Julian Northbrook sends daily email tips for speaking better English – Click the button on the right, sign up, and you'll get a new email every day packed with ideas and tips for speaking better English.

Filed Under

How hard is English to learn for foreigners?

June 6, 2019 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

How hard is English to learn for foreigners? Good question – here’s how to find out if English is hard for people with your first language.

Is English hard? The Quick ‘n’ Dirty Answer

The answer totally depends on what your first language is, your background, culture, attitude and loads of other factors.

For a rough estimate, the language difficulty rankings published by the Foreign Service Institute can help.

This video explains:

On YouTube: Is English Hard to Learn?

Using the Foreign Service Institute List

The list below shows the estimated difficulty of other (major) languages for native English speakers. And assuming the difficulty and time required to learn a language works two ways (i.e. if your first language is hard for English speakers, English is hard for you) this is about the closest you’ll ever get to a realistic answer.

So, find your language, and look at the category:

Category I: 23-24 weeks (575-600 hours)

Languages closely related to English

Afrikaans, Norwegian, Danish, Portuguese, Dutch, Romanian, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish.

Category II: 30 weeks (750 hours)

Languages similar to English


Category III: 36 weeks (900 hours)

Languages with linguistic and/or cultural differences from English

Indonesian, Swahili, Malaysian.

Category IV: 44 weeks (1100 hours)

Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English

Albanian, Lithuanian, Amharic, Macedonian, Armenian, *Mongolian, Azerbaijani, Nepali, Bengali, Pashto, Bosnian, Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik), Bulgarian, Polish, Burmese, Russian, Croatian, Serbian, Czech, Sinhala, *Estonian, Slovak, *Finnish, Slovenian, *Georgian, Tagalog, Greek, *Thai, Hebrew, Turkish, Hindi, Ukrainian, *Hungarian, Urdu, Icelandic, Uzbek, Khmer, *Vietnamese, Lao, Xhosa, Latvian, Zulu,

Category V: 88 weeks (2200 hours)

Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers

Arabic, *Japanese, Cantonese (Chinese), Korean, Mandarin (Chinese),

* Languages preceded by asterisks are usually more difficult for native English speakers to learn than other languages in the same category.

Published by the Foreign Service Institute.

Where This Doesn’t Work

Of course, this doesn’t always work. Japanese is rated as hard, for example, but not because it is a hard language to speak. Japanese is hard because of its writing system… so it’s (theoretically, at least) easier for a Japanese person to learn English than it is an English person to learn Japanese.

So yeah… this method is quick ’n’ dirty.

Still the best you’ll get, though.

What are your English Learning Expectations?

Of course, it also depends on what you considered “learned”, too. The higher your personal expectations, the harder/longer it’ll take. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish (go here for a post on the importance of attitude).


P.S. If you are learning English, and want to get it done faster, with less stress and fewer headaches, you can subscribe to my daily English Mastery tips emails using the form below.

Subscribe to Dr Julian Northbrook's Daily Emails for Speaking Better English & get FREE access to the Doing English App, packed with free lessons:

view pixel

More Shizzle on the Blog: