THE BLOG
10/06/2011 08:31 am ET | Updated Dec 06, 2011

Learning The Lingo: The 5 Hardest Languages To Master

There are about 6,500 different languages in use around the world. Chances are that we'll never even encounter the names of most of these tongues, let alone hear them spoken, yet there is little doubt that as more of us choose to travel to new destinations, a little bit of linguistic preparation before our trip can pay off handsomely.

Learning a few basic words will usually guarantee a warm reception and can help secure us a better room in a hotel or even help us make new friends.

Yet learning languages can be a difficult task: Different alphabets, unfamiliar sounds and complex grammatical rules add to the challenge for the new speaker. Here at Tourdust we've taken a look at some of the most difficult languages for a native English speaker to pick up.

#1. Mandarin (Chinese) - The language with more native speakers than any other, yet one of the hardest to master, Mandarin has countless numbers of symbols to remember, each one representing a different word with no phonetic clues to work out how the symbol is pronounced. You'll need to know around 2,000 of these symbols to be able to read a newspaper.

#2. Tuyuca - This language, spoken by no more than 1,000 people in the eastern Amazon, was listed by the Economist as the world's toughest language. What makes Tuyuca so unique is its use of evidentiality: Each verb must contain a suffix that describes how the speaker knows the information they are stating (eg: Diga ape-wi means that "the boy played soccer and I know because I saw him."

#3. Hungarian - For a start, Hungarian is unlike almost any other language. It has dozens of cases and forms and even a basic attempt to draw up the rules of Hungarian would run into many pages and leave your head spinning. For good measure throw in a propensity for ridiculously long words and you have a language that is sure to defeat all but the most gifted linguist.

#4. Polish - While Polish may have a more concise rule set than Hungarian it remains a daunting language for English speakers to learn. Each noun takes on seven different forms according to its context, with so many exceptions that even native speakers sometimes struggle to achieve grammatical perfection. New speakers are not helped by the Polish aversion to vowels (as anyone who has tried to ask directions to Bydgoszcz will agree).

#5. Navajo - Not only is Navajo a complicated language to learn, but there are no written grammatical rules or published dictionary of Navajo words. This unique aspect of the language led to it being adopted by the US military for intelligence communications during the Second World War. It is a testament to the Navajo language that the Japanese code breakers were never able to decipher the transmitted messages.

Finally, if you think these languages look tough to learn please spare a thought for those trying to master English. It's easy to assume a language spoken by so many people must be easy, but it's not as simple as we might think. You merely need to take a look at the words tough, cough, bough and dough and ask yourself how a non-native speaker makes sense of their very illogical pronunciation.