Should I learn Arabic or Spanish first?
The 7 most difficult languages for German speakers
Have you decided to work on your soft skills and learn a new language? We recently introduced you to the nine easiest languages for German speakers, but maybe you don't want to make it easy for yourself and are looking for a real challenge? No problem: Here are the seven languages that are hardest to learn for people who speak German as their mother tongue.
1. Mandarin Chinese
Probably the most difficult language to learn is also the language with the most native speakers: 918 million people speak Mandarin as their first language.
There are several reasons why this language is so difficult to learn for German speakers. First of all, there is the writing system with its thousands of complicated characters that have nothing at all to do with our Latin alphabet. Anyone who has not given up on this memory performance can expect another nasty surprise: Both Mandarin and Cantonese (another Chinese dialect) are tonal languages with four different tones. A word has a completely different meaning depending on the tone. As a small example: the simple syllable ma can mean "mother", "hemp", "horse" or "scold" depending on the tone. This concept of sound is completely alien to German, which makes Chinese one of the most difficult languages to learn for us.
The good news first: Japanese is not a tonal language and therefore a lot easier for Germans to pronounce than Chinese. But when it comes to writing, you should dress warmly, because Japanese has not one, but the same three Writing systems: Hiragana, katakana and Kanji. While the first two are syllable alphabets with a manageable number of "syllable letters", Kanji are based on the Chinese characters and are therefore similarly complex and numerous (for comparison: To be able to read a newspaper, you should master around 3000 Kanji ). Japanese grammar has almost nothing in common with German, because Japanese is one of the agglutinating languages (numerous endings are appended to the root of the word). Once you have mastered the spelling and grammar, you also have to grapple with the correct politeness formulas and the correct addressing of male and female people. Japanese therefore offers the whole range of linguistic challenges and is a real treasure trove of linguistic peculiarities for language fans.
With 315 first-time speakers and 132 second-speakers, Arabic makes it into the top five most spoken languages in the world - and thanks to its writing and pronunciation, among the top three most difficult languages for German speakers. Of course, the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet are far easier to learn than thousands of other characters. Nevertheless, it means quite a change, especially because you write from right to left and most of the vowels are left out. Ts would like the solution completely fast.
German speakers often have difficulties with the throaty pronunciation of the Semitic language: Many Arabic sounds are formed deep in the throat and do not exist in the German sound inventory (the throatiest thing that German has to offer is the “ch” in “Bach”). A grammatical specialty is the dual form, which you have to learn in addition to the singular and plural form of a word. Regardless of which of the numerous Arabic dialects you choose (the decision itself is a challenge, by the way): Be prepared for something!
From now on it will slowly but surely become easier for learners with German as their mother tongue. Polish uses the Latin alphabet, albeit with a few extra letters such as ą, ę, ł or ń. In terms of pronunciation, spelling and grammar, however, the language of our lovely neighbor demands a lot from us. Words like chrząszcz ("Beetle") or szczęście ("Luck") not only have a worrying number of consonants, but are also quite tongue twisters due to their many different sibilants. Well, and then the grammar: five grammatical genders, seven cases and the distinction between perfect (completed) and imperfect (unfinished) verbs sound like advanced Latin lessons. On the other hand, one can make quite an impression with a knowledge of Polish and not only in view of the growing importance of Poland in Europe it is definitely worth it!
Our number five of the most difficult languages may seem a bit intimidating with the Cyrillic alphabet - but that's actually the least of the problem, because you learn it pretty quickly. Some letters correspond to the Latin alphabet (A, K, M, O and T), others should be treated with caution (Y is pronounced “u”, E as “je”).
The grammar of Russian is somewhat simpler than the Polish, with six cases and the absence of the verb “sein” in the present tense, it does not make it easy for German-speaking learners. The many clusters of consonants make both spelling and pronunciation a complicated task. The many different hissing and popping sounds are often indistinguishable for German speakers, much less pronounced. Nevertheless, Russian is worth the effort, because the great political and cultural importance of this language can open up numerous perspectives for you.
Our penultimate candidate originally comes from Asia and is therefore quite alone among all of his Indo-European neighbors. Only in Finnish does he have a very distant relative far north. Like Polish, Hungarian is also written with Latin letters, but the Hungarian alphabet comprises no less than 44 letters (14 vowels and 30 consonants). Like Japanese and Turkish, Hungarian is an agglutinating language and brings awesome words like Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért (apart from the fact that a word like "for the impossibility of your canonization" is probably not used that often in everyday life). In terms of the number of grammatical cases it makes magyar nyelv, the Hungarian language, nobody is up to anything: a total of 25 cases (some claim even 40) are just waiting to drive learners crazy.
Nevertheless, Hungarian grants at least one tiny advantage to German speakers: The close cultural and political relationships with neighboring Austria have many German loanwords such as plaster, sláger, hózentróger or suitcase brought into Hungarian, which one is as happy about while studying as about old acquaintances.
There has to be a little surprise on every list: While their close relatives Swedish and Norwegian are among the easiest languages for German speakers, Danish makes it a little more difficult for us. Admittedly, Germans can actually understand a lot with Danish texts. The great challenge of this North Germanic language lies in the pronunciation, which unfortunately has little to do with the spelling: words are shortened, consonants are spoken softly and endings are swallowed. Sounds like that Rødgrød with fløde (“Red grits with cream”) more like “rögröh mil flühe”. For this reason, we have chosen Danish as the easiest of the hard-to-learn languages.
Do you feel like taking on new challenges? Difficult or easy, learning a new language is always worthwhile!
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