As firms go global, language translation becomes more complex and time-consuming.

Dana Translation notes that:

“In today’s global environment and economy, interesting and important  come in many languages. People and organizations often need to unlock the meaning within those documents with a perfect translation that conveys the intent of the document.”

“Many people don’t realize that languages don’t have a direct word-to-correlation, so a good translation requires an understanding of the nuances and shades of meaning in each language. Rules of grammar and the way people express themselves using figures of speech vary from culture to culture, and words with the same meaning may have different connotations that can slant the feeling that a translation conveys if chosen unwisely. That’s why machine translations so often go wrong, and why it pays to have a comprehensive translation service on your side.”

According to Dana, these are the hardest languages to translate.


40 Replies to “What Are the Toughest Languages to Translate?”

  1. I agree with the article Portuguese is a easy languages to translate and the meaning of some some expressions are very close to English language.
    Some of the expressions are almost the same for example: matar dois coelhos com uma cajadada in english: can kill two birds with one stone.

  2. I agree with Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic being very difficult to translate. With many affluent business people being from these country’s it is becoming a very good sign when someone can speak one of these languages. I know Chinese also has a numerous amount of different letters, which increase its level of difficulty. Being able to speak these languages are in high demand and have been high paying jobs recently. Additionally, all the different tenses that impact the wording will increase the difficulty in my opinion.

  3. As a Korean American, I feel proud that I have fluency in the hardest language to learn. I do struggle time to time to express my thoughts in Korean to an American without losing any of the meanings. It’s not surprise to me that Asian languages are hard to learn for English speakers because they have greater difference in culture and also do not share the same alphabet. But I do wonder how the rankings will change if it was a list of the hardest languages to learn for Chinese speakers. Then I would think Asian languages will rank lower.

  4. I think that it is very hard to learn any new language becasue it takes a long time to learn new words and then put them together to make a coherent sentence. Also there are so many grammar rules that it takes a while to pick up on ways to be able to fully understand the langugage. I think people should learn in preschool diffreent langauges to help grow up learning different languages.

  5. This was a very interesting article. With only being completely fluent in English, I would have a very difficult time picking up a language that does not compare in the slightest. Which is why it makes sense that Korean, Japanese, and Chinese are at the top for the most difficult languages to become fluent in. But for most that can be compared to English in many different ways such as Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French, they are a lot easier to pick up. When people are able to listen to something in another language and be able to recite in a different one, I think that is an absolutely amazing skill to have. It would take me, personally, years and years to master the skill such as that.

  6. I find that three of the hardest language to convey is from the Asian country, that may be due to the culture reason. Korea, Japan and China are all influenced by confucian culture. So there are many hidden meaning in the language from these three countries. I strongly agree with the the opinion in this article,actually the good translation is not translating the word, is translating the sense. But it is hard for people to understand the other countries’ sense of language without the culture understanding. It is also the big trouble which the business are faced with, they should translate the right meaning from their foreign partners whether in the document or oral expression.

  7. Learning another language can be difficult. It is also important to remember that spending enough time practicing the language once it is learned is very important too. I am a getting my minor in Spanish. I had learned the language throughout high school and middle school. However, between junior year of high school and my sophomore year of college, I forgot a lot of the spanish that I had learned. Most of it came back eventually once I practiced it, but if I did not practice I would have lost it completely. I think that languages are easier to learn if you are immersed in the culture on a consistent basis.

  8. This is an interesting post about languages. It is also interesting that the hardest languages are Chinese and Japan and since we have a huge trading relationship with them, translations must be very accurate when negotiating. It is also true that some languages do not have direct word translations with English even in the easier languages such as Spanish.

  9. My Mom was born in Colombia and moved to the US at age 18. She is now fluent in both English and Spanish so she tries to help my sisters and I learn Spanish. I find it difficult so considering it’s the easiest language to learn, I can’t even imagine trying to learn Japanese or Korean. I have also noticed that there isn’t a direct translation between languages. Between Spanish and English, you can’t word everything the exact same way otherwise it doesn’t sound right or you may not translate the right information. Businesses have to be very exact with their translations in order to communicate well with other countries.

  10. Wow thats pretty cool. Coming into this right after just reading the title I guessed that Arabic would be one of the hard ones and I was right. I was surprised that spanish was the easiest language. Also I found it very interesting that Korean, Japanese, and Chinese were the top three hardest. It makes sense though because those are more written character based languages than letter based.

  11. I think this post is very interesting. For English speaker, I think there’re some reasons that they feel Chinese is hard to learn. First, China has very long culture history, we not only use direct words to express feelings, but also use Chinese Idioms, proverbs,Classical Chinese,etc. So sometimes one word has many meanings. Second, Chinese and English have totally different alphabet. Plus, they are very different in grammar. Therefore, I think that’s why English speaker think leaning Chinese is very hard.

  12. I think this article is extremely interesting because we can all relate to it in some way. We have all seen some type of product that was translated, clearly from a harder language, and the meaning is just entirely off. Admittedly, its comical, but we forget that there are genuine reasons as to how and why this occurs. I took Ancient Greek at Hofstra and I really experienced how sometimes we just don’t have words to describe something from another language or vice versa. This also pops up in scientific writing, which is essentially almost all done in English. For my biochemistry class, I had to write a literature summary on an article about mutated mitochondrial DNA. The researchers were from Japan, and they would randomly use the phrase “on the other hand,” which is a common phrase in English, but they used it in the wrong context and never presented the “first hand.” Again, it was a little bit funny, but also a reminder that not only did these brilliant scientists have to perform a complicated procedure, but they then had to learn English to present it to the scientific community.

  13. I agree with the article that Japanese and Chinese are difficult languages to understand. Reading this makes me think of people who get symbols Chinese symbols tattooed on them and they don’t know what it means, but the fluent speakers know what it means. This is similar to advertising, a lot of time needs to go into create a product for a foreign country, because I have seen some billboards that use incorrect tenses of simple spanish words in spanish speaking countries. I never thought that swedish and dutch were easier languages and I expected them to be more difficult. It’s always helpful to learn more than one language.

  14. As a bilingual student (Spanish & English) I rarely have the need to translate. But for a political science class, I recently found an article from Le Monde, a French newspaper. I was able to interpret each section (but not the details), which agrees with this article as French is one of the “easiest” languages

  15. There a lots of languages spoken throughout the world and it’s important for marketers to be able to now multiple languages when marketing in foreign countries. It’s important because in certain cultures, a saying or word might mean one thing in one country and another thing in another country.

  16. This post is very insightful on just how difficult accurately translating from one language to another is, especially in Korean and Japanese. It is important to get everything right when translating in the business industry because everything has to be exact, otherwise there could be issues of not seeing eye to eye. It is very eye opening to see that the hardest languages could take 2,200 class hours to master.

  17. As a Chinese, I feel so glad that I know Chinese without learning it so hard comparing to English speakers. But on the hard, other languages, such as the Spanish, French are also hard for Chinese to learn. And I am so agree that Japanese is very hard, because I used to learn Japanese in my college but I gave up in the end. As we all know, Japanese was from ancient Chinese, but even for Chinese, it is a complete different language from Chinese

  18. It seems that the farther away characters move from the english alphabet, the harder it is to translate. I think this makes sense because in Arabic, spelling is based on syllables and sounds. My sister took Arabic in college and she would try to write my name for me, but every time it would be a little different. It could have been because she isn’t an Arabic expert, but the way I understand it is that each character is a sound, not a letter. So my name Michaela is pronounced Mc-kale-La, but other michaela’s are pronounced Mc-Kay-la. I guess the more languages move to characters, the more difficult it is to translate because of the subjective nature of the letters.

    Michaela Cody; MKT 101 Section 1

  19. This article is extremely interesting as it is becoming more and more important for American employees to speak multiple languages. The workplace is becoming more and more diverse as we have began to work with more countries making language vital. Something that is not to be forgotten is that the United States does not have an official language. Also, it is very interesting that one of the hardest languages to learn is Chinese, while we work with them the most for outsourcing and manufacturing. All in all, language is and always will be a crucial aspect of both business and marketing.

  20. From this info graph, for the English speakers, the top 4 hardest languages all come from Asian countries. In my mind, it is not only saying that those kinds of languages are basically difficult to learn, but also meaning that there are other factors influencing the level of difficulty, such as culture, distance of locations, and people’s personality. People speaking English totally know less about cultures in Asia than those in Europe, so that usually it is hard for them to correctly employ languages in the right contexts which cultures influence and decide. Therefore, in global markets, businessmen need to learn local cultures very well and can successfully do business with them.

  21. I like this blog so much because I study Business English as my undergraduate program. I learn culture difference between China and America. I know the different culture will lead to a language barrier for translating. Even if you translate the language, you cannot understand clearly if you do not know the culture.

    Also, grammar is the second important reason for translator. A lot of language has it own grammar. So, you should be careful for the grammar while the translating.

  22. This is interesting, as a Chinese man speaking Mandarin, every time when I talk about the language topic with my non-Chinese friends, I’m kinda like a little bit proud, because I master the hardest language on earth! I truly believe that Japanese is even harder for English speaker, because even for me it’s so hard. I tried to learn Japanese when I was in undergraduate, only 3 months, then I gave it up. However, I really admire the people who can speak three or four languages, and I aways tell myself to start learning a new one, but always stuck on a question, French, Spanish, or Italian, which one I should choose?

  23. I think this search is based on America people. I remember my professor told me that similar area could have similar language. For example, In Asia, Chinese people are easy to learn Korean and Japanese because they are similar. Especially for Chinese and Japanese, they have some similar words to pronounce. But for people who speak English, they are good at speak French and Spanish. Because their language are similar. So I think this research is based on different person. But most American person who want to learn Chinese and successfully did it. Just go to China and practice it. A good way to learn their language is to go to their country.

  24. This blog is very interesting. As a Chinese student, I agree that Chinese is very difficult for Americans to understand. One reason is that sometimes Chinese prefer indirect ways to express the real meaning behind the words and phase they use, while Americans always prefer to choose the direct way to express their thoughts. As more and more American companies enlarge their overseas markets to China. The issue of translation could be a big problem, especially when American companies want to sell the product to Chinese consumers and did some online marketing campaign by using Chinese. My personal recommendation to American companies is learning more about Chinese culture in stead of only focus on learning Chinese itself. Be careful about the Chinese version of your company’s webpage. Hiring a native Chinese translator who has grown up in China and master Chinese culture very much to do the translation job.

  25. This topic is interesting and the answer met my expectation. In the hard languages to translate part, there are only four languages that Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. I do not know Arabic, but I come from China, I know Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. At first, the grammars of these three languages are totally different from the Western languages. Secondly, these three languages have been developed fast. With the high effective society and active social media activities, people do not pay more attention on grammars in the daily language using, a perfect translation also need to consider the language environment. Therefore, I think for us who are learning foreign languages, we had better get away from the machine translations and try to contact the latest contexts in the foreign languages to feel the languages.

  26. Well, I am glad I am a Chinese after read this post, because the mandarin is really hard to learn. The language problem is challenge for a firm which want to go aboard, hiring the local staff is one of options, but it may cause the problems of management, and for some small or media company, they don’t have enough financial support to build the geographical segments or training the staff. my options is try to make your company staff more diversification, try to hire the order countries people .

  27. It is true that learning a second or third language is not easy. Even though Spanish is required as second language in certain high school in the U.S., not all the students still can speak a fluent Spanish. Because language basically is a tool to communicate with others. As long as that person do not live in that language’s environment, he will gradually forgot the vocabulary and grammar. In addition, based on the graphic that languages from the same continent are similar and easier to learn because of culture background.

  28. As we age, it becomes harder to learn and absorb a foreign language. I am actually surprised that English is not on that list. It is very easy for younger children to absorb a language better than adults. I believe that learning any new topic is hard and requires a lot of hard work, determination, and practice. I think that new college graduates looking for employment should be bilingual or at least know a second language pretty well. Spanish has become a very popular speaking language in the United States because of all of the immigrants. However, I think that american college students looking for work in the business world should be focused on learning the more difficult language such as Arabic and Chinese because they are huge factors of the global business operations.

  29. It is very interesting that among the top four hardest languages spoken countries, Japan is a very sophisticated economy, China and Korea are becoming more developed, Arab area is also very wealthy. I don’t know if it is a coincidence or not, but it seems important to attract business persons who are familiar with English and at least one more “hardest” language since most of marketers can’t avoid doing business with those countries.

  30. Working between languages is so important no matter what field of business you are in and yet also the hardest to successfully accomplish. I believe this chart covers the difficulty levels accurately but some of the “easy” one can be difficult as well. If you type a phrase or sentence into a commonly used translation application such as google translate the meanings are often lost even at the easy level.

  31. I agree with what this article has to say. When a company decides to go global, a lot of thinking has to go into the name and spelling of that brand based on the international market that it wants to enter. Words in English don’t exactly correlate the same when translated into another language, since different words have different meanings. Companies need to ensure that they don’t offend anyone when entering different global markets.

  32. It is funny to see that the languages of three main countries in east Asia are ranked as most difficult together with Arabic. And it may because the infographic is created by a British company, English really share many roots with language with latin letters. I remind me the difference of cultural factor between eastern and western world. I think it is pretty accurate to say Chinese is hard to learn because of the different connotations of a word in different situation. The meaning of word in eastern cultural is really highly related context. So in some way, the ability to possess two native language will be a huge advantage in any industries.

  33. It’s interesting to see this result. I find that the hard language is all from Asia. Maybe because the coulture is so different so the backgound od one word or story is hard to be covered by translating. I feel the same when learning English. A language has strong connection with its history and coulture. And i admiit that English in US is a very direct language, the word means what it means.But in Chinese, a word could have several totally defferent meaning in several backgound. Because the long history of China and the combined coulture from 56 nationalities.

  34. This post about languages is intriguing. I have always wanted to learn some type of asian language, i like challemges so learning chinese and japanese would be cool. the interesting part is that even though spanish is really easy to get it still do not have direct word translations with English.

  35. As someone who is part Japanese, I absolutely agree that Japanese is one of the hardest languages to learn. I have never been able to get a firm grasp on the language even though it has been spoken to me since a young age. I can also agree that French is an easier language to learn. I attended a French high school and was able to complete 6 years worth of French classes in just four years. Knowing foreign languages has become such an important asset for all of those interested in working in the business world and since it is more difficult to learn languages as we age, I feel that it is crucial that we push ourselves and try hard to learn even just the basics of a foreign language.

  36. The Khoisan languages include Xoo the most phonetically complex language ever spoken with over 30 click sounds and fricatives which do not exist in any other languages. They make Japanese or Chinese look like a walk in the park. So this article is biased by 1) the assumption that the learner is an English speaker and 2) the exclusion of small and extremely phonetically challenging languages.

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