we also offer free language lessons for the most popular languages and a Top 10 language app overview with all currently available professional language products on the market with reviews by us and our readers.

Category I: 23-24 weeks (575-600 hours)
Languages closely related to English
Category II: 30 weeks (750 hours)
Languages similar to English
Category III: 36 weeks (900 hours)
Languages with linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
Category IV: 44 weeks (1100 hours)
Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik)
Category V: 88 weeks (2200 hours)
Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers
Cantonese (Chinese)
Mandarin (Chinese)
* Languages preceded by asterisks are usually more difficult for native English speakers to learn than other languages in the same category.

47 thoughts on “Language Difficulty Ranking”

  1. Bernard Leeman :
    I did French and Latin O level at school requiring 3-5 years study but I learnt and passed Afrikaans O level in a month. Swahili and Japanese must be among the easiest languages to pronounce and it is a pity Japanese does not solely adopt romaji writing. Korean pronunciation is much more difficult than Japanese but the writing system is great.
    A lot depends on course material and the culture of the target language. Esperanto is about world understanding and peaceful cooperation but more people relate to Klingon, which is concerned with intergalactic mayhem and blood oaths.

    I understand what you say about Japanese, I live in Japan as a foreigner. However, Japanese simply can not be writing in Romaji or plain Kanji. It is too ambiguous and very difficult to understand. The Kanji system gives the kana meaning, so two words which are the same in sound have different kanji defining there meaning. Fortunately when speaking there are enough clues and relations to a word to be able to know what word is what but with writing this just wouldn’t be possible.

  2. I can understand why Japanese is Cat 5.
    As I’ve been living in Japan and have come to realize that the simple grammer is very easy to learn, however the sheer amount of words needed to speak at a fluent level as well as the more intermediate/advance grammer can be a real nightmare sometimes. It is true that Japanese is very easy to pronounce but if you wish to produce a native or near native accent, it gets a lot more difficult. There are a lot of underlying tones that display politeness or emotion in a very indirect way, on top you have Keigo (Respectful language) , Teneigo (Polite language) and just normal speach. All of which to an beginner can sound like a complete different sentence or subject.
    This is putting aside their complicated writing system.

  3. This seems pretty accurate to me. The asterisks in category iv, for example – Thai is harder than Tagalog, and they’re both easier than Japanese. I was always told how hard German is, but it doesn’t seem to be as difficult as many other languages.

  4. @himji
    I can give you one example of why the Japanese or Chinese (and probably both) should reform their alphabet. I heard the example of a Japanese or Chinese person who was proud to say that when they finished high school they were finally able to read a newspaper.
    In not just America, but the Americas, Europe, or any other country that has an alphabetic system students are expected to read magazines and newspapers much, much earlier. I was expected to do reports based on newspapers and magazines when I was in junior high school, and we were also reading adult novels. In China or Japan, students still can’t read any of those material at that stage?
    If you cannot read a newspaper when you are in high school, something is wrong with your reading comprehension or something is wrong with your language.

  5. Every time you learn another language, the list changes for you since now that second language will make it easier for you to learn other languages more closely related with it. I know it would take a lot of research and data collecting but it would be cool if there was a program where you can enter all the languages you know, and it would compile your own personal list of which languages would be easiest for you to learn based on the ones you already know. Because this list is only for people who know English only.

  6. Ferenc Zopcsák :
    Why isn’t Hungarian in Column 3? Isn’t its absolutely flexible word order hard to acquire for native speakers of English? No matter what the order of the words in a sentence is, it still remains grammatically correct, but may well mean completely different things! Not to mention the vowels that are unique to Hungarian such as “á,é,ó,ö,ő,ú,ü,ű,í” and some consonants: “ty, gy, ny, sz, zs, dzs, dz, ly, cs” don’t tell me it’s as easy as Bulgarian or Icelandic… Vowel length is a distinctive feature, and should not be verlooked either.
    Can anyone tell us the reasons why it is in Column 2?

    Hungarian is difficult, but it is not at all as difficult as e.g. Polish, or even English – children acquire Hungarian as their native language faster than English children acquire their language! And the word order is not infinitely flexible, as we both know. Not to mention the consonants: these are all very well utterable for any English speaker, as they have very close equivalents in English. Vowels can’t cause much difficulty, either. And let’s not forget that the writing system of Hungarian is problably the easiest, the most transparent.

  7. Many poster here seem to be misunderstanding the point of this ranking. Languages are ranked here not in terms of inherent difficulty, but by how long it takes a native English speaker to master them at a certain proficiency level. As for Japanese, while some aspects are not hard (pronunciation, basic grammar rules) its writing system alone would qualify its place at the top of the list. It may be just a matter of time to learn all the characters and their usages, but that’s entirely the point–it takes time.
    Chinese may or may not be harder to learn than Russian, but it definitely takes more time.

  8. Hello, I speak tagalog and I don’t think that it is that difficult. It has a lot of words derived from spanish (months,days of the week, telling time) and english since we (the pilippines) we’re colonized by the spaniards and americans. Tagalog nowadays is much of a mix of different languages. However, the grammar is truly complicated.
    I learned german and I think that it is very similar to english. It is also true that dutch is easier than german.
    Chinese is very hard though its grammar is very easy. Japanese and Korean are easier than Chinese. Japanese is not that complex but I know that Asian languages are difficult for europeans and americans. Filipinos are already acquainted to koreans and japanese and that’s why we don’t find too much difficulty in learning these languages.
    I recommend that you should study langages according to their language family. Romantic(SpanisH, French, Italian etc) and Germanic (German, Norwegian, Danish etc
    )languages are the easiest ones for english speakers followed by Indo-european (greek, turkish) languages. Austronesian (tagalog,indonesia, malaysian,tetum etc) languages are easy too since they use roman scripts.


Leave a Comment

Share via
Copy link