Hardest language to pronounce?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by tpettit, Aug 18, 2007.

  1. I can hardly think of any examples of this in English. I guess, it is so much more of a problem in Chinese and the Indo-Chinese languages!:)
  2. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    Maybe you haven't heard how the Finns can pronounce English!

    Besides, I mentioned Japanese but otherwise, as I said, I was speaking only about European languages.
  3. clipper Senior Member

    England´s english
    I have tried to speak relatively few languages but have found that in the main European languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian) it is relatively easy to be understood without much practice (within the time frame of a short holiday for example). However on a trip to Vietnam my wife and I tried desperately to utter some few basic words (after all, how difficult can a monosilabic language be?).... totally impossible. Even after asking natives to demonstrate the subtle differences in pronunciation due to the mind numbing quantity of accents used we were left unable to perceive any differences whatsoever. Vietnamese must be one of the most difficult for Europeans to pronounce, especially if you factor in its apparent "easyness" due to the familiarity of the letters.
  4. lineaadicional

    lineaadicional Senior Member

    Monterrey, México
    Mexico, Spanish
    Well. This is the first time I write something in this forum (Cultural Discussions) and since my english is not that good I prefer to apologize before keep writing: Sorry for my english...

    I just wanted to share a bit of my experience learning languages. I have lived two years already in Russia (Moscow) because I am studying here and when I just arrived I realized that I was never gonna be able to speak nor understand any Russian and I wanted to take the next flight to Mexico right in the airport (hahaha). Russian is very hard to pronounce since they have 10 vowels and 23 consonants and two signs that make every consonant hard or soft depending in the vowel after or before... it's a mix of sounds that seems hard when you are not enrrolled with them, but even though my accent it's pretty obvious I may speak and understand almost everything about conversational language.

    Nevertheless, I guess English has a harder way to pronounce the vowels. In Mexico we say that Americans use to twist the words, so in some way I found out that Russian may be harder in grammar than english, but not in pronunciation at least for a Spanish-speaking. For Russians, English pronunciation is extremely and absolutely hard, especialy the "TH" sound and the "W". Actually they find easier the British accent or pronunciation than the American one since Americans use to soft (or how do you say this?) the "T" letter in the middle of some words: better, center, little... Not even mention about some other words like: dirty, burden, button, and so on. Americans pronounce them in such a way that me and Russians have found quite difficult imitating them.

    Sorry again for my mistakes and have a nice day you all.

  5. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well, I have. ;)
    It doesn't sound much worse than some Austrian 'accents' of English, really. :D But then, many Austrians also have a hard time learning correct English pronunciation (it gets better with English pop culture dominating our everyday lifes).
    There even are many English teachers here in Austria still teaching in class who even can't pronounce the English 'th' properly (they indifferently pronounce it /s/) - mine was (and retired only recently).

    Yes, English isn't too easy to pronounce even for many Europeans, but then much easier than so many other languages.
    Main problems always occur if the foreign language has phonemes the mother tongue doesn't have - but foreign phonemes you can learn, to a degree.
    What is extremely hard to learn however is prosodic features not known in the mother tongue, and if they are important for both producing and understanding the foreign language this causes serious problems with language learning.
    Such would be for example the tonal accent of Serbian/Croatian (but you will be understood if you don't manage to learn pronouncing it correctly, so this is no big problem) but even more for the tones of many South-East Asian languages (which don't exist in European languages as tonal accents aren't really quite the same).
    But equally it is for me, with mother tongue of Austrian German, extremely difficult even to pronounce long vowels in unstressed positions (which you don't have in German, and even more in many Austrian dialects there's no such thing as an opposition of short/long vowel but a combined quality of short vowel/long consonant and half-long vowel/short consonant or open syllable half-long vowel). Thus Czech pronunciation (with accent on first syllable and long vowels possible in unstressed position) is extremely difficult to me.

    Strangely enough, I am more satisfied with my approximation of Russian pronunciation than the one of Czech pronunciation. Both of course still being only very rough approximations, of course ... :D

    But as already stated several times, what's hardest to pronounce always will depend on your mother tongue(s) and the phonetical differencies to the language you'd try to learn.
  6. Chaska Ñawi

    Chaska Ñawi Senior Member

    an old Ontario farmhouse
    Canadian English
    Moderator note: Although the initial post in this thread calls for personal opinions and thoughts, these are outside the parameters of this forum. Please restrict your posts to specifics, not speculations, about pronunciation issues.

    Thank you for your understanding.
  7. SpiceMan Senior Member

    Osaka 大阪
    Castellano, Argentina
    The hardest language to pronounce is the one that has less phonetic similarities with the language(s) you already master.
  8. I beg to differ. Sometimes you find phonemes totally strange to the articulation system in your own language to be surprisingly easy... Looks like different mouths are naturally better adapted to learning different things.
  9. SpiceMan Senior Member

    Osaka 大阪
    Castellano, Argentina
    Still people always has problems with the most distinct sounds in a given language, ie: the ones rarely present in other languages like the r in Spanish, the broad range of vowels in English, the tones in Chinese, the pitch accent in Japanese, etc...
  10. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The Spanish r is very common cross-linguistically.
  11. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Now I'm confused: so Argentian Spanish does not have the alveolar Spanish 'r'?!
    Apart from that, alveolar 'r' is very hard to pronounce for any speaker who does not know it from his or her mother tongue, and substitutions with velar (trilled or fricative) 'r' are very common: this is the case for many speakers of German even though many German speakers indeed use an alveolar 'r' themselves - so even many people (me included) who do not use alveolar 'r' in their mother tongue but know it from other speakers of their mother tongue nevertheless (hearing a sound being the beginning of pronouncing it correctly) may have great troubles learning to produce that sound.

    Apart from that, yes, alveolar 'r' is rather common in many languages of the world, probably even more common than velar 'r'.
    Despite this alveolar 'r' is very hard to learn if you have to learn it (as an adult).
  12. mgwls Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Spanish (Argentina)
    There is no difference between Argentine 'r' and Spanish 'r' that I'm aware of (or 'rr' for that matter). Anyway the sound of two 'r' together in Spanish -like in the word ferrocarril (railroad)- is hard even for natives, there are lots of people that don't achieve a correct pronunciation of that phoneme (pronouncing 'r' instead) until they are 7 or 8 years old. There are even some kids that have to get professional help to get that 'rr' sound right. I know a Bulgarian guy that moved to Argentina when he was 4 or so years old but despite having lived here for 15 years now, he still can't get (or can but with a lot of effort) the pronunciation of 'rr' right.
  13. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    The rr's that some Bolivians and Argentinians pronounce sound like ž or closer to Czech ř. I can't give any link, but this is what my ears tell me.
  14. lineaadicional

    lineaadicional Senior Member

    Monterrey, México
    Mexico, Spanish
    Oh my door!! I had never noticed that the rr thing is that hard... It seems so natural to me even in the ferrocarril word.

    In Russian they have four letters that at first glance sound similar:
    ж, ш, щ, ч I don't even know how to write the pronunciation but all of them sound fairly like "sh" (especially to me). They are harder than the rr stuff!!!
  15. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    But they are not, they're dead easy!

    (Here you've got an example on how much such things depend on the language(s) you grew up with.)

    However, another feature of Russian, the palatalization of consonants, is something which is not too easy to learn for people not having these sounds in their mother tongue.
  16. lineaadicional

    lineaadicional Senior Member

    Monterrey, México
    Mexico, Spanish
    It's easy to say them one by one and even if you say a bunch of words with some of those weird letters, yes. But when they are speaking you NEVER notice what of those four letters they are using! :)
  17. FYV Member

    Russia, Russian
    Because your native Spanish language doesn't have these sounds (except ч).
    ж, ш like sounds are common in many languages, for example in French,in Portuguese,in English.
  18. lineaadicional

    lineaadicional Senior Member

    Monterrey, México
    Mexico, Spanish
    FYV, can you give an example of the ж sound in english? I'v never heard it...
  19. FYV Member

    Russia, Russian
    visual, pleasure, usual, azure - at the place of "s","z" letters

    In English it sounds slitely softer.
  20. lineaadicional

    lineaadicional Senior Member

    Monterrey, México
    Mexico, Spanish
    I don't know if this is the correct space to discuss this point but I disagree with you, FYV, since the ж in Russian (and you better than me know it) is far beyond the sounds for the words visual, pleasure, usual, etc. To me (and I could bet for the most of english speaking people) those are closer to the ш or щ but nothing close to the ж one...

    Any ways, my native language is Spanish so I may be mistaken.
  21. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  22. michimz

    michimz Senior Member

    US English
    The hardest sound to produce that I have ever come across is the sound in Danish where you stick your toung halfway out of your mouth! That was an extremely linguistic description of the sound, I know! :) I think it is the r sound.
  23. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    In Russian, pronunciation of consonants depends on wether they are palatalized (which would be the case if followed by the palatal vowels /i/ or /(j)e/) or not (there's more to it than that, but that's the basics of it).
    If palatalized, the alveolo-palatal symbols would be the correct representation, if not then the postalveolar ones.

    This palatalization feature is exactly one of the things difficult for anyone who does not know it from his or her mother tongue - me included here, by the way, even though for me personally there are much more different sounds to be found in world's language than the Russian palatalization.

    As for the Danish 'r-where-you-stick-your-tongue-halfway-out-of-the-mouth', this certainly should work without sticking the tongue out, really. :)
    Apart from that, far as I know, the Danish 'r' is uvular as described on the Wiki and not alveolar, so how's one supposed to stick the tongue out if producing it? (To be absolutely clear here, I don't speak Danish, so probably someone Danish could comment here.)

    But one thing I know about Danish, and that's that the Stød really is something rather difficult learning to pronounce correctly.
  24. Chiltepe

    Chiltepe Senior Member

    Colorado, US
    Español - Guatemala, English - USA
    I think it depends on your native language. I am a native Spanish/English speaker, I grew up speaking both at home and at school. I studied French and Portuguese in high school and college. Then I went to Thailand and they have 5 tones, so that one word that sounds the same to me, has 5 different meanings.
    But my point is that for Thais it was nearly impossible to pronounce my name, Manuela. They just couldn't pronounce an "e" immediately following a "u". I think for Thais, it would be very difficult to pronounce Spanish, just like it was hard for me to figure out the difference between mai, mai, mai, mai, and mai!
  25. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    I agree with everybody who says that "hard to pronounce" is relative.

    I taught French in Venezuela for some years, and from my experience, mastering the 16 vowels of the French language is hell to Spanish speakers (even taking out a couple of seldom found vowels one can do without). And this is just between two Romance languages.
    (16 vocals vs 5 - from a phonological point of view anyway)

    Each time I hear Armenian, I ask to myself "how can they do with so many consonant clusters?!"
    My Armenian friends told me that English was easy to learn and Armenian was difficult - all this with a thick, distinctive foreign accent. So what?! :confused::D
  26. palomnik Senior Member

    I've been working on Vietnamese for a few months now, and I have to admit that I'm amazed at how much difficulty the pronunciation is giving me. I already speak Mandarin, and IMHO my accent is pretty good, including the tones, but Vietnamese pronunciation is daunting by comparison (and even by comparison with Thai, for that matter). Vietnamese has only ten vowel sounds, which is not extreme, but it has a bewildering number of diphthongs and triphthongs that are not found in most other languages. The tones are different from Mandarin too, in that they are true "pitch" tones and not just "contour" tones like Mandarin, and in that some tones incorporate changes in the actual pronuncation of the syllabic phonemes, especially the syllable length and final consonants.

    I thought that the fact that a lot of Vietnamese vocabulary comes from Chinese would be a help, but it's not - I actually find it easier to recognize Chinese borrowings in Japanese than in Vietnamese!
  27. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    But Armenian is rather easy compared to so many other languages if you only know the rules of pronunciation - see for that in my post #81 in this thread: there are rules for when to insert a schwa between two consonants, so the consonant clusters aren't near as difficult to pronounce as they look like.

    In fact, the more difficult feature with many Caucasian languages (there are some phonetical similarities between some genetically unrelated languages) are aspirated consonants (vs. non-aspirated plus voiced ones: so three plosives for each articulative position to distinguish) and even affricates, and for Armenian there's to add that there are two 'r'-phonemes, one being a velar fricative (similar to the 'French r') and the other, if memory serves me right, being an alveolar trill.
    With languages having different 'r'-sounds only as allophones (many times free allophones) of one phoneme it especially difficult learning to distinguish allophones in one's own language as phonemes in the language you try to pronounce correctly.
    The difficulty, primarily, is not producing them - this is not too difficult (though difficult for me even though both sounds are free allophones of my mother tongue German, but myself I use only one of those allophones) - but distinguishing them as phonemes.
  28. FYV Member

    Russia, Russian
    But ш and щ are voiceless consonants whereas "s" in visual, pleasure, etc. is a voice consonant.
    And ж is the voice counterpart for ш and sometimes щ...
  29. Chaska Ñawi

    Chaska Ñawi Senior Member

    an old Ontario farmhouse
    Canadian English
    Moderator reminder: Some posts are straying from the original idea. Time to return to the idea of difficulties of pronunciation, please and thank you.... and thank you to those who are keeping this thread on track.
  30. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    Establishing a hierarchy of difficulties linked to pronouncing a foreign language would be somehow subjective, I imagine. It all depends on what sort of phonemic inventory you are used to and what sort of phonological rules you master from childhood. It is often the combination of different sounds – grosso modo what is called phonology – which constitutes one of the big hurdles. You may have both s and p in your language*) - and yet be unable to pronounce the combination sp. “I am from eSpain”, is a common shibboleth for distinguishing people who were never exposed to the consonant cluster sp before they had to learn, say, English. The interesting thing is that they can’t mentally perceive that they actually put a vowel in front.

    -Where are you from?
    -I am from eSpain.
    -You mean, you are from Spain.
    -Yes, I am from eSpain.

    What may seem curious is when you hear somebody saying: “I went to the eschool the other day.” –-in spite of the fact that the previous word contains a final e.

    But this is only one example. There are plenty of them, and nobody can claim that he masters – as far as correct pronunciation is concerned – a language which he only started learning as an adult. Whatever phonetic difficulties we may encounter, there is also something called phonology which has hardly been touched upon in this thread! -except modus.irrealis mentioning Georgian consonant clusters. :eek:

    *) Most languages do – in one way or another. Arabic doesn’t have a p, and one should ask what sort of spirant (“s sound”) we are talking about – Spanish and Greek only have one spirant, Polish has got three. Further, is the p non-aspirated or aspirated – or perhaps it becomes non-aspirated after the s, or it requires an epenthetic vowel (like a Turk would tend to say sıpor while writing spor < Fr. sport), etc., etc.
    :) :)
  31. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    The hardest language to pronounce is Malayalam, also known as ''the phonetician's heaven'' ;) , the official language of the India's most developed state: Kerala (which is also known as ''God's own country'').

    Malayalam has all sounds of Tamil + all sounds of Sanskrit, which it makes a very difficult language to learn. Even tho' Malayalam is the only Dravidian language without diglossia, it is the most difficult Indian language to learn because it is in fact a highly sankritized version of medieval Tamil.

    On the other hand, Malayalam-speakers can understand Tamil even without learning it, and Hindi is peace of cake.
    That's why many Malayali actresses (like Asin) are looked for in Hindi and Tamil movie industries.
  32. def hungarian..like example when you say cheers you say " egeszegedre" you almost fall asleep before you had even said the whole word..it feels very long ..the language is not close to anything else..even if you have been here for 5 years your still confused by all words..But i guess your able to learn anything aslong as you have a strong will..
  33. AlJaahil Member

    Canadian English
    The hardest word I've come across is Musqueam Halkomelem sq'@kw'q@kw' - accented on the first syllable, q' is uvular ejective, kw' is labiovelar ejective, @ is schwa. The transition between the uvular ejective and the labiovelar ejective immediately following is pretty tough.

    The word means "prone to bite," e.g. of a bad-tempered dog.
  34. Vasiliy Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    Well I think Russian is pretty hard with all the sh'ing, my native tongue barely uses sh sounds.
  35. elirlandes

    elirlandes Senior Member

    Dublin & Málaga
    Ireland English
    I once thought it would be fun to learn russian, but I got as far as "Hello" [здравствуйте] and gave up.
  36. Orlin Banned

    This word is probably difficult to non-Slavic speakers but is easier that one might expect because the 1st в is not pronounced here and the combinations здр and ств are normal in Slavic languages. Unfortunately I can't judge from the point of view of a non-Slavic speaker.
  37. koniecswiata Senior Member

    Am English
    There are many languages full of hard to pronounce sounds, or combinations thereof. Even English, despite becoming such a universal communication medium, is quite difficult for various learners--especially its pronunciation (vowels that are fairly similar to each other, certain consonant clusters, certain consonants ch vs. sh, y vs. j, w vs. g, etc...).
  38. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

  39. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    If you do that, it is no wonder that you have trouble pronouncing Danish.

    So would I.

    It is really hard to find sounds in the Danish language that don't find an "almost equivalent" in the English language. The only ones I could think of are the "y" (like German Ü) and the "å" sounds.
  40. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    For me, the pronunciation of HochDeutsch is piece of cake compared to Danish/Norwegian.
  41. koniecswiata Senior Member

    Am English
    This is all so relative... But, even pronouncing Portuguese correctly is hard for a Spanish speaker--despite being very similar languages. It goes to show that even if languages are very similar, all bets are off when it comes to phonology or pronunciation.
  42. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    No surprise to me.

    If a German speaker has just a halfway structured approach to learning Danish, it is really only the pronounciation and understanding spoken language that is tough.
  43. Egisto Senior Member

    Difficulty is always subjective. On my opinion the only objetctive point is the "distance" between (or among?) spoken and written language. For ex. French or English have great (very great) differences between orthography and pronunciation - the written language/orthography is more or less the same of Shakespeare but pronunciation is changed a lot, and have an enourmous numbers of exceptions. Natives usually don't see this problem but it's real. Spanish in one of the best language - considering this issue - because there're almost no variations, no exceptions from orthography to speech. Pronunciation is always the same. English is terrible: how can you know the rule about pronunciation of I or A or GH and so? There's no rule, only experience and practical knowledge... Last but not least, consider in English the pronunciation is always shorter than the written words
  44. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    I don't think Spanish is that perfect, for example, the simple r's in some words are strong (as if they were spelled rr): sonrisa and Israel, pronounced as: sonrrisa, Isrrael,
    yet it's not indicated in the spelling. :)

    For me English is easier to pronounce in Italian because in Italian there are open and closed vowels è ò é ó, and their distribution is different than in Portuguese.
    And I wouldn't want to speak with a nonstandard Italian because I don't find it nice at all. So, learning Italian is pain because I have to do a lot of dictionary searching.
    As for the writing, English and Italian share the same difficulty, I never know how to write an Italian word because of double letters (le doppie), so writing Italian is a pain, I have to look up words in the dictionary too much, and in the Northern Italy people pronounce many double consonants as simple, while in Rome and in the South people seem to double all simple consonants, so you cannot really rely on how speakers pronounce it. :(
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2011
  45. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    For me Spanish is difficult, because I cannot guess the verb from the infinitive, so in Spanish there are thousands of irregular verbs which are regular in Portuguese:

    contar ---conto, contas, conta in Portuguese, but cuento, cuentas in Spanish

    yet depender is dependo, dependes, depende in both
    not depiende, depiende in Spanish

    It's too difficult, so many irregular verbs, you can't guess the pronunciation of the verbal forms from the infinitive!!!
    And in Spanish they don't count as irregular verbs, but as verbs with a diphthongal realization!!! So, Spanish teachers just see it as a pronunciation thing!! For me they are irregular sim senhor!

    It's really strange that you have to memorize the present form along with the infinitive: contar (cuento, cuentas...), as if it were Latin: amo, amare, amavi, amatum :)
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2011
  46. AudeS Senior Member

    Paris, France
    I agree, totally! And I've tried maaaaany languages!
  47. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    Vietnamese is easy compared to Korean, which has like 5 consonants for p and b:
    Aspirated p and soft b, and 3 intermediate sounds!!! hahaha, so difficult :(

    And Malayalam has the contrast between a dental n and an alveolar n
    (but thank God only in intervocalic double consonants: nn ~ NN).
  48. AudeS Senior Member

    Paris, France
    You're right. But I find it less difficult to deal with subtle consonants (in truth, I like it...) than to deal with SEVEN different accentuations/tonalities/whatever they're called... AND there are unusual consonants in Vietnamese as well!
  49. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Portugues also has irregular verbs (present, simple perfect, subjunctive present/future) which one who has learnt Spanish cannot guess... and you have the difference between open and closed vowels which is irrelevant for Spanish. And the Portuguese orthograph is a nightmare with, e. g., written o spoken u, or the different readings for x, or more or less 4 writings for the sound "s"!
  50. Egisto Senior Member

    every language that comes from latin isn't easy. If you consider verbs with declination in italian you become crazy, but we are talking here of pronunciation. Of course new-latin languages aren't easy, but spanish (and, less, italian) is easier than English, is most regular about pronunciation of words (once you've learned the rules). Yeah, italian has the open or close vowels (but there's no region with same sounds and the most part of italians ignore the problems - there's almost no italians who knows the difference between pésca and pèsca or vénti and vènti - and survive happily...)

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