The question of what is the hardest language to learn is something quite common. I like to think of languages in aspects or categories. So, I thought that I would write a post on what is the most difficult writing system to learn in my experience.

Keep in mind that there are thousands of languages in the world and I am only going to reference languages that I have studied or that I have read enough about to feel comfortable writing about.

Chinese Characters

Without any doubt, I can say that the most challenging writing system that I have ever dealt with are Chinese characters. Just for the record, “Chinese” is more of an English umbrella term. I have studied Mandarin, which just happens to be the most spoken dialect within China and Taiwan. But there are a number of other languages inside China and Taiwan like Taiwanese, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hakka. Also, remember that Japanese makes use of characters as well.

What makes Characters so tough to learn is that it takes a lot of time. Because they do not give the reader any indication of how to pronounce them, Characters have to be learned one by one, so it takes a while before you feel like you’ve made any progress. One of the best parts about Characters is that because each one of them represents one word, you become literate and learn vocabulary at the same time.

Arabic

The Arabic alphabet can be a challenge. From the perspective of an English speaker, there are several features that make it difficult. The most challenging aspect is that some of the vowels are not written, besides in more formal or religious documents like the Qur’an and the Bible. So there can be consonant combinations where you just have to know which vowels are pronounced in what place.

The second part of the Arabic alphabet that makes it somewhat difficult is that it is a cursive script. This means that the letters change shape slightly if they are on their own, at the start, middle or end of a word.

The third aspect of Arabic that makes it challenging to read and write is that it is written from right to left. That is surprisingly difficult to get over when you aren’t used to it.

Japanese

I already mentioned that Japanese uses some Characters, but that isn’t the whole story. Japanese also has two other phonetic syllable systems called Hiragana and Katakana. The difficult part about Japanese is that depending on the context, even within a single word, you have to switch between using mainly Hiragana and the Characters. Katakana as well, a bit.

Honorable Mentions:

Thai-A complex way of classifying consonants along with multiple letters for the same sound.

Russian-Some Russian letters look similar to English letters but make different sounds. Some letters can make two different sounds like in English.

What do you think is the most difficult writing system?

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