Languages by Difficulty for English Speakers

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages based on the length of time it takes to achieve Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3). The list is limited to languages taught at the Foreign Service Institute. Below we have a table of these languages and their difficulty for English speakers. For more information on the FSI scale, known as the ILR Scale, go to the Interagency Language Roundtable site, for an overview of the history of the ILR Language Proficiency Skill level descriptions and scale information.

* Languages preceded by asterisks are typically somewhat more difficult for native English speakers to learn than other languages in the same category.
Category I: Languages closely related to English
23-24 weeks (575-600 class hours)
Afrikaans
Catalan
Danish
Dutch
French
Italian
Norwegian
Portuguese
Romanian
Spanish
Swedish
Category I: Languages closely related to English
30-36 weeks (750-900 class hours)
German (30 weeks / 750 class hours)
Indonesian (36 weeks / 900 class hours)
Javanese (36 weeks / 900 class hours)
Malay (36 weeks / 900 class hours)
Swahili (36 weeks / 900 class hours)
Category II: Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
44 weeks (1100 class hours)
Albanian
Amharic
Armenian
Azerbaijani
Belarusian
Bengali
Bosnian
Bulgarian
Burmese
Cebuano
Croatian
Czech
*Dzongkha
*Estonian
*Finnish
*Georgian
Greek
Gujarati
Hebrew
Hindi
*Hungarian
Icelandic
Ilocano
Irish
Kannada
Kazakh
Kurdish
Kyrgyz
Khmer
Lao
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
Marathi
Nepali
Pashto
Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik)
Polish
Punjabi
Russian
Serbian
Sinhalese
Slovak
Slovenian
Somali
Tagalog
Tamil
Telugu
Tetum
*Thai
Turkish
Turkmen
Ukrainian
Urdu
Uzbek
*Vietnamese
Xhosa
Zulu
Category III: Languages which are quite difficult for native English speakers
88 weeks (2200 class hours; about half that time preferably spent studying in-country)
Arabic
Cantonese (Chinese)
Mandarin (Chinese)
Taiwanese (Chinese)
Korean
Japanese
Mongolian
Wu

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