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What Makes One Language Harder or Simpler Than Another?
What makes one language harder or easier to learn than one other? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a one simple answer. There are some languages which have a number of characteristics that make them comparatively difficult to learn. But it depends much more on what languages you already know, particularly your native language, the one (or ones) you grew up speaking.
Your native language The language you were surrounded with as you grew up (or languages, for those lucky sufficient to grow up speaking more than one language) is the most influential factor on how you learn other languages. Languages that share a few of the qualities and traits of your native English might be easier to learn. Languages which have very little in widespread with your native English might be a lot harder. Most languages will fall someplace within the middle.
This goes each ways. Though it is a stretch to say that English is harder than Chinese, it is safe to say the native Chinese speaker probably has nearly as hard a time to study English as the native English speaker has when learning Chinese. In case you are learning Chinese proper now, that is probably little consolation to you.
Associated languages Learning a language intently related to your native language, or one other that you simply already speak, is much easier than learning a totally alien one. Related languages share many traits and this tends to make them simpler to be taught as there are less new ideas to deal with.
Since English is a Germanic language, Dutch, German and the Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) are all closely related and thus, easier to learn than an unrelated tongue. Some other languages associated in some way to English are Spanish, Italian and French, the more distant Irish and Welsh and even Russian, Greek, Hindi and Urdu, Farsi (of Iran) and Pashto (of Afghanistan).
English shares no ancestry with languages like Arabic, Korean, Japanese and Chinese, all languages considered hard by English standards.
Comparable grammar One of those traits which can be usually shared between associated languages. In Swedish, word order and verb conjugation is mercifully just like English which makes learning it a lot easier than say German, which has a notoriously more advanced word order and verb conjugation. Though both languages are associated to English, German kept it's more complex grammar, where English and Swedish have largely dropped it.
The Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and a number of different languages) are well-known for sharing many characteristics. It isn't stunning since they all evolved from Latin. It is very frequent for somebody who learns certainly one of these languages to go on and be taught one or two others. They're so similar at instances that it seems you could learn the others at a discounted price in effort.
Commonalities in grammar don't just occur in associated languages. Very completely different ones can share comparable qualities as well. English and Chinese actually have comparableities in their grammar, which partly makes up for a few of the other difficulties with Chinese.
Cognates and borrowed vocabulary. This is one of those traits that make the Romance languages so similar. And in this, they also share with English. The Romance languages all have the huge mainity of their vocabulary from Latin. English has borrowed a lot of its vocabulary directly from Latin and what it did not get there, it just borrowed from French. There is a gigantic quantity of French vocabulary in English. Another reason that Spanish, French and Italian are
considered simpler than different languages.
There are always borrowings of vocabulary between languages, and never always between related languages. There's a shocking quantity of English vocabulary in Japanese. It is a little disguised by Japanese pronunciation, but it's to discover it.
Sounds Clearly, languages sound different. Though all people use basically the identical sounds, there always appears to be some sounds in different languages that we just haven't got in our native language. Some are strange or difficult to articulate. Some may be quite subtle. A Spanish 'o' is just not precisely the same as an English 'o.' And then there are some vowel sounds in French, for example, that just don't exist in English. While a French 'r' may be very totally different from English, a Chinese 'r' is
really very similar.
It can take some time to get comfortable with these new sounds, although I think that faking it is acceptable till you may get a greater handle on them. Many people don't put sufficient effort into this aspect of learning and this makes some languages seem harder to study than they should be.
Tones Just a few languages use tones, a rising or falling pitch when a word is pronounced. This might be very subtle and difficult for somebody who has by no means used tones before. This is likely one of the major reasons Chinese is hard for native English speakers.
Chinese is not the only language to use tones, and not all of them are from unique far-off lands. Swedish makes use of tones, though it is not almost as complicated or difficult as Chinese tones. This is the kind of thing that may only really be discovered by listening to native speakers.
By the way, there are examples of tone use in English but they're only a few, often used only in particular situations, and aren't part of the pronunciation of individual words. For instance, in American English it's frequent to raise the tone of our voice on the finish of a question. It is not quite the same thing, but for those who think about it that way, it might make a tone language a little less intimidating.
The writing system Some languages use a distinct script or writing system and this can have a serious impact on whether or not a language is hard to study or not. Many European languages use the identical script as English but additionally embody just a few other symbols not in English to characterize sounds particular to that language (think of the 'o' with a line through it in Norwegian, or the 'n' with a little squiggly over it in Spanish). These are typically not tough to learn.
But some languages go farther and have a distinct alphabet altogether. Greek, Hindi, Russian and many of the different Slavic languages of Eastern Europe all use a unique script. This adds to the complexity when learning a language. Some languages, like Hebrew and Arabic, are also written from right to left, further adding difficulty.
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