Which Language Is 'Hardest' - French, German or English?

Watch your language!

No, really, watch your language. See how it works. Study its patterns. You'll find many interesting things about it. Have you ever said a word over and over again and realised just how weird it actually sounds? Like squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Sound weird? Or did you get your tongue tied saying it? That's because it's a combination of several complex sounds made in the mouth. "S" is what linguists call an unvoiced fricative, "qu" (or "cw") is a combination of an unvoiced plosive and a voiced approximant, and so on - and all of these different sounds require either your tongue, lips, teeth, voice, or a combination of the lot. And we do it all without thinking.

But try to get a German or French person, for example, to say the word "squirrel" and that's where the problems start. Why? Because these are a combination of sounds that are not usually used in their language; in German, the "w" as we know it doesn't exist - hence "squirrel" being a challenging combination of sounds for them to make, often coming out as "scvirral". Similarly, their sentence saying "wer will das machen?" would sound like "ver vill dass machen?", all Ws being pronounced as Vs. But notice the word "machen". The "ch" is not pronounced like in our word "Church", or like any English word involving "ch", in fact. This sound doesn't actually exist in our language. It is pronounced by pushing the back of the tongue up to the roof of the mouth and pushing air through. The French have their famous "r" sound which uses the back of the throat, and no doubt they like to have a good giggle when we have a bash at pronouncing it! However, the French usually struggle with the pronunciation of the letter "h", which they don't have, so words like "hello" often come out as " 'ello ", and so on.

So all in all, each one of our languages are equally tricky for anyone who isn't English or German or French and so on. So which language is hardest in terms of pronunciation? Umm...difficult to say...literally.

So how about the actual language; that is, lexis and grammar? Well, let's start with English. Here and hear, their and there, your and you're, right and write, to, too and two, no and know, for and four...these are all pretty difficult words for a foreigner to grasp - they sound the same, so why aren't they spelt the same? And why aren't they spelt the way they're pronounced? "Right". What's that "ght" about? Well, basically, it comes down to etymology (the roots of words). And without boring you too much, a lot of our words come from Latin and French. So French tends to have the same bizarre and tricky spelling as us crazy English speakers. Par exemple, "soigner" is pronounced "swanyay" instead of the logical say-what-you-see "soygnerr". And because our language is Germanic, a lot of our words are also similar to German. For instance, "house" is "Haus" in German, but "maison" in French. SImilarly, "mouse" is "Maus" in German but "souris" in French.

When it comes to grammar and comparing French, German and English, one could argue that French and German are much more complex. We have just one word for "the" - "the" - whereas French have two - "le" and "la" (masculin and feminine) - and German has six different words, all used in different contexts - "der" (masculin), "die" (feminine and plural), "das" (neuter), "den" (accusative), "des" (genitive) and "dem" (dative form of masculin and neuter). For an English person, these are usually very hard to get your head round, but the Germans just pick it up as they go, not realising that to say "I love the dog" they need the accusative form of the masculin definite article "der" - "Ich liebe den Hund."

So in terms of vocab, all languages are equally difficult in their own way, be it having words that sound nothing alike, or words that take on a most unusual spelling! But in terms of grammar, the Germans may have one up on us. Or at least they would if we didn't have two forms of the present tense - "I go" and "I am going". To say that in German or French it's just "Ich gehe" und "Ich gehe" and "Je vais" et "Je vais." So it's very difficult for a French or German to choose which one to use and when, as this doesn't exist in their language, hence them asking questions such as "where we go?" instead of the standard "where are we going?"

However, the German language has syntax which is difficult for us English and French to get our heads round - words like although "obwohl" and because "weil" send the verb to the end of the sentence, which, when translated into English looks something like "I enjoyed myself because I last week to the shopping centre went".

And French grammar? Well, they have way more tenses than us, including the subjunctive, which, again, is triggered by certain words and phrases. "Je peux" means "I can", but when used after "bien que" ("even though"), for example, the verb is turned into a subjunctive, so to say "even though I can..." you would say, "Bien que je puisse..." Complicated stuff!

So, let's sum up:

English Language Difficulties

  • two forms of the present tense - "I play" and "I am playing"
  • "th", "h" and "w" can be difficult to pronounce
  • Unusual spelling - "sight"

German Language Difficulties

  • unusual syntax - certain words send the verb to the end
  • Many words for "the" - der, die, das, des, den, dem
  • Known to have exceptionally long words!

French Language Difficulties

  • Many tenses, including the subjunctive which is non-existant in English
  • Two words for "the" - "le" and "la"
  • Words not always similar to English and German (Germanic languages)

Of course, there are many more factors to the language than I have mentioned here...but I chose not to let you fall to sleep whilst reading this because I didn't want the keys on the keyboard to press into your face too much... So there you have it - a broken down comparison of French, German and English. And the results? Well, they're all equally difficult - or if you're more a "the glass is half full" person, equally easy - and equally cool languages for their own special reasons!

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Comments 32 comments

keira7 profile image

keira7 7 years ago

J'adore ton hub.:) You certainly have a gift with langages. I have a lot of problem with English langage. I am French maried to an English and I still cant speak or write properly. I really need help:) or maybe I just need a brain.:) Je suis nul avec les langues:) Thanks for the info my dear. God Bless.

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

Merci Keira :) Je pourrais vous aider, si vous voulez! Mais votre Anglais est deja tres bien! Alors, est-ce que votre mari parle le francais?

Merci encore, Daniella

keira7 profile image

keira7 7 years ago

Wah Daniella tu es vraiment forte en Francais. Moi je fais beaucoup de fautes de grammaire. Mon mari parle un peu le francais, il se debrouille bien. Par contre mon fils est vraiment fort dans les langues. Je suis contente de savoir que tu trouves que mon Anglais est ok. C'est sympa merci. Je te remercie pour ton aide. Je suis heureuse de communiquer avec toi. J'espere que ca te derange pas que je te tutois.:)

Gabriella D'Anton profile image

Gabriella D'Anton 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

Ciao Daniella,

Thank you for this very illuminating hub. It is a well known fact (from a linguistic point of view) that language is a function of the brain and the ability to speak different languages comes from a specific area of the brain.

I always find it amusing to see how languages have shaped the personality of its people.

French people are sophisticated because their language is so complicated and nuanced (their food might also be a consequence of that predilection towards complicated stuff).

Germans are patient because they have to wait until they hear the verb (at the end of the sentence) to actually know what is going on. Let’s not mention their food and get indigestion, God forbid).

Italians are lovers par excellence because they are singing their words as they embrace the beauty they create at all levels (including food)

Americans are direct and to the point because they rush through life without savouring anything (who else could have come up with the drive-through nightmare?).

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

Keira - merci beaucoup! Je suis aussi tres heureuse de communiquer avec toi (on peut se tutoyer, bien sur! Je ne sais jamais quand c'est ok de dire "tu" a quelqu'un!) Ah, ton fils a quel age? Et oui, le grammaire d'anglais est tres difficile pour les etrengers, mais je te corrigerai si tu fais des erreurs :) Et si je fais des erreurs en francais, je voudrais que tu me corriges aussi. Merci!

Gabriella - love your comment! Interesting obsevations you have there. What do you think is typical of the English then?? It will be funny to know!

Keira 7 7 years ago

On se parle dans tes 2 hubs, c'est amusant je trouve.:) Mon fils a 19 ans. Ils continue ses etudes car il veut etre journaliste. Mais il veut devenir une rock star first. C'est un tres bon guitariste. Quand il me donnera une copie de ses musique je te ferai ecouter si tu veux. C`est lui qui compose les musique. Il cherche un bassiste pour son groupe. A bientot ma chere Daniella.:D

Princessa profile image

Princessa 7 years ago from France

My mother tongue is Spanish and I've found French to be the most difficult language in terms of pronunciation. I love it but it is really difficult!

My children seem to find no problem with either English, Spanish or French so I suppose it is all about the time when you learn them.

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

Keira - haha oui, c'est amusant! Ohh vraiment?! Je compose aussi la musique - je voudrais bien ecouter ses musiques! Je suppose que sa musique est plus rock que la mienne! Malheureusement je ne suis pas un bassiste, mais je joue de la flute... haha xD

Princessa - I agree with you - French is difficult! Apparently it's quite similar to a lot of Spanish words. I definitely think it helps to learn a language from an early age - it's when our brains are at their best stage for absorbing information, but anyone can be taught anything at any age I think!

Princessa profile image

Princessa 7 years ago from France

Well, I learnt English in my 20s and French in my 30s so yes, anyone can learn a language at any age. I believe that it is all about motivation. For example my children learnt Spanish to talk to their grandparents and cousins and it was the same with English. French they learnt at school and they also have a good try with Italian every time we go there for a holiday!

Gabriella D'Anton profile image

Gabriella D'Anton 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

I learned about the differences between proper English and American English from your hub; could not speak either one of them until I came to US, so…

What makes English people have such a special sense of humor? Probably the weather and maybe some of the not so good food.

Just kidding, my remarks are not meant to offend anyone.

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

Princessa - wow! Your children are really talented! They can speak, what, three, four languages? Bravo! And I couldn't agree more, it's all about the motivation - you only learn things when you really concentrate on absorbing the information.

Gabriella, glad to know I helped you :)

And your comments are funny, I could never be offended by them! haha the weather here IS terrible and our food... :S not so great either haha, apart from fish and chips of course!

We English do have a special sense of humour...some say we have a "sick" sense of humour haha .ie. we laugh at people falling over and things...I was once on a French exchange and told them a joke that was really funny back home in England but they didn't laugh at all!

Mezo profile image

Mezo 7 years ago from Egypt

Hi, thanks for the great hub...my native language is arabic and I can speak english (still learning every day!)...tried to learn French but I'm sooooo lazy!....I think it takes time to get "immersed" in a language...in fact the language opens your mind to A lot of things and helps you understand a lot of things about this nation's culture

It's not enough to learn a language at school to understand a culture (never got american and english jokes till I became a movie freak! and of course reading, talking to a lot people) and still lacking a lot of knowledge// you need to understand people's language, jokes, taste, mood, and culture...the language is the key to all this

things that make French people laugh are diff from what makes an egyptian laugh (not everything, but there are something unique to each nation)

Princessa: you've got talented kids, just like their mom


DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

I completely agree, Mezo - in order to fully understand a language (and its humour!) you have to understand the people and their culture too. I don't know how it is in other countries, but when we study a language at University here, you have to go and live in the country whose language you're studying, so as to get a feel for the language. My sister is living in Germany at the moment because she is studying it at University.


Carmen Borthwick profile image

Carmen Borthwick 7 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

Great hub Daniella. From an English speaking only perspective, I think English is probably the most difficult for anyone, even us! I recall as a child pronouncing 'knew' as 'kanew' in my head so I could differentiate the word from 'new'! LOL Thanks for sharing your remarkable talent.

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

Thank you very much, Carmen. Well, I once heard somebody say, "Did you know English is the hardest language to learn out of all the languages?", which is what inspired me to write this hub. Our spelling is so irregular, it's impossible for a non-English speaker to guess it! For example, the word "because". Why not spell it "becoz"? I used to always have to think "Big Elephants Close All Unbelievably Small Exits" to spell it properly!

Gabriella D'Anton profile image

Gabriella D'Anton 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

Hello again Daniella,

If you go back to my article about "Challenges of the English Language" you will see I left you a comment. I will be happy to give you more examples if it helps your project and, by all means, you may use any or all the information from my article.

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

Ah, I'll go onto your article now to reply to you! Thanks Gabriella :)

LizzyBoo profile image

LizzyBoo 7 years ago from Czech Republic

As I have experienced with all 3 languages, I have to say that French is the most difficult one. I tried to learn French 2 years and I end up with just a few sentences. I have to olso admitt, if someone have a passion for a language, then the learning process is quicker.

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England Author

Thanks Lizzy, I have to agree with you that you learn quicker if you have an interest in the subject - you need the motivation, because languages are a difficult thing to learn. As for finding French more difficult, I used to feel the same, but after a while it started to come more naturally to me.

I suppose whatever your native language is also plays a role, because, for example, someone who already speaks a romance language might find another romance language easier to learn than a germanic language!

Thank you for your comment, Daniella

languagemalta 6 years ago

A refreshing, enlightening and well thought hub. I think Motivation plays quite a significant role in learning language faster. And I also agree that Native language also plays a part.

Sean 6 years ago

THANK GOD ENGLISH IS MY NATIVE LANGUAGE! That's all I have to say hehe...still I find that many people tell me English is THE hardest language for foreigners to learn...and this article was very informative thank you! :D btw I got into an argument with a friend from Brazil who said that English is one of the easiest languages to learn, but he didn't take it into consideration that he learned English from the age of 3...so of course he will think it is easy...not to mention he CANNOT speak English too well AT ALL lol

Alucard 6 years ago

Hi everyone/Hallo jedermann/Bonjour I think English is a bastardize language. That continuously steals from other languages. Why even bother speaking such a stupid language it has too many words to remember and the spelling system is amazingly hard...Ich bin nicht naturalich deutsch sprecher aber ich liebe deutsch und ----je parle peu de francais

Charlotte B Plum profile image

Charlotte B Plum 5 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this- i am thinking whether I should pick up french, and this was cool just reading about the differences in languages.

Brandon Walter 4 years ago

And I so agree with everything you said and I currently am learning French and it is in a way hard but I think that I have a huge drive for learning the language so I hope to be fluent within the next year! Oh and I know I am late for commenting on this hub but I just loved it and had to comment! And Daniella do you speak French fluently? Merci pour le très bien hub! Au revoir

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 4 years ago from England Author

Thank you all for your comments! Brandon, I have no doubt that you will become fluent if you keep at it! Ben ouais, je parle le français couramment grâce à mes études à l'université :) De rien, à bientôt! Daniella x

maombi claude 4 years ago

je suis un garcon de 18 ans je parle francais et langlais mais je trouve que le francais et difficile que langlais mais jespere que bienton je serat mieux

James 4 years ago

Liasions and especially nasal vowels are annoying in French. liasions could make a word sound like totally word. And nasal vowels....

Helene Dsouza I Masala Herb 4 years ago

Hi there!

Had to chuckle while reading through your article. ^.^

I grew up with German (dialect and high German) and french. English was taught to us in school, and believe me I was a huge 0, I just could t get it all together. BUT I learned it with time and now I believe I am pretty good in it.

The point is... English is a easy language compared to German and french. Its confusing sometimes and seems even unfinished at times, but once you are into it, you are fine!

French is a bit more complicated as you have mentioned above but what troubled me the most is the writing and not the speaking. Honestly I still haven't grasped it completely yet.

German is the most difficult because of the amount of different vocabularies and articles. Seriously look at those words! Can you speak out Eichkatzelschweif? lol

But at least to write it is simple, since it is phonetic (as is Sanskrit and Hindi). The language itself has Indogerman and Latin roots. There is one more point why it is difficult and everybody who has been living or learning German will agree! The German in Berlin will be easy compared to the German in Zürich. Its not only different its like as if German consists of many small languages. North German folks would never be able to understand our Austrian mountain dialect and we don't understand the Swiss German. We have even own words, so imagine!

Great Article and read, but I feel you needed to go more into details. ;)


004 4 years ago

I only know English, Hindi and Gujarati and i have started learning German in school and it seems easy leaving the long words aside. I don't know about french but my friends say its hard so i opted for German.

josafat hdez 3 years ago

I have learned the 3 laanguages for years, and in my opinion german is the most difficult languages of the three, maybe in pronunciation is more easy but in the rest it is really complicated.

think about it, a german can learn english or french in few time,( 3 or 4 months) but if an english or a french wants to learn german,it could endure even years!!!

I admire germans! overall their ability of learning !!

JKA 3 years ago

Gabriella D'Anton: Your are just producing stupid clichés. Germans can be very sophisticated too. Thanks for insulting us with remarks on our food. I think no European nation has to take lectures on cultures from a US American.

DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 23 months ago from England Author

Josafat hdez: Absolutely - when I was first trying to learn German grammar, my English brain just couldn't get its head round it! Once you have the rules down, though, German becomes very clear and logical, as there are few exceptions to the rules when it comes to the grammar. French, on the other hand, was much easier for me to begin with, but then, when I started to get more advanced and learn about more and more grammatical exceptions, I realised how difficult French really was! For me now, I find German the easier language - but that's just me!

Keep your comments coming, folks - it's always an interesting read! :) xxx

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