Languages that are hard to learn: Russian, English, etc.

As a passable German-as-a-third language speaker (Spanish and English native), I find the North Germanic (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian) languages’ vowel sounds confounding in terms of any relation to the characters on the page*. Of course, reading them may be quite a bit easier.

*which means that even with English subtitles on I struggle to make out the meaning of 90+ percent of the words spoken in those languages, whereas say when watching something in Dutch, I go, “oh, that was the cognate of word X in English/German” for waaay more words. Once in a long while the arrangement of consonants will let me recognize a cognate of a German word and I’ll say, wait, WTF is going on with the vowels there!?

FWIW, I don’t think Russian is a particularly hard language to learn, at least if you have a background in Latin or any other heavily inflected language. It just has some distinctive features that have no real parallel in Western European languages* which can be a hurdle initially. I can’t speak with first hand knowledge, but I get the impression that, say, Turkish or Japanese would be harder to learn in that they are structurally fundamentally different from Indo-European languages.

  • There are indirect parallels - the whole verbs of motion thing is somewhat similar to the distinction in French between verbs that take avoir and verbs that take être, but it’s way more sweeping a difference with other verbs.

Swedish vowels aren’t too hard except for “o med prickor” (“o with dots”), which they tell you to pronounce by saying “ee” while your lips say “O,” or something like that.

I actually learned some Danish first (long story), and THOSE vowels are hard to say. You have to gargle them way down in your throat, and Danish also half-asses consonants, so when natives are speaking fast it sounds like “Yo-ol-lol-go-olo golo-o?”

Like in Swedish they write “Vad heter du?” and say every sound, more or less like you’d expect, with a slightly rolled r and a nice crisp sound. But in Danish they write about the same thing, “Hvad hedder du?,” but they say it like “VAH HE-UH DU?” like they bit their tongue earlier. Swedes actually say that to speak Danish one must have a potato in the mouth and oatmeal in the throat.

I’ve only experienced Danish via DuoLingo, but I agree with that. It is far harder for me to understand spoken Danish than Swedish or Norwegian.

I don’t even mind the Swedish /sj/. For me, it approximates the voiced /hw/ sound found at the start of the Midwestern pronunciation of wheat. I know that’s not exact, but it seemed to work for me.

Well, German has four cases (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive) that affect mostly definite and indefinite articles, demonstrative and possessive adjectives but only masculine and neuter nouns themselves in the dative and genitive cases, and plural ones (which are treated as one gender, kinda) in the dative case (you tack an n or -en on most nouns-- “Sie gaben den Kindern ihre Geschenke” --They gave the children their presents.).

One thing about German nouns which is a bit annoying is that the plural formation is all over the place. There are some patterns to be discerned (-ung nouns always go to -ungen, for instance) but the safest bet is to always memorize the plural along with the gender of every noun. Nothing near as easy as the “add -s or -es” of Spanish.

The verbs of motion thing is there too (and the avoir/être thing applies for the perfect tenses, except it’s haben/sein), and usually means you have to use the accusative case for the thing/place you’re moving to, unless the preposition requires you use the dative case because reasons. “Ich gehe nach Hause-- I’m going home” uses “Hause” there (one of the few declined nouns) instead of Haus because “nach” (toward, in the direction of…) requires the object to be in the dative case.

But yeah, nothing like Latin or Russian where every bleeping noun itself seems to have 5 or 6 different declensions depending on whether it’s the subject, direct object, indirect object, possessor, being addressed, spoken about on a Tuesday <—j/k, etc., and a whole other set of them for plurals, yay!

And nothing like in Japanese where I hear there are around twenty different categories of nouns regarding how you express the numbers of them, so the way you’d say something about fifty-five pencils would be different from the fifty five you’d use with train cars, or oranges, or books.

I love learning languages,

I learned English from satellite TV and computing magazines once “the system” had stopped trying to teach me. Once you get by the totally crazy spelling thing, it’s not that bad.

I learned French that one long summer, sigh… French is decently easy from Spanish. My writing is horrible though…

I learned Japanese at college just for quicks but well enough to get offered an scholarship to finish my studies in Japan (at the same time I got a very nice job offer so I didn’t go). Japanese seemed to me extremely easy to learn, very logical. Of course there’s the reading/writing problem, I could speak pretty well but never learned more than 400 kanji or so and have forgotten 99% of them since.

If I didn’t have like a dozen other hobbies I’d be one of those weirdos that can speak 25 languages.

I did Duolingo Danish and was able to read novels (a bit slowly) after 3 months of casual usage of the app. But to this day I can’t understand the spoken language past greetings or very very basic conversation. As a result I also can read Norwegian (of course) or Swedish newspapers and annoy my wife at IKEA by breaking the mistery of a lot of product names…

I also studied Russian for a semester in college and it was a complete mess, but dabbled a bit with DuoLingo last year and was able to read signs, newspaper headlines and such things pretty quickly, but kinda lost interest before graduating to more meaty texts. I also learned all the bad words by playing Tarkov.

I find the DuoLingo model works very well for me compared with the traditional “slog through explicit grammar concepts learning rules” way of teaching. I feel that DuoLingo of course uses grammar concepts to organize concepts and pace the course, but doesn´t slap me in the face with them. A bit like “show, don’t tell” applied to language teaching. That, coupled with the gamification aspects is enough to put me on track very quickly if I have some interest in actually learning the language.

I read this entire post waiting for the vulgar comment and it never happened.

I mean, come on!

I pity people who try to learn Danish. I’m amazed that some people manage, though most have a pretty noticeable accent even after years and years.

We have the weird sounds, and the letters æ ø å, but the broken logic is the worst part. Especially because of how we’ve evolved the language. Or devolved, according to our Scandinavian brethren, who are perpetually appalled by how we speak.

Basically Danish is written one way, and it’s supposed to be spoken another way, but we actually speak it a third way.

The way it’s written is totally illogical compared to something like Spanish which is extremely consistent. We have a lot of silent H’s, like the Danish word for “What?” is “Hvad?” and there is absolutely no reason why the H is there. Just to fuck with the foreigners I guess. Also the D isn’t a D, it’s a “soft D” closer to the English “th” sound.

So good luck with that!

In spoken form there’s the “Queens Danish” called rigsdansk, the correct version, which is only spoken by the Royal Family, and then there’s the bastardized street Danish and dialected Danish that the rest of us speak, which completely messes it up, and adds tonnes of new idiosyncracies that make a language that was already hard to read, even harder to speak “correctly”.

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
― James D. Nicoll

Sums up my view on why English is the murky mess it is.

This would certainly simplify things.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention about the Norman Invasion’s effect on English is that of course we must have gotten our regular plural formation with appended s from Norman French. The new nobility of the 11th and 12th Centuries probably couldn’t be bothered to learn all the weird plurals of (Old? Middle?) English nouns, like “kine” for “cow”. Now we have very few surviving irregular plurals in English, usually for fairly common things: deer/deer, foot/feet, fish/fish, mouse/mice (but not “house/hice*” heh).

It is weird that English speakers adopted the “plural with s” despite the fact that English (of a sort, having lost most case markers/declensions, and I’m guessing as a result had to restrict its word order accordingly) still won out due to the preponderance of speakers in England, and retained its essential grammar, but with a crapton of extra vocabulary. It’s fascinating stuff.

So, you multilingual QT3ers, what the best language to pun in? What has the most opportunities? I feel English is pretty rich but I’m not really fluent enough to pun in anything else.

I can’t answer that question, but I’ve been told and also inferred that the Scandinavian language have the best drinking songs—which may be appropriate in the current global situation.

I hear Ukranian is good for insults ;)

If I happen to be binging foreign language Netflix, I turn on dual language subtitles and occasionally pause and look at them. Makes me feel a little less guilty wasting too much time in a series.

So far the only thing that stuck is a bunch of Korean, simply because there’s such a high volume of content.

Language aside - Russian cursive is like some kind of trick from the devil. Half correspond to the latin letter that makes the same sound, and half correspond to the cyrillic.

Beyond that… Its just fucking squiggles - every word looks like someone writing a script m with a dozen humps. Some script letters are literally identical, and you have to figure it out from context (or from a helpful line above or below the letter if the author thinks the context isn’t enough).

Just pure insanity.

Is there a language where cursive is good? I’m sincerely glad it’s dying out everywhere and told my children that they didn’t need to bother with it beyond the minimum work required to satisfy their elementary school teachers.

English cursive is extremely readable compared to Russian. I’m not kidding about the m thing. There are something like 11 letters in Russian cursive that are a variant of the elements in a script i, u, or n in English.

From my limited Russian courses you’re not wrong. It’s all m"s and u"s and you’re not sure which is which.

Is Russian cursive still in use, or it is kind of vanishing like English cursive? From what I understand English cursive is an ‘elective’ at schools, so many students don’t even learn it now.