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Finnish among most difficult languages for English speakers

Learning a difficult language can be time-consuming, but that shouldn’t put off aspiring learners, says the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. According to a freshly-released list Finnish is among the group of languages the FSI considers to be the most difficult for English speakers to learn.

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The FSI estimates that it would take 44 weeks or 1100 hours to before Finnish rolls off the tongue. Image: Yle

Over the years language learning hobbyists have compiled numerous lists rating the world’s easiest -- and most difficult – languages to learn. But none is perhaps as highly esteemed as the Language Difficulty Ranking put together by the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, FSI.

The FSI ranking is based on an evaluation of how many weeks of active learning it would take a language student to achieve a level of written and oral skill high enough to allow the individual to work with the target language.

The list also assumes that the language learners are native English speakers, and it contains the languages most frequently spoken globally.

Finnish difficult for English speakers

Because Finnish has no connection to Latin or Germanic language groups it has proven to be more than a mouthful for most English speakers looking to learn the language.

The 15 grammatical cases in Finnish make it a challenging language to learn as the smallest change in the end of the word can significantly change its meaning.

Case endings are added to word stems as suffixes and are used to express the same things that prepositions express in English.

According to the FSI, learning the most difficult languages would require a minimum of 88 weeks of study time – that’s 2,200 hours. Languages in this group include Arabic, Japanese, and Korean as well as Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese.

Compared to these tongue-twisters, Finnish is somewhat easier – but still not among the easiest, as FSI estimates it would take 44 weeks or 1100 hours before a learner would feel confident enough join the conversation at the office coffee machine.

The FSI ranking also lists the easiest languages to learn. They include Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, French, Dutch, Spanish and Romanian.

Visit the FSI's Language Difficulty Ranking

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