Language Difficulty Ranking For English Speakers
Learning a new language as an adult is big undertaking – so if you want the best value for your time, choose wisely.
For most people, there are no time constraints on becoming fluent in another language, but for the Foreign Service Institute – the U.S. government’s main provider of foreign affairs training – quantifying the “learn time” of various languages is vital. American diplomats, for example, need to become proficient in the official language of their posting country, and it helps immensely to know how long that might take.
The FSI organizes languages into five broad categories based on how different each language and culture is to the United States:
Category I: The Quick Ones
Category I languages are the easiest for English speakers, who can reach reading and speaking proficiency within about half a year of intense study. There is a mix Romance and Germanic languages in this classification, including Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish, and Italian.
It might be surprising also to learn that Afrikaans is in this “easiest” category as well. It uses 26 letters in its alphabet like English (although it also contains additional phonetic sounds), and has a lot in common with modern Dutch.
Category II: Es ist schwer zu sagen
Though German is very closely related to English, there are grammar quirks that bump it up in difficulty. FSI estimates it would take 30 weeks of intense study to become proficient in German.
Category III: Intermediate
Category III languages are mainly spoken in Southeast Asia, and they include Indonesian and Malay. Swahili also counts as a Category III language. (Note: there are no Category III languages spoken in Europe.)
Category IV: For people who like a challenge
Category IV includes the most challenging European languages for English speakers to pick up. Here you’ll find Slavic and Baltic languages such as Polish, Croatian, and Latvian, as well as Greek, Turkish, and Icelandic.
This category also includes Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. These Uralic languages have the distinction of being particularly challenging for English speakers to master as they have little in common with any other European languages. FSI estimates it would take a year of intense study to become proficient in these languages.
Category V: For people who really like a challenge
Languages in category V are the most challenging for English speakers because they generally have completely unfamiliar scripts and cultural assumptions. These languages are most common in Asia and the Middle East.
While Mandarin, Arabic, and Korean are sufficiently difficult to comprehend, Japanese has a reputation for being the toughest in this group thanks, in part, to multiple writing styles.
Mastering Japanese could take years, but FSI estimates that it’ll be at least 88 weeks before you’re chatting your way through Tokyo.
This map was inspired by one created by Redditor, Fummy.
Map: A Visual Guide To Europe’s Member States
Europe has members in at least four major treaty groups. This map shows how these groups fit into the big picture of Europe’s member states.
Map: A Visual Guide To Europe’s Member States
EU, NATO, and Schengen, oh my!
Amidst whispers of Brexit and potential changes within NATO, you might be wondering how these organizations fit into the big picture of Europe’s member states.
Europe has members in at least four major treaty groups, each of which governs a different aspect of the region’s infrastructure.
Let’s break down each group:
European Union (EU)
The European Union is primarily a political organization. It promotes economic, social, and political cooperation among its member states, encompassing more than 510 million citizens. The last nation to join was Croatia in 2013, while the United Kingdom will be the first to officially withdraw on March 29, 2019.
The EU is governed according to a supranational parliamentary system, with representatives elected by member states. The union maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, and regional development. It also enacts legislation on justice and home affairs, ensuring the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within its borders.
The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its contribution to the “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe.”
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
NATO is a military alliance between the United States, Canada, Turkey, and 26 other European countries.
Established in 1949 as a response to post-WW2 Soviet aggression, NATO exists for the collective defense and security of the group. Members share few laws and regulations, but an attack on one constitutes an attack on all, and member states are obligated to act in defense of one another.
Iceland remains the only member without armed forces. Their strategic geographic location earned them a spot as a founding member of NATO, but they have no standing army and joined on the condition they would never need to establish one.
The Eurozone is a monetary union of 19 EU nations which have adopted the Euro as their common currency.
Established in 1999 to control inflation, the Eurozone is managed by a board of central banks, but members share no fiscal policies. The remaining EU members are obliged to adopt the Euro at some point in the future, except for the UK and Denmark, who are exempt and permitted to retain a unique currency.
The Euro is also used in a number of non-EU states. Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City obtained formal agreements to issue and use their own Euro coins. Kosovo and Montenegro also adopted the Euro, but without formal permission, meaning they cannot legally issue currency.
This grouping of 26 European states abolished passports and other types of border control at their mutual borders in 1995. For travel purposes, Schengen states function as a single country with a common visa policy.
This visa doesn’t cover residency or work permits, but allows tourists and visitors to obtain a single visa for the entire area, making border restrictions virtually non-existent. While travellers face stringent controls when entering or leaving the Schengen zones, visa holders can pass between Schengen countries without a passport or ID.
Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City are not formally part of Schengen, but maintain open borders within the Schengen area.
The map of Europe’s member states has changed constantly over thousands of years. As political shakeups continue and the United Kingdom prepares for their exit from the EU, it might be interesting to see how different this map looks a few years from now.
Animated Map: 2,400 Years of European History
The history of Europe is breathtakingly complex, but this animated map helps makes sense of 2,400 years of shifting borders and nations.
Animated Map: 2,400 years of European History
The history of Europe is breathtakingly complex. While there are rare exceptions like Andorra and Portugal, which have had remarkably static borders for hundreds of years, jurisdiction over portions of the continent’s landmass has changed hands innumerable times.
Today’s video comes to us from YouTube channel Cottereau, and it provides an informative overview of European history starting from 400 BC. Empires rise and fall, invasions sweep across the continent, and the borders of modern countries slowly begin to take shape (with the added bonus of an extremely dramatic instrumental).
Below are nine highlights and catalysts that shifted Europe’s geographic dividing lines:
146 BC – A Year of Conquest
146 BC was a year of conquest and expansion for the Roman Republic. The fall of Carthage left the Romans in control of territory in North Africa, and the ransack and destruction of the Greek city-state of Corinth also kickstarted an era of Roman influence in that region. These decisive victories paved the way for the Roman Empire’s eventual domination of the Mediterranean.
117 AD – Peak Roman Empire
The peak of the Roman Empire is one of the more dramatic moments in European history. At its height, under Trajan, the Roman Empire was a colossal 1.7 million square miles (quite a feat in an era without motorized vehicles and modern communication tools). This enormous empire remained mostly intact until 395, when it was irreparably split into Eastern and Western regions.
370 AD – The Arrival of the Huns
Spurred on by severe drought conditions in Central Asia, the Huns reached Europe and found a Roman Empire weakened by currency debasement, economic instability, overspending, and increasing incursions from rivals along its borders. The Huns waged their first attack on the Eastern Roman Empire in 395, but it was not until half a century later – under the leadership of Attila the Hun – that hordes pushed deeper into Europe, sacking and razing cities along the way. The Romans would later get their revenge when they attacked the quarreling Goths and Huns, bouncing the latter out of Central Europe.
1241 – The Mongol Invasion
In the mid-13th century, the “Golden Horde” led by grandsons of Genghis Khan, roared into Russia and Eastern Europe sacking cities along the way. Facing invasion from formidable Mongol forces, central European princes temporarily placed their regional conflicts aside to defend their territory. Though the Mongols were slowly pushed eastward, they loomed large on the fringes of Europe until almost the 16th century.
1362 – Lithuania
Today, Lithuania is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but at its peak in the middle ages, it was one of the largest states on the continent. A pivotal moment for Lithuania came after a decisive win at the Battle of Blue Waters. This victory stifled the expansion of the Golden Horde, and brought present-day Ukraine into its sphere of influence.
1648 – Kleinstaaterei
The end of the Holy Roman Empire highlights the extreme territorial fragmentation in Germany and neighboring regions, in an era referred to as Kleinstaaterei.
Even as coherent nation states formed around it, the Holy Roman Empire and its remnents wouldn’t coalesce until Germany rose from the wreckage of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Unification helped position Germany as a major power, and by 1900 the country had the largest economy in Europe.
1919 – The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire – a fixture in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years – was in its waning years by the beginning of the 20th century. The empire had ceded territory in two costly wars with Italy and Balkan states, and by the time the dust cleared on WWI, the borders of the newly minted nation of Turkey began at the furthest edge of continental Europe.
1942 – Expanding and Contracting Germany
At the furthest extent of Axis territory in World War II, Germany and Italy controlled a vast portion of continental Europe. After the war, however, Germany again became fragmented into occupation zones – this time, overseen by the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Germany would not be made whole again until 1990, when a weakening Soviet Union loosened its grip on East Germany.
1991 – Soviet Dissolution
In the decades following WWII, Europe’s geopolitical boundaries remained relatively stable – that is, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Almost overnight, the country’s entire western border splintered into independent nations. When the dust settled, there were 15 breakaway republics, six of which were in Europe.
Bonus: If you liked the video above, be sure to watch this year-by-year account of who ruled territories across Europe.
Markets2 months ago
The Jeff Bezos Empire in One Giant Chart
Maps4 months ago
Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries
Advertising1 month ago
Meet Generation Z: The Newest Member to the Workforce
Misc4 months ago
24 Cognitive Biases That Are Warping Your Perception of Reality
Technology2 months ago
The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web
Environment4 weeks ago
The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side
Healthcare4 months ago
An Illustrated Subway Map of Human Anatomy
Chart of the Week2 months ago
Chart: The World’s Largest 10 Economies in 2030