Foreign Service Institute Language Difficulty Rankings

Foreign Service Institute language difficulty rankings are an indication of how long a native English speaker would need to reach proficiency in a number of different languages.

There five are categories ranked from easiest to the hardest based on how many classroom hours a learner would need to complete:

  • ‘Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3)’
  • ‘Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3)’.

Foreign Service Institute language difficulty rankings

Return to the main article here: What are the hardest languages to learn?

Category I: 23-24 weeks (575-600 hours)
Languages closely related to English
Afrikaans
Danish
Dutch
French
Italian
Norwegian
Portuguese
Romanian
Spanish
Swedish
Category II: 30 weeks (750 hours)
Languages similar to English
German
Category III: 36 weeks (900 hours)
Languages with linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
Indonesian
Malaysian
Swahili
Category IV: 44 weeks (1100 hours)
Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
Albanian
Amharic
Armenian
Azerbaijani
Bengali
Bosnian
Bulgarian
Burmese
Croatian
Czech
*Estonian
*Finnish
*Georgian
Greek
Hebrew
Hindi
*Hungarian
Icelandic
Khmer
Lao
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
*Mongolian
Nepali
Pashto
Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik)
Polish
Russian
Serbian
Sinhala
Slovak
Slovenian
Tagalog
*Thai
Turkish
Ukrainian
Urdu
Uzbek
*Vietnamese
Xhosa
Zulu
Category V: 88 weeks (2200 hours)
Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers
Arabic
*Japanese
Korean
Cantonese (Chinese)
Mandarin (Chinese)
* Usually more difficult than other languages in the same category.

The data is sourced from the Foreign Service Institute Language Difficulty at the US Department of State.

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