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Thread: Difficulty in Learning another Language?

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Difficulty in Learning another Language?

    Here is the main source that I've found for difficulty of (natural) language learning for English speakers.

    Foreign Language Training - United States Department of State
    FSI’s Experience with Language Learning

    The following language learning timelines reflect 70 years of experience in teaching languages to U.S. diplomats, and illustrate the time usually required for a student to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in the language, or a score of “Speaking-3/Reading-3” on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. These timelines are based on what FSI has observed as the average length of time for a student to achieve proficiency, though the actual time can vary based on a number of factors, including the language learner’s natural ability, prior linguistic experience, and time spent in the classroom.
    Wikibooks:Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers - Wikibooks, open books for an open world has an earlier version of this list.
    • I (24 weeks) Afrikaans, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, Galician, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish
    • I' (30 weeks) French
    • II (36 weeks) German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Malay, Swahili, Javanese, Jumieka
    • III (44 weeks) (most languages)
    • IV (88 weeks) Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean


    Is that ranking even halfway plausible? Has anyone made any similar lists for native speakers of other languages? I can imagine the KGB and its successors doing so for speakers of Russian, but I haven't found anything on that.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    I've seen these theories about the class-IV languages:

    For Arabic, one has to learn both Modern Standard Arabic and some regional dialect.

    For Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, one has to learn a large number of Chinese characters.

    Without these features, these languages may be class-III instead.

    As to what may make Swahili and Malay/Indonesian II instead of III I can only speculate. Highly regular grammar?

    As to what makes most Romance and Germanic languages I I've seen a theory about.

    Here is a list by degree of agreement with the SAE feature list.
    • 9: French, German, Occitan, Romansh
    • 8: Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Sardinian, Albanian
    • 7: English, Romanian, Greek
    • 6: Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, Icelandic
    • 5: Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Russian
    • <=2: Finnish, Estonian, Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Basque, Turkish, Georgian, Armenian

    All the I, I', and II languages, along with English itself, have agreement counts of 6 to 9, However, these counts have some III languages. Counts of 5 or lower are all III, however.

    This convergence most likely happened in the early Middle Ages.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    I've seen these theories about the class-IV languages:

    For Arabic, one has to learn both Modern Standard Arabic and some regional dialect.

    For Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, one has to learn a large number of Chinese characters.
    Japanese characters are not Chinese characters, although there is some correspondence. We walked into a supermarket in Japan and my wife could get about 1 in 4 things on the signs. She had no understanding of more complex written stuff and no understanding of the spoken language.

    I believe Korean is also separate but we have never been there and I haven't looked into it.

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    I've learned both German (relatively easy) and Japanese (significantly harder) in my life, to varying degrees.

    The Japanese spoken language, and the 'original' written language (Hiragana) is relatively easy. It has very straightforward pronunciation rules, and the grammar, while very different from english, is very structured, and once you understand it, it's not that bad. The difficulty lies in that the Japanese modern written language is a mish-mash of Hiragana, Katakana (used to emulate sounds not natively found in Japanese language, and some more modern usages), and Conji (Chinese). They mix all of this in their writing, which is why someone who knows Chinese Conji would have a hard time, whereas the Japanese can read Chinese readily. My understanding is that the Japanese subtly change the context/meaning of some characters, though, which doesn't make it 100% relatable.

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    As I wrote in another thread the difference between Easy (I and II) and Hard (III and IV) is most likely that the former use alphabets close to English, while the latter don't.

    If one is satisfied with conversational ease to make holidays more pleasant and doesn't try to learn written language, I still think Thai is easier than French or German.

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    Another source of difficulty is the PRC's program of simplifying characters to promote literacy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpli...ese_characters

    The Chinese characters used in Japanese are based on the old forms of the characters. So it's likely to be easier for Taiwanese to read Japanese writing and vice versa than for mainlanders.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swammerdami View Post
    As I wrote in another thread the difference between Easy (I and II) and Hard (III and IV) is most likely that the former use alphabets close to English, while the latter don't.
    Let's see: all the I and II languages use the Roman alphabet, and most of the III languages. Of those that don't, many of them use other alphabets and quasi-alphabets. I say quasi-alphabet to cover the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets, where vowels are an afterthought (abjads) and also South Asian ones, where one writes vowels that are other than a certain one, usually "a" (abugidas).

    Some of them should be easy for Roman-alphabet users, like the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets.

    Here is the complete list of III and old II langs that the State Department listed:

    Albanian, Amharic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cebuano, Czech, Dari, Dzongkha, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, Georgian, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Ilocano, Irish, Kannada, Kazakh, Khmer, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Lao, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Marathi, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Sinhala, Slovak, Slovenian, Somali, Tagalog, Tajiki, Tamil, Tanchangya, Telugu, Tetum, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Xhosa, Zulu

    One Germanic language is in this list of difficulty III: Icelandic. It is the most morphologically conservative of present-day Germanic languages, much like Old Norse and Old English and Gothic.

    All the other IE langs are difficulty III: Celtic, Albanian, Greek, Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Indo-Iranian.

    Some non-IE langs are difficulty II: Swahili and Malay/Indonesian, but nearly all of them listed are III or IV. What might make the II ones easy to learn?

    If one is satisfied with conversational ease to make holidays more pleasant and doesn't try to learn written language, I still think Thai is easier than French or German.
    Has anyone tried to find out?

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Here is the complete list of III and old II langs that the State Department listed:
    ...
    Some non-IE langs are difficulty II: Swahili and Malay/Indonesian, but nearly all of them listed are III or IV. What might make the II ones easy to learn?
    In my conjecture, Swahili and Malay/Indonesian are easier to learn because, as I stated, they are written in the ordinary Roman alphabet.

    (Not knowing what "old II" meant, I didn't examine the associated list.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swammerdami View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Here is the complete list of III and old II langs that the State Department listed:
    ...
    Some non-IE langs are difficulty II: Swahili and Malay/Indonesian, but nearly all of them listed are III or IV. What might make the II ones easy to learn?
    In my conjecture, Swahili and Malay/Indonesian are easier to learn because, as I stated, they are written in the ordinary Roman alphabet.
    So putting little marks on letters makes a language very difficult to learn?

    Let's see which I and II languages use what.
    • Forward (acute) accent: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian
    • Backward (grave) accent: French, Portuguese, Italian
    • Hat (circumflex): French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian
    • Upside-down hat (breve): Romanian
    • Wavy line (tilde): Spanish, Portuguese
    • Double dot (diaeresis, umlaut): French, Spanish, Norwegian, German
    • A-circle: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish
    • O-slash: Danish, Nowegian
    • Hook under letter (cedilla): French, Portuguese, Romanian

    The only European languages in I and II to use no letter marks are English and Dutch. The non-European languages in II (Swahili, Malay/Indonesian) all use no marks.

    (Not knowing what "old II" meant, I didn't examine the associated list.)
    "Old II" refers to an earlier version of the State Department's list.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    So putting little marks on letters makes a language very difficult to learn?
    Why insist on misconstruing my words? Is it some fetish?

    I think Greek and Cyrillic alphabets would take some effort to learn. I've not waded through the State Dept. list to see if the difficulty rating of Every.Single.Language fits my hypothesis.

    Do we know whether inflected languages are harder to learn than those of analytic type? Swahili is a polysynthetic language and is unrelated to European languages; yet is rated as easy to learn. That it is written with Roman alphabet would seem to add support to my hypothesis. No?

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