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In your opinion, what part makes learning a language "difficult"?

For me I would say grammar would be the hardest part of learning a language. I'm okay with pronunciation since I'm excellent at pronouncing words in any language. Many people would find reading to be a little tricky depending on the language your learning. English may have simple grammar rules but it's known for its crazy spellings which would be hard for non native speakers.

What do you guys think?

July 8, 2017



Learning enough vocabulary to move from an intermediate to advanced learner, especially for languages not in the Romance group. I think even when my Russian was at its best, after a summer at Middlebury and a semester abroad, I wasn't above advanced low (C1), and I struggle now between intermediate high and advanced low in the passive skills of reading and listening. My active skills of writing is in the ditch, and my spoken is adequate for tourist type stuff and modeling from a native speaker, but not for complex, spontaneous utterances.


Learning enough vocabulary to move from an intermediate to advanced learner, especially for languages not in the Romance group.


Anybody have thoughts on this for Germanic languages, out of curiosity?


Just out of interest, I saw that you mentioned the Middlebury camp, what is your opinion on it, and is it a worthwhile investmen if you already have some foundation in a language? Also, I am having a similar problem with my French and German, it is just difficult to keep building your vocabulary after a certain point.


I did third year Russian at Middlebury in the eighties. At that time the Russian program was considered the star of their summer schools and was excellent. It's an enormous amount of work. We had classes all morning and then about 6-8 hours of homework daily. Plus you were strongly encouraged/strong armed to attend the cultural programs. They enforced the language pledge which is the cornerstone of the program. At least in Russian there is evidence that more is learned at Middlebury than during the time abroad as when abroad the tendency is to speak English with other Americans. As long as your willing to put the work into, I would say go for it.


Comparing my experience with French and Russian, with French, yes, one certainly reaches a point of diminishing returns where basically you're acquiring vocabulary like a native, through reading, etc, and it's definitely slow, but just getting to a point where authentic material is even sort of accessible in Russian is a comparatively much greater effort. There's no 10000+ immediately obvious cognates to "grease the wheels."


I would have to agree with grammar there. I find it tricky to memorise all the various rules and exceptions for French. My worst is probably verb tenses; imperfect, future, past, conditional etc. I have to agree with you on pronunciation too!! I don't and never really have found it particularly difficult to pronounce words and phrases :) Good luck with your studies!


Lack of motivation, interest, and dedication.

Any of these can make learning anything- not just languages -feel much harder than it should be.


Too true, I'm discovering that this applies to uni as well :)


Unpredictability - deviations from the grammatical framework, which cannot be discerned logically:

  1. Exceptions, irregularities
  2. Non-phonetic writing system
  3. Genders
  4. Different declension types
  5. Set phrases

It doesn't matter how complex the grammar is while it is predictable and organized. Any irregularities make a language harder to learn from the practical viewpoint and ruin its theoretical grace from the aesthetic perspective.


"Any irregularities make a language harder to learn from the practical viewpoint and ruin its theoretical grace from the aesthetic perspective."

Depends on how you see things. Some people like irregularity. Beauty is entirely relative to the individual. Irregularities tell us the history of a language. In my opinion, if you take away all irregularity in a language, you're left with... shudder .... Esperanto.


Trying to not think about the language you already know while trying to speak/ understand writing. Also the way the sentences are constructed.


I've tried doing that. I switched my phone language to French, my game console and started watching only French TV shows for a week. It's sort of frustrating but I did make progress.


This might help you. it helped me. when I learn a new Polish word, I do a couple things.

  1. Often, I don't write down the translation. I don't like associating that word with an English concept or the word itself, because then I often translate it immediately into my native language (English). So how do I not forget its meaning? I look at all my notes (without english translation) in a week or so and see if I can remember the concept without thinking about the English word itself.

  2. Another tip: associate any word in your target language that describes an object or is an object with the object itself. If you open doors on your way out of the house (although you wouldn't actually think these english words, you're just thinking of the concept), think "Otwieram teraz drzwi"... In general, trying to describe your surroundings with simple sentences triggers something in your brain: you cut off the middle man, your target language, so that when you see your bed and you're leaning italian, your brain doesn't go...

(noticing my bed) -> This is my bed -> Ecco il mio letto

instead, it is rewired towards:

(noticing my bed) -> letto. Ecco il miol letto.


Happy language learning :) Hope something I said helps you on your endeavors.


German is so hard because learning 3 word genders, 4 cases, adjective endings, different word order. I need to try and memorise the cases so that it all comes automatically as procedural memory.


I tried learning German on Duolingo but then I gave up due to the grammar. I might retry later in the year though :)


If you can do French, you can do German! Trust me, I've done extensive work with both, and although they may have slightly different grammatical features, they are not too different, as, say, Swahili and French.


3 word genders and 4 cases? I wish!

Polish genders: masculine animate singular, masculine inanimate singular, neuter singular, feminine singular, masculine personal plural, and all other plural (total: 6)

Polish cases: nominative, genitive, dative, instrumental, accusative, vocative, locative (total: 7)



Thinking I've gotten really far and good at it. Then trying to listen to a song or read a book in french and being so lost.


I would have to agree with grammar. French and Spanish, the hardest thing for me is the subjunctive. I know there are a whole bunch of trigger phrases and I get the idea behind the subjunctive, but applying it seems so difficult and frustrating. I also think listening comprehension is very difficult. Also, if you're learning a language like Japanese or Hebrew, reading gets super tedious, and you almost want to depend on listening comprehension more. I'm also quite the lazy person, and coming across a challenge like the subjunctive or listening comprehension, is difficult to actually stick all the way through with. Motivation is a huge factor with language learning.


Thinking about speaking German to get a seal of bi-literacy without even have spoken to anyone in German before.


Definitely reading, especially with the tricky Russian word stress. If you were to pick up a book, paper or even look up online - no stress marks, nothing, no even on stressed "ё".

Also, the general fear of speaking to natives, or other people speaking the language, thinking that you're destined to make a mistake here or there... Which is partly true, but it should never be stopping you from achieving your goals in anything, not just language learning.

And, finally, the fear of forgetting. Whether it'd be forgetting some vocabulary, grammar rules or set phrases. For example, you finally get the chance to speak on that one topic, that you love the most and have mastered and then... not a word comes up... Even worse - you forget the whole language! :o The other difficulties of learning very precise cases, spelling rules, specific verb conjunctions etc. are common amongs the harder parts of learning a new language.

However, never give up! If you ever get tired of grammar, exercises, learning vocabulary and so on - put on a blockbuster from that country or watch your favourite show in that language. Maybe listen to a podcast or look up some well-known native musicians to rock out to. Just don't stop going at it in one way or another! :)


For me, I think grammar is easy to get my head around. If there is a rule for it, it can be easy to learn. However what makes it difficult is when the grammar is significantly different from English. I'm pretty good at translating Turkish sentences but I'd not be confident translating from English just yet, it'll take more practice for that, due to how different the word order and structure is, I'd have to spend some time thinking of how it would translate.


Personally I find that the difficult part of learning a language varies depending on which language it is. For example, I think that Spanish is easier than French in terms of pronunciation, but is harder than French in terms of grammar. But if I had to decide on two things that are difficult in all languages for me, it would be.....

-trying to learn and retain the vast amount of vocabulary

-getting your head around the language's subtle nuances; the things that, when we ask them why something is said instead of something else, native speakers just say 'it's just the way it is'

I hope that makes sense!!


I think that vocabulary is the most difficult aspect because pronunciation and grammar at least follow patterns and can be figured out. Vocabulary is pure memorization, and you have to learn several thousand words to just be conversational in a language.


In all honesty, for me it is not finding a main comprehensive and succinct source from which to learn said language. This is applicable to most of the languages that I'm currently studying.

Then there are languages that I'd really like to study, but I cannot really learn them without the guidance of a professional instructor to help me get started at least. They include languages such as Japanese and Arabic.

Please note that these are only difficulties, and they all can be resolved with thorough planning, diligent work, and earnest effort.


There have been difficulties since the start which I've had to overcome. Currently my difficulty is a shortage of people around... although I guess that's more part of my surroundings than the actual language. Trying to understand French used to drive me crazy and scare me a lot, and I was far better at speaking the language... although I have definitely noticed an improvement... now it's probably trying to obtain and maintain a sufficient vocabulary for speaking fluently. I started only 3 months ago.


Grammar. Some people say Kanji is hard. But, I'd take Kanji over grammar (of languages in general, not just Japanese) any day!


You need at least a minimum 2,000 Kanji to speak Japanese at an adult level. Keep in mind that this does not include all the words you can create by combining different Kanjis ( which often have meanings that are completely unrelated to the Kanjis they contain ). Also, Kanjis can have multiple meanings and pronunciation. Not to mention the fact that you have to remember the stroke-order for every single Kanji ( if you ever wanted to write Japanese and be properly understood ).

If Japanese didn't have such a complicated writing system. It probably wouldn't be referred to as "one of the hardest languages to learn" so often. I'd much rather take complicated grammar over a writing system as brokenly hard as Kanji. It looks pretty, but it's just so unpractical ( Kanji was never meant even meant for Japanese in the first place ).


Kanji stroke order is mostly consistent. So, it becomes intuitive long before one has learned 2,000 of them. As for being able to write them, many Japanese native speakers don't know how to write thousands of them. But, as long as they can read and type them on a keyboard, they do just fine. ^_^


In a modern age in which many people communicate by text, I will have to admit that stroke-oder is something that has become somewhat less of an obstacle for learners of Japanese in the recent years, and you're right about stroke-order being mostly consistent.

But I would still consider learning Kanji a much harder task than learning a complex grammar system.

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