Japanese is one of the hardest languages to learn if you're a native English speaker. Ryo Matsubara/Flickr
· Based on their experience training US diplomats, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) divided all the languages they teach into four distinct categories.
· The higher the category, the "harder" the language is to learn for a native English speaker.
· Category I languages such as Spanish and Portuguese are among the easiest ones to become proficient in.
· "Super-hard" Category IV languages include Arabic, Cantonese, and Korean, which generally require 88 weeks of full-time study to learn.
· Reddit user Fummy recently compiled the FSI's rankings into two fascinating maps.
If you want to pick up a new language in a short amount of time, you may want to start with Portuguese instead of Korean.
According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), a native English speaker would need around 24 weeks to learn the former. To learn the latter, however, the speaker would need to study the language for more than a year and a half, or about 88 weeks.
Based on their experience training US diplomats, the FSI divided all the languages they teach into four distinct categories. The higher the category, the more classroom hours a student would need to reach a "general professional proficiency" in both speaking and reading the language. Or, in simplest terms, the higher the category, the "harder" the language is to learn for a native English speaker.
Reddit user Fummy recently compiled the FSI's rankings into two fascinating maps: one focuses on Europe; the other includes the rest of the world (for which data was available). Take a closer look below.
A map of the FSI's language difficulty rankings in Europe. Courtesy of Fummy/Reddit
While the FSI divides the languages they teach into four official categories, Reddit user Fummy used six different categories for the purposes of these maps. Countries are colored in according to the difficulty of their official language.
Dark green (Category I): To reach proficiency in a Category I language, a native English speaker would need to complete around 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study. This category includes languages that are "closely related" to English, such as Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.
Light green (Category II) and light yellow (Category III): While the FSI classifies French as a Category I language, Reddit user Fummy included it as a Category II language on the map above since it generally takes 30 weeks, instead of 24 weeks, to learn.
According to the FSI's official list, Category II languages are ones that generally take native English speakers "a little longer to master than Category I languages." These include German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Malay, and Swahili. On average, learners can look forward to 36 weeks of full-time study before reaching proficiency in these languages. On Reddit user Fummy's map, these are colored in light yellow as Category III languages.
A world map of the FSI's language difficulty rankings. Courtesy of Fummy/Reddit
Dark yellow (Category IV): On the map, Category IV languages correspond to the FSI's official Category III languages. These are "hard languages" with "significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English" that require around 44 weeks of full-time study to reach proficiency.
Examples of Category III (or Category IV on the map) languages include Hindi, Hebrew, Greek, Farsi, Russian, and Czech.
Orange (Category IV*): This group includes languages that are generally considered harder than the rest of their category to learn such as Estonian, Mongolian, and Vietnamese.
Light red (Category V): The Category V languages on the map correspond to the FSI's official Category IV languages. These are "super-hard languages" that are "exceptionally difficult for native English speakers" to learn, including Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean. Generally, students require around 88 weeks of full-time study to reach proficiency in these languages.
Dark red (Category V*): On the map, this category only includes Japanese.