Easy and hard languages to learn

Also, what features are easy and what are hard

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#21  Postby viocjit » Oct 30, 2013 6:40 pm

What are the easy and hard languages to learn ?
I think that we can answer to this question if we take care
of the next patterns.

A.Your(s) native langage(s)
B.Yours phonetical skills.
C.Methodology that you use to learn any languages.
D.Your personality.
E.Your motivation.
etc...

I think that all languages are easy and hard in the same time.
I'll speak about my personal experience in language learning :

I'm learning English as a French native speaker and I can say that I have problems with some English vowels like /ʊ/ (for those who doesn't know IPA this the "oo" of the word "foot" in received pronunciation). Also I make a lot of grammar mistakes. But I make few mistakes of spelling. Even if the "voiceless dental fricative consonants" (/θ/ or "th" of the word "think" in received pronunciation) , doesn't exist in French I can pronounce it. Therefore this is why I think that all languages are easy and hard in the same time.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#22  Postby Saim » Dec 30, 2013 7:25 am

I'm With Stupid wrote:But there are also factors that are objectively more difficult. The largely phonetic spelling of Vietnamese is obviously easier than non-phonetic spelling of English, which is obviously easier than hieroglyphics employed in Chinese.

I think it's worthwhile to point out that this isn't really inherent to the languages themselves. Written language is not really language - language is speech, and writing is an artificial approximation of it. Any language can theoretically be written with any script (note how Serbo-Croatian and Hindi-Urdu are written in different scripts depending on country, religion or ethnicity), it's just convention that creates a consistent orthography.

A language with lots of exceptions to grammar rules is harder than a language with none.

I don't think there are languages with more or less exceptions to grammar rules.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#23  Postby The_Metatron » Dec 30, 2013 8:36 am

I learned to read Korean in a day. No idea what it meant, but I could make the sounds. Great written language, except they have no sound for F, or Z, and their L and R is the same sound. The hardest English word I ever found for a Korean speaker to say is "lizard". Maybe lizard pizza with a Fanta (an orange soda) would be worse.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#24  Postby lpetrich » Aug 20, 2014 2:43 pm

I took the difficulties that I found for my OP, and I compared them to variations in language features as collected in the World Atlas of Language Structures.

I simplified the difficulty measure for this work:
0: English
1: I, German
2: Indonesian/Malay, Swahili, II
3: II*, III, III*
I only counted up same vs. different, and I did not try to use a degree of difference.

I found that languages in category 1 were often about half as different from English as those in category 2, though in some cases, categories 1 and 2 were about the same. Those in category 3 were usually somewhat more different from English as those in category 2.

However, this was from eyeballing the numbers, and I'd have to do statistical-significance tests to be sure. But one could use this for estimating the likely difficulty of learning some language.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#25  Postby scott1328 » Aug 20, 2014 7:11 pm

I found Spanish much easier to learn than German. I started learning Spanish when I was 12 and studied it for four year in middle school and high school. I didn't start German until I was 16, I studied it in high school and college for 6 years. I also find that after 30 years since my last language class and years of non-use, I am still more proficient with Spanish than German.

Perhaps it is the sheer number of cognates Spanish shares with English that makes the difference?
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#26  Postby I'm With Stupid » Aug 23, 2014 2:38 am

Saim wrote:I think it's worthwhile to point out that this isn't really inherent to the languages themselves. Written language is not really language - language is speech, and writing is an artificial approximation of it. Any language can theoretically be written with any script (note how Serbo-Croatian and Hindi-Urdu are written in different scripts depending on country, religion or ethnicity), it's just convention that creates a consistent orthography.

A convention you have to use if you want to be able to communicate, ergo part of a language. Yes, you can write English in Arabic script (not entirely accurately, I might add), but see how far it gets you. Language is communication, not speech. And writing is just as valid a communication tool as speaking. Try telling deaf people that language is speech.

Saim wrote:I don't think there are languages with more or less exceptions to grammar rules.

Well if you want to get technical about it, there's no such thing as grammar rules, just patterns of use. But the fact remains that if every verb in English added "ed" in the past tense, it would be quicker and easier to learn. This is well-documented when children are learning the language for the first time. They will learn and internalise a rule, and then they will overuse it, and apply it to words that are irregular verbs (goed, sitted, etc). They then have to take extra time to learn all of those irregular verbs individually (or in smaller groups in most cases). There are many other areas where this is the case. Native English speakers tend to struggle with spelling well into their adult life, because there's sometimes limited relation between the spelling on the page and the sounds that they know (or at best, they're guessing between the 2 or 3 conventions that they know). Chinese adults have a tougher time again, and it's not unusual for highly-educated Chinese adults to completely forget how to write a relatively basic word. With no clues from the sound, they can't even have an educated guess. With Vietnamese, on the other hand, it's very difficult to forget how to write something, because their script is (almost) 100% phonetic. It seems pretty obvious to me that certain tasks in certain languages are more difficult and time-consuming than others.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#27  Postby don't get me started » Sep 01, 2014 5:59 am

I'm with stupid wrote:
Language is communication, not speech. And writing is just as valid a communication tool as speaking. Try telling deaf people that language is speech.


I see what you are getting at with this statement, but I have a different slant on the issue. When you say that language is communication, it is correct in broad terms, but the field of Conversation Analysis (CA) takes the view that language is interaction. That is, people do not spend their time making propositional statements about the world. Rather they engage in a very subtle and sophisticated co-construction of a socially based practices in the here and now of the interaction.
The basic unit of language in CA terms is not the sentence (so beloved of the generative grammarians) but the turn (or, more properly, the 'turn at talk'.) The structure of turns is heavily dependent on the structure, content, intent previous turn. The participants create an intersubjectivity in order to make sense of each others utterances.

In 1965 Chomsky wrote (quote from memory) that spoken language is too disordered and chaotic to yield any interesting insights into language. The word he used for spoken language was 'degenerate'.

However, with the onset of reliable and portable audio and later video recording equipment, it became clear that the supposedly disordered and chaotic nature of spontaneous interactions in fact deeply ordered and nuanced. CA transcriptions of talk are extremely detailed. Every pause, hesitation, restart, repeat etc is finely transcribed as CA holds it to be true that no occurrence in talk in interaction is a priori unmeaningful. (Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff and Gail Jefferson are credited with laying down the foundations of CA)

Hence, although deaf people have grounds for denying speech to be the central use of language, they are the same as the hearing population in using language primarily to interact.

This intersubjectivity is nuanced and often culturally bound.
I'll give an example here.
In co-constructed conversational events, research has shown that there is a preference for agreement to assessments. When I say preference, I don't mean that in a conscious way, but in the CA meaning of the term. Agreement is 'preferred' in that it takes place immediately after the turn being agreed with, without hesitation, or any hedging, is short and direct in turn structure.
Disagreement is 'dispreferred' in that it often takes place after a pause (In CA terms 0.4 second counts as a lengthy pause), there are often multiple restarts at the the beginning of the disagreement turn, there may be hedging and the actual disagreement comes late in the turn:

Agreement:

01 A: That was a y-y-you know a really goo. great movie
02 B: Yeah it was fantastic

Disagreement

01 A: That was a y-y-y know a really goo. great movie
02 B: (0.3)
03 B: Well (0.1) yea yeah it was OK, I mean, like (0.3) but actually I was kind bore, kinda bored in the middle bit

Notice B's much more complex, hedged and paused turn in the disagreement turn. This is what is meant by 'disprefered'.

Now in Japanese, one does assessment agreements by, among other means, repetition.

01 A: Its cold today, isn't it  今日寒いですね(Kyo, Samui desu ne)
02 B: Yes, it's cold today  そうですね、寒い (So, desu ne, samui)

This would sound odd to most native English speakers.

This is not what happens in English. One main way to agree with assessments is to upgrade the assessing adjective with a limit adjective.

01 A: It's cold today, isn't it
02 B: Yeah, it's freezing

B's agreement turn is shaped mainly by A's turn, that is he chooses the adjective 'freezing' based on the adjective chosen by A. If A had said 'freezing' in his assessment, then B would have chosen a different agreement turn structure.

By these types of practices CA describes language as 'talk-in-interaction' and holds that conversation (Interaction) is the basis of the human language ability. Writing is a narrowly formalized somewhat brittle re-working of this aspect of language, rather than an idealized model to which speakers should aspire.

(The classic paper on Agreement and Disagreement is as follows
Pomerantz, A. (1984). Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: some features of preferred and dispreferred turn shapes. In J.M. Atkinson. & J. Heritage, (Eds.),Structures of social action(pp. 57-101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press )
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#28  Postby Saim » Sep 27, 2014 12:06 pm

I'm With Stupid wrote:
A convention you have to use if you want to be able to communicate, ergo part of a language. Yes, you can write English in Arabic script (not entirely accurately, I might add), but see how far it gets you. Language is communication, not speech. And writing is just as valid a communication tool as speaking.


Then the ease or difficulty of a given writing system only affects language acquisition insofar as reading and writing is used as a tool in said acquisition process. In many cases it is not used.

Try telling deaf people that language is speech.


The communication that occurs in sign language is much more analogous to speech than writing is.


Well if you want to get technical about it, there's no such thing as grammar rules, just patterns of use. But the fact remains that if every verb in English added "ed" in the past tense, it would be quicker and easier to learn. This is well-documented when children are learning the language for the first time. They will learn and internalise a rule, and then they will overuse it, and apply it to words that are irregular verbs (goed, sitted, etc).


The point is that there is no evidence of variation in children's language acquistion by community - in other words, children may overapply certain rules through analogy, but there is no indication that these analogies slow children down more in some language communities more than in others. Thus, we can't really say that there are more or less complex "grammars", or if there are this complexity has little effect on the overall rate of acquisition at least when we are talking about L1 acquistion.

They then have to take extra time to learn all of those irregular verbs individually (or in smaller groups in most cases). There are many other areas where this is the case. Native English speakers tend to struggle with spelling well into their adult life, because there's sometimes limited relation between the spelling on the page and the sounds that they know (or at best, they're guessing between the 2 or 3 conventions that they know). Chinese adults have a tougher time again, and it's not unusual for highly-educated Chinese adults to completely forget how to write a relatively basic word. With no clues from the sound, they can't even have an educated guess. With Vietnamese, on the other hand, it's very difficult to forget how to write something, because their script is (almost) 100% phonetic. It seems pretty obvious to me that certain tasks in certain languages are more difficult and time-consuming than others.


True and then it depends on how much you're using writing as a part of language learning. Certain languages aren't even written very often so in this case it might not even be relevant - look at Neapolitan or Moroccan Arabic for example.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#29  Postby The_Metatron » Sep 28, 2014 3:18 am

The simple answer is that other languages are hard, mine is easy.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#30  Postby Varangian » Sep 28, 2014 5:53 am

From what I've observed, Germans have a fairly easy time learning Swedish, but that's not only because our languages are both Germanic, but also because Swedish was influenced by German in the 14th-17th centuries. Mostly, it is a matter of aptitude. I once met an Iranian doctor living in Sweden, who spoke almost accent-free Swedish after 12 years in the country, while my brother-in-law still has a heavy American accent after more than 20 years here.

I've been told that Norwegian, Danish and Swedish are almost unique among the languages of the world, as people of the nationalities can speak their respective languages and still be mostly understood by each other. There are dialects, though, that make it close to impossible to understand some speakers. In written form, there are a few hundred common words that differ, but in general, e.g. a Swede can read Danish or Norwegian without too much trouble.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#31  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 03, 2014 9:20 pm

Tones, for an untrained ear, are insanely difficult. Those of us born into societies without tonal language simply do not possess the relevant software which was built up through formative language years. It takes years to be able to recognise them, let alone use them correctly. Inflection is such an inherent part of your speech that, even when using a foreign language fluently, you often use inflection patterns from your original. You can't do that with tonal languages, you end up saying things you really didn't mean to say! :)
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#32  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 03, 2014 9:32 pm

lpetrich wrote:This likely varies a lot, but it would be interesting to look for patterns.

The closest I've found to a systematic survey is a difficulty list from the Foreign Service Institute of the US State Department. Its measure of difficulty is how many weeks of class time it takes to get proficient. Here it is: Wikibooks:Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers - Wikibooks, open books for an open world

The difficulties:
  • I: 23-24 weeks: Romance and most Germanic languages
  • 30 weeks: German
  • 36 weeks: Indonesian/Malay, Swahili, Jumieka
  • II: 44 weeks: most of the rest, including Icelandic
  • III: 88 weeks: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
Japanese is the most difficult one. It's the writing systems that make Category III languages especially difficult, and Japanese the champion. Without that source of difficulty, they'd likely be Category II.

Has anyone tried composing such lists for other languages? I have yet to find any. But I would not be surprised if the FSI has a Russian counterpart with a similar list for speakers of Russian.

Turning to learning English, its spelling is legendary in its difficulty; it's semi-logographic. I recall some English learners writing English phonetically in their native languages to help them along. But aside from that, how easy or difficult does English tend to be?



Apparently Thai is category III at 1100 class hours. 1100 class hours is a *lot* assuming that related extra-curricular activities are also worked on, so I won't say it's untrue, but I'd say it would be very difficult to achieve a high level of accuracy in Thai in 3 years.

The alphabet is just insane - certainly not to Japanese level, but utterly confounding!

There are 44 consonants, 21 (iirc) base vowels with several permutations.

They have a range of 5 hard consonants for the fricative to plosive sounds, i.e. b to p, and there is no apparent rule for when they are used - you just need to know how the word is spelled in advance before you can hope to write it correctly.

Vowels can further be put before, after and in some cases above or below a consonant to have a different sounding or order, i.e. ar or ra but imagine that with 2 more dimensions. Now think about diphthongs where the connected vowel sounds can be split up either side, below or above a consonant!!! :waah:

Plus there are tonal marks and other symbols for representing a speech mark with there's a particular symbol of great annoyance which effectively means 'and so on' because their place names are too long to fit on signposts.

Words are sometimes phonetic, sometimes absolutely nothing like they're written nothing like they sound - there's even a mark which effectively says 'this is nothing like it sounds'. A good example of the non-phonetic is the name of the BKK international airport Suvarnabhumi สุวรรณภูมิ - if you read the sounds out it says 'soo warrrn na boomi' but Thais says it 'su wa na poom'.

Finally, they don't use spaces between words and have no punctuation. When you try to read a sentence in Thai, you HAVE to know the majority of the words to know where they start and end.

anexampleofthisisthesentenceiamnowwritingisntitincrediblydifficulttoreadeveninalanguageyouknownowimagineitinonewhereyourvocabisinthehundredsrange


It is a bloody nightmare, and testament to the fact that human infants are incredible processing devices.



Edit: hehe my Thai-style sentence broke the board software.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#33  Postby don't get me started » Oct 13, 2014 12:56 pm

Thanks for that explanation of the Thai writing system Spearthrower. I've always wondered why I never made any progress in deciphering the script whenever I have been in Thailand.

I have visited the country on numerous occasions and being of a curious nature when it comes to languages, I often see if I can try to work out what it is I'm looking at. When I visit Korea, I can usually start to work out the system and read things like station names that have the Roman alphabet equivalents printed alongside on the signs.
No such success in Thailand. I am still 100% illiterate in that country.

In more general terms, regarding the OP, in my experience whenever I look into a new language, whether it is as a (semi-) serious student or idle curiosity that lasts as long as it takes to read Wikipedia page, I always come across THE THING that just seems designed to discourage the foreign learner.

German: Hmm...lets, see...grammar often matches English, OK. Cognates galore...nice. Verbs to the end after modals and relative pronouns...not too challenging. Eh!! Every single noun has a specific gender that has to be learned one-by-one, and its gender affects all kinds of other parts of the sentence...Verdammt!!

Japanese: Well, no verbal inflections according to the pronoun. Geddin! Subject, object, verb word order...learn it I can. No articles or plurals. Ha ha...Great! I don't have to remember rule. Now then, what's this? Two syllibaries of 50 characters each, PLUS thousands of individual characters with multiple strokes each (sometimes up to or over 20)! Many of the characters resemble each other with only a single differentiating stroke (犬-'dog'. 太-'fat'), the kanji's combining with the syllibaries in intricate ways and each Kanji having multiple pronunciation variants.... Never ending story!

Arabic...Back-to-front cursive script that omits vowels..or.... .slwv stm tht tprcs vsrc tnrf t kcB. Seriously?

Finnish: All of those cases.

Chinese: All of those tones and ideograms, and dialects that are mutually unintelligible.

Korean: All of those vowels, dipthongs, blends.

And that is before you get to the actual worldview of the language, it's particular way of describing reality, its way of categorizing things and actions.

Frustrating, but always fascinating.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#34  Postby Emmeline » Oct 13, 2014 8:21 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Some Californian dialects are reputedly having a sound change where /u/ (the sound in cool) or somesuch has been shifting forward while maintaining roundedness. Rumor has it some sociolects even have an ü there, but I have not heard any recordings that would confirm it. The strongest fronting I've heard puts it at what in IPA is written [u], which is somewhat further back in the mouth than an [y] is.



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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#35  Postby The_Metatron » Oct 15, 2014 7:46 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
lpetrich wrote:This likely varies a lot, but it would be interesting to look for patterns.

The closest I've found to a systematic survey is a difficulty list from the Foreign Service Institute of the US State Department. Its measure of difficulty is how many weeks of class time it takes to get proficient. Here it is: Wikibooks:Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers - Wikibooks, open books for an open world

The difficulties:
  • I: 23-24 weeks: Romance and most Germanic languages
  • 30 weeks: German
  • 36 weeks: Indonesian/Malay, Swahili, Jumieka
  • II: 44 weeks: most of the rest, including Icelandic
  • III: 88 weeks: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
Japanese is the most difficult one. It's the writing systems that make Category III languages especially difficult, and Japanese the champion. Without that source of difficulty, they'd likely be Category II.

Has anyone tried composing such lists for other languages? I have yet to find any. But I would not be surprised if the FSI has a Russian counterpart with a similar list for speakers of Russian.

Turning to learning English, its spelling is legendary in its difficulty; it's semi-logographic. I recall some English learners writing English phonetically in their native languages to help them along. But aside from that, how easy or difficult does English tend to be?



Apparently Thai is category III at 1100 class hours. 1100 class hours is a *lot* assuming that related extra-curricular activities are also worked on, so I won't say it's untrue, but I'd say it would be very difficult to achieve a high level of accuracy in Thai in 3 years.

The alphabet is just insane - certainly not to Japanese level, but utterly confounding!

There are 44 consonants, 21 (iirc) base vowels with several permutations.

They have a range of 5 hard consonants for the fricative to plosive sounds, i.e. b to p, and there is no apparent rule for when they are used - you just need to know how the word is spelled in advance before you can hope to write it correctly.

Vowels can further be put before, after and in some cases above or below a consonant to have a different sounding or order, i.e. ar or ra but imagine that with 2 more dimensions. Now think about diphthongs where the connected vowel sounds can be split up either side, below or above a consonant!!! :waah:

Plus there are tonal marks and other symbols for representing a speech mark with there's a particular symbol of great annoyance which effectively means 'and so on' because their place names are too long to fit on signposts.

Words are sometimes phonetic, sometimes absolutely nothing like they're written nothing like they sound - there's even a mark which effectively says 'this is nothing like it sounds'. A good example of the non-phonetic is the name of the BKK international airport Suvarnabhumi สุวรรณภูมิ - if you read the sounds out it says 'soo warrrn na boomi' but Thais says it 'su wa na poom'.

Finally, they don't use spaces between words and have no punctuation. When you try to read a sentence in Thai, you HAVE to know the majority of the words to know where they start and end.

anexampleofthisisthesentenceiamnowwritingisntitincrediblydifficulttoreadeveninalanguageyouknownowimagineitinonewhereyourvocabisinthehundredsrange


It is a bloody nightmare, and testament to the fact that human infants are incredible processing devices.



Edit: hehe my Thai-style sentence broke the board software.

I am told that saying "Na na hee, ship hiy" will result in a fight, particularly if added to "Kee malang won". Or something like that.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#36  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 15, 2014 11:47 pm

The_Metatron wrote:
I am told that saying "Na na hee, ship hiy" will result in a fight, particularly if added to "Kee malang won". Or something like that.


I have no idea what the former is but the latter means 'fly shit' - I've never heard it used as an insult though! Generally the bad words in Thai are the nouns of animals, though, so it might be!
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#37  Postby Saim » Nov 02, 2014 1:17 pm

don't get me started wrote:Chinese: All of those tones and ideograms, and dialects that are mutually unintelligible.


Not really relevant since when people say they're learning "Chinese" they're learning one particular variety (usually Mandarin, but there are a couple of foreign learners of Cantonese and Taiwanese Min Nan). It's like saying that Spanish is difficult because it's not fully mutually intelligible with Italian, why would it be?

don't get me started wrote:

Finnish: All of those cases.


These actually correspond to prepositions in English (Finnish has a couple of postpositions but very few, so the cases express that kind of meaning). This is probably easier than in Slavic languages where there are fewer cases but you have to remember which prepositions activate which cases and in which contexts.

Hungarian (along with Sami, Estonian and a whole slew of endangered or vulnerable languages in the Russian Federation) belongs to the same Finno-Ugric family as Finnish, and has a similar case system. At least one Anglophone learner of Hungarian claims that these aren't actually that difficult and that he learned them as if they were postpositions:

Benny the Irish Polyglot wrote:One of the first things you will hear when someone is describing Hungarian to you is that it has “over twenty cases” (exact number depends on the source). This is pure hogwash.

From learning a Slavic language (Czech) and German, I have a pretty good idea what a grammatical case is; Genitive, Accusative, Dative, Vocative etc. and while I have my ways of getting through these (described in the Czech/German guides linked above), they are still quite a lot of work and will slow you down when you are learning a language.

Hungarian’s “cases” are nothing like these. There is almost no complexity to them at all! It’s just a fancy name for “the preposition gets attached to the end of the word”. So while in Czech, any case requires you to know (or at least extrapolate) up to fourteen possible combinations per word (which luckily follow patterns) for each case, Hungarian just has two or three, which are almost always totally obvious.

Seriously; they are just prepositions! You could call it the “dative”, but it’s actually the “to/for”. So in German’s dative you’d need to have the article (dem, der, dem) agree in gender, then modify the adjective ending, and then sometimes get the right ending on the noun, in Hungarian you just add “-nek” or “-nak” to the end. Which one you use only depends on the vowels in the word.

So Csillának adtam egy könyvet is I gave a book to Csilla. “In” Budapest is written as Budapesten. These “cases” don’t influence articles or adjectives and are a short list to learn, which you’d have to learn anyway in other languages as prepositions.

It takes some getting used to when you attach them to the end of the word rather than the beginning, and the only other trick is that if you use a demonstrative (“this” or “that”) it also gets attached to the word this/that. But that’s about it!

(Possessives work in almost the same way; my/your/his etc. get attached to the end of the word instead of before it.)

Stop thinking of them as cases, and just think of them as fancy prepositions and you’ll do fine. They aren’t even that fancy. Think of things like “with John” as “John with” and the challenge suddenly starts to disappear.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#38  Postby Zwaarddijk » Nov 02, 2014 5:31 pm

Saim wrote:
don't get me started wrote:

Finnish: All of those cases.


These actually correspond to prepositions in English (Finnish has a couple of postpositions but very few, so the cases express that kind of meaning). This is probably easier than in Slavic languages where there are fewer cases but you have to remember which prepositions activate which cases and in which contexts.

Finnish actually has quite a few prepositions as as well as postpositions. You could basically express all types of locatives entirely with genitive/partitive + prepositions, but it would be quite unidiomatic and awkward Finnish. A few adpositions are more common than the case that correspond to them - ilman, vailla are definitely more common than -tta, kanssa, mukana are definitely more common than "-ne(+poss.suff)", and so on.

However, Finnish post- and prepositions clearly historically have developed out of semantically bleached nouns, so e.g. "vailla" clearly historically comes from the same noun as "vaje" - a lack, so essentially one of the words for "without" originally meant "at lack (of)"

However, yeah, basically using Finnish cases is no different from using prepositions in English. (Well, it's different the same way Swedish prepositions are not at a one-to-one correspondence with English prepositions, so there's obviously no way of just substituting one particular preposition for one particular suffix - the correspondences are way more complex than that.)



Benny the Irish Polyglot wrote:One of the first things you will hear when someone is describing Hungarian to you is that it has “over twenty cases” (exact number depends on the source). This is pure hogwash.

From learning a Slavic language (Czech) and German, I have a pretty good idea what a grammatical case is; Genitive, Accusative, Dative, Vocative etc. and while I have my ways of getting through these (described in the Czech/German guides linked above), they are still quite a lot of work and will slow you down when you are learning a language.

Hungarian’s “cases” are nothing like these. There is almost no complexity to them at all! It’s just a fancy name for “the preposition gets attached to the end of the word”. So while in Czech, any case requires you to know (or at least extrapolate) up to fourteen possible combinations per word (which luckily follow patterns) for each case, Hungarian just has two or three, which are almost always totally obvious.

Well, yes and no - Hungarian's cases almost all seem to have uses that not just literal translations of a literal preposition, much like in Finnish. Hungarian grammars actually distinguish proper cases from other locative suffixes based on some criteria that from a linguistics p.o.v. seem rather justified.

Of course, modern linguists don't really believe there's a significant difference between cases and adpositions in the first place, so calling this hogwash is also pretty dumb - there are languages where accusatives, genitives and vocatives are all prepositions too!

Seriously; they are just prepositions! You could call it the “dative”, but it’s actually the “to/for”. So in German’s dative you’d need to have the article (dem, der, dem) agree in gender, then modify the adjective ending, and then sometimes get the right ending on the noun, in Hungarian you just add “-nek” or “-nak” to the end. Which one you use only depends on the vowels in the word.

Which is why the distinction between case and postposited suffix in Hungarian is based on morphosyntactic considerations.
But as mentioned, this is not an altogether important distinction according to modern linguistics, and those who care about it tend to be those who for one reason or another want some language to be better or less good than some other language(s).


It takes some getting used to when you attach them to the end of the word rather than the beginning, and the only other trick is that if you use a demonstrative (“this” or “that”) it also gets attached to the word this/that. But that’s about it!

Well there you go - congruence!


Stop thinking of them as cases, and just think of them as fancy prepositions and you’ll do fine. They aren’t even that fancy. Think of things like “with John” as “John with” and the challenge suddenly starts to disappear.

The problem is rather that people think cases are something fancy, than misidentifying things as cases.
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#39  Postby lpetrich » Nov 02, 2014 11:26 pm

I think that a difference is regularity/modularity. Are there separate sets for singular and plural? Or even for dual? Do different nouns and adjectives use different sets? Is it only on the end of a noun phrase or on all the phrase's members?
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Re: Easy and hard languages to learn

#40  Postby lofuji » Nov 11, 2016 3:53 am

Saim wrote:Chinese adults have a tougher time again, and it's not unusual for highly-educated Chinese adults to completely forget how to write a relatively basic word. With no clues from the sound, they can't even have an educated guess.

People don't believe me when I tell them that I found it easier to read and write Chinese than I did to speak Cantonese (the Hong Kong dialect), mainly because although I can tell the difference between tones, I can't reproduce them. I can't sing in tune either. However, I do understand how easy it is to forget how to write a character I haven't used for a while, and my wife, who is Chinese, has exactly the same problem.
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