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What's the hardest language to learn???

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  • That depends. The polysynthetic languages tend to have a very complex grammar. But language has many layers and a language can be quite complex at one layer and relatively simple at another.
    – Atamiri
    Mar 4 '15 at 21:46
  • It depends on the person learning the language -- how old, how smart, how they speak their own language, how close the language is to their own language, how they practice, etc, etc. Really, there's no good answer, because people vary all over the lot in how well they learn certain languages. Mar 4 '15 at 21:47
  • The one which is the most different from your mother tongue and fronm the languages you already know.
    – Yellow Sky
    Mar 4 '15 at 21:50
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    @YellowSky: as a rule of thumb, that's correct. By the time you've learned three or four languages, you know which kinds are easy for you and which are hard. Personally, I prefer inflected languages (even though my native language is English), but I don't have the chops for tone languages any more, I'm afraid. Mar 5 '15 at 0:18
  • Let me just guess, statistically, given American English speakers, their education, their knowledge of their language and of language generally, and their talent for learning, that the hardest language for most American English native speakers (over 20, let's say; kids are smarter), would be any Eskimo language. Any Australian or Caucasian language would tie for second. Mar 5 '15 at 0:30
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I would say that undocumented languages with very few speakers are extremely difficult to learn. Even for children. An extinct language with no trace left must be the answer to your question.

All living languages with compact communities are reasonably easy to learn, the laws of evolution require that. A language that is too difficult to be learned (both by children and by adults) would be doomed.

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  • Good point. I speak a little of what is now effectively a dead language (Lushootseed) but there is a strong language recovery program. Mar 5 '15 at 0:20
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I don't think that this is an answerable question. You would have to distinguish between "has acquired the language" from "has not acquired the language", and you'd have to be able to do it in a way that you're measuring the same thing across cultures / languages. In particular, you would have to distinguish between "has acquired the language" and "has mastered all aspects of our culture". My experience is that cultures differ substantially in the how important it is to know terms for now-obsolete bean-mashers, and to learn social rituals about the use of "whatever", so I think any test would be skewed by ideologies about what it means to "have learned" the language.

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  • More likely it would be skewed by differential abilities. People vary. A lot. Especially in second-language acquisition. Mar 5 '15 at 1:11
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An approach to answering this is to compile statistics on the average age that children start to talk, learning as natives to speak the various languages of the world. The higher that age, the harder it must be to learn the language. The last I heard, by this measure, Russian seems to be quite difficult.

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    I spoke Russian well when I was 1 year old. ;)
    – Yellow Sky
    Mar 4 '15 at 21:54
  • Jerry Sadock tells me that in W. Greenlandic Eskimo, kids with top-down learning strategies (get the melody and drop in an occasional word) learn normally. But kids who would ordinarily take the 1-word, 2-word, multiple-word track (the way it says in the acquisition books), instead (I had one kid of each kind, and they learn language differently) -- these bottom-up kids would start to talk, and then stop. Then they'd be silent for a while, then they'd start learning in the top-down mode. Eskimo being polysynthetic, it makes sense. Words and sentences aren't all that different. Mar 5 '15 at 0:27
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    @YellowSky Lucky you. :D
    – Alenanno
    Mar 5 '15 at 9:51

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