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The Hardest European Langauges to Learn

Updated on November 13, 2012

We have all been there; arriving in a new country for the first time, the excitement growing as you leave the airport and catch the bus into the city. Then, all of a sudden, someone starts talking to you. 'What the hell was that?' you think to yourself, whilst trying to smile and frantically gesticulate that you don't understand.

The local looks offended, so you try out one of the phrases that you learnt on the flight. 'I do not understand' you offer with deliberate pronunciation, but the angry face tells you that you have almost certainly used the wrong words; or, even worse in some places, you have used the wrong language.

In this post we take a very subjective look at what we believe to be the six hardest languages to speak in Europe. We are not interested though in which language has the most complex declension or uses the subjunctive mood the most; instead, which language is most difficult for reciting some of the common tourist phrases.

Enjoy the pintxos in San Sebastian, but just don't try to order them in the native language!
Enjoy the pintxos in San Sebastian, but just don't try to order them in the native language! | Source

The Languages

6) Portuguese

Yes, that's right, Portuguese is opening this list. Although by no means the hardest language
to read or write, Portuguese (from Portugal rather than the more melodic Brazilian) is spoken
with a very distinct accent.
It is quickly with several unique vowel combinations, making it is much more difficult than other Romance languages like French or Spanish. A good way to practice Portuguese is by pinching your nose while talking to get the distinctive 'ao' perfected.

5) Finnish

Good luck if you have to say the numbers quickly (yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä, viisi etc.); they are pretty tough to recall in the midst
of a stressful first conversation. Finnish also has an evil little brother, Estonian, just to make things a little more complicated.

4) Welsh

If you ever find yourself in the beautiful mountains of North Wales, you might be unfortunate enough to run into a local whose is stubborn enough to refuse to speak English. Careful when you recite the phrase book not to cover him them in your spit as you get your tongue around the insane consonants. Check out this typical name for a Welsh Town*

3) Czech

For some reason, Czechs have included a letter in their alphabet that only they can pronounce. Ř is a weird combination of zh and a rolled r sound. Think you can avoid using this one letter? Think again. It is used in many common words, such as: three, four, say and come. The Czechs will not help you out much either; if you try to replace it with a standard 'r', you will get a look of disgust followed by a rudely barked 'co?' (what do you want?).

2) Hungarian

In addition to the ridiculous amount of cases (which we promised not to talk about), Hungarian also has 14 distinct vowels - made up from various accents. Our top tip is to avoid bars in Hungary at all costs; trying to shout the equivalent of 'cheers!' (Egészségünkre!) is enough to drive anyone to drink.

1) Basque

We would highly recommend visiting the Basque Region, for its food and superb scenery. However, you may well run into a few difficulties if you have to converse with a local.

Basque is a completely unique language. Unlike everything else on this list, it has no link to anything else - especially not Spanish (understood!). The language is chocker block with 'z', 'k' and other harsh sounds. If you find yourself in the Basque heartland (Gernika or Astigarraga for example), you may want to ask the locals to speak more slowly - 'astiro-astiro hitz egin mesedez'- or then again, maybe not!

*Yes, we know it's not that typical.


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