Are there any studies which address which factors—if there are any—have more influence on the learner to consider a new language as difficult to learn?

Factors could be:

  • The mother tongue of the learner
  • How many languages the learner speaks at least to certain level.
  • Language learning skills
  • Other factors?
  • 1
    It's not clear exactly what you're asking. Are you asking what are the factors that make some languages more difficult than others, or what factors make language learning more difficult for some learners compared to other learners? – gaeguri Apr 6 '16 at 14:17
  • @gaeguri Studies which say which factors -if there are any- which have the most influence of the learner ... and let him consider (or feel like) a language is difficult to learn. So it's more in the sense of your last statement – Medi1Saif Apr 6 '16 at 14:23
  • 2
    @gaeguri Linguistic Distance is a valid factor for the "difficulty" of a language. There is much research on what makes one language "difficult" to learn while others are "easy". IMHO, this question is one of the questions we need on this site. – callyalater Apr 6 '16 at 14:42
up vote 9 down vote accepted

There are lots and lots of factors. I am going to list some of the major ones here:

  • The language you start with: For example, Mandarin Chinese is ranked one of the hardest languages to learn as an English speaker. Mandarin Chinese could also be very easy for someone else with another language. Even English might be hard to some.

  • Psychological Barriers: A lot of times, you get fear that the language is super tough and you will utterly fail every time you try. This type of attitude makes languages a lot harder for these types of people.

  • Major differences: Compare Chinese to English, for example. The Chinese alphabet has thousands and thousands of characters plus different tones that are used. These are some of the major differences between these two languages, as English has only 26 characters in its alphabet.

  • Need, Culture, Motivation: Some languages are hard to learn because you don't really need it, your culture gets in the way, or you are just not wanting to learn that language.

More can be found here: http://www.lingholic.com/hardest-languages-learn/

I would like to add on to @PythonMaster's answer with this point.

  • Other languages you already know: (Taking Mandarin Chinese from the other answer as well) I personally know Cantonese Chinese so Mandarin Chinese would be way less of a gap as learning from English. I am well acquainted with some Chinese (In general) grammar and sentence structure. Knowledge of other Chinese-ish languages might also help in learning Chinese itself like knowledge of one Romance language will help with learning the others.

In addition to what has been listed by PythonMaster and SMS von der Tann, I would add the availability and quality of resources for studying the language. This includes the availability of courses (classes, online courses) and reference works (monolingual, bilingual and learner's dictionaries, grammars), as well as the willingness of speakers to help others in learning the language.

To give an example from personal experience: I was interested in learning a language that is intermediate between English and German (to help me with German). I gave each of my choices (Afrikaans, West Frisian and Dutch) a try by studying a little bit of each. Now, Afrikaans and Frisian allegedly have a simpler grammar than Dutch, which would make them easier to learn. On the other hand, there is an unbelievable amount of free and high-quality material for learning Dutch online, and there are many, many Dutch speakers almost desperate to help me learn their language. For this reason, I was able to improve my Dutch much faster.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.