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The easiest (and hardest) languages to learn according to the U.S. Foreign Service

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Zelda Caldwell - published on 12/13/17

A ranking of world languages based on how long it takes native English speakers to become proficient

Thinking about taking up a new language, but not sure you have the time to do it right? You might want to first check out this ranking of languages, compiled by the U.S. government’s foreign service training agency. Categorized from easiest to hardest according to how long it takes native English speakers to learn them, the list will give you an idea book that trip for six months from now or if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has helpfully placed 68 world languages into four classes, from Category I “world languages” that are closely related to English and only take about 6 months to learn, to Category IV “super-hard languages” which can take over a year and a half of intensive study to achieve proficiency.

One caveat: The FSI notes that it is assumed that “the student has a very good or better aptitude for classroom learning of foreign languages.”

Among the easiest languages to pick up are Danish, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish, which the FSI says take 24 weeks or 600 class hours to learn.

German, Hatian Creole and Swahili (36 weeks) are a little more difficult. The bulk of languages ranked fall into the “hard languages” category, and include Albanian, Hebrew, Polish, and Urdu (44 weeks).

Hardest of all are Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean which would take good students 88 weeks or 2,200 class hours to learn.

Here’s FSI’s full list languages from easiest to hardest.:

Category I: 24-30 weeks

Danish
Dutch
French
Italian
Norwegian
Portuguese
Romanian
Spanish
Swedish

Category II: 36 weeks

German
Haitian Creole
Indonesian
Malay
Swahili

Category III: 44 weeks

Albanian
Amharic
Armenian
Azerbaijani
Bengali
Bulgarian
Burmese
Czech
Dari
Estonian
Farsi
Finnish
Georgian
Greek
Garati
Hausa
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Kazakh
Khmer
Kurdish
Kyrgyz
Lao
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
Mongolian
Nepali
Pashto
Russian
Serbian / Croatian
Sinhala
Slovak
Slovenian
Somali
Tagalog
Tajiki
Tamil
Telugu
Thai
Tibetan
Turkish
Turkmen
Ukrainian
Urdu
Uzbek
Vietnamese

Category IV: 88 weeks

Arabic
Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin)
Japanese
Korean

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