Let’s be real: the idea of learning an Asian language can be intimidating! But, on the flip side, it can open doors to new career possibilities and travel opportunities that the majority of your peers can only dream of. We’ll break it down in terms of difficulty, starting with the easiest Asian languages to learn so you can choose the one that’s right for you.
From a traveller’s point of view, Vietnam is a stunning country just begging to be discovered. The language, on the other hand, is relatively “easy” compared to the other languages on our list. Why? First of all, Vietnamese uses a Latin alphabet. That means you don’t have to worry about learning new and complicated characters, so reading won’t feel like a headache! Then, there’s the fact that it’s an analytic language (which means it uses prepositions and particles as do many European languages), and it follows the subject-verb-object structure.
So what will you find difficult in learning Vietnamese? The vowels! Vietnamese uses diphthongs (combinations of two vowel sounds together) and even triphthongs (combinations of three), so it can be a little tricky to pick up in the beginning. Needless to say, studying in immersion will seriously accelerate the learning process!
Have you always wanted to order pad thai in Thai? The buzzing neon vibes of Bangkok at night, tranquil Thai temples, cheap and tasty street food and some of the world’s most gorgeously unreal beaches are all reasons why learning Thai in Thailand is a fantastic idea. Starting with the alphabet, there are 44 consonants and 15 vowel symbols that you’ll need to learn, but at least there aren’t any differences for capital and lower case!
The Foreign Service Institute classifies Thai as a Level IV difficulty language (in the same category as Vietnamese and Hungarian, for example), with an average of 44 study weeks needed to achieve a working knowledge of the language. It’s a great excuse to spend some time in Thailand!
There’s no question that tourism in South Korea is booming thanks to the recent Winter Olympics and just the general appeal of the country, from its vibrant cities to its beaches and mountains. With tech giants like Samsung headquartered in Seoul, learning Korean can be a great asset for a career in business. The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, is made up of 14 consonants and 10 vowels with symbols that you’ll combine into syllable blocks.
Another fun fact about Korean? It’s a language isolate, which means that there are no other existing languages that it’s related to. In terms of study time, Korean is classified as a Level V language, which means you’ll need to allow 88 weeks to become proficient. There’s good news though – there are plenty of Korean TV shows on Netflix to help you practise!
4. Mandarin Chinese
Out of all of the Chinese dialects, Mandarin is the most widely spoken and, therefore, the most studied by foreigners, but it definitely is NOT one of the easiest Asian languages to learn! Starting with the famous Chinese characters, it’s important to know that the symbols are logographs, which means they denote words, not letters. It’s estimated that for a basic grasp of the language, you should learn about 3,500 characters, but there are actually 80,000 in total!
All isn’t lost, though, as the pinyin system spells out Chinese words using a Latin alphabet, which is a good way for beginners to start. Another tricky bit is the use of four different tones to denote meaning, so pronunciation is important, although context will really help you get your meaning across. The upside is that learning Mandarin will open an incredible amount of doors to you in terms of travel and your career, so don’t be afraid to take the plunge!
Maybe you already guessed, but the most difficult Asian language to learn is almost universally considered to be Japanese. Experts estimate that you’ll need about 2,200 study hours to be able to make the claim that you speak Japanese.
So, why so complicated? Starting with the written component, there are three sets of characters: hiragana, katakana and kanji. While hiragana and katakana are actually used for the same sounds and denote syllables (katakana being used above all for foreign words), kanji characters are used to represent whole words, usually borrowed from Chinese. Don’t get discouraged, however, as some of the perks of Japanese are that there are no noun genders, no verb conjugations and no multiple tones as in many of the other Asian languages. Ready for the challenge?
So, if you’ve always dreamed of travelling to Asia, why not get closer to the culture by learning the language?