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)’.

“Learning a language is not about being comfortable. It’s about challenging yourself and making an effort to go deeper than ‘simple’.”

Errol De Jesus, Rosetta Stone

Foreign Service Institute language difficulty rankings

The below language difficulty chart is based on the FSI language difficulty ranking at US State Department.

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 (FSI) at the US Department of State.


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