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wushijiao

I think Arabic would have to be the hardest, for the reasons atitarev laid out.

I think the difficulties of Putonghua can be solved with the help of technology. Sounds and tones will come with time assuming you do a ton of targeted listening practice (on walkmans or iPods) for quite a few years. You can use old fashioned paper flashcards or electronic flashcard systems to help you recognize characters. And you can produce flawlessly beautiful characters using electronic devices (computers, cell phones)!

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ABCinChina

I took a link to what atitarev had posted and those Arabic characters (if that's what you call them) look mighty confusing. Another confusing one is Thai which just baffles me how that can be a written language. I guess it all depends on how you look at it because Chinese was once just as baffling for me when I first looked at characters.

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atitarev

Arabic writing, although complex and confusing, it is not as complex as Chinese. It only has 28 basic letters plus some variations and ligatures. Although letters may take different shape depending on the position, the number is not big.

One difficulty can be described:

mgn wrtng nglsh wtht vwls. y cn stll ndrstnd bt f y dnt knw th lngwg y dnt knw hw t prnnc th wrds

Same applies to Hebrew.

What I mentioned before grammar is what makes Arabic more difficult. Although, Russian grammar is more difficult than Arabic , it is always spelled out.

Thai is written phonetically and both Thai and Vietnamese are about the same in difficulty for Europeans.

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leosmith
both Thai and Vietnamese are about the same in difficulty for Europeans

To europeans with no exposure to romanized script perhaps. Thai script is much harder than Vietnamese (romanized) script for most westerners. If you're just talking about the spoken language, I agree with your statement.

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atitarev

Learning the Thai or whatever phonetic script will add from a few days to 3 weeks to the studies as opposed to learning a romanised script. Learning a new alphabet is not such a big hurdle as you might think.

Let me assure that Hangul (Korean), Cyrillic (Russian, etc), Greek, Devanagari (Hindi), Thai and other alphabets are not too hard. Compare with Japanese Hiragana/Katakana. All you need is a bit of motivation.

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leosmith
Learning the Thai or whatever phonetic script will add from a few days to 3 weeks to the studies as opposed to learning a romanised script. Learning a new alphabet is not such a big hurdle as you might think.

Let me assure that Hangul (Korean), Cyrillic (Russian, etc), Greek, Devanagari (Hindi), Thai and other alphabets are not too hard. Compare with Japanese Hiragana/Katakana. All you need is a bit of motivation.

Thai script is much more difficult than the others you mention. I can't think of a phonetic script that comes close to it in difficulty. Perhapse Arabic, but I'm not sure. It's a major hurdle for Thai learners. This hurdle doesn't exhist for Vietnamese, which makes it easier to learn. However, the spoken languages are about the same difficulty.

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atitarev

It is perhaps individual. Foreign scripts might be too difficult for older learners only. With good books, audio and exercises, Thai can be learned quicker. I can't comment on the availability of good Thai resources but this is always a factor on how a language is viewed in terms of "learnability".

Thai has a lot of symbols and the phonetic system is complex. To learn the script and the pronunciation, like with any language, a proper method must be chosen. But Thai seems pretty consistent in the way sounds and tones are rendered by the script.

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leosmith
It is perhaps individual.

If the learners' backgrounds are different, if they have different motivations, etc, etc, I agree. For westerners with similar backgrounds though, Thai script is much harder than the other scripts you mentioned.

Foreign scripts might be too difficult for older learners only.

I don't really understand what you mean by too difficult. If you're saying it's more difficult for older learners, I agree that's generally the case.

With good books, audio and exercises, Thai can be learned quicker. I can't comment on the availability of good Thai resources but this is always a factor on how a language is viewed in terms of "learnability".

Totally agree.

Thai has a lot of symbols and the phonetic system is complex. To learn the script and the pronunciation, like with any language, a proper method must be chosen.

Totally agree.

But Thai seems pretty consistent in the way sounds and tones are rendered by the script.

It is pretty consistent. But there are exceptions, as with most scripts. Some of the things that makes it hard: over 100 symbols (including punction, numbers, etc); no spaces between words; vowels can come before, after, above or below consonants for a given syllable; short vowels and long vowels; 5 tones (including neutral); tones are determined by a combination of tone marks, consonant class, if the syllable ends with a sonorant final or a stop final, and sometimes what the tone of the preceding syllable was; consonant pronunciations frequently vary depending on the location in the syllable (S can change to T, for example); vowels are sometimes unwritten; there are many consonants with the same pronunciation (there are 6 T's for example, and more if you count the S's that turn into T's when they change position in a syllable); there are several consonant cluster rules and I'm sure there are some other things that I don't know off the top of my head.

Unlike the other scripts you mentioned, even the serious learner takes several months to wean themselves off of romanizartion. There are many romanization systems for Thai, most of which are old and don't fully define the spoken language. I have invented my own transliteration system, if anyone is interested.

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atitarev
I don't really understand what you mean by too difficult. If you're saying it's more difficult for older learners, I agree that's generally the case.

I only meant that foreign alphabets are a serious hurdle for people who are generally unable to learn anything foreign. It happens more often with older people, if they never learned a foreign script, while they were young. If they see strange looking symbols, it seems impossible for them to ever be able to read it. (No offense to older people, I teach my older Russian relatives English, they are haunted by mixing similar looking letters.)

Taking into account the last points you mentioned, how long does it take to learn to read Thai? Is it then the same as with Chinese and Japanese - you can't read it unless you already speak it? It is perhaps somewhat similar to Arabic, indeed, if you say vowels are not always written, and tone determinations seems to be based on some not so straightforward algorithms (at least, they are written, unlike any Chinese dialect).

I am not planning to learn Thai (I've got already too many languages to work with) but I know what you mean, different romanisation systems are only confusing, Russian, Arabic and Korean still don't have one or have too many.

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leosmith
Taking into account the last points you mentioned, how long does it take to learn to read Thai? Is it then the same as with Chinese and Japanese - you can't read it unless you already speak it?

I think one can learn to read at a basic level in a few months. It would be just about impossible to learn to read without speaking, and having a good handle on pronunciation. Thai may be about the most difficult phonetic script, but it's still much easier to read than Chinese or Japanese.

I am not planning to learn Thai

That's a shame. A friend of mine tells me that Russian is the 2nd (after english) foreign language in Thailand. I've personally seen the tons of Russian tourists there. Someone with those language skills would find great opportunity there, or at least one hell of a good time.:lol:

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atitarev

You can't learn all languages and there are a few I feel nostalgic to because I have practically stopped dealing with them:

German (only watch some movies (Komissar Rex - Inspector Rex), still read some articles, music: EAV, Dschingis-Khan), French (sing some Joe Dassin or Mireille Mathieu songs, talk with my daughter), Polish (occasional encounters with Polish community members, music: Maryla Rodowicz, Czerwone Gitary ). As you can see, music helps me to keep in touch with some languages, which I know longer or use a lot.

If I visit Thailand, I'll consider picking up some Thai.

Sorry for the off-topic.

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adrianlondon
If I visit Thailand, I'll consider picking up some Thai.

I'm currently in Chiangmai. I wish countries would standardise on tone markings! I'm only here for a few days so just want to pick up a few words, but I keep saying Mandarin third tone where I actuallt want a sort-of Mandarin second tone.

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leosmith
I'm currently in Chiangmai.

Chiangmai is nice - wish I was there. Are you on vacation, or business?

I wish countries would standardise on tone markings! I'm only here for a few days so just want to pick up a few words, but I keep saying Mandarin third tone where I actuallt want a sort-of Mandarin second tone.

I agree that what can be considered the 3rd tone in Thai is closest to the 2nd tone in Mandarin. Some comments:

(a) it's definitely different, so it could cause some confusion if you just use the 2nd tone in Mandarin

(B) the tone is called "siang dtrii", and almost never "siang saam"(3rd tone), so I'm wondering where you're reading these words, just out of curiosity

© you could use IPA, which standardizes tones

(d) you are to be highly commended for learning a little Thai. Anything I can do to help, let me know!

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wrbt

OT--------------

Chiang Mai is indeed nice, be sure to hit the snake farm that's on the way to where tourists go to ride elephants.

Also a nice side trip from there = take a cheapo plan ride to Mae Hong Son, it's beautiful country there. Then take a bus up to Pai for a few days, then loop around back to Chiang Mai. Mountains, rivers, and Burma oh my.

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adrianlondon

Thanks for the holiday tips ;) (Yep, I'm here on holiday.) I've been to CM before so this time I'm just chilling out. Eating loads, taking cooking classes etc.

By the third-tone-second-tone stuff I meant the tone markings.

For example, hǎo in mandarin is the third tone we all know about. That little "v" tone mark above the latter "a" in Thai would mean you pronounce it in a rising tone, very close to the mandarin second tone. So, it's the tone markings themselves which are irritating me.

To be honest, this is one of those places (a bit like China!) where people are so happy just to hear a foreigner say "thank you" and "hello" in their language that they start gushing "wow, you speak Thai so well!" immediately, in irritatingly good English ;)

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flameproof
Fazah, who can learn 3,000 words in two to three months, said Mandarin was the hardest language to learn because of the vast number of idiograms.

Mandarin is one of the easiest language with a very difficult writing system.

how long does it take to learn to read Thai?

I would say anything from a few hours up to 2 days. It's an alphabet with 50 or so letters. Sure you won't understand (yet) what you read though.

To give you a personal example: before I went to Russia a few years ago and looked at the Cyrillic alphabet for 15 Minutes or so. That was good enough to help me in the restaurant to order some food as Russia has many loanwords.

I guess same applies to Japanese. If you learn Hiragana and Katakana you will also find many loanwords hidden there. To give you one example: Ski = スキー (it's pronounced the same). Next time I go to Japan I will learn it, a few hours should do.

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renzhe
Mandarin is one of the easiest language with a very difficult writing system.

I disagree.

I find that the most difficult part of Chinese is actually the listening comprehension.

The number of homonyms combined with the tonal structure and often unclear pronunciation, and the SPEED with which the two-syllable phrases race past you means that you need a lot of repetition before it all becomes automatic.

Yes, Chinese is easy if people speak slowly to you, in proper tones and without an accent. But this is not how Chinese is spoken.

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chenglong

I think that it's not reasonable to say that this is the hardest language of the world. First, I can't imagine that the man who said that, knows very well all the languages of the world...

Secondly, it depends of the capabilities of the learners, it depends of the maternal language, etc...

So it's impossible to say that a language is more difficult than an other.

However it's more interesting to say that each language have is owns particularities, the caracters for the chinese, grammar for arabic, 3 writting system for japanese, etc...

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flameproof
Mandarin is one of the easiest language with a very difficult writing system.

I disagree.

I find that the most difficult part of Chinese is actually the listening comprehension.

The number of homonyms combined with the tonal structure and often unclear pronunciation, and the SPEED with which the two-syllable phrases race past you means that you need a lot of repetition before it all becomes automatic.

Yes, Chinese is easy if people speak slowly to you, in proper tones and without an accent. But this is not how Chinese is spoken.

renzhe, I can follow your point 100% and definitely agree on the "homonyms" issue. However, I prefer to see Mandarin as "simple". If you start a language and you see it as "difficult" it will give you a good excuse later not to go through with it. I see Mandarin as easy and if I don't make it it's 100% my problem alone.

For me it's a better mindset taking responsibility for my own learning.

PS: Kato Lomb said that Mandarin and Japanese take 3 times longer to learn then other languages because of the writing system.

Talking about Polyglots, Sebastian Heine (22) from Germany speaks 35 languages. Most are from the Middle East. His favorite is Pashto.

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