Archive | August, 2013

What Are The Hardest Languages To Learn?

11 Aug

Here’s another interesting infographic from the Voxy Blog, based on data from the US State Department, looking at how hard other languages are for native English speakers to learn.

Clearly, and as they point out, there are a number of caveats to this – everyone’s different and everyone’s learning in different contexts and with different resources.  There is also a clear implication that instruction is necessary – if you divide 600 hours into 24 (five day) weeks, it works out at about 4 hours a day of class time.  I also wonder what, if any, instruction methods are used here?  Historically, US government language learning has strong associations with audio-lingualism, but that dates back to the 1930s and 40s and I don’t know whether it’s still current…

It would also be interesting to see what is defined as “reading and speaking proficiency” (what happened to listening and writing?) – as the US uses two key scales to determine language proficiency:  the ACTFL proficiency guidelines and the ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable) scale.  The 600 hours (for the easy languages) would correspond to approximately the same amount of time the CEFR suggests is necessary to attain a B2 level – though whether that is considered proficient enough is another question.

My own experiences with French, German, Arabic, Chinese, Polish and Portuguese would suggest that classroom time has very little to do with it as despite having had over a year’s extensive tuition in Arabic (following a grammar translation model, which probably wasn’t the most helpful) I can barely string three words together, whereas I can still remember a decent amount of my Chinese, even though I had about ten lessons in total during the two years I lived there…

But anyway – I’m interested to know how other people experience corresponds to the graphic – comments always welcome!

(And many thanks to Nicola Gordon for the original spot via Facebook)