The controversy. Language difficulty is a pretty controversial issue for some reason. The controversy is not just regarding which language is more difficult, but also whether it’s even appropriate to discuss language difficulty. People are always going to argue over which language is more difficult, so I want to elaborate on the other issue – why do some think it’s inappropriate to discuss difficulty? There are the three reasons that people most commonly give on the forums. Let me use the following statement to explain them: “Given a level playing field, an adult learner, with English as a mother tongue, will find Mandarin about 4 times as hard as Spanish. This means it will take the learner roughly 4 times as long to learn Mandarin to a high level as it will take to learn Spanish to that same level.” 1) There is no such thing as a level playing field. Factors such as motivation, exposure, ancestry, etc, will never allow the playing field to be level, so it is meaningless to talk about language difficulty. 2) Language difficulty has nothing to do with the time it takes to learn, so the discussion is worthless. 3) Talk about difficulty is very discouraging, therefore nothing good can ever come of it, and it should be avoided at all costs. But I think discussing language difficulty is both interesting and useful. I disagree with the above statements to some extent. I don’t think it matters that there is no such thing as a level playing field in real life, language difficulty is still a useful metric. When you hear someone say one language is harder than another, they are usually talking about how long it takes to learn. People who say time has nothing to do with difficulty often have trouble expressing what they mean by "difficult". I agree that spending one hour trying to correct fossilized bad pronunciation is more intense than watching a movie for one hour, but how do you quantify this difference in difficulty? In this forum, I intend to use time to learn when discussing language difficulty, and I hope others will too. Finally, there are those who will find discouragement in many things. There is a trend these days not do or say anything that could be interpreted as negative or discouraging. For example, I was on one of my favorite forums about a year ago, and a guy posted a long explanation of his language learning system, and asked for criticism. He got about 10 posts of people praising him, and giving him zero useful feedback. So I made a very critical post. Immediately, I was chastised by several members for being too harsh, even though the post was constructive. The OP finally came back and thanked me for the post, and said he wished he had gotten that kind of feedback from others. This kind of thing is actually one of the reasons why I started this forum. I was tired of being scolded, and some times even censored, for discouraging others. My philosophy for this forum is to encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience. Let the receivers of the information decide whether they should attach emotions like discouragement or encouragement to what they read. This is something I will never be able to control, so the best I can do is share the knowledge and stand back. The difficulty chart. There is an amazingly helpful article called Lessons learned from fifty years of theory and practice in government language teaching written by members of FSI. I recommend that you read the whole article, but the chart I refer to is listed as “Table 2”. You will notice that there are different categories of languages, and the “class hours to achieve goal” is listed. For example, Spanish is in Category I, with 575-600 hours. Chinese is in Category III, with 2200 hours. Now I will point out that these are class hours, not the hours a self studier will require to reach C1/C2 or whatever your goal is. So if these aren’t the actual numbers for you to reach your goal, how are they useful? For me, just knowing relative difficulty of languages can be helpful. For example, say I have studied Spanish, and I want to know how long it will take to learn Mandarin. If it took me 1.5 years to learn Spanish to C1 from scratch, and I plan to put in the same level of effort for Mandarin, than it will take me roughly 1.5 X 4 = 6.0 years to learn Mandarin to C1. Another example, say I’m trying to decide between studying German and Greek. Knowing it takes roughly half as long to learn German as it does to learn Greek can help me make my decision. Anyway, there you have it. Perhaps not the most traditional discussion of language difficulty you’ll find, but I hope you find it somewhat useful.