Why I think Arabic is the hardest language in the world

I’ve seen a lot of articles out there proclaiming this and this language as being the hardest language in the world. So now 7 weeks into my Arabic classes, I’d like to make my case for Arabic.

Let’s start with the Arabic alphabet:

ArabicAlphabet

At this point, I still thought it was ok. Sure it looks different, but it’s nothing compared to the complexity of Chinese and Japanese characters. Japanese even has three types of writing systems (one for native Japanese, one for words that came from foreign languages, and kanji, or Chinese characters). The pronunciation is hard, with sounds that I’ve never made before in the four languages I’ve studied (English, Mandarin, French and Japanese), and includes the dreaded French “r” throat sound that I’ve never been able to make. Still, I’m sure with practice I’ll get it (so far I’ve gotten the “ghain” sound right once, and everyone in the class clapped). Reading right to left is also kind of jarring, but I got used to it pretty easily (I started out reading traditional Chinese, which is right to left and top to bottom).  So even though it’s like no other language I’ve ever seen before, I didn’t think too much of it.

Then the teacher showed us this:

arabic_alphabet2

There are four different ways to write each of the letters above, depending on its location in the word, and which letter it follows or precedes. Also, some letters can be connected in certain cases and not in others, while some are never connected. That also affects how to write the letter. Sometimes when two letters are next to each other, it creates a whole new squiggle not present in the alphabet.

I started to get a little worried…

Then we learned some accents that would help us learn how to pronounce the different letters.

image002

So now we can add the sounds “a”, “u”, and “i” to the original alphabet. For example, if you add “buh” to “a”, it becomes “bah” and so on and so forth. Sounds easy enough right?

Nope, WRONG. We only get these helpful accents while we’re learning Arabic. In regular Arabic, they don’t include these accents at all, and you have to rely on your knowledge of the language to know which sounds to make.

hope-word-arabic-caligraphy

This word is prononunce “al-amal” (hope). the “l” in “al”has combined with the “a” in “amal” to create a different letter. There’s no accent above “m” to indicate that it’s pronounced “ma” and not “mi” or “mu” or “m”. Because the “a” in “al” is the first character of the word, it’s a straight line and doesn’t have a squiggle in it like the “a” in “amal” (which was put in for stylistic purposes and may or may not appear in other pieces of writing).

Confused yet?

Now let’s get a little bit into grammar. I’ve studied grammar of four different languages, and I’d like to think that I know a little bit about it.  French has masculine feminine nouns (usually indicated with “la” or “le”) that requires conjugating adjectives (usually an extra “e” at the end for feminine nouns). English and French had singular and plural forms (just add “s” except for uncountables), while Chinese and Japanese use counters to indicate plurality. All four languages indicate possession with a possessive noun (my, mine etc).

Arabic has the masculine/feminine nouns that French has, except without the “le” and “la” to help indicate masculine femininity. It not only has a plural form that is completely different than its singular form, but it also has a dual form! To clarify, singular=1, dual=2, plural=3+. There are no possessive nouns in Arabic; they change the noun to indicate possession.

For example, friend is saudikuh.  Two friends is saudikan (صديقتان). Three or more friends is astikau (أصدقاء). My friend is saudiki (صديقي). And then there’s the feminine form, which I’m just not going to get into (it involves a different conjugation for each of those forms I’ve already mentioned).

Here’s a little chart I made to illustrate the differences.

English French Chinese Japanese Arabic
Singular Friend Ami 朋友 友達 صديق
Dual Friends Amis 朋友 友達 صديقتان
Plural Friends Amis 朋友 友達 أصدقاء
Fem. Sing. Friend Amie 朋友 友達 صديقة
Fem. Plur. Friends Amies 朋友 友達 صديقات
My + singular My friend Mon ami 我的朋友 私の友達 صديقي
My + plural My friends Mes amis 我的朋友 私の友達 أصدقائي

*Note: Japanese and Chinese does have counters to indicate plurality, but it isn’t necessary unless it you want to specify it.

If you look closely, every single one of those Arabic words have a different conjugation, and the plural and singular form doesn’t look like each other at all, which means you will have to memorize the plural form separately. The closest one in complexity is French, but at least it has a consistent root.

That’s it for today! Next time we’ll do numbers (I’m learning to count past 10 now) and possibly more grammar…I’ll need some time to make more charts!

Disclaimer: I’m just a beginner in Arabic, so if I got something wrong, please let me know and I’ll fix it!

12 thoughts on “Why I think Arabic is the hardest language in the world

  1. If you think Arabic is complicated, you should take a look at Finnish. The language has 15 cases singular and 16 in the plural form. Besides that, nouns can have many different forms, If I remember correctly, the noun kauppa (shop) has over 2200 forms. So it can get tricky getting into such a language…The only thing making the language somehow possible to learn for foreigner is that they is the standard alphabet.
    But yeah, in the end, every language which is foreign to your own language base will be hard to learn 🙂

      • Dutch is a very easy language to learn, as it is a Germanic language as German and English. Finnish on the otherhand has nothing to do with any of those languages, Grammar is completly different and as it has no common root to the rest of Europe, it has no similar words…besides that, its only spoken by roughly 5million people. Btw, Finnish belongs to the Uralic Language Family as for examples Hungarian but both those languages are native to central Asia…far of from any common European language

      • The good thing is the pronounciation, as everything is spoken as it is written. Appearently it seems easy for Japanese to pronounce Finnish well and vise versa (except of the rolled “r” in the Finnish language). Besides the standard alphabet, Finnish also got the letters ä,ö, and å

      • As my mothertongue is German, I ruin every language with my pronounciation 🙂
        I learned Finnish since I am a small kid, and now I even live in Finland but the language is a mess, I have developed a deep hatred for it over the years (as I hate grammar, and this language is just too grammar heavy). For me, Chinese seems to be easier to learn, even though I have to learn all the characters and this is just because of the much smaller amount of grammatic forms.
        Well anyways, every learned language is something to be proud of, no matter if its considered a hard or easy language 🙂

      • Haha let’s not get into Chinese…standard Chinese is one thing, but if you get into dialects, oh dear. My dad took German for one day and quit after he found out there was 36 ways to say “eat” lol. You’re lucky you’re European and have access to so many languages!

      • Dialects, yeah, they mess up things in every language I guess. I am from North Germany so if there is somebody from a small south German village or so, I won’t understand a word 🙂 same words, different pronounciation.
        I I tried to learn some Shaanxi hua 陕西话 / Xi’an hua 西安话 but that didnt end up so well…

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